The Samsung Contour (SCH-R250) is a basic phone by any standard, but as we've said time and again, for anyone interested in making phone calls and little else, simple is just the ticket. It's certainly far more bare-bones than another contemporary clamshell, the Samsung SPH-M360 for Sprint. We weren't impressed by the Contour's low VGA camera resolution, but MetroPCS stocks the candy-apple-red flip phone with a handful of useful apps like instant messaging, e-mail, and driving directions. While it's technically 3G, MetroPCS' markets for the most part offer 2.5G speeds, with the exception of Detroit and Dallas/Fort Worth. The Contour costs $49 without a contract.
The Samsung Contour may not scream "sophistication," but its lacquered carmine-and-matte-black body will surely stand out on store shelves. The flip phone has a square head that tapers and rounds toward the bottom. Thanks to its silky smooth plastic chassis, it's got a great in-hand feel and glides easily into pockets and purses. Its slickness can at times make the handset slippery; we fumbled it more than once. The Contour measures 3.8 inches tall, 1.9 inches wide, and 0.7 inch thick. Its 3.8-ounce weight feels just about right for the cell phone's size. Although we weren't wowed by the build quality, the Contour seems solid enough. In addition, it's easy to flip open and has a sturdy hinge.
A 1-inch color external display on the phone's face squeezes in the time, date, battery life, reception, and data speed, and alerts you to unread messages. You can adjust the contrast on the 176x220-pixel CSTN screen.
The 2-inch internal TFT display has a blurrier 128x160-pixel resolution (that's QQVGA). It supports 262,000 colors and is bright enough, but not at all crisp. The clock format, theme, dialing font size, brightness, and backlight time are all adjustable. The menu is easy to navigate with soft-key controls and an icon-based menu. In addition to the onscreen menu and @metro controls is a shortcut button that pops up a ribbon of featured apps. This is typical of MetroPCS phones.
Below the display, the navigation array consists of two soft keys, a four-way navigation toggle with a central OK button, a Talk and End button, and a Clear key. The navigation toggle is comfortable and responsive, as are the dialpad buttons. The large, backlit keys are partially separated and raised above the surface. Made of a rubbery material, they feel good to press; we had no problems dialing or texting.
In the way of external hardware buttons, the Contour has a volume rocker, a Micro-USB charging port, a camera trigger, and a 2.5-millimeter headset jack. The VGA camera lens is on the flip face.
The Contour has a 1,000-contact address book, with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, a calling group, and one of 22 polyphonic ringtones, including a silent mode. You also can assign a photo ID from the contact entry screen or after shooting a picture.
Samsung included a typical set of phone features, including a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. There's also text messaging and Bluetooth support.
MetroPCS's bundled add-ons provide more functionality, with apps that handle Web e-mail and mobile instant messaging, contact backup, and voice commands. There's also MetroNavigator for directions, and the Loopt social network. The apps can be quite rudimentary, but at least they're available.
The VGA camera is quite low-quality--many budget phones include a 1.3-megapixel camera these days. It takes photos in three resolutions ranging from 640x480 pixels down to 128x96 pixels. There are four shooting modes, five white-balance settings, six color effects, a night mode, a self-timer, and three choices for image quality. If you snap the Contour closed without turning off the camera, you can use the external display for self-portraits.
When you're done taking a picture, you can opt to share it through a picture message or Bluetooth. There are also options to set it as a wallpaper or photo ID, or to rename or even erase the image. Internal storage is a small 55MB, and there's no expansion slot on the uber-entry-level Contour. The phone produced blurry and dull photos that were full of digital noise.
Thanks to the MetroWeb app, you can access the Internet. It's a simple WAP browser with a Google search bar, bookmarks, and a history function. It was slow with the phone's processor and 2.5G speeds. For example, it took over 20 seconds to fully load CNET's mobile-optimized site, but photos are so sketchy, you'd be better off if the browser skipped them entirely.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Contour in San Francisco using the MetroPCS network. Although the phone is technically 3G-capable, MetroPCS only offers limited EV-DO coverage in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Detroit markets. Call quality wasn't bad overall, although voices sounded a little muffled and volume was a tad low. Volume was in the medium range, and fine for our conversations. Our callers reported OK clarity in some calls and some fuzziness in other calls, with some white background noise, but we had uninterrupted conversation.
Speakerphone volume was very loud on our end, with distortion at the highest levels for both us and the callers. Our friends on the other end of the line thought we sounded a bit distant.
Samsung Contour call quality sample Listen now:
The Samsung Contour has a rated battery life of 3.3 hours of talk time and a standby time of 8.3 days. In our battery drain tests, it has a talk time of 3 hours and 27 minutes. According to FCC tests, the Contour has a digital SAR of 0.49 watt per kilogram.