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I'm all for U.S. Cellular adding more 4G LTE phones to its roster, and I'm a supporter of the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. What I do lament is that the carrier's Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G hits the lower rungs of smartphone offerings in ways that really drag down the user experience. Halting network speed results weren't U.S .Cellular's fault; San Francisco is outside of its network footprint, so I only got 3G speeds. However, the Metrix is behind in Android versions, and possesses a slower processor than it should.
The other appointments are terrific for an entry-level phone, and on par for a midrange device. I'm talking about the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, the responsive keyboard, and the LTE support. Video quality is also good, but the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera is variable.
The Metrix 4G costs $179 after a $100 mail-in rebate if you're outside of U.S. Cellular's 4G zone, and $129 after a $100 mail-in rebate for those who can tap 4G now or will get 4G by the end of the year.
Design and build
Many Samsung phones look like variations on a theme, and the Metrix 4G fits right in, though it has fewer fancy touches than some other handsets. The black device belongs to the Galaxy S family tree, where it sports rounded corners, an all-black body, and a thick build owing to the slide-out QWERTY. This is a phone that's definitely built for comfort rather than speed. Since you asked, the dimension are as follows: 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.55 inch deep. It weighs a hefty 5.8 ounces.
The keyboard is of the capacious five-row type, similar to the one on the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G for T-Mobile's network. This means that numbers rule the top row. I like that the comfortable keys angle in, which makes them easier for me to reach. Despite that, I find that I have to stretch to type sometimes. It slows me down, but I personally like the precision of typing on a physical keyboard. I can't complain about the responsiveness of the buttons either. It's nice that Samsung adds the navigation buttons to the physical keyboard as well, but pressing Alt and finding those punctuation keys made for inconvenient digital hustling and dexterity I just don't possess.
The phone's 4-inch Super AMOLED screen is a bright spot, with the rich, vibrant color typical of Samsung's chosen display technology. The 800x480-pixel resolution affords a crisp picture for the screen size. It's predictably satisfying.
Beneath the screen are four capacitive navigation buttons for the menu, home, back, and search. Above the screen is the front-facing camera lens. The power button is on the right spine; the volume rocker is on the left, and the 3.5-millimeter headset jack is up top. You'll charge the phone through a Micro-USB port on the bottom. The camera lens and LED flash are where you expect them on the back, and beneath the back cover you'll see the microSD card slot, which can hold up to 32GB in external storage.
OS and features
One look at the OS and it's clear that the Metrix will never make the big time. It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, two versions behind the absolute most current
Before you get too dismissive, however, the Metrix's combination of Gingerbread with Samsung's TouchWiz interface layer gives you all of the core functionality of Android. There are multiple customizable home screens, a pull-down menu to access system settings at a glance, and the entire bundle of Google apps and services. That includes multiple Google and social-networking accounts, all-you-can-eat app downloads, maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, YouTube, and other goodies.
There's hot-spot support for up to five other devices, plus Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Wi-Fi Direct is another connection, and like all of Samsung's Android phones, it has VPN support too. The Swype virtual keyboard is an onscreen option if you want to skip rotating the phone to slide open the full-fledged keyboard.
A sampling of the preloaded apps include Samsung's device-to-device sharing program, a ton of Amazon apps, and the calendar, calculator, music player, and clock basics. There are a few game demos here, as well as productivity tools like Quickoffice and more assets in the voice recorder and task manager. U.S. Cellular's branded apps include the Tone Room ringtone store.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back has its good and bad moments. Several indoor photos taken with plenty of light turned out nicely, but others revealed that the camera has an odd predilection for turning whites blue. You may find you need to adjust white-balance settings before shooting with abandon. Portraits and candids often turned out softer and less sharp than pictures of inanimate objects and you'll need to tap to focus and hold still. There's no autofocus. (Compare photo quality here.)
Speaking of settings, I enjoyed using the larger, finger-friendly icons in the camera app. Extra controls slide in and out to toggle from main to rear cameras, adjust the shooting mode (there are six straightforward and fun types,) toggle flash, and slide the exposure value. Other settings let you work out focus, choose one of 14 scenes, and set a picture resolution that ranges from 5 megapixels at the top end to 0.4 megapixel at the low end.
There are also color effects, ISO and metering controls, blink detection, geotagging, and a self-timer. With the exception of panorama, most of Samsung's tools are here.
The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera turned up usable self-portraits that are notable grainier than photos from the main camera -- no surprises there. Video (1,280x720-pixel resolution at the highest) looked very nice: smooth and clear, but with the same tendency to turn whites in the scene blue. My audio was very loud, but it was hard to hear my subject's normal speaking voice; it might be best to record loud scenes.
You'll have 2GB internal memory for storing your multimedia, and up to 32GB on the microSD card slot. The Metrix 4G comes with 4GB card preinserted.
I tested the Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network. Unfortunately, call quality was awful for the dual-band (800/1,900MHz; LTE 700/850/1700/1900) smartphone. Voices sounded tinny and strained, muffled, and artificial. Hiccups and hot spots of distortion interrupted a smooth and even flow. To make matters worse, volume was only sufficient at the highest setting, which would make outdoor or noisy indoor calls hard to hear.
Despite the overly loud volume on my calling partner's end, he said I came across a bit muffled and echoey. Similar to my experience, he said that my voice sounded a little artificial, but at least I was easy to hear. The Metrix tends to emphasize the low frequencies. Calls were acceptable, according to him, but far from excellent.
Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone didn't do much to redeem the Metrix's call quality in my tests. Volume was strong on the highest levels, but a reedy voice quality and a tinniness that sounded like my caller's voice was piped in, added up to conversation that was difficult to understand. I will say that voice tones sounded warmer than through the standard speaker.
On his side of things, my test partner didn't hesitate to call my voice cottony. Volume dropped tremendously, he said, and any background noise would present a problem. I also sounded warmer and richer on speakerphone, an adjustment you don't hear often.
The Metrix 4G's 1GHZ Qualcomm Hummingbird processor failed to impress, especially since so many other phones aiming for the middle range now come with dual-core processors. Worse yet were the network's 3G speeds. Since San Francisco is outside of U.S. Cellular's 4G LTE range, it only surfs 3G through roaming agreements. Those within the carrier's 4G network footprint should expect to see much better performance.
|Performance: Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G|
|App download||6.52MB of 41.7MB in 10 minutes, 15%|
|CNET mobile site load||16 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||60 seconds|
|Boot time||36 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.5 seconds|
|Camera, shot-to-shot time||2.5-3 seconds|
|Load up app (Quadrant)||1.8 seconds|
A battery of tests checked the diagnostic speeds of the network using Ookla's Speedtest.net app. 3G speeds were so slow, it took 10 minutes (I timed it) to download 15 percent of a game. I called it quits after that. Wi-Fi worked just fine downloading apps quickly, so I'd recommend it over the network whenever possible.
I also used the Quadrant app to test diagnostics for the 1GHz processor. The app runs the phone through a battery of tests that don't involve the network, but tax the processor, to wind up at a score that compares the phone's raw chipset power with its contemporaries. The test results place the Metrix 4G at the bottom of the heap.
The Metrix 4G has a rated battery life of up to 7 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby time on its 1,800mAh battery. During our talk time test, the device lasted 8.47 hours.
According to FCC measurements, the Metrix 4G has a digital SAR of 1.2 watts per kilogram.
Unless a QWERTY keyboard is the only thing that will satisfy your needs, I'd recommend looking beyond the Metrix 4G for phone satisfaction. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is top-notch and has 4G; the Samsung Galaxy S Aviator has similar specs to the Metrix, but with superior camera capacity and no keyboard. If you're not picky about speed, 3G fans can also get the dual-core, 8-megapixel-camera Galaxy S II. The 3G-capable HTC One V is also a top choice for its impressive technology camera, speedy processor, and up-to-date Android OS; and the new 3G-ready LG Splendor is another good choice. While all these handsets lack the QWERTY keyboard, they're all zippier in the processor department and comparable in price, if not cheaper.