Just as we were suspecting that the environmentally aware phase of cell phone construction had waned, Sprint announced the Samsung Replenish, its first eco-friendly Android phone after the rush of the LG Remarq, Samsung Restore, and Samsung Reclaim.
For a pretty low fee, the touch-plus-QWERTY Replenish resembles a cheaper knockoff of the Motorola Droid Pro, except that what it lacks in high-end features it attempts to make up for in recycled build materials. That's not a criticism. Sure, the Android 2.2 Froyo operating system, 600MHz processor, and 2-megapixel camera are on the lower end of the Android smartphone scale, but there's an important place for entry-level smartphones, especially ones that cost less than their monthly data plans.
The Replenish is made from 34.6 percent post-consumer recycled plastic (the highest percentage in Sprint's eco-stable), with a total 82 percent of the phone crafted from recyclable materials. The packaging is also recyclable and is made from 80 percent post-consumer material, and it's printed with soy ink (rather than petroleum-based ink, which is also slower to biodegrade.) When you consider the natural resources needed to build consumer electronics, you may agree that with eco phones, less new material is definitely more.
This beginner's smartphone also comes at a moderate price. The Replenish costs $49.99 after a $100 instant rebate with a new two-year service agreement and an Everything plan. It comes in three colors: Arctic Blue, Onyx Black, and Raspberry Pink. We reviewed the Replenish in Onyx Black.
From a distance, the Samsung Replenish resembles the Motorola Droid Pro and the recently announced Motorola Titanium, both candy bar designs with a smallish touch screen topping a vertical QWERTY keyboard. Like its rivals, the Replenish is also black, with silver accents. It's also tall, standing 4.8 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, and it weighs 4.1 ounces, which feels about right in the hand, although the device felt a tad blocky on the ear.
The Replenish has a 2.8-inch QVGA touch screen with a 240x320-pixel resolution and support for 16 million colors. As low as the resolution is compared with premium and proprietary offerings like Sasmsung's Super AMOLED and Super AMOLED Plus screens, it's appropriate for the phone's screen size. Colors and sharpness were decent, and we couldn't complain about brightness, at least when out of direct sunlight. At times we wished the screen were larger, since 2.8 inches isn't much once you cram in all those application and home-screen icons and attempt to read e-mail or surf the Web.
Below the screen are four hardware buttons that correspond to the menu, home, back, and search. While they're long and narrow, we didn't have any trouble using them. Beneath them is the four-row QWERTY keyboard with buttons that are rounded, raised above the surface, and backlit. Although we could type quickly and accurately, the keyboard felt a little cramped, and keys weren't as responsive or grippy as we've seen on other keyboards. While most Replenish owners shouldn't have a problem, we know that Samsung can do, and has done, better.
The Replenish has a volume rocker on the left spine, and a voice command button and camera shutter button on the right. The Micro-USB charging port is at the bottom, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack are on top. Some of the buttons feel like cheap plastic, but since it's such an affordable handset that we can't complain too much that the components don't feel premium. The 2-megapixel camera is on the phone's back, and there's a microSD card slot behind the back cover. The Replenish supports up to a 32GB memory card, and comes with a 2GB starter card.
As with a handful of other energy-conscious handsets, the Replenish has an optional back cover that uses solar panels to help charge the phone. That variation is a separate purchase that will cost you an additional $29.99.
The Replenish runs Android 2.2 Froyo with Sprint ID, Sprint's attempt to diversify its Android offerings by creating a gallery of third-party ID packs filled with wallpaper, widgets, shortcuts, apps, and so on. In our initial review of Sprint ID, it struck us as meddlesome bloatware, since you have to download an ID Pack in its entirety before you can individually strip out unwanted elements. Although Sprint has promised to make Sprint ID less obtrusive in the future, it still has a noticeable presence on the Replenish.
The Green ID Pack is one difference. Following the phone's eco theme, this Earth-aware ID pack contains wallpaper and seven applications, like iRecycle and Treehugger. Many of the apps and shortcuts were fluff in our opinion, such as the LightBulb Finder app, which calculates financial and environmental savings for each bulb you replace. It took 4 minutes to download and install Sprint's Green ID Pack, and this is one pack that won't let you uninstall apps individually.
Keep in mind that installing ID packs is purely optional, and you can continue to customize the Replenish's five home screens instead using the generic setup.
Android 2.2 Froyo may not be the most recent Android OS on the market, but it's just fine for an entry-level smartphone like the Replenish. As with other Android Froyo phones, the Replenish supports Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, and an integrated e-mail and message inbox for multiple POP, IMAP, and Exchange accounts and Twitter and Facebook. The Replenish also has Google Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, the Android Market storefront, the standard music player, YouTube, Google Places, and Google Talk for chatting. There are typical organizer apps like a clock, calculator, and calendar. Other preloaded apps include LogMeIn Rescue, ThinkFree Office, and Sprint Zone.
Even though Froyo supports Adobe Flash Player, we couldn't play Flash video or Flash games in the browser--as with the equally beginner LG Optimus line, the Replenish's hardware just doesn't pass muster. We could still play Flash video, but only through YouTube and third-party apps.
Although USB tethering is an option, the general Froyo setting that would turn the Replenish into a hot spot is missing from the Wireless settings. Instead, there's Sprint's Hotspot mobile app, which is easy to kick-start to support up to five devices. It costs $29.99 per month, a typical price for hot-spot capabilities across network operators.
In terms of producing clear images, the 2-megapixel camera was pretty impressive for a shooter of this type. Photos still looked clear when expanded on the computer screen to their full size. Colors weren't as vibrant in photos taken indoors, however, and we did notice that objects took on a blue or brown cast. For editing, there are typical tools and presets for color balance, night mode, self-timing, and so on. The same goes for video, with the typical choices to shoot in high-quality (up to 30 minutes) or lower-quality modes (up to 30 seconds for multimedia messages). The Replenish has 512MB internal memory and holds up to 32GB external storage.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) smartphone in San Francisco on Sprint's network. Call quality was acceptable on our end, but could be better. While the calls themselves were mostly clear, we did hear intermittent distortion and crackling; once we even heard our own echo. Our callers' voices sounded fine as for volume and fidelity, but a little gauzy. Our callers enjoyed a clearer experience. Volume was nice and loud, they told us, and the calls remained very clear, without any background noise. If they concentrated, they could hear the slightest distortion on the high frequencies.
Speakerphone was also decent overall. It was loud, with high volume on our end, but voices sounded predictably hollow and distant, with the same cloak of fuzziness we heard with the handset at our ear. Callers said they heard the normal amount of room echo with some spiking distortion on loud passages.
Samsung Replenish call quality sample Listen now:
The Replenish is a 3G phone and we were able to maintain 3G data speeds with EV-DO Revision A throughout San Francisco. It took about 30 seconds to completely load CNET's mobile site over 3G and almost 2 minutes to completely load the full version of CNET's graphically rich Web site.
The smartphone's 600MHz processor is about right for the phone's market space, and although the phone isn't as speedy as some we've seen, the responsiveness is about what you'd expect. We didn't notice much unusual lag.
The Replenish has a rated battery life of up to 5.4 hours of continuous talk time and 9 days of standby time on its 1,600 mAh lithium ion battery. According to our tests, it has a talk time of 6 hours and 5 minutes. According to FCC radio frequency emission tests, the Replenish has a digital SAR of 0.3 watts per kilogram.
Samsung has done a nice job of creating an eco-phone that balances cost and convenience. The Replenish took surprisingly clear and sharp photos for a 2-megapixel camera, and most other features behaved as expected. Although the built-in QWERTY keyboard could feel cramped for larger fingers, we were still able to type efficiently. The lack of effective Flash support in the browser was our biggest disappointment on a smartphone that otherwise lives up to modest expectations. While we did have some complaints about call quality in our area, we were always able to communicate with family and friends without major problems, during both quiet indoor and noisy outdoor calls. The true test of an eco-phone is if we'd recommend it to folks who don't place a premium on using recycled materials. For just $50 after a rebate, the Replenish is a good value for those who are as concerned about their wallets as they are about Mother Earth, if not more so.