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Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked) review: Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked)

Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
9 min read


Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked)

The Good

The Samsung Blue Earth has a stylish design and a functional midrange feature set. Green fans will appreciate the solar panels that charge the phone.

The Bad

The Samsung Blue Earth's small display feels rather crowded. It lacks a full keyboard and call quality isn't top-notch.

The Bottom Line

With its eco-friendly design and spiffy solar panels, the Samsung Blue Earth is more than just a gimmick; it's also an appealing cell phone with character.

As it does with most trends, Samsung is pursuing eco-friendly cell phones with vigor. It already gave us the Samsung Reclaim, and now we finally have a chance to review the Samsung Blue Earth. Forgive us if we're a bit excited, but Samsung has been holding this handset under lock and key for several months. Indeed, the last time we saw it at CTIA in April, we could only gaze from afar while it sat in a glass case.

Like the Reclaim, the Blue Earth's shell is made from recycled materials--specifically, plastic water bottles--but it goes a giant step further with solar panels on its rear face. You still get a standard wall charger in the box, but the panels can help you top off the phone in a pinch. It's also free of harmful materials like polyvinyl chloride, and you can minimize battery use by adjusting the display settings. Outside of being green, the Blue Earth offers a functional feature set, but its small touch screen hampers its usability and there was static during calls. The Blue Earth GT-S7550 is an unlocked GSM world phone, though it lacks support for North American 3G networks. U.S. pricing was not announced at the time of this writing, but in the European market the Blue Earth will cost 300 euros ($447) without service. That's a lot of cash for some green cred, so you may want to focus your eco efforts elsewhere.

With its royal blue casing and clean lines, the Blue Earth has an attractive and, dare we say, soothing design. It's true it does resemble Samsung's other touch-screen phones, but you only have to look at the solar panels to know that this handset is different. The panels cover almost the entire battery cover and sit just below the camera lens.

The solar panels sit on the rear side below the camera lens.

At 4.25 inches by 2.11 inches by 0.56 inch, the Blue Earth is on the small side, particularly for a touch-screen phone (more on the later). It's easily portable, but at 4.2 ounces it's heavier than you might think. The extra heft gives it a solid feel in the hand even if the battery cover pops off a bit too easily.

The Blue Earth's display is a mixed bag. On the upside, it's bright and vibrant (16 million colors; 400x240 pixels) with sharp photos and graphics. The Blue Earth offers Samsung's TouchWiz interface and like the company's Omnia HD, the home screen also has three panels, which gives you more room for widget customization. Just remember that you can select only the widgets that Samsung provides. Three touch icons on the bottom of the home screen offer the phonebook, the main menu, and the numeric keypad.

But now, there's the bad news. At 3 inches, the display is just too small to be really useful (we think 3.25 inches is the bare minimum for a touch display). Even with three pages, the home screen and the TouchWiz bar feel crowded. The main menu, which also spans three pages, is slightly better, and we like that you change the position of the widgets. The numeric keypad with its shortcuts to the messaging feature and phonebook isn't bad either, but the Blue Earth lacks a full keyboard. We're not sure why that feature was omitted--perhaps the display is just too small--but it means you'll have to tap out messages on an alphanumeric keypad.

The Blue Earth only has a standard alphanumeric keypad.

The touch interface is fairly responsive, whether you're plunking at keys and icons or scrolling thorough a long list. For accuracy's sake, the Blue Earth offers vibrating feedback, for which you can change the intensity. You also can change the font type and use a transition effect that activates sliding panels when moving between screens.

In keeping with the Blue Earth's green image, you adjust a number of display settings to save battery life. An "eco mode" will automatically adjust the brightness and backlight time to certain levels, but if they aren't satisfactory you can alter both settings to your liking. Other display options include a gesture unlock (draw a preselected charter on the display to unlock the phone) and an etiquette pause (turn the phone facedown when on a call to mute the sound).

The Blue Earth has just a few physical controls. Below the display are Talk and End/power controls and a Back key. The latter isn't labeled as such, but all of the controls are spacious and tactile. The volume rocker on the left spine is easy to find when you're on a call, but the combination handset locking key/camera shutter on the right spine is rather flush. Also on the right spine is the Blue Earth's Micro-USB port. Though we like that it accommodates the charger and the USB cable, we wish it didn't support a headset as well. We'd much prefer a separate headset jack with a standard connection. The microSD card slot is behind the battery cover.

Just like the Reclaim, the Blue Earth comes in a box made from recycled cardboard. It's not quite as sturdy as a normal cell phone box, but it carries a certain "feel good" factor. In fact, the only plastic parts are the bags that hold the USB cable and headset and the protective film on the phone's display. You can even reuse part of the box as a picture frame or a pencil holder; a helpful pictogram on the box's lid shows you how.

The Blue Earth has a 2,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven e-mail addresses, a birthday, notes, two e-mail address, two URLs, a nickname, a company name and job title, and two street addresses (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can organize callers into groups and you can pair friends with a photo and one of 25 polyphonic ringtones (five are designated as "eco tones"). You even can choose one of five vibrations and organize your favorite friends in a separate "photo contacts" list with a nifty pinwheel interface.

Basic features include text and multimedia messaging, a timer, a stopwatch, a world clock, a calculator, a memo pad, a task list, a unit and currency converter, a calendar and an alarm clock. You'll also find stereo Bluetooth, a file manager, Wi-Fi, a Google app for Gmail and Google Maps, a voice recorder, USB mass storage, and PC syncing. True eco warriors can use the Blue Earth's pedometer to count their steps and track how much carbon dioxide emissions and how many trees they're saving by walking. E-mail options are a mixed bag. Though POP3 access is available only through a clunky Web-based interface, the Blue Earth offers Exchange ActiveSync for Outlook e-mail.

The music player (MP3, AAC AAC+, eAAC+, WMA files) is standard Samsung. The interface is simple, and its straightforward interface and features are limited to playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and equalizer settings. You also can send the player to the background while using other functions and select an airplane mode for listening to your tunes while aloft. Loading music on the phone is relatively easy using a memory card or a USB cable. If you're tired of your own tunes, you can use the FM radio.

The Blue Earth's camera doesn't have a flash or self-portrait mirror.

The 3.2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four standard resolutions and two wide resolutions for landscape photos. Editing options include three quality settings four color effects, four white balance settings, exposure metering, an adjustable brightness, six "scene" settings (night, landscape, action, and so on), and a self-timer. You also get 16 fun frames, three shooting modes (continuous, panorama, and mosaic), and a "smile shot" options that promises to snap the photo when a subject is smiling.

The camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions (320x240 pixels and 176x144 pixels). Camcorder editing features are fewer than on the still camera, though you get a few options like brightness and a self-timer. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 15 seconds, but you can shoot for much longer in the standard mode. For both the still camera and camcorder, the interface is informative and easy to use. Photo quality is fine, but it won't knock your socks off. Most of our images were slightly washed out.

The Blue Earth has decent photo quality.

When finished with your shots and clips, you can save them to the phone, send them to a friend in a multimedia message, or transfer them off the phone using Bluetooth, a USB cable, or the memory card. The photo gallery offers a convenient way for viewing photos and is one of very few applications where the Blue Earth's accelerometer kicks into gear. Internal memory is capped at 180MB, which is rather low, but the microSD-card slot will accommodate cards up to 16GB.

The full HTML browser will be familiar to anyone who has used a comparable Samsung touch-screen phone. The display is responsive when scrolling around Web pages, but the screen size is too small for comfortable viewing. Also, we don't like entering URLs with the standard keypad.

You can personalize the Blue Earth with a variety of wallpaper, color themes, greetings, and alert sounds. Gamers get a decent selection of demo titles inducing BrickBreaker, Asphalt 4, and PyramidBloxx. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Blue Earth in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was decent on the whole, thought it wasn't without its issues. Callers sounded natural and the volume was loud enough, but the signal had a slight background crackle. It was very faint, but we could hear it during all calls regardless of the volume level. We also noticed that signal faded out more than other unlocked phones we've tested with AT&T.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell we were on a cell phone, but only a few could hear the static that we encountered. On the other hand, some callers said the Blue Earth picked up a fair amount of background noise. Automated calling systems could understand us as well, though we had a bit of trouble when we were outside.

Speakerphone calls were about the same. We could hear the background crackle, but the external speaker gets fairly loud. As such, you'll have the best experience if you're in a quiet place. Bluetooth headset calls were decent, but it can vary by headset.

As the Blue Earth supports only the 900 and 2100 bands, it lacks support for North American 3G networks so we were unable to test data performance. The handset will drop back to EDGE, however, in those places. Music is fine over the external speaker, but a headset will serve you better.

As mentioned, the Blue Earth comes with a standard wall charger. Even with the solar panels you'll want to stick with powering your handset with electricity most of the time. The solar panels are mainly for topping your phone off as needed and they do not appear to work when the Blue Earth is completely dead. On the upside, when the Blue Earth does have some power, the panels do kick in quickly in daylight and under some interior lighting such as a desk lamp. They can be an ideal way to keep a constant charge to your phone so that it doesn't go dark in the middle of the day.

Indeed, we had a hard time running the phone down so we could test the solar panels accurately. From what we hear, a full charge via the solar panels only can zap the Blue Earth with about 4 hours of talk time. Just remember that actual battery life will vary according to how you use the phone; color displays, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will drain a battery faster. In standby mode, however, the handset uses only 0.03 watt of power.

Samsung hasn't released firm battery life ratings, but we'll list them here if we find them. Our tests, however, resulted in an impressive talk time of 8 hours and 10 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Blue earth has a digital SAR of 0.196 watts per kilogram, which is rather low.


Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7