Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Byline™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Byline has an easy-to-use design and a functional feature set that includes Bluetooth.

THE BAD: The Samsung Byline suffers from tinny voice quality.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Byline offers more features than other phones in its class, but its voice quality could be improved.

The Samsung Byline is the perfect example of a Metro PCS cell phone. Compact, easy to use, and functional, it's designed for making calls, sending messages, and simple Web browsing. The Byline, aka the SCH-R310, shuns all multimedia extras–you won't even find a VGA camera–but it offers Bluetooth and voice dialing. Those are nice additions, but the call quality could be better. At $99, it's not dirt cheap, but it's a great buy when you consider that MetroPCS doesn't make you sign a contract.

The Byline has a fairly standard flip-phone design. It is a bit boxy with an abundance of straight lines, but it manages to make a small statement with its candy apple red skin. At 3.5 inches by 1.7 inches by 0.77 inch, the Byline has an average size but weighs just 3.25 ounces. We had no problems slipping it into a packet or bag. The hinge feels relatively sturdy, but we're not confident that the all-plastic casing would withstand a lot of blows.

The Byline has a small external display.

The external display is no bigger than a postage stamp (1 inch, 96×96 pixels), but it supports 65,000 colors. It shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. Just keep in mind that the Byline lacks a camera, so you'll have to get photos on the phone a different way. The dark mirrored panel that surrounds the display is a fingerprint magnet. On the left spine you'll find a volume rocker, while the right spine holds a speakerphone button and a combination headset jack/charger port. Of course, a combined port means that the connection is proprietary and that you can use only one peripheral at a time.

The charger port/headset jack sits on the Byline's right spine.

The Byline's internal display is a tad small at 1.77 inches. It also has a relatively low resolution with support for just 65,000 colors (128×160 pixels). Normally we'd raise a stink about such a display, but it's not a worry on a low-end handset like the Byline. It's relatively bright and colorful, and the menus are easy enough, even if the graphics aren't very sharp. You can alter the backlight time, the contrast, and the dialing font size.

The Byline has an eye-catching red hue.

Below the display is the spacious navigation array. It offers a square toggle and central OK button, two soft keys, the Talk and End/power buttons, and a clear key. All of the controls are flat, but their large size makes them easy to use. It's a similar story with the large keypad buttons; they're also flush but we could text and dial without making mistakes. The keypad buttons are brightly backlit for dialing in the dark.

The Byline has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address. You can save contacts to groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 14, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit and currency converter, and a tip calculator.

Bluetooth for making calls and file transfer is also onboard. Indeed, it's great to see Bluetooth trickle down into more basic phones. You'll also find instant messaging, a 411 service, a ChatLink app, and voice commands. The Byline also supports Web-based POP3 e-mail, though the application isn't integrated on the phone. Instead, you'll have to download it from MetroPCS for free. The Byline offers 20MB of shared memory for downloads.

You can personalize the Byline with a variety of wallpaper, clock formats, display themes, and alert tones. More options are available from MetroPCS. It doesn't come with any games, but a variety of applications are available from the carrier's @Metro service. The Byline includes a WAP 2.0 browser with access to MetroWEB.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; 1xRTT) Samsung Byline in San Francisco using MetroPCS service. Call quality was decent, but not without its faults. The signal remained strong and clear, but voices sounded rather tinny on our end. Most of our friends didn't sound quite like themselves, which can be distracting depending on the caller. The volume level was also a bit off; though it was fine for most situations, we did have trouble hearing when talking on a noisy street or in a crowded room.

On their end, callers reported fewer problems. A few of our friends also mentioned a low volume level, but they said we sounded relatively natural and that the signal was clear and free of static. Automated calling systems could understand us most of the time, but it was best if we were speaking in a quiet room. The speakerphone is relatively loud, and the audio isn't too muffled. As long as we were inside, we could carry on a conversation.

The Byline has a rated battery life of 3.5 hours talk time and 8.3 days standby time. We saw a talk time of 5 hours and 39 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Byline has a digital SAR rating of 1/05 watts per kilogram.

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