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The Alltel cell phones we've reviewed since the beginning of the year have been rather hit or miss. While we liked the simple LG AX275 and the nifty Samsung SCH-U520, we weren't so impressed with the Samsung SCH-R510 or the Pantech PN-218. But now Alltel has given us another hit with its new Samsung Hue. Also called the SCH-R500, the Hue is an attractive handset that offers good call quality and a respectable feature set that includes Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a music player. It's available for $39 with service.
The Samsung Hue is one of the more eye-catching cell phones to come out of Alltel's stable in quite a while. With its red-and-silver color scheme, thin profile, and vertical external display, it will stand out in any cell phone crowd. It's both compact (3.72x1.95x0.66 inches) and lightweight (3.34 ounces), and it feels comfortable in the hand. The flip mechanism feels a tad loose and the Hue has a large "double chin" much like the Motorola Razr V3, but on the whole it's a clean and stylish design.
As previously mentioned, the Hue's external display runs vertically down its front face. Though it's not the first cell phone ever to feature such a display, the idea is new for Alltel. It shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID but the monochrome resolution means it won't support photo caller ID. Also, the text is a tad small, and you can set only the contrast and the backlighting time. Immediately above is the camera lens and self-portrait mirror; there is no camera flash. The left spine holds the charger port/headset jack and a volume rocker, while the camera shutter and the MicroSD card slot sit on the right spine.
The SCH-R500's interior screen shows 262,000 colors and measures 2.12 inches (220x176 pixels). It displays colors and graphics despite being a tad overly bright. Only the backlighting time and the dialing font and style can be altered. The menus have a simple, user-friendly design and the Hue also supports Alltel's innovative Celltop application. (See our SCH-U520 review for more information on Celltop.) Twin speakers rest between the display and the hinge.
The navigation controls and keypad are quite similar to those on other Samsung phones, like the Samsung SGH-A437. The large circular toggle and the central OK button have some tactile definition but the two soft keys, speakerphone shortcut, voice dialing control, and talk and end/power buttons are completely flat and quite slippery. The keypad buttons on the Hue are equally flush. We didn't have any misdials and the keys have a bright backlighting, but it's difficult to dial by feel.
The Hue has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can save contacts to caller groups and for caller ID you can assign them a photo and one of 18 polyphonic ringtones or any of 10 MP3 tones. The Hue also supports Alltel's My Circle service, which gives you unlimited calling minutes to any 10 numbers on any network, even landlines.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a calendar, a notepad, a voice recorder, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. Voice commands and Bluetooth are also aboard, though it lacks a stereo profile.
Though the Hue's MP3 player is far from fancy, it offers a nice selection of features, including playlist, shuffle, and repeat modes. The player's visualizations are equally satisfying. You can choose a simple color background, an equalizer graphic, album art, or even lyrics for select songs. We weren't crazy about the interface, however, which required a multistep process just to play some tunes. For example, if you select all music files under the main menu you must then select which songs you want to hear. Granted, there is a choice for selecting all the tracks, but it involves yet another step.
You can personalize the Hue with a variety of wallpapers, clock formats, color themes, banners, and alert sounds. More options and more ringtones are available from Alltel's Axcess Web service by using the Hue's wireless Internet browser. Unfortunately, the Hue does not come with any games.
We tested the dual-band CDMA (800/1900) Samsung Hue SCH R-500 in San Francisco using Alltel's roaming network. Call quality was generally good and showed a noticeable improvement over the last Alltel phone we reviewed, the SCH-R510. Voices sounded natural and there was no audible static or distortion. The volume level was also sufficient though the sound warbled a bit at the highest levels. On their end, callers said they could hear and understand us, and they reported no distractions or wind noise. Also, voice automated systems could understand us. The speakerphone was also satisfactory on both ends.
Music quality was pretty good for such a basic MP3 player. We welcomed the stereo speakers, which provided impressive output. Music warbled a bit at the higher levels, but it was a satisfying experience overall.