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Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS) review: Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS)

Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS)

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
5 min read


Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS)

The Good

The <b>Samsung Freeform III</b> has excellent call quality and an effective QWERTY keyboard.

The Bad

The slippery handset kept getting away from us, photo quality was so-so, and we experienced some browser problems. Battery life is too short.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to great call quality and its sturdy keyboard, the Samsung Freeform III is a solid messaging phone at a reasonable price, despite a couple of drawbacks.

We always say there's no point in a manufacturer upgrading a phone without updating it. Sadly, that's the way some sequels and trilogies go, like the ill-fated Samsung Eternity II, which actually downgraded the camera compared with its predecessor. Although the camera in the Samsung Freeform III (SCH-R380) remains the same with an unremarkable 1.3 megapixels, the third edition of the MetroPCS feature phone doubles its external memory allotment, from the 16GB of the Samsung Freeform II to 32GB.

The Samsung Freeform III has rounder edges than its predecessor.

Unfortunately, that's about the only substantive change, and the Freeform III remains a very average feature phone for the prepaid market. It costs a reasonable $49 with a $50 online instant rebate. If you're a Freeform II owner, this new handset offers little reason to trade up a model. If you're new to the Freeform series, its excellent call quality is the best part of an otherwise adequate cell phone with some basic multimedia features.

Those already familiar with the Freeform II will need just one look at the Freeform III to guess its lineage. Samsung has adjusted the design to round the corners more and slightly enlarge the screen. Otherwise, it's almost the same matte black handset with its characteristically dish-shaped soft-key buttons. Standing a little taller at 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Freeform III has a 2.4-inch QVGA display with a 320x240-pixel resolution, compared with the 2.2-inch screen of the Freeform II. It weighs just 3.3 ounces. The light weight combined with the phone's rounded edges and smooth gray back cover had the phone slipping and sliding out of our hands more than once. Luckily, it never fell too far or too hard to inflict any real damage.

This smooth backing isn't as smudge-prone as high-gloss plastic, but it's slippery.

Back to the screen: the display is wider than it is tall (a bonus for most pictures) and looks relatively bright and colorful, except in direct sunlight, when the screen looks bleached out, an unfortunate reality for most cell phones. You'll be able to adjust settings like brightness and screen time-out. Although there are two soft keys and a four-way directional pad with a central select button, the onscreen navigation could be a bit more fluid. That said, there is a lighthearted, graphical menu layout for accessing tools and applications, and there's a shortcut so you can scroll through some of the additional apps, like MetroWeb, without going through the menu.

Below the screen are also a speakerphone control, a back button, and the Talk and End/Power buttons. A four-row QWERTY keyboard makes up the Freeform III's lower third. Keys are ridged and compact, fairly comfortable and with a good grip for our fingers, although people with larger digits could find them small and cramped. Typing went pretty quickly for us overall, at least until it came to punctuation. The placement of the Function key and some of the punctuation marks made it frustrating to stick with the Queen's English, and there's no automatic addition of period markers as there is on other phones when you hit the space bar twice. The lack of a spell-checker was also upsetting, though we recognize that not everyone is as precise as we are when it comes to composing e-mails and texts (we can't help it, it's what we do.)

We did, however, appreciate the keyboard shortcuts to put the phone in silent mode, open the calendar, launch voice commands, and hop into messaging from both shared and dedicated keys.

As for the other physical characteristics, Samsung listened to our pleas and moved the microSD card slot beneath the back cover to a covered slot on the phone's left spine, right below the volume rocker. Up top is the 3.5mm headset jack and on the right is the dedicated camera button. On the bottom you'll find the Micro-USB charging port, and on the back is the lens for the phone's 1.3-megapixel camera.

Inside the Freeform III is the usual feature fare. The contact book holds 1,000 names, each of which can be associated with multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and a note. You can also differentiate individual contacts with a photo ID and one of 22 ringtones. The Freeform III employs calling groups and speed dials, and you can set favorites.

In terms of apps and tools, there are all the essentials: a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a stop watch, a world clock, and the trusty memo pad. There's also support for Bluetooth and voice commands. Text and picture messaging are of course key, and there's an IM and social networking app that MetroPCS has preloaded to connect you with your favorite people on Yahoo Messenger, Facebook, and other services.

MetroPCS has also outfitted the phone with the usual load of shortcuts to branded carrier apps online, like Metro411, MetroBackup, MetroNavigator, and an online apps store. You'll also find Pocket Express and Loopt. MetroWeb delivers the Internet, but slowly, since this isn't one of the carrier's few 4G-capable handsets, and since MetroPCS is equipped with a 2.5G (1xRT) network. The Internet interface is terribly outdated, frustrating to navigate, and blighted by small type; actual performance is slow and spotty at best. Although we were able to eventually change the home screen, we never got CNET's mobile-optimized site to successfully load. The browser delivered Google search results quickly and accurately enough.

As long as you've got a microSD card, there's a bare-bones music player onboard. It can play, pause, and skip songs, plus add the current track to playlists on the fly. Your tracks will play in the background if you leave the player to look at other things, so long as you don't hit the End button to exit. It will also continue playing when the phone locks, and as you send a text, but the music temporarily stopped when we tried setting up e-mail.

Photos taken with the Samsung Freeform III weren't very impressive.

The camera is a bit of a disappointment, just 1.3 megapixels (1,280x960-pixel resolution) like its predecessors. Although keeping camera technology modest is a major contributor to the lower price point, it still would have been nice had Samsung and MetroPCS found a way to give the Freeform III a 3.2-megapixel camera as an extra purchasing incentive. The usual color effects, white balance, and night shot settings are all there. It's the image quality itself that suffers. We found colors were washed out and some images were distorted, adding a curve to the beam of a garage that's actually straight, and producing unfocused indoor shots. The Freeform III has 100MB internal memory, and, again, an allowance of up to 32GB for external storage.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; 1700 AWS) Samsung Freeform III in San Francisco on MetroPCS' network. Call quality was impressive, with excellent volume and clarity on both sides of the line. We didn't experience any breaks or interruptions, and didn't notice any intrusive background noise. In one call, we lowered the volume on a shouting caller since we could already hear so well. The shouter also mentioned that we could be heard clearly despite significant road noise on her end.

Samsung Freeform III call quality sample Listen now: "="">

Speakerphone was also pretty good. It was once again loud for both parties, although with the usual speakerphone echoes and buzz.

The Freeform III has a rated battery life of only 3.3 hours talk time on its 1000mAh battery, a step down from the Freeform II's 5 hours of talk time. According to FCC tests, the Freeform II has a digital SAR of 0.94 watts per kilogram.

The Samsung Freeform III isn't an exciting feature phone by any means, but it does have the right combination of price, call quality, and keyboard to appeal to the budget-minded consumer. However, its smooth body gave us the slip more than a few times; we wish there were an easier-to-grip substance or slightly more edged shape to the back and sides. The lack of a spell-checker may similarly annoy wordsmiths. Although we're glad that Samsung improved the placement and capacity of the microSD card slot, it downgraded the battery life and didn't upgrade the underperforming camera. As 4G marches on, a 2.5G-capable device like this seems to become comparatively slower, and we had trouble loading one of our standard testing sites on it. If it weren't for the clear calling and relatively good speakerphone, we'd be inclined to dump this handset out with the bathwater. As it happens, phones that make quality calls are hard to find, and that's the Freeform III's saving grace.


Samsung Freeform III SCH-R380 (MetroPCS)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6