Editors' note: Portions of this review are taken from the Samsung Admire for MetroPCS, which is a nearly identical handset.
Last January, Cricket Wireless' bold leap with Muve Music brought Cricket customers music downloads, ringtones, ringback tones, and other music tools, along with the prepaid carrier's all-inclusive talk, text, and Internet plan. The experimental plan was great in theory, but it debuted on the chunky and unremarkable Samsung Suede, and ran into launch delays.
All that makes the second Muve Music phone a welcome sight. The Samsung Vitality, which sports Android 2.3 Gingerbread, is the first of Cricket's Muve Music smartphones. Although the Suede was an original design that included a dedicated Muve Music hardware button on its face, here Cricket and Samsung repurposed the Samsung Admire, originally for MetroPCS, by turning the camera button on the phone's right spine into a convenience key that launches the Muve Music interface.
At this stage in the Muve Music story, Cricket sorely needed to introduce a competitive Android device to entice new customers to its music plan. The Samsung Vitality isn't flawless by any means, but it is worthy of Muve's package deal. The Samsung Vitality costs $199.99 with an instant $20 rebate, but without a contract. Cricket's Muve Music plan for Android phones costs $65 per month for unlimited access to music, talk, text, and Internet.
The Vitality is an almost identical rebrand of the Samsung Admire for MetroPCS. It has a fairly typical smartphone design with rounded ends; it isn't nearly as rectangular as many of today's Android handsets and there's a ribbed texture around the edges that adds some visual and tactile interest. At 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, the Vitality fits easily into a pocket. It's a tad heavier than it looks at 4.14 ounces, but it won't weigh you down. The plastic skin doesn't feel entirely sturdy, so we'd take care not to drop it repeatedly on a hard surface.
The 3.5-inch HVGA screen takes up most of the front of the phone. Though its resolution is pretty average, it's still bright with vivid colors and sharp graphics. You get five home screens, which you can customize in usual Android fashion with shortcut icons, widgets, and folders. Of course, you get the Google search bar, but we're disappointed that the stock-Android Vitality doesn't offer a shortcut on the home screen for turning on features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Fortunately, the phone runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which offers a number of usability upgrades. Read our Samsung Nexus S review for a full analysis of Gingerbread.
The virtual keyboard counts Swype as an option, though you don't have to use it. The default keyboard is about the same as on other Android phones, though it may feel a bit cramped if you're accustomed to using a phone with a larger display. Because there are only four rows of keys, each letter shares space with either a number or a punctuation mark. Alternatively, there's a second keyboard for just numbers and symbols. The dial pad has a standard design as well, and both had a responsive and accurate touch interface.
Below the display are four raised physical keys for the menu, back, home, and search. The accessible volume rocker sits on the left spine above the microSD card slot, and the power control and dedicated Muve Music button sit on the right spine (you can also access Muve from a shortcut icon on the Vitality's home screen). On the bottom of the phone is the Micro-USB port, which is used for both the charger and a USB cable. We were glad to see a standard 3.5mm headset jack up top. On the back of the phone are the camera lens for the 3.2-megapixel camera and a small speaker.
The music features and platform are unchanged from the Samsung Suede. We encourage you to read our full Muve Music review here. In addition to understanding the phone's music features and tools--including the music download storefront, the MyDJ radio app, and Shazam music ID--it's essential to know that Muve won't let you download music over Wi-Fi, only over the phone's data connection (you'll still be able to play downloaded music, however). Toggling back and forth in order to download new songs and ringtones isn't as convenient as we'd like.
Most importantly, Cricket isn't selling you songs with Muve; it's renting you access to digital files. So long as you pay your monthly bill, you can use all the phone's functions, from texting to playing tunes. Skip a payment, and suspend your head-bopping, too. In addition, the microSD card holds the tracks, but the music files aren't transferable to any other device. Muve Music takes up 3GB of the 4GB that come with the preinstalled card (there's room for about 3,000 Muve Music downloads), but you can purchase a Muve Music card with 8GB total storage if you'd like 2GB of storage for your own discretion, like photos and videos. Without the Muve-formatted microSD card, Muve won't work.
There's no doubt that the Muve Music service is the handset's biggest draw, although the Vitality is a fully functioning smartphone in its own right. Like most Android smartphones, with support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, text, e-mail, GPS, and a wide array of Google apps and services, like Maps, Navigator, Gmail, the HTML browser, and so on.
Another multimedia feature is the 3.2-megapixel camera. It takes photos in four resolutions, from a full 3.2 megapixels down to standard VGA (64x480 pixels). There's a fair amount of settings, such as three focus modes, six scene settings, spot metering, five white-balance settings, a 4x zoom, five color effects, geolocation, and three quality modes. The camera also shoots video in four settings and six color effects. Video length is determined by the available memory, but with a preinstalled microSD card limited to just 1GB storage, there's not much left over.
Like many Android 2.2 and 2.3 Gingerbread phones for prepaid carriers, the Vitality is without hot spot support. The service often costs an additional $30 monthly subscription fee with post-paid carriers, and cost reduction is a major reason that the hot spot is left out here.
In addition to the more than 250,000 apps available in the Android Market, the Vitality comes preloaded with several programs to get you started. Cricket has added its typical carrier apps, including a backup app, Cricket 411, a My Account shortcut, and Cricket-branded browser and e-mail. There's also ThinkFree Office and Poynt, for the practical, and Twitter, Uno (demo), and Midnight Pool 2 (demo) for the lighter times.
Call quality was fair, but not stellar, with low volume on both sides. While we did hear some digital distortion on our end, voice quality otherwise sounded fairly clear and natural. Our friends on the other end also noted the low volume and garbling, and added that we sounded a little hollow and echo-y as well.
Samsung Vitality call quality sample Listen now:
The hollowness and low volume intensified when we switched into speakerphone mode. In a perfectly quiet room with the volume fully raised, we could make out the conversation, but still wanted to increase the volume. We wouldn't feel confident turning on speakerphone in a noisier environment, or setting the phone farther away than waist-level. Low volume was a problem we also noticed on the Samsung Admire, the Vitality's twin, though the call quality wasn't as disappointing.
While it's no dual-core phone, or even steered by a 1GHz processor, the Vitality's 800MHz processor did fine, and the phone felt zippier than the Suede, which shares the same processing capacity. We didn't experience too much lag switching between the Muve Music mode and the Android Gingerbread OS, although there will be some load time. We were also able to swiftly navigate around. The speed with which you're able to download Muve songs and ringtones will depend on your signal strength, since you won't be able to download over Wi-Fi, as mentioned above.
The Vitality has a rated battery life of 6.5 hours of talk time and 10.4 days of standby time. (We're taking that with a grain of salt, since the nearly identical Samsung Admire has a rated battery life of just 3 hours and a standby time of up to 8.3 days, and since the battery seemed to die out quickly during the course of our testing.) According to FCC radiation tests, the Vitality has a digital SAR of 0.53 watt per kilogram.
In the Samsung Vitality, Cricket and Samsung finally bring to market a worthwhile vehicle for Muve Music's compelling monthly music package. To its credit, the Vitality runs the latest version of Android and has a pretty good touch screen. The handset is attractive enough and easy to navigate, and we appreciate both a hardware and a software path for getting into the music mode. Even without Muve, the Vitality can stand on its own merit, although the audio volume and overall call quality left us wanting more, and the proprietary microSD card hogs most of the external storage space.
For about $200 for the hardware and an additional $65 per month, the Vitality with Muve Music is hardly your most budget phone, although it is off-contract, so there's no service obligation. Still, those who wind up using the phone as their primary music listening device are in for a good deal at just $10 a month more than Cricket's usual $55-monthly smartphone rate.