Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Freeform™ Cell Phone
THE GOOD: The Samsung Freeform has a 3.5mm headset jack, e-mail with corporate e-mail support, GPS, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a music player.
THE BAD: The Samsung Freeform's keyboard feels a little cramped and the photo quality could be improved.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Freeform is overall a decent multimedia messaging phone for Alltel customers.
Samsung is one of the most prolific makers of messaging phone handsets, with one in almost every carrier in the country. That includes the fledgling Alltel, which still has a few markets unclaimed by Verizon Wireless in the recent Verizon-Alltel merger. The Samsung Freeform for Alltel is not a bad messaging phone, with GPS for navigation, corporate e-mail support, and a few basic multimedia options. It's available for $199.99 without a contract or for $69.99 with a one-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate.
Unlike its name, the Samsung Freeform actually has a quite a rigid and familiar design. It measures 4.4 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, and it's made mostly of a hard lightweight plastic except for a soft-touch matte-black border around the sides of the phone. That, combined with its curved corners and rounded edges, makes the phone comfortable to hold in the hand. It's also rather light at 3.63 ounces, so it won't weigh you down.
Right on the front of the Freeform is the 2.2-inch display with 262,000-color support. It's bright and colorful, graphics look great on it, and text is sharp and legible. You can change the clock format, the greeting banner text, the backlight time, and the size of the dialing font.
Underneath the display is the navigation array. There is a large rectangular toggle with middle confirmation key in the center–the toggle also doubles as shortcuts to four user-defined functions when the phone is in standby mode. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, the Speakerphone key, the Back key, and the Talk and End/Power keys. All keys are raised above the surface for ease of use, but the Speakerphone and Back keys especially stand out because they are raised a little higher than the rest. We found this arrangement a little awkward initially, but it was acceptable overall.
Though the keyboard on the Freeform is not exactly spacious, the keys are raised sufficiently above the surface so it's easy to text and dial by feel. However, the keys are rather small, and they do feel a little stiff when pressed, so we weren't able to type as quickly as we would like. The number keys are marked in black. Also on the keyboard are a dedicated calendar key and a dedicated e-mail shortcut key.
On the left of the phone is the volume rocker while the camera key and charger jack are on the right. On the top is the 3.5mm headset jack, and on the back is the external speaker and camera lens with a self-portrait mirror. There's also a microSD card slot but you have to remove the battery cover to find it.
The Samsung Freeform has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can save callers to groups, pair them with a photo for caller ID, or with one of 16 polyphonic ringtones or one of five alert sounds. You can set an incoming text message alert tone as well. Other basic features of the phone include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stop watch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. More advanced features include voice command support, Bluetooth, GPS with Alltel's turn-by-turn navigation software, and a wireless Web browser.
Aside from that, you also get mobile e-mail. You can set up incoming e-mail from any of the Web mail services (like AOL Mail, Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail), as well as any POP or IMAP account. If you want you can also access corporate e-mail on the Freeform via your employer's OWA (Outlook Web Access) server. If your employer doesn't have OWA, you'll have to run Mobile E-mail Personal Account desktop software on your work computer in order to sync your Outlook e-mail with the phone.
The Freeform has a simple music player interface, with the artist and album information at the top and the player controls along the bottom. You can create and edit playlists on the fly, and you can set songs on repeat or shuffle. You can also change the "visual supplements" of the interface with a simple text view, an onscreen equalizer, lyrics (if you have them), or album art. The Freeform has an internal memory of 55MB, and you can always boost it with up to 16GB of external memory in the form of a microSD card.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the Freeform takes pictures in four resolutions (1,280×960, 640×480, 320×240, and 176×144) and three quality settings. Other settings include five white balance presets, five color effects, a night-shot mode, and four shot modes (Single Shot, Series Shot, Mosaic Shot, and Fun Frames). Photo quality is mediocre at best, with overcast colors and blurry images.
You can personalize the Freeform with graphics and ringtones. It also comes with a few apps and games like Wallpaper Universe, Collapse Chaos, My-Cast Weather, nuTsie, and Tetris. You can always get more of these customization options from Alltel's Web store via the wireless Web browser.
We tested the Samsung Freeform in San Francisco using the Alltel service, roaming on Verizon Wireless. We were impressed with the call quality overall. We heard our callers clearly with plenty of volume. Voice quality was a little on the harsh side, but that's a minor quibble.
On their end, callers reported similar call quality. We came through loud and clear, and they even said it was almost that of landline quality. They reported little to no distortion in our voice quality as well. In speakerphone mode, we heard them clearly, though the speaker output made their voices sound tinnier than usual. Callers said that there was a lot more echo effect and environmental noise in speakerphone mode, but that's to be expected.
Music played via the phone's mono external speakers sounded mediocre at best. Not only was the audio tinny, it was also flat and bass was almost nonexistent. We would recommend headset use instead, especially since the Freeform does come with a 3.5mm headset jack.
The Samsung Freeform has a rated battery life of up to 6 hours talk time and up to 8.3 days standby time. Our tests came pretty close with a talk time of 6 hours and 15 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Freeform has a digital SAR of 0.48 watt per kilogram.