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

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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.

Performance
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.

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