Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Reclaim™ Cell Phone

THE GOOD: The Samsung Reclaim offers easy-to-use controls, midrange multimedia features, and an eco-friendly image.

THE BAD: The Samsung Reclaim's call quality wasn't completely top-notch and 3G speeds were a bit pokey.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Reclaim is more than just a green gimmick. Its performance could be improved, but we welcome the messaging keyboard and functional feature set.

With green living very much in the public consciousness, green gadgets are becoming more popular. Exactly what that concept means can vary–for some it's as simple as a device that uses less power–but manufacturers are applying the label to everything from televisions to cameras. For cell phones, the idea of green has only come in the last few months. The first such handset to land in the United States was the Motorola Renew W233 for T-Mobile. It promised a long time talk, and its plastic parts were made from recycled materials.

Now Sprint is getting into the eco game with a green phone of its own. The Samsung Reclaim SPH-M560 also is made from recycled plastic and it comes in a box that's also made from recycled paper. What's more, the ink on the user manual is soy-based. Yet, the Reclaim goes a step further by offering more features than the Renew and a full QWERTY keyboard. Overall, it's a decent phone even if we had a few performance quibbles. You can get it for $49.99 with a two-year contract.

The Reclaim largely resembles other square texting phones such as the Samsung Propel. We didn't love the odd slider shape when we first saw it, but we admit that's it's grown on us. It may not be pretty, but it certainly is functional as it accommodates the full QWERTY keyboard. The Reclaim measures 3.9 inches by 2.37 inches by 0.59 inch and weighs 3.5 ounces. It's also portable, it has a comfortable feel in the hand, and the slider mechanism feels sturdy. In fact, if you hadn't told us, we'd never guess that it's made from recycled materials. And we have to admit that we like the green color. Not only is it appropriate for the eco-friendly image, it's also attractive and unique.

The Reclaim's 2.6-inch display supports 262,000 colors and has a 320×240-pixel resolution. It's not particularly eye-popping, but it's bright and it shows colors and graphics well. You can adjust the brightness, and the backlighting time. The icon-based menu interface is simple and intuitive and we like that the Reclaim supports Sprint's One Click interface (see our Samsung Highlight review for a full description).

The navigation array is quite nice. You'll find a large circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons, a speakerphone shortcut, and a back control. Though most of the controls are flush, the spacious design makes them easy to use and accessible.

The Reclaim has a comfortable keyboard.

The alphabetic keyboard lies below the sliding face. The top of the keys isn't set too close to the slider so you should have enough room to tap away. We could text relatively quickly even though the individual buttons are flush with no separation between them. As on many cell phones, the alphabetic keys share space with numbers and symbols, but the arrangement doesn't feel too crowded. The number and Function keys are conveniently marked in green. You'll also find a shift and symbol keys, shortcuts for the e-mail and texting apps, back and enter buttons, and a control for emoticons.

On the left spine you'll find a 3.5-millimeter headset jack (nice!) and a large volume rocker. On the right spine is a camera shutter, the microSD card slot, and the charger port. The latter uses a standard Micro-USB connection, which we welcome. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the rear of the sliding face. You must have the phone in the open position to snap a photo. The Reclaim's single speaker sits on its back side.

The Reclaim has a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone number types, an e-mail address, an instant-messaging handle, a URL, a birthday, a job title and company name, and notes. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 26, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones. You can use Sprint's Wireless backup service to store your contacts on the carrier's servers.

Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a tip calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a memo pad, a speakerphone, and a stopwatch. More demanding users will find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, voice dialing and commands, a voice memo recorder, instant messaging, USB transfer, and mass storage.

As with other Sprint phones in its class, the Reclaim offers a number of applications including MySpace, a bar-code scanner called ScanLife, Sprint Social Zone, Facebook, Sprint Navigation, and Google services like maps, search, and YouTube. And true to its green image, the Reclaim offers specialized content like a Green Glossary and Green Guide. In a welcome move, you also get an application manager and rudimentary multitasking that allows you to send applications to the background.

The Reclaim supports POP3 e-mail syncing for services like Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail. You also can access IMPAP4 e-mail using Outlook Web Access and sync Outlook contacts and calendar. For what it is, the service performs well. We had no trouble setting it up and accessing the mail that we needed. Sure, it has a few quirks, but we much prefer it over a clunky Web-based application.

As an EV-DO phone, the Reclaim supports Sprint Radio, Sprint Movie, and Sprint TV. The TV interface is similar to that on other Sprint TV phones. The music player (MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA formats) also is standard–you get album art, but features are limited to repeat and shuffle modes, and you can't use MP3 files as ringtones. You can access the Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. The airplane mode turns off the phone's calling functions for listening to music while in the air.

The Reclaim's camera offers a self-portrait mirror, but no flash.

The Reclaim's 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions and three quality settings. Other editing features include a self-timer, 10 frames, a digital zoom, five color tones, adjustable brightness, a night mode, center and spot metering, five white-balance settings, and four shutter sounds, plus a silent option. You also can use the series, mosaic, and panoramic shot options. The camcorder offers a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 25 seconds, but you can shoot for longer in standard mode. The interface for both features offers a number of easy-to-use shortcuts. Photo quality acceptable. Colors looked natural, but there was some image noise.

The Reclaim snaps decent photos even if some shots were a tad blurry.

When you're finished with your work, you can save your shots and clips to the phone, upload them to an online Sprint album, send them to a friend via Bluetooth or a multimedia message, transfer them to a printer using Sprint's PictBridge application, and send them to a participating retail outlet for printing. You even can upload shots directly to MySpace, Photobucket, YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr. The Exclaim has about 105MB of shared memory so we suggest using a microSD card for even more room; our review phone came with a 512MB card, but the slot will accommodate cards up to 16GB.

You can personalize the Reclaim with a selection of screensavers and alert sounds. You can download more options and additional ringtones from Sprint using the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The handset comes with demo versions of two games: My Happy Planet and Sudoku Deluxe Green Edition. You'll have download the full versions for extended play.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1,900) Samsung Reclaim in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was acceptable. The volume level was quite loud; we could hear our callers clearly even when we were in a noisy place. We also didn't encounter any static or interference from other electronic devices. On the downside, voice quality sounded a bit harsh at times, particularly at the higher volume levels. Our friends sounded like themselves, but their voices had a slight metallic tinge. The Reclaim is compatible with M4 and T4 hearing aids.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but most had no trouble hearing us. A few of our friends mentioned a slight echo feedback, but that could be unrelated to the Reclaim. Speakerphone calls were about the same as regular voice calls. The audio was loud on our end, though we heard the same voice distortion. Callers had more trouble hearing us if we weren't speaking right next to the phone. Bluetooth headset calls offered a similar experience.

The Sprint signal remains strong for voice calls, though the EV-DO Rev. 0 3G signal was somewhat shaky. We had trouble getting reception in buildings and the browser was slower than we expected. Also, video downloads took about 30 seconds, which is a bit long.

Streaming video quality was average. There was some pixel distortion and the audio wasn't always in sync, though we liked that we could expand the frame size to the full display. As with many streaming video phones, the quality is fine for short clips, but we wouldn't want to watch anything beyond a few minutes. Music quality was average, as well. As with voice calls, the external speaker gets loud, but the audio is tinny. We suggest using a headset.

The Reclaim has a rated battery life of 6 hours talk time. When we tested the phone, we found it had a talk time of 7 hours and 29 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Reclaim has a digital SAR of 1.16 watts per kilogram.

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