We've got to chuckle a bit at the Samsung Trender (also known as the Samsung SPH-M380), Sprint's latest messaging phone, and we have to wonder if Samsung purposely dabbled in irony when naming it. It's been months since we've seen a device of this type that skipped over Android in favor of Samsung's proprietary operating system, and trust us, this software is anything but trendy. It's surprising that Samsung didn't opt for Android with this model, since those smartphones are on such a rampage and since it's still compatible with the QWERTY design, but the smallish screen size could have something to do with it, and so could the fact that not every customer wants to be locked into a monthly data plan. Even so, the Trender will have difficulty standing up to Sprint's lineup of budget Android smartphones.
Since it wasn't announced as such, we were surprised to see the Trender arrive in Sprint's eco-packaging of recycled cardboard and recycled paper. We're always happy to see Earth-conscious electronics that make a smaller footprint, although the packaging never affects our review of the hardware it houses.
The Trender costs $29.99 and comes in sapphire and amethyst--we reviewed it in sapphire.
The Samsung Trender resembles a sparser Samsung Messager Touch, with its rounded edges and slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It's a fairly compact device that you shouldn't have any problem toting around--4.2 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick. Its 4-ounce weight gives it enough heft that it won't feel like a toy.
The Trender has a 2.8-inch touch screen with a QVGA resolution (320x240 pixels) and support for 65,000 colors. The brightness and screen resolution were just fine on the petite display. Although it wasn't sunny enough outdoors during our test period to tell how readable the screen is in direct sunlight, this type of material typically washes out. You can adjust brightness and dimmer times, as well as the keyboard backlight time.
Although multitouch isn't an option, navigation is easy enough with single taps. The interface is broken into four tabs: Favs, Main, Fun, and Web. In turn, each tab is divided into a large grid with touch-friendly icons corresponding to the apps and tools. Although moving among them is a breeze, we wish we could reorder the tabs.
Below the screen are three hardware buttons for going Back, the Home/select button, and pulling up the Phone menu, which includes favorites, contacts, your call history, and the dialer. On the right spine is the camera shutter button. The volume rocker is on the left, and the 3.5mm headset jack and power/lock button are up top. You'll charge your phone through a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom of the phone. A 1.3-megapixel camera lens in on the back, and behind the back cover is where you'll find a microSD card slot that accepts up to 32GB external storage.
Slide open the phone to find the four-row QWERTY keyboard; on the sapphire version, keys are colored blue and gray. The keys are fairly level to the phone's surface, and while the buttons snap back, the flatness impeded our typing speed. We wish they rose just a bit from the surface, or were slightly domed so our fingers had somewhere to go. There's no virtual keyboard on the Trender, so this keyboard does all your typing.
The Trender's address book has room for 600 entries, and each entry holds a name, multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses, an instant-messaging handle, a home address, a birthday, a memo, and a URL. You can also assign a photo ID and associate the contact with one of 30 ringtones and vibrations.
The Trender has Bluetooth support and optional 3G data. On the communications front, there's threaded text and picture messaging, and a Web mail app that can suck in your Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live, and AOL e-mail accounts. Essentials include a calculator, a calendar, a clock, and notes. There's also voice command and driving mode, and the Trender has shortcuts to the mobile-optimized Web sites for Twitter and Facebook. The latter is not a pleasant experience, especially when we've been spoiled by native apps. Other shortcuts include an online store for Google search, games, the weather, news, and sports. The Internet wasn't exactly sprightly on the Trender; we loaded CNET's Web-optimized site in about 40 seconds. Unfortunately, the Trender uses EV-DO Rev. 0 3G rather than the speedier Rev. A technology.
As long as you have a microSD card installed, you'll be able to pump tunes through the Trender. The better your earbuds, the better the music sounds; we were fairly satisfied with a pair of Ultimate Ears buds. There's no album art to show you who's playing, but there is a pulsing, colorful visualizer, plus the song name and artist. The music player has buttons for adding songs to the playlist on the fly, shuffling the mix, and repeating a song. The basic pause/play, and back/forward controls fade from view and reappear at a tap. Additional controls pop up song information and your music library. Music will continue to stream in the background even if you open another app. You'll still be able to pause and skip outside of the app, from a pull-down menu that pervasively and conveniently lives at the top of the screen.
We weren't too impressed with the Trender's camera. The 1.3-megapixel shooter has three shooting modes, six white-balance settings, shutter sounds, night mode, five color effects, and some other options for adjusting the image before you shoot. Your ultimate storage space will vary, but we had room for approximately 165 images on the phone itself, and more than 7,400 images on a 4GB microSD card. The photos themselves had dull colors and were never clearly focused, especially on indoor shots. Pictures will still get the point across and can be turned into wallpaper and photo IDs in addition to being shared.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Trender in San Francisco on Sprint's network. Call quality was pretty good overall. We had no complaints about volume, and voices sounded fairly true to life. We didn't hear any background noise, either. Our callers agreed with us up to this point, but added that our voice sounded a bit crackly at times.
Speakerphone sounded good to our ears--for speakerphone. The volume was high, but voices sounded a little buzzy and not quite natural--sort of like a cricket chirp. On their end, our callers told us we were muffled and hard to understand, like we were speaking from behind a cupped hand.
The Samsung Trender is a design leftover from the days before affordable smartphones began to skyrocket. Yet there's still a purpose to the simple slider feature phone, especially for those who don't want to commit to Android's required data plan. Still, those looking to use the Internet and e-mail features should do the math; if your usage creeps into data plan territory, you'll get more for your money with one of Sprint's budget Android smartphones.