Samsung Spex SCH-R210 (MetroPCS)
While the major wireless carriers pack their lineups with the latest high-end cell phones, smaller operators such as MetroPCS take a more practical approach. Rather than offering complicated smartphones with pricey features, MetroPCS sticks with low-end camera phones and basic handsets that just make calls. The Samsung Spex, aka the SCH-R210, is of the latter group. Exceedingly simple in form and function, the Spex does exactly what a cell phone should do. You get a Web browser and Bluetooth, but in the end, the Spex is all about communication. You can get it for just $99, but we'd prefer the Kyocera K312P. MetroPCS does not require service contracts.
The Spex's design takes us back a few years. It's not a flip phone or a new-fangled slider model; instead, it's a minimalist candy bar handset with clean lines and a standard silver color. It's also compact (4.07 inches by 1.77 inches by 0.58 inch) and lightweight (3.4 ounces) so you shouldn't have any problems carting it around. The 65,000-color display is rather small and low-resolution (1.5 inches; 128x128 pixels). On any other phone we'd complain but on a handset this simple and this cheap we really don't mind. The menus are accessible and you can alter the contrast, the backlighting time, and the dialing font size.
Below the display is the easy-to-use navigation array. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, Talk and End/power buttons and a clear control. The soft keys are a tad small but the other controls are spacious and tactile. A raised silver ring surrounds the toggle, which gives it nice definition. They keypad buttons are flush but they're relatively large and a bright backlight lights them. Dialing by feel was difficult but that was the extent of our problems.
Completing the exterior of the phone are a volume rocker and the charger port on the left spine. The rocker is tiny but we could find it when we were on a call. The 2.5mm headset jack sits on the right spine.
The Spex has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address. You can save callers to groups and pair them with one of 14, 72-chord polyphonic ringtones. You also can program a special ringtone to alert you when you're in a roaming area. Other features include a vibrate mode, text messaging, a calendar, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. Overall, it's a practical assortment of features but the Spex also offers Bluetooth for making calls with a wireless headset. We love to see Bluetooth on such a basic phone.
You can personalize the Spex with a selection of wallpaper, clock formats, and banners. You can download more options with the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The Spex doesn't come with any games or applications but you can buy them from the carrier's @metro service. The Spex offers 2MB of storage.
We tested the dual-band, dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; AWA) Samsung Spex in San Francisco using MetroPCS service. Call quality was decent. Voices sounded natural and we enjoyed enough volume but we noticed that the audio had a hollow effect at times. It wasn't a huge issue but it was noticeable nonetheless. Callers said we sounded fine. They didn't report any major problems but they did have trouble hearing us when we were talking out on the street. Speakerphone calls were about the same--not great but not terrible either. We didn't like that it took so many clicks to activate the speakerphone after you place a call.
The Spex has a rated battery life of 13.42 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 4 hours and 58 minutes. According FCC radiation tests the Spex has a digital digital SAR rating of 1.46 watts per kilogram.