The second coming of the Samsung Freeform, the Freeform II, keeps the e-mail and messaging features we enjoyed in the first iteration and introduces a new keyboard that's much easier to manipulate. The result is a much more polished-looking handset. The keyboard bears such a resemblance to a competitor's that we're fairly convinced the Freeform II has been formulated to attract people seeking a professional-looking phone on a tighter budget. The Freeform II is a very affordable choice at $49.99 with an instant $50 rebate for MetroPCS.
Samsung's original Freeform had a curved candy-bar design; its brightly colored bodies (in teal and red in addition to black) introduced some playfulness. The Freeform II, on the other hand, goes all-business, with a glossy black face and matte black sides. The new, subtle angles in the phone's design and the pointed "chin" at the bottom add polish. At 4.1 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Freeform II is shorter, wider, and thicker than its predecessor. It's also a tad heavier, at 3.8 ounces. We noticed during our test calls that the Freeform II feels a little blocky on the ear.
We weren't fans of the Freeform's original keyboard design, and Samsung must have taken our grumbles to heart, at least in the looks department. With tall, backlit keys that peak just off-center, the Freeform II's keyboard heavily resembles that of RIM's BlackBerry Bold, which we do like. Unfortunately, the Freeform II's isn't quite as good. Its compact keyboard is borderline cramped, and its slightly stiff keys aren't the easiest to press.
On the right spine are a camera trigger, a Micro-USB charging port, and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack. On the left is the volume rocker. There's a 1.3-megapixel camera on the back, but the Freeform II inexplicably loses the self-portrait mirror found in the original Freeform. Pop off the back cover (with its soft-touch finish) to reveal a MicroSD card slot. It can hold up to 16GB external memory, but as we expected, the phone doesn't come with any right out of the box.
Features in the Freeform II don't stray from those on similar messaging phones. There's a generous 1,000-contact address book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, a group, one of 21 ringtones (plus silent), and a photo. You'll find plenty of standard organizer tools such as a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a world clock, a stop watch, and a converter. There are also Bluetooth and voice commands. MetroPCS preloads some of its own branded apps, too, like the @metro online storefront, which gives you access to MetroBackup, alternative wallpaper, and games like Bejeweled.
Since this is a messaging phone, the Freeform II is adept at text and multimedia messaging. There's also a downloadable (but free) instant-messaging app with Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, and AOL. A separate e-mail client accepts a wide variety of accounts, including Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, Comcast, and BellSouth. You can also add POP and IMAP settings, and can use those settings in a workaround to receive your work e-mail via OWA. Internet comes by way of the MetroPCS-branded MetroWeb.
The 1.3-megapixel camera takes so-so pictures, just as expected, but no multimedia messaging phone is without a shooter. Photos in our tests were colorful, but blurry. You can take photos in four resolutions (1280x960, 640x480, 320x240, or 176x144 pixels). Settings include single, series, and mosaic shots, three granularity settings, five white balance presets, night mode, four self-timer settings, six color effects, and three shutter sounds. If you don't have a 16GB or smaller MicroSD card, you'll have 42MB internal memory for photos.
If you do have expandable memory on hand, you can take advantage of the Freeform II's music player. It's very basic by default, with a small onscreen controller. However, you can change the music player interface in the oddly named Visual Supplements submenu; options include a player interface with an equalizer, album art, or a lyrics view (when the latter two are available). You can also create a playlist. Playback sounded fine to us, and sufficiently loud, through above-average earbuds.
We tested the Samsung Freeform II (CDMA 800/1900; AWS) in San Francisco on the MetroPCS network. Calls sounded good on the whole and were generally clear. Although the audio quality wasn't as crisp or defined as we've heard with some phones, the volume, timbres, and clarity were more than acceptable for both parties. Speakerphone was midrange, which isn't unusual. To our caller's ear, we sounded distorted, like we were speaking into a plastic cup. Voices on our end sounded a tad robotic with a metallic hum.
Samsung Freeform II call quality sample Listen now:
When it comes to Web surfing and loading e-mail on the Freeform II, the phone's 2.5G speeds were surprisingly zippy on the native browser, mostly because MetroWeb removes all but a sketch of an image, so items render much faster. It took 5 seconds to load Google search results and about the same amount of time to load CNET's mobile page and several subpages. E-mail worked fine with the white-labeled app MetroPCS preloaded, though it took longer to send e-mails through and we're not fans of the program's dated look and feel, or its confusing navigation.
The Samsung Freeform II has a rated battery life of up to 5 hours talk time and 22.9 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 48 minutes. According to FCC tests, the Freeform II has a digital SAR of 1.07 watts per kilogram.