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It's rare for parent carrier Sprint to show a handset after one of its MVNOs, but that's exactly the order of arrival for the Samsung Transform Ultra, which first debuted on Boost Mobile in early October, about three weeks before the handset became available on Sprint.
An Android 2.3 Gingerbread slider phone, the Transform Ultra features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and an almost-"pure" Android experience, save for Sprint ID, a gallery of "identities" made of certain apps, wallpaper, and shortcuts (it's called Mobile ID on Boost.) The handset runs on a 1GHz Qualcomm processor, has a 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen, a 3.2-megapixel camera, a front-facing VGA camera, and 3G support.
It costs $79.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, and with a new, two-year service agreement.
Editors' note: Due to an identical design as the Transform Ultra for Boost Mobile, this review covers only the differences in features and performance on Sprint's network. For the full rundown on design and most features, see the Samsung Transform Ultra review for Boost Mobile.
As with the Transform Ultra with Boost Mobile, Sprint's version gives you access to a host of Google services, including mapping, navigation, Google Places, and so on. There's hot-spot support through Sprint Hotspot, and support for Wi-Fi Direct, for direct connection to similarly enabled devices. The Swype virtual keyboard is installed by default.
The Transform Ultra comes with a relatively light load of preinstalled apps, though Sprint ID, Sprint Mobile Wallet, and Sprint Zone are among them. Qik, a free app for video chats, is preloaded so you can take advantage of that front-facing camera, along with the ThinkFree Office productivity suite. Downloading an ID pack will get you more.
(For camera performance, consult the Samsung Transform Ultra review for Boost Mobile.)
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900) Samsung Transform Ultra in San Francisco on Sprint's network. Call quality was variable. Volume sounded a little low on my end, and voices were a bit flatter than usual. There were pockets of audio distortion throughout my call, and whispers of white noise that reared every time the caller spoke. On their end, callers said the call sounded very natural, with strong volume, and no background noise. In fact, it sounded almost as good as a landline.
Samsung Transform Ultra (Sprint) call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone volume was a little quiet and hollow to my ears and "uncomfortably quiet" on the other end of the line, but "very good" otherwise.
Sprint's 3G connection seemed pokey. CNET's mobile site loaded in about 25 seconds, and closer to a minute to load the full desktop view. The New York Times' Web-optimized site loaded in a speedy 9 seconds, with the full site completing in 32 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest.net app took care of the diagnostics, with download speeds ranging from 0.5 to 1 megabytes per second (Mbps), and upload speeds clocking in at between 0.3 and 0.75Mbps
The Samsung Transform Ultra is a likeable QWERTY slider for Sprint. With Android 2.3 Gingerbread, a good keyboard, and a fair $80 price, the phone will satisfy those looking for a keyboarded midrange smartphone that also has a good in-hand feel. Still, it may be worth shopping around. For $20 more, the HTC Evo Shift 4G (with a keyboard) and HTC Evo Design 4G (sans keyboard) are faster and more advanced.