Fortunately, the phone software is easy to navigate with the soft keys and the four-way navigation toggle and central OK button located just north of the dial pad. Each direction on the navigation pad doubles as a customizable shortcut, to open up the browser and your contact list, for instance. The Talk, End, and Clear buttons are below. The dial pad's alphanumeric keys are fully separated and easy to press, with a nice tactile response. Several buttons also trigger other features, like Nuance-powered voice commands and turning the phone to vibrate.
It's back to basics with the Samsung Chrono. The address book holds 1,000 entries, with room for multiple phone numbers, e-mail, group calling, a photo ID, and about two dozen ringtones, including silent mode. You can send text and picture messages, and the phone works with Bluetooth accessories and has a voice command tool to help keep your eyes on the road.
The personal organizer tools make up the bulk of the features. There's your trusty calendar, a calculator, a notepad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stop watch, a converter, and a tip calculator. There's also Web access through the U.S. Cellular-branded browser.
While the Chrono doesn't have a music player (or a microSD card slot for external memory), it does have Tone Room, a storefront for purchasing more ringtones. You can also buy games and download other applications through the Easyedge Web store.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 1800/1900) Samsung Chrono in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network. The Chrono's call quality was simply superb in our tests, even on boisterous city streets. Volume was high on both ends and voices sounded natural. Absent were the telltale crackles and buzzes of most cell phone calls; the clarity of the line was so pristine that we repeatedly asked if our callers were still there. One caller called the experience as good as on a wired phone.
Samsung Chrono call quality sample
Speakerphone volume was also high enough to be heard, although it did produce the usual fuzzy audio and echoing typical of speakerphones. Our listeners also heard echoing and vocal distortion. It was fine for holding a conversation in a quiet room, but we wouldn't use it if we had other choices.
A very sketchy version of the mobile-optimized CNET site loaded in about 15 seconds over 2.5G speeds on the Chrono's browser. It took closer to 30 seconds to load a similarly image-free version of the New York Times' site in an area with strong signal. Due to the small screen and slower data speeds, browsing on the Chrono won't get better than this. Costs can also add up fast if you pay per kilobyte of data, so we suggest using the browser as a last resort if you don't buy a bundled plan.
The Chrono has a rated battery life of up to 4.5 hours and up to 12.5 days of standby time with its 800mAh lithium ion battery. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 42 minutes. FCC tests measure the Chrono's digital SAR emissions at 0.7 watts per kilogram.
There are two things that make the Samsung Chrono a good pick if you're looking for a simple phone for yourself or someone else--call quality that's clear as a bell, and that crazy-affordable price of just a penny if you buy it with a contract and only $19.99 if you buy it prepaid. Beyond that, the Chrono is light, uncomplicated, and reliable, with a design that won't make you shriek in horror and enough organizer features to send texts and snap a quick photo. This is not a flip phone designed to impress, but it's not bad for what it is, and wins extra points for succeeding at what a cell phone should do best: making calls.