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Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular) review: Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)

Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)

Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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4 min read

Lightweight and compact, the Samsung Freeform 4 isn't anything fancy. But its BlackBerry-esque QWERTY keyboard is great for fans of texting, especially those with petite hands.

Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)
6.7

Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

The <b>Samsung Freeform 4</b> has great call quality, and a physical QWERTY keyboard for easy messaging.

The Bad

The Freeform 4's camera is poor, the keys may be too cramped for some, and the data connection's slow.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Freeform 4 makes solid calls and is great if you're looking for a simple, entry-level handset with a keyboard.

However, because of its low specs, don't expect it to wow you in other areas. Its 2-megapixel camera understandably takes poor photos, and its data speeds are slow.

But if you're not on the lookout for a high-tech handset, this sleek feature phone might do the trick to let your messaging fingers fly. By itself, the device will set you back $160, but if you agree to a two-year contract with U.S. Cellular, it'll be free.

Design
The Samsung Freeform 4 has simple rounded corners, tapered top and bottom edges, and a sleek dark strip of chrome framing the device. It measures 4.38 inches tall, 2.38 inches wide, and 0.42 inch thick. It is extremely light, weighing only 2.4 ounces. Due to its small frame, I was able to type out messages, albeit slowly, with just one hand using my thumb. You can easily throw it in a small purse or clutch, and it's compact enough to fit in a front or back pockets of jeans.

To the left are a volume rocker and a slot for a microSD card, which is covered by a small piece of plastic. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the right is a shortcut camera button. At the very bottom is a Micro-USB port.

The handset sports a 2.4-inch TFT display that has a 320x240-pixel resolution. Though it's bright and text rendered crisply, the screen has a narrow viewing angle and menu icons were ill-defined. Color gradients were streaky and the default wallpaper designs were grainy and pixelated.

Below the display are send, speakerphone, back, and end/power keys. There are also two soft keys that change functions depending on what you're doing, four directional keys, and a select key in the center. Below this entire set of buttons is a QWERTY keyboard.

The Freeform 4 has a small four-row QWERTY keyboard. Josh Miller/CNET

The QWERTY keyboard is not for large fingers. I have small hands, so typing was cramped but not painstaking or impossible. I also appreciated some of the built-in shortcuts: holding down the space bar puts the phone on vibrate, and there are two designated keys to open the calendar and e-mail applications. Each button is elevated with a bubbled texture.

The backing is made of a smooth plastic that's textured with a small diamond pattern. The black plate's glossy finish is slippery, and the phone almost slid out of my hands a couple of times. In the top center is a 2-megapixel camera and on the right of that are two small slits for the output speaker. To get to the 1,000mAh battery inside, you can remove the backing using a small indentation at the top.

Features
The Samsung Freeform 4 is powered by a 480MHz Qualcomm processor. The phone holds up to 1,000 contacts, each of which can be associated with multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and a note. Every contact can be differentiated with a photo ID and one of 29 ringtones. The device also employs calling groups, speed dials, and favorites.

Basic task managing apps include: a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, native music and video players, Bluetooth, voice command, a stop watch, a world clock, and a memo pad. There's also a Web browser and an app called Social Scene, which connects you to online news, as well as your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and Google Talk accounts. In addition, there's U.S. Cellular's app store for feature phones called easyedge, where you can download games, ringtones, and other apps like AccuWeather.

The Freeform 4 has a 2-megapixel camera on the back. Josh Miller/CNET

The 2-megapixel camera includes a few options like three different shots (single, series, or mosaic); four photo sizes (ranging from 1,600x1,200 pixels to 320x240 pixels); three qualities (superfine, fine, and normal); five white balances (auto, sunny, cloudy, tungsten, and fluorescent); a timer; and six color tones (normal, black-and-white, sepia, negative, green, and aqua).

Video options include the same white balance, timer, and color tone modules, but video quality is restricted to only normal and there are two video length options (30 seconds for MMS, and normal, which depends on how much memory you have). The device has 80MB of internal memory, and up to 32GB for external storage through the microSD card slot.

Performance
I tested the tri-band (800, 1900, 1700) Samsung Freeform 4 in San Francisco on U.S. Cellular's network. Both signal and call quality were impressive. No calls dropped, audio didn't cut in and out, and there was no extraneous buzzing or static. Voices sounded excellent and clear, even on low volume. Speaker audio was also solid, though at times my friends sounded tinny. I was told that I sounded crisp as well, and one of my friends couldn't even tell the difference in my voice when I was speaking through the in-ear and speaker mics.

Samsung Freeform 4 call quality sample

Listen now:

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Photo quality was understandably poor, given the low specs. Images were blurry, edges weren't well-defined, and colors were not as bright or vivid as they were in real life. Due to the lack of focus, lighting was all over the place: dark hues were difficult to differentiate, and bright lights were completely washed out at times. Though the feedback lagged slightly behind my moving of the camera, it wasn't that bothersome. Video recording yielded similar results. Moving objects were extremely pixelated and colors were muted.

In this sunny outdoor shot, the white light reflecting off the ground has been washed out. Lynn La/CNET

In this brightly lit indoor shot, the dark hues in the couch blend together. Lynn La/CNET

In our standard studio shot, colors aren't as vivid. Josh Miller/CNET

The Web browser on this handset was tedious and slow. It was cumbersome to click through so many menu items just to navigate through Web pages or type in URLs. Though sites loaded quickly (on average, mobile versions of CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN loaded in 16, 21, and 17 seconds, respectively), it's important to note that they weren't the regular versions you'd see on smartphones. A lot of coding is stripped away, so the sites are modified to show the bare-bones graphics and images.

The phone's reported talk time is 6.5 hours. During our battery drain tests for talk time, it lasted 6.43 hours. Anecdotally, battery life was strong. It doesn't do much, so it lasted a few days without a charge. Even after talking on the phone on the second day without a charge, the battery only lost about a third of its capacity. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.97W/kg.

Conclusion
If you don't need a strong Web-browsing experience or a great cameraphone, the Samsung Freeform 4 is something to consider. Not only does it deliver great calls, but its four-row QWERTY keyboard makes it a cinch to type out messages (again, if you've got small paws). Its lightweight and compact build also means you can carry it around comfortably in your pocket or in your bag. And best of all, if you're willing to sign a two-year contract with U.S. Cellular, the handset will be yours for the very low price of zero dollars.

Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)
6.7

Samsung Freeform 4 (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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