I'm all for carriers offering free phones, especially if it's a coveted smartphone, but as is the case with these things, what you pay for is usually what you get. The Samsung Repp for U.S. Cellular hits the adage on the head. It's a perfect free phone: reliable thanks to Android 2.3 Gingerbread as its operating system, but the hardware is entry level, and best suited for those who won't pick their phone apart with critical eyes.
The Repp is small, with just a 3.2-inch touch screen; the 3.2-megapixel camera takes decent outdoor shots (but that's about it); and there's a 2GB microSD card already preinstalled. U.S. Cellular customers who sign on for a new, two-year contract can pick up the Repp at no charge--after a $100 mail-in rebate. If you buy it without a commitment, it'll cost $139.99.
Here's another trend in phone design: the more basic the features, the splashier the paint job. The Repp may not have the most going on under the hood, but at least it's nice to look at. An appealing berry shade rings the face and back cover, where it's also slightly dimpled. The wide, flat spines and the top and bottom are a matte silver color, and the Home button on the phone's face has a brushed black finish that makes it look a cut above glossy plastic buttons. I also like the way that the cover to the microSD card slot fits snugly into place.
The handset itself is on the small side, just 4.35 inches tall by 2.26 inches wide by 0.48 inch thick. It weighs a reasonable 3.72 ounces. The Repp's 3.2-inch HVGA screen is on the small side, with a 320x480-pixel QVGA resolution. It's serviceable in terms of color and brightness, but it's hardly exciting and washes out in direct sunlight. I don't recommend getting too rough with the screen, or doing what I'm about to describe. But if you place a finger on the screen and push down while dragging, you'll see a black trail that follows the path of your fingertip.
One interesting tidbit of the Repp is that it runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread without any additional skins; that's something that will appeal to Android purists. There are five home screens on the phone, as well as the typical vertical scrolling in the app tray that you get with unadulterated Android.
Below the display are just three navigation buttons: the touch-sensitive menu and back buttons, and the physical button that serves for Home and Select. On the right spine you'll find the power button and microSD card slot. Up top is the 3.5mm headset jack, and the volume rocker is on the left. Look for the Micro-USB charging port on the bottom when battery runs low. The camera lens on the back will produce a 3.2-megapixel image.
When it comes to all the features, the Repp is back to basics. Android Gingerbread brings a sense of unity and familiarity, plus the assurance that the device will come with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, text and multimedia messaging, and a variety of e-mail and social networking options. There's also access to more than 300,000 downloadable apps in the Android Market to complement the essential programs like the clock, calendar, calculator, browser, and music player.
That isn't to say there aren't other apps preloaded; a completely bare phone would be unheard of, even if you overlook Google's contributions to every Android handset. These include the now-typical Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, search, books, Places, and YouTube.