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Samsung Transform Ultra (Boost Mobile) review: Samsung Transform Ultra (Boost Mobile)

Samsung Transform Ultra (Boost Mobile)

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy | Team leadership | Audience engagement | Tips and FAQs | iPhone | Samsung | Android | iOS
Jessica Dolcourt
7 min read


Samsung Transform Ultra (Boost Mobile)

The Good

The uncluttered <b>Samsung Transform Ultra</b> has a pleasing design, a front-facing camera, and runs on Android Gingerbread 2.3. It also carries Mobile ID, which some people may appreciate.

The Bad

As far as keyboards go, the Samsung Transform Ultra's is a little flat. Its camera quality is also pretty poor.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Transform Ultra is a worthy QWERTY handset to join Boost Mobile's Android lineup. Mobile ID offers something different, but not everyone will want it.

When Sprint first introduced the Samsung Transform a little over a year ago at fall CTIA 2010, the most remarkable thing about the Android QWERTY slider was Sprint ID, the carrier's experimental attempt to let people pick thematic startup profiles for their phones. The problem was, not everyone liked it (including me), and even for those who do, Sprint ID is a more minimal addition than a full-on custom UI experience like HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz. Still, Sprint ID is going strong, and on the Samsung Transform Ultra for Boost Mobile, it takes on the slightly different name of Mobile ID.

Mobile ID aside, the Transform Ultra is itself a pretty good phone, and a worthy Android 2.3 Gingerbread addition to Boost's no-contract Android selection. It has a nice, tactile design, a 1GHz processor to get things moving, and 3G speeds. Yet apart from the newer Android OS and gray-on-gray Argyll backing, there's little about this handset that brands it as an "ultra" experience compared with the cream of the smartphone crop. But don't get me wrong--it's worth considering. The Transform Ultra costs $229.99 without a contract, which fits right into Boost Mobile's smartphone pricing.

The newer Transform Ultra gets a few changes to visually distinguish it from its predecessor, including a slightly different keyboard, new buttons, and a changed-up fit and finish. First, the body. The Transform Ultra has a shiny black face with matte gray sides. There are rounded corners, a silvery trim hugging the spines, and a gray plastic backing with a lightly textured surface in a diamond pattern that reminds me of Argyll socks and sweaters. (I personally really like this touch.) The phone is 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.55 inch thick and weighs a solid 4.9 ounces.

The Samsung Transform Ultra is Boost Mobile's answer to smartphone lovers who want to feel a rubberized keyboard beneath their fingertips.

The screen size is a rather modest 3.5 inches, which is just about the smallest it should be for reading Web sites and typing. The HVGA 480x320-pixel resolution renders the screen bright, colorful, and sharp enough to comfortably perform. It supports 16 million colors, which is good, although I'm disappointed that Samsung didn't take the opportunity to update the original Transform's screen specs. The Transform Ultra comes with the Swype virtual keyboard preinstalled, but you can also switch to the standard Android keyboard if you'd prefer.

Boost Mobile mostly leaves Android to its stock Google settings, which means you'll see a total of five home screens ready for you to customize, with the central home screen already prepopulated by the Google Search bar. The static icons at the control bar lead to the dial pad, the vertically scrolling app tray, and Mobile ID (more on this shortly.)

Below the screen are four physical buttons that open the menu, go home, go back, and launch a Google search query. The buttons themselves are large enough for most fingertips to comfortably gain purchase and are nice and responsive.

Slightly less satisfying is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Don't get me wrong, the sliding action felt smooth and strong without any wobbling or sticking, and the backlit keys are easy to see in the dark once they alight. Although wide enough and fully separated, the buttons are also typically flat. A slight hump in the center of each key helps with the typing, but the combination of the width of the keyboard and the flatness of the keys produced a few stumbling blocks for me, even though most of the keys themselves do snap back after you press them. Of course, everyone's hands and preferences are different; you may have a different experience.

Extras on the four-row keyboard include separate emoticon and symbols buttons, a speakerphone button, and four directional buttons to aid in navigation.

When it comes time to charge the Transform Ultra, the phone's Micro-USB port is on the bottom, with the camera shutter button on the right spine. The volume rocker is on the left, and the power button and 3.5 millimeter headset jack take up residence up top. On the back is the phone's 3-megapixel camera lens with flash. There is a front-facing VGA camera above the phone face, as well. Beneath that hatched back cover, a microSD card slot waits for you with a 2GB card already preinstalled (hooray). It holds up to 32GB total memory.

Mobile ID
If you never tap the Mobile ID icon or the corresponding app in the app tray, not even accidentally, you'll get along just fine using the Transform Ultra as you would any other Android phone. However, if curiosity sets in, you'll find a gallery from which you can choose additional "ID packs," each with its own congregation of apps, wallpaper, widgets, and ringtones that the developer picked to represent their theme. The Social Networking ID Pack, for instance, adds apps and shortcuts to get you yapping on various networks. The idea is that you're able to load a couple ID packs and even swap between them as profiles when you want to switch gears.

See that "ID" soft-key button on the bottom right of the phone screen? That'll open up Mobile ID.

It takes a while for a Mobile ID pack to initially load, so be patient if you're exploring the Mobile ID feature, and continue being patient if you don't want all the shortcuts or apps that the pack gives you. You'll be able to pare down the pack after, but not before installing everything. (I happen to think of this as bloatware, but to each their own.) I've softened a bit on Mobile ID/Sprint ID since Sprint engineers have sped up and smoothed out the initial download process. Downloading and switching among your IDs is much faster than it was a year ago when the feature first rolled out.

Mobile ID is meant to be the Transform Ultra's main draw, but even without it, you're looking at a reassuringly typical Android smartphone. Once you sign in with your Google account, you'll be able to import your Google contacts online, and from an SD card, storing as many contacts as you'd like as long as you've got the space (I've never come close to running out.) There's room for a multitude of phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Web sites, addresses, IM handles, notes, and so on, plus you'll find sorting options and the ability to link inboxes for your Google, Web mail, and Microsoft Exchange accounts in the "Email" app (a word of warning: Google sometimes confuses a few contacts and their images in the sync.)

One of Google's biggest wins with Android is the ability to quickly access Google services. On the Transform Ultra there's Books, Gmail, Google Search, Latitude, Maps, Navigation, Places, Talk, and YouTube.

There are also personal organizer apps and tools like a calculator, a calendar (that you can sync with Google, of course), a clock with alarm clock, a file tree, a voice dialer, and shortcuts to voice search and voice mail.

The basic Android music player makes an appearance and all the connections for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and messaging that come with every Android phones are here, too. The ThinkFree Office app is also preloaded, but you'll get the bulk of your "extra" apps if you start using Mobile ID.

The Mobile ID app within the app tray lets you do much of what you can from the Android menu; namely, switch IDs and search for new ones, and manage both the IDs and their apps. You can also check for updates.

Two cameras grace the Transform Ultra, one on the front and one on the back. As glad as I am that both are there, neither is among the cell phone camera elite. Even with the flash (a good addition), the camera performs best in well-lit areas and can produce colors that don't quite match up with reality. Many shots lack vividness, while artificial indoor lighting got the best of the software on several indoor shots. Shutter lag was a problem. At least it's easy enough to work your way around the settings, but the basic interface is long overdue for an update. Settings include 4x zoom, white balance, flash mode, location, focus mode, exposure, picture size, photo quality, and color effect.

Well, I've seen worse cameras, but I've also seen better. Much better. Here's the Samsung Transform Ultra at work in our studio.

The front-facing VGA camera is great for making those video calls and self portraits happen, but don't hold your breath for high quality. It's still grainy at best. Both cameras are ripe for upgrading, and it's too bad that Samsung didn't improve the quality.

Video was on par with the camera quality, and as is the case with most camera phones, the subject was often hard to hear. Color was still an issue, but at least the image wasn't overly jerky or pixelated. You could take a video for personal use, but it looks better on the small screen than blown up to full size. Really, don't go there unless you absolutely have to.

I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900 1xEV-DO rev.A) Samsung Transform Ultra in San Francisco using the Boost Mobile network. Call quality was pretty decent. My friends' voices sounded good and pretty strong, but there was a soft blanket of white noise each time they spoke. They said I sounded clear, but it was obvious I was on a cell phone.

Speakerphone was a little more timid when holding the phone at waist-level. The call volume dropped pretty precipitously, although I could still turn it up to hear better. Still, it was fine in a quiet room, but in louder areas, it was much harder to hear. My friends said my voice sounded pretty good, though the volume did predictably drop off.

Samsung Transform Ultra call quality sample Listen now: "="">

I had no problems with the Transform Ultra's internal clock speed, which remained nice and spry with its 1GHz processor. Apps opened pretty quickly and there weren't any noticeable navigation delays.

As with all cell phones, your 3G browsing speed will depend on how strong the network is when and where you use it. In San Francisco it wasn't too speedy. CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in over 30 seconds, and the graphically rich site loaded in a little under a minute in desktop mode. The New York Times' mobile site loaded in about 20 seconds, and the full site loaded in about 45.

The Transform Ultra has a rated battery life of 7 hours talk time on its 1,500MAh battery. FCC tests for radio frequency measured a digital SAR of 0.62 watts per kilogram.

Built upon the original Samsung Transform, Samsung's Transform Ultra really doesn't have much new ground to forge in order to be a successful update. Android 2.3 Gingerbread definitely delivered on the OS front, but the screen size, screen resolution, and both cameras remain unchanged; a pity. However, the new button design below the screen is welcome, and so are certain other tangible elements like that textured back cover. Little touches like this can go a long way to a happy phone owner--so long as the basics are covered.

3G speeds and call quality were as expected for the Transform Ultra, so no major complaints there, and Mobile ID is a more streamlined feature than it has been, which will win more users to the "profile" cause. Despite Sprint's reluctance in truly updating the phone's specs, the Transform Ultra is a solid Android Gingerbread QWERTY device that fills a hole in Boost Mobile's smartphone lineup, though those seeking the ultimate cutting-edge prepaid smartphone should look to Virgin Mobile's Motorola Triumph instead.


Samsung Transform Ultra (Boost Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7