Samsung Montage (Virgin Mobile) review:

Samsung Montage (Virgin Mobile)

On a good day, the most you can expect from a 2-megapixel camera with autofocus or flash is a nicely balanced outdoor photo. Unfortunately, my photos turned up more grainy than anything else. Inside, color balance was off, even for well-lit shots, and the background in the studio shot turned an unappetizing brown.

Samsung Montage
The Montage's 2-megapixel camera produced some soft edges and tinting. It gave the gray background a brown cast. Click to enlarge. Josh Miller/CNET

The camera's settings are fairly complete, though, if you're dedicated enough to adjust them. There are the usual shooting modes, which include panorama and night shot, and six white-balance modes that frankly seem like overkill on a camera of this caliber. Although 2 megapixels is the highest resolution, you can also drop down five steps to as low as 320x240 pixels. Smaller-size shots are just right for sending a photo message. You'll be able to adjust the self-timer and the brightness, pick the quality, and choose the shutter sound. Samsung left off color effects on this camera, which I think is just fine.

The camcorder mode has some similar presets, but also lets you limit the length and quality of your video to about 30 seconds for sending as a video message. Otherwise, you can capture video for up to an hour. Just heed my warning that video is very blocky and you need the right lighting to shoot clearly.

Samsung Montage
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If you don't hold absolutely steady, blur happens. Josh Miller/CNET

Unfortunately, I ran into a Bluetooth transfer error while trying to extract the photos to include in this review. After two pictures transferred perfectly, the third photo kept hanging halfway through the transfer before aborting.

I tested the single-band Samsung Montage (CDMA 1900) in San Francisco on Virgin Mobile's network. The first thing I can say is that volume was very good; I could hear calls clearly on several different audio levels. Voices were muffled, though, and I detected background fuzziness every time a caller spoke. In addition, voices cut in and out, disclosing distortion. When the caller fell silent, there wasn't any background noise. Add it together and callers sounded gauzy.

On his end, my main test caller said I also sounded muffled, a sign that the high frequencies are a little attenuated. Beyond that, I was both loud and clear, without any white noise getting in the way. I sounded better to his ears than he did to mine: he said the call was pleasant.

Samsung Montage call quality sample Listen now:

I tested the speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. Volume was very strong without being too loud, and I felt that the echo, while there, was controlled. It never became too blaring or out of hand, but I did hear the same distortion and muffling as I did over standard mode.

There was some change on my test partner's end of the line when I switched into speakerphone mode. I was a little garbled, he said, and a little hard to understand. The phone also seemed to enhance the echo of the room, and wasn't his favorite for speaking.

Although the 480MHz Qualcomm QSC6155 processor isn't anything to write home about, the speed seemed appropriate for this type of phone. More noticeable was the 1,000mAh battery with a rated battery life of just 4 hours' talk time and a standby time of only 10.5 days. During out talk time test, it lasted 5.17 hours. If you're a heavy talker and texter, you'll need to charge your phone often.

The Montage also has 128MB RAM and 256MB ROM, not a lot for storing photos and pictures, so you'll want to rely on a microSD card for that. The Montage accepts up to 32GB in external storage.

The FCC stipulates that phones sold in the U.S. must emit fewer than 1.6 watts per kilogram. The Samsung Montage has a digital SAR of 1.09 watts per kilogram.

Final thoughts
Taken in the context of Virgin Mobile's feature phone options, the Samsung Montage is an acceptable choice. Based on looks alone, I prefer its build to the Samsung M575's (which is why it also gets higher marks in that category), though the latter has a slightly larger battery for longer talk time, and the camera may be slightly better on the M575. However, I also personally prefer the Montage's keyboard, which makes the comparison a toss-up. I strongly recommend that Virgin customers looking at these two phones test them out in-store before buying.

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