For a phone claiming to be transformative, we were certainly hoping for a roster of more unusual features in Sprint's new Samsung Transform. What we get instead is a very decent midrange Android smartphone with a medium-size touch screen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and serviceable front- and rear-facing cameras. However, the Transform does have one unusual feature that stands out, at least for now. It's one of the first three Android smartphones to launch with Sprint's new Sprint ID Packs, which are preset profiles that configure everything from the theme and widgets to the app shortcuts that appear on your home screens, and even e-mail settings.
Call quality was a winner on the appealing Transform, but a short battery life and extended moments of sluggishness after loading a Sprint ID were disappointments. The Transform ships with version 2.1 of the Android operating system, but Sprint told CNET it expects to upgrade the Transform to Android 2.2.
The Samsung Transform will cost $149.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate, with a new two-year service agreement.
The Samsung Transform's design is easy on the eyes, but it doesn't bring anything new to the table. With its rounded corners and glossy, black finish (a silver seam on the periphery is the exception), the Transform is clearly the Samsung Epic 4G's smaller cousin. The handset is 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighs 5.4 ounces, which imparts a solid feel in the hand. The presence of a slide-out QWERTY keyboard will make it a tad too thick for some pockets, but it should slide nicely into most and into purses as well.
Samsung recently has poured energy into its touch screens, with the phones in the Galaxy S series serving as shining examples with their Super AMOLED displays. Unfortunately, you won't find those high-end specs here on midrange phones like this, and we wouldn't expect it. What you will find, however, is a 3.5-inch touch screen with an HVGA display supporting a 480x320-pixel resolution and 16 million colors. We have no complaints about the brightness or vibrancy, and the screen itself is smooth and responsive.
The Transform comes with a front-facing VGA camera, which is instrumental for video calling and self-portraits. Of course, still photo quality won't be great, but the theory is that you need a less powerful camera for close-up shots such as of your face. Below the screen are the standard Android touch-sensitive buttons that pull up the menu, go home, go back, and trigger search.
On the right spine there's a dedicated camera button, voice command control, and power button. On the left is the volume rocker, and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack and Micro-USB charging port make their home on the top side--we like the latter's sliding cover that snaps into place. On the back is the 3.2-megapixel camera with an adjacent flash; both are square-shaped for visual interest. The back cover has a soft-touch finish that makes the Transform comfortable to hold, and if you look closely you'll notice that the plastic is shimmery. There's also a microSD card slot that can hold up to 32GB of expandable memory. It's inconveniently tucked under the back cover, but you don't have to remove the battery to access it. Samsung gets you started with a 2GB memory card that ships with the Transform.
Stepping away from solid black, the Transform's slide-out QWERTY keyboard is gray with white and orange accents. The keyboard is indisputably spacious, with wide, rectangular keys. It was perhaps too wide for our tastes, and we placed it in a variety of hands. Reaching the keyboard's corner buttons took effort. The Transform's flush keys are harder to type on than domed keys that rise above the surface, but despite their flatness, pressing the individual buttons was easy and smooth. An emoticon button and four directional buttons are the only two with special functions.
Interface and Sprint ID
Sprint has kept most of the typical Android features in its user interface. There are five home screens, a Google search widget, and three onscreen buttons for navigating to your phone, opening the app tray, and launching the new, unique Sprint ID.
In an effort to differentiate from competitors, Sprint has built on Android's open-source home screens with Sprint ID. The Transform is one of three phones--and the only Samsung model--to support Sprint ID at launch. At its heart, Sprint ID is a profile that will preconfigure the wallpaper, shortcuts, widgets, and even e-mail and Wi-Fi settings, on the phone's five start screens. Instead of personalizing your start screens from scratch, loading what Sprint calls its ID Packs will easily install a set of tools, apps, and wallpaper in one go. A sports pack could set athletic-themed wallpaper, for example, and install a weather widget, shortcuts to live scores apps, a sports news ticker, and so on. There are 13 ID Packs at launch with more to come; you can store up to five in your gallery of favorites. ID Packs are developed by sources large and small, and range from hobbies to business to an ID Pack devoted to a city (it might include metro apps and localized deals), to branded experiences from companies like Disney and TV networks.
The phone loads with a generic interface that you can customize as you would on any other Android phone by adding and removing widgets and shortcuts. Tap the Sprint ID button to see your gallery of favorite ID Packs, including the default home screen configuration that you're free to personalize (called "My ID"). There are also options to peruse the gallery of new IDs and add more. Read our full review of Sprint ID for more details.
The Samsung Transform offers a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging, and the full range of wireless options: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G (EV-DO Rev. A), and GPS. The phone book is limited only by the internal memory, which is 256MB RAM and 512MB ROM. There's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, group IDs, photo caller IDs, and so on. The Transform supports visual voice mail to manage your voice mail box.
As with most Android phones, you can merge contact information from various accounts, such as Outlook and Gmail. There are also settings to support VPN. We had no trouble syncing e-mail when signing on to our Google account on the Transform, although calendar syncing was unsuccessful during setup.
The app tray is relatively sparse when you first log in, in part because Sprint's vision is that loading Sprint ID profiles will also automatically install many of the apps you "need." There are the usual Android suspects, like the Gmail app we mentioned, Google's Latitude friend-finding and location service, a music app, Google's free turn-by-turn navigation, a voice dialer, Google Places, Google Talk, and YouTube. Sprint's extras include a Nascar app, Sprint TV, and Sprint Football Live. As always, you can download free and premium apps in the Android Market.
On the communications front, the Transform has all the tools you'll need to text, chat, and e-mail. As with other Android phones in Samsung's lineup, the Transform plays nicely with Gmail, POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts. Although there is a dedicated Gmail app, the e-mail app can optionally combine the e-mail from multiple accounts into a single in-box, or you can choose to view accounts separately. We prefer the latter, personally, but only because we found individual in-boxes easier to sort through.
Sprint has modified the stock WebKit-based browser with a branded version of SprintWeb that loads with a Sprint page by default. You can change your home page in the settings. Browser features include the usual traits of multiple tabs, bookmark support, history, and the ability to save an image. As long as Wi-Fi and data was strong, browsing was painless.
The Transform's music player comes empty, so you'll need to fill it up with music yourself. Two ways are by transferring tunes over USB or through an SD card. A music store, Sprint Music Plus, is meant to be installed on the Transform, although the app was absent in our review unit. The music player is standard fare for its type, with four tabs for organizing albums, artists, song titles, and playlists. In addition to shuffle there is party shuffle, which takes a stab at automixing. There's also support for album art where available; repeat; and turning a song into a ringtone. We can't complain about the Transform's audio quality, but smartphone music playback generally sounds better using headphones.
Camera shots and videos were equally easy to manage on the Transform, with a slider button for toggling between the modes and an onscreen button to control the shutter. At 3.2 megapixels, the quality is decidedly midrange. The photos aren't bad, but they do lack the sharpness, detail, and richness of a 5-megapixel shooter. Slide-out settings on the screen let you swap between front and rear cameras, flash mode, 13 scene modes, five white-balance presets, six color effects, and three metering effects. You get your choice of four pixel sizes, three variations of photo quality, and three focus modes.
In video mode, you can shoot with the standard resolution (352x288 pixels) or with a weaker resolution (176x144 pixels) that's optimized for multimedia messages. You're able to set the video duration for 30 seconds (the default for multimedia messaging), 10 minutes, or 30 minutes. The camcorder shares the camera's flash, color effects, and white-balance presets. Photo-editing tools can rotate and crop the image, and you can save or share the photo through the usual e-mail and social media channels.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900 EV-DO Rev. A) Samsung Transform in San Francisco using the Sprint network. Call quality was impressive, with clear audio on our side, and no breaks, echoes, or distortions during our test calls. Voices sounded clear and rich. On their end, callers also commended the sound call quality and didn't note any problems hearing us.
Speakerphone quality surprised us on this handset. The placement of the speaker on the back of the phone always makes for a distant, slightly echoey, and hollow aural experience on our end. What we didn't expect was for our friends to think we still had the phone at our ear. Volume was loud and clear for both parties, though less so for us with the phone set to speaker.
We got Sprint's EV-DO 3G service throughout San Francisco, with Web sites loading quickly on the browser. The mobile version of CNET.com loaded in about 10 seconds over data, for instance. YouTube videos generally loaded in 5 or 6 seconds. The Transform's 800MHz processor was fairly speedy, though we did run into lag time when loading the Sprint IDs, and, until we rebooted, experienced dramatically slower performance after installing one particular ID.
The Samsung has a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 14.6 days of standby time. In our day-to-day tests, battery life was a little weak, with the phone dropping to less than 50 percent the same day after a full charge. Our tests revealed that the talk time was 4 hours and 4 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Transform has a digital SAR rating of 0.75 watt per kilogram.