Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS) review:

Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS)

In terms of apps and tools, there are all the essentials: a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a stop watch, a world clock, and the trusty memo pad. There's also support for Bluetooth and voice commands. Text and picture messaging are of course key, and there's an IM and social networking app that MetroPCS has preloaded to connect you with your favorite people on Yahoo Messenger, Facebook, and other services.

MetroPCS has also outfitted the phone with the usual load of shortcuts to branded carrier apps online, like Metro411, MetroBackup, MetroNavigator, and an online apps store. You'll also find Pocket Express and Loopt. MetroWeb delivers the Internet, but slowly, since this isn't one of the carrier's few 4G-capable handsets, and since MetroPCS is equipped with a 2.5G (1xRT) network. The Internet interface is terribly outdated, frustrating to navigate, and blighted by small type; actual performance is slow and spotty at best. Although we were able to eventually change the home screen, we never got CNET's mobile-optimized site to successfully load. The browser delivered Google search results quickly and accurately enough.

As long as you've got a microSD card, there's a bare-bones music player onboard. It can play, pause, and skip songs, plus add the current track to playlists on the fly. Your tracks will play in the background if you leave the player to look at other things, so long as you don't hit the End button to exit. It will also continue playing when the phone locks, and as you send a text, but the music temporarily stopped when we tried setting up e-mail.

Photos taken with the Samsung Freeform III weren't very impressive.

The camera is a bit of a disappointment, just 1.3 megapixels (1,280x960-pixel resolution) like its predecessors. Although keeping camera technology modest is a major contributor to the lower price point, it still would have been nice had Samsung and MetroPCS found a way to give the Freeform III a 3.2-megapixel camera as an extra purchasing incentive. The usual color effects, white balance, and night shot settings are all there. It's the image quality itself that suffers. We found colors were washed out and some images were distorted, adding a curve to the beam of a garage that's actually straight, and producing unfocused indoor shots. The Freeform III has 100MB internal memory, and, again, an allowance of up to 32GB for external storage.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; 1700 AWS) Samsung Freeform III in San Francisco on MetroPCS' network. Call quality was impressive, with excellent volume and clarity on both sides of the line. We didn't experience any breaks or interruptions, and didn't notice any intrusive background noise. In one call, we lowered the volume on a shouting caller since we could already hear so well. The shouter also mentioned that we could be heard clearly despite significant road noise on her end.

Samsung Freeform III call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was also pretty good. It was once again loud for both parties, although with the usual speakerphone echoes and buzz.

The Freeform III has a rated battery life of only 3.3 hours talk time on its 1000mAh battery, a step down from the Freeform II's 5 hours of talk time. According to FCC tests, the Freeform II has a digital SAR of 0.94 watts per kilogram.

The Samsung Freeform III isn't an exciting feature phone by any means, but it does have the right combination of price, call quality, and keyboard to appeal to the budget-minded consumer. However, its smooth body gave us the slip more than a few times; we wish there were an easier-to-grip substance or slightly more edged shape to the back and sides. The lack of a spell-checker may similarly annoy wordsmiths. Although we're glad that Samsung improved the placement and capacity of the microSD card slot, it downgraded the battery life and didn't upgrade the underperforming camera. As 4G marches on, a 2.5G-capable device like this seems to become comparatively slower, and we had trouble loading one of our standard testing sites on it. If it weren't for the clear calling and relatively good speakerphone, we'd be inclined to dump this handset out with the bathwater. As it happens, phones that make quality calls are hard to find, and that's the Freeform III's saving grace.

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