Samsung Mantra - black/silver (Virgin Mobile)
The new Mantra is only the second Samsung phone for Virgin Mobile. Like the earlier Slash, the Mantra (aka the SPH-M340) offers functional features and respectable, though not perfect, call quality. But unlike its predecessor the Mantra has a more agreeable flip phone design with spacious controls and keypad buttons. You can get it for just $59.99, which is quite affordable for prepaid service.
With its black-and-gray color scheme and simple lines, the Samsung Mantra has a plain yet pleasant design. The silver line across the front face adds a bit of style, but this is hardly a phone that will stand out in the crowd. At 3.8 inches by 1.87 inches by 0.69 inch and 3.35 ounces, the Mantra isn't tiny, but you can carry it around easily in a pocket or bag. It has a plastic skin, but the hinge feels sturdy.
The external display is rather small (less than an inch diagonal) and it doesn't have the best resolution (96x96 pixels), but it shows the date, time, battery life, and signal strength. It also displays photo caller ID, and it works as a viewfinder for the camera lens, which sits just above.
Completing the Mantra's exterior is a volume rocker that sits on the left spine. On the right spine you'll find a camera shutter button and a combined headset/charger jack. The jack is proprietary, so you'll need an adapter to use your own headset, and you can use only one peripheral at a time.
The 2-inch internal display supports 65,000 colors (160x128 pixels). The color and graphic resolution won't amaze you, but it displays most things well. The menu interface is intuitive in either the list or icon style. You can change the backlight time only.
As previously mentioned, the Mantra offers spacious and easy-to-use controls. There's a square toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, the Talk and End/power buttons, and a Back key. The array is flat, but the individual keys are easy to touch. The same goes for the keypad buttons--though they're flush, we could dial and text quickly without making mistakes. The numbers on the keys are big and brightly backlit.
The 500-contact phone book has room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail address, two instant-message handles, and a URL. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of five polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a calculator, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, and a tip calculator. And like the Slash, the Mantra also offers Bluetooth, instant messaging, a voice memo recorder, and voice commands and dialing. You even get access to POP3 e-mail, but you must go through a clunky Web-based interface.
The VGA camera takes pictures in three resolutions and three quality settings. Editing features are exactly what you'd expect. You'll find a self-timer, four white balance settings, four color tones, 14 fun frames, and three shutter sounds, plus a silent option.
Photo quality is disappointing, even for a VGA camera. In most of our shots, colors were muted, and objects were blurry. When finished shooting, you can upload them to an online album, share them friends, or save them to the phone. The Mantra has about 8MB of internal shared memory; it does not record video.
You can personalize the Mantra with a selection of wallpaper, screensavers, alert tones, and banners. Using the WAP 2.0 Web browser, you can download more customization options, and additional ringtones. The Mantra doesn't come with any games or applications, but you can buy them from Virgin.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco. As a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), Virgin Mobile leases a portion of Sprint's network rather than operating its own. On the whole, call quality was admirable. The signal was strong and clear, and voices sounded natural. The audio was a bit distorted at the highest volume levels, but it wasn't a huge problem.
On their end, callers didn't report serious problems. A few mentioned some background noise, but they were in the minority. Automated calling systems could understand us, expect when we were in a place with a lot of noise. Speakerphone calls were about the same as voice calls--relatively clear, but somewhat distorted at the highest volumes.
The Mantra has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 20 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests the Mantra has a digital SAR of 0.932 watt per kilogram.