Review: Samsung Transform on Sprint

October 17, 2010: 11:31 AM ET

The potential is there, the software updates are not.

On paper I like what Samsung is doing with the Android 2.1-powered Transform.  The Transform is a small slider with physical keyboard on Sprint's (S) network.  It is positioned as a midrange Android phone and the hardware isn't as nearly robust as its Epic 4G big brother.  The screen is 3.5-inch 320x480 pixels which compares to an iPhone 3GS and it is a little smaller overall than the Epic.  It feels great in your hand, something that Samsung does very well.

The camera is a 3 MP fixed focus lens with flash and it does have a front facing camera which is typically seen only on high end phones.  Sprint seems to be pushing front facing cameras on their Android phones, including the EVO and Epic.  Like the Epic, it comes with a great physical keyboard as well.  It is hard to fault the look of the phone overall.

The big push on this phone and a few others coming from Sprint this month (LG Optimus and Sanyo Zio) is the new Sprint ID which allows you to download overlays from Sprint rather than having them installed by default.  This is a clever tactic to give people who want a mostly pure Android experience (like me) what they want, but at the same time allow people to customize their phones with carrier/manufacturer skins.

So how does it work in practice?  Not well.

My particular phone out of the box was a little wonky. Right away, I noticed that going to apps doesn't fill the screen to the top, nor does the phone seem to want to go into landscape mode, which is much worse on a phone with a landscape keyboard.  The phone comes with typical Sprint Android Apps like NASCAR, SprintTV, SprintID, Telenav, SprintZone and Sprint Football.

I won't ever use and of Sprint's apps, except maybe TV in rare instances where I'd like to catch parts of a Football game.  In those instances where I've used SprintTV for this (on an EVO), it has worked extremely well, but I wish Sprint would let these products work over Wifi, rather than forcing the feed to go over 3G.

The Sprint ID service is something else I'd really never use in practice, but for this review, I tried a few skins.  The skins I tried slowed the phone down and offered up a bunch of trialware and shortcuts to download software.  I'm not sure who would be excited about this but there you are.  Back to stock Android for me.

The best thing about this phone is the physical keyboard.  It is on par with the Epic 4G's, though it doesn't have the all-important number row.  The keys are spaced out well and feel solid. If you need a physical keyboard on your phone, you won't be disappointed with this one.

The camera takes "cameraphone quality" photographs which is to say not very good.  The fixed focus lens and 3 megapixel CCD aren't going to win any awards.  On the other hand, I especially like the dedicated camera button on the side which brings you to camera mode and also operates the shutter.  From any application or screen, you are a few seconds away from snapping a picture.  The quality of the video can best be described as "almost YouTube" quality, although I'm not sure that is being fair to YouTube.

The phone call quality on the phone is good, but nothing to write home about.  There isn't a noise-canceling mic which helps call quality.

A pet peeve for me on this phone was the vibrate which seemed really strange and artificial like a Kazoo.  In fact, if you flick this phone with your finger it will vibrate in a strange, unpleasant way. This may not bother you but check it out before you buy.

Gaming is also a bit slow.  Angry Birds takes forever to load as do more complex racing games.  The overall 800MHz processor can't always keep up.

The GPS works well in the Android Maps app, better than any Galaxy S phone I've tried, which was a pleasant surprise.  The navigation worked well, but would benefit from an Android 2.2 update and Voice Actions.

Conclusion:

It would be hard to find a situation where this phone, as it currently stands, would be your best bet.  The OS is buggy (even though I must applaud the stock Android without overlays attempt) and the Sprint ID system just makes things much worse. I'd also put Sprint's Zio and the LG Optimus S ID phones through a software review before considering them.  In my experience, the ID system just isn't ready yet (nor is it ever going to be useful for people who appreciate stock Android).  Perhaps when Sprint updates these to Froyo, the software will match the hardware.

The hardware is what you'd expect in a midrange phone but market forces push down the prices of high end Android phones down so fast, it makes sense to consider them.  Although Sprint charges you $10 more a month (haggle if you don't live in a 4G area), the Epic 4G and Evo which can both be found for $99 on plan make so much more sense.

If you are considering other carriers but still need a slide keyboard, check out the T-Mobile G2 ($99+plan) or the Verizon Droid 2 which can be found for free.

The Sprint Transform can be found at the Sprint stores or Radio Shacks and Best Buys for $150 after rebate or for $99 at Amazon.

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Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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