The Samsung Admire marks another step in Android's continued march onto phones from prepaid carriers. Made for MetroPCS, the Admire isn't long on features, but it offers more than enough to keep you occupied for both a little play and some work. The simple design is easy to handle, though not exactly sturdy, and the display is bright without being completely beautiful. On the whole, we'd say that the Admire is a decent device with some bonus features but variable call quality. Your experience may be different, but we'd prefer to stick with a few existing Android models in the carrier's lineup. The Admire is just $129 without a contract, but you'll need to select at least a $50 per-month unlimited data and calling plan.
The Admire has a fairly typical smartphone design. With its rounded ends it's not nearly as rectangular as many of today's Android handsets and we like how the ribbed texture around the edges gives it a comfortable feeling in the hand. At 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick the Admire fits easily into a pocket. It's a tad heavier than it looks at 4.14 ounces, but it won't weigh you down. The plastic skin doesn't feel entirely sturdy, so we'd take care not to drop it repeatedly on a hard surface. The Admire comes in two versions: a bright red or a more restrained gray.
The 3.5-inch HVGA screen takes up most of the front of the phone. Though its resolution is pretty average, it's still bright with vivid colors and sharp graphics. You get five home screens, which you can customize in usual Android fashion with shortcut icons, widgets, and folders. Of course, you get the Google search bar, but we're disappointed that the Admire doesn't offer a shortcut on the home screen for turning on features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Fortunately, the Admire runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3), which offers a number of usability upgrades. Read our Samsung Nexus S review for a full analysis of Gingerbread.
The virtual keyboard has Swype as an option, though you don't have to use it. The design of the keyboard is about the same as on other Android phones, though it may feel a bit cramped if you're accustomed to using a phone with a larger display. Because there are only four rows of keys, each letter shares space with either a number or a punctuation mark. Alternatively, there's a second keyboard for just numbers and symbols. The dialpad has a standard design as well, and both had a responsive and accurate touch interface.
Below the display are the menu, back, home, and search keys. All physical keys are raised, which makes them easy to use by feel. The accessible volume rocker sits on the left spine above the microSD card slot while the power control and camera shutter sit on the right spine. On the bottom of the phone is the Micro-USB port, which is used for both the charger and a USB cable. We were glad to see a standard 3.5mm headset jack up top. You don't get a wired headset in the box, but you should have no problem using your own. On the back of the phone are the camera lens and a small speaker.
The size of the Admire's phone book is limited by the available internal memory. You don't get a large amount of space in that department, just 196MB, but that should be more than you need for storing the digits of your friends and colleagues. What's more, each contact entry holds multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, street addresses, company names, URLs, instant-message handles, nicknames, and notes.
Other essentials include a calculator, a calendar that you can sync with multiple accounts (including Google), an alarm clock, Wi-Fi, a full Web browser, Bluetooth, instant messaging, voice commands and voice search, a file manager, text and multimedia messaging, and a slate of accessibility features. E-mail is onboard as well with support for Gmail, POP3 and IMAP4 accounts, and the carrier's own Mail@Metro service.
As an Android phone, the Admire offers access to a wide variety of apps through the Android Market or MetroPCS' separate app store. A few options come installed on the phone, including Loopt, a dedicated news and weather widget; Pocket Express, a Web portal of sorts for news and information; and ThinkFree Office, which offers limited word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation features with Microsoft Office compatibility. On the whole it's a decent assortment and you get the usual Google Android apps like Google Books, Google Talk, Google Maps with Navigation, YouTube, Google Places, and Google Latitude.
MetroPCS also includes its own selection of applications, of which some are useful and others are redundant. Perhaps the most interesting is Virtual Card, which enables you to make mobile payments with your phone. We didn't walk all the way through the process, but according to the carrier's site, the service will turn your handset into a debit MasterCard. As for other MetroPCS apps, you'll find MyExtras (a Web portal), Metro411 (directory assistance), Metro Backup (for your contacts), and MyMetro (access to your account).
The Admire includes the standard Android music player, but it's also the first device that we've seen with the carrier's new Rhapsody Unlimited Music service. Available on all MetroPCS Android handsets, the service offers unlimited (naturally) access to most of Rhapsody's catalog. As CNET's Greg Sandoval reported earlier this month, Warner Music Group is the only one of the four major record labels not to sign MetroPCS' deal. You'll need the $60 monthly rate plan to use the service, but you'll be able to play, download, and stream songs without paying per-track charges. The Admire also comes with MetroStudio, where you can browse and download ringtones. Once you're ready to store all that content, you can use the microSD card slot. Though a 2GB card comes with the phone (you'll need to buy an adapter), the slot accommodates cards of up to 32GB.
The 3.2-megapixel camera takes photos in four resolutions, from a full 3.2-megapixels down to standard VGA (64x480 pixels). It has a fair number of settings, such as three focus modes, six scene settings, spot metering, five white-balance settings, a 4x zoom, five color effects, geolocation, and three quality modes. The camera also shoots video in four settings and six color effects. Video length is determined by the available memory.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Admire in San Francisco using MetroPCS service. Call quality was mixed. On our end, the audio clarity was good and the signal remained strong and free of interference. The volume level, however, was a little low and we noticed occasional cut-outs during most calls. We wouldn't say that it ruined our experience, but these problems were immediately apparent and they continued throughout our test period. We had a difficult time hearing and understanding our callers in especially noisy places.
MetroPCS Samsung Admire call quality sample Listen now:
Our callers also reported a few issues on their end. We were able to have a conversation, but there were a few times where we had to speak up or repeat ourselves. As we did, our friends found that the volume level wasn't completely reliable and there were frequent fluctuations in clarity. We particularly noticed this difficulty when calling an airline's automated reservation system. Even when we were in a quiet room, we had to speak slowly and enunciate to be understood.
Sadly, we had worse luck with the speakerphone. The audio on our end was tinny and pretty quiet. It helped to rest the phone upside down, but not by much. Callers reported poor quality on their end, as well. We had to sit close to the phone and be in a quiet place if we wanted to be heard. Bluetooth calls are fine, though quality will depend on the headset.
Music quality was just average and that was through a headset. You won't find a lot of range and the overall effect is rather flat. Don't even bother with music through the single speaker. Video quality isn't impressive either, but we weren't expecting much given the display's specifications.
The 800MHz processor keeps things moving respectably well. You'll notice a difference if you're accustomed to using more powerful smartphones, but the phone performs just fine for the market it's trying to capture. It may not run at top speed, but it gets the job done. The Admire has a rated battery life of 3 hours of talk time and 8.3 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests the Admire has a digital SAR of 0.53 watts per kilogram.
MetroPCS continues to pump out its share of basic but functional Android devices. The Admire certainly belongs in that category, next to the likes of the Huawai Ascend, Samsung Galaxy Indulge, and LG Optimus M. In terms of specs the Admire barely differs from its brethren, but its variable call quality makes us reluctant to endorse it heartily. As such, we'd suggest going for the other models.