Sunday

Samsung M575 review


I get a deja vu moment looking at the Samsung M575 QWERTY phone for Virgin Mobile. Although technically a different model than theSamsung Restore texting phone (the M570), it's almost a spitting image. Both feature phones are shaped like a capsule, are very thick, and have two buttons on the left of the screen for navigating in landscape mode. This wasn't a terrific look to begin with, and it certainly isn't an appealing design in the era of slim, shingle-shaped handsets.

There are a few redeeming features, like the phone's spacious keyboard, but not enough to earn it plaudits. At $49.99 (originally $79.99), it's really the only option in this price range with the PayLo plan, so Virgin Mobile customers who want more than a simple phone but who don't want to pay for a smartphone plan are limited to the M575 and the marked-down LG Rumor Touch. The M575 fits the bill for a captive audience of active texters, but other carriers offer alternatives.


Design 
 
The return of the Samsung Restore under a different name, the M575 is pill-shaped, with a highly rounded top and bottom capping a 4.6-inch tall body and a 2.1-inch width. You could also call it three-dimensional, since it's an eye-blinking 0.6-inch deep. That's nearly twice as thick as the ultraslim Samsung Galaxy S3, one of today's thinnest phones. A 0.4- or 0.5-inch thickness is more the norm. At 3.7 ounces, the phone feels solid for its size and is a little thick for pocket travel.

Plasticy, with an all-black body, the M575 isn't meant to feel premium, but neither does it feel like a hunk of junk. A silver accent piece rims the phone face, and deep blue highlights the keyboard. The phone has a 2.4-inch screen with a QVGA (320x240-pixel) resolution. Screen text and images look jagged when you peer close, but it's fine for basic use. Navigation is straightforward, with soft keys controlling the menu and contacts portals. Settings control brightness, backlight time, and wallpaper, but you can't customize the font type or font size.



On the left side of the screen are two oblong buttons that become the soft keys when you turn the handset to landscape view. Below the screen, Samsung has nicely spaced the soft keys, Send and End buttons, and the speakerphone and Back buttons. In the center of it all, the four-way navigational pad and center select buttons are easy and intuitive to use. Beneath this array are the dial pad keys, which slightly angle in and down. These buttons are long and narrow, but also fully separated and raised above the surface, so they're easy to use.
 

Slide out the four-row QWERTY keyboard for a texter's paradise. Keys are spacious, and together they curve in like a globe. The keys are nice and responsive, but fairly flat, which tripped me up. I personally prefer more compact keyboards with taller keys, but every pair of hands is different. The sliding mechanism feels fairly snug and clicks into place, although I could rock the phone face while the handset was open. Still, I didn't get the impression of fragility.

On the M575's right spine is one feature I wish we saw more often, a dedicated camera shutter button. It's joined by a 3.5mm headset jack. On the left spine is the contoured volume rocker (which I do like). You'll find the Micro-USB charging port up top and the microSD card slot behind the back cover. There's a 2-megapixel camera lens on the back as well, above a tiny vanity mirror.

Features



A feature phone, the M575 runs on a simple, proprietary operating system. There's some support for network-driven Internet connections, and for Bluetooth, but not for Wi-Fi or heavy GPS use. Texting, multimedia messaging, e-mail, and calls are the key activities, but there are also apps to help manage your cell phone account, plus simple social-networking tools and some games.

There's room for 1,000 contacts in the address book. You'll be able to document each contact well with a photo, multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IM handle, and a custom ringtone. Other fields can hold a URL, address, birth date, job information, and a memo section. Calling groups are easy to create, and you can choose from seven ringtones or download or create your own.

Apps are pretty straightforward on the M575. The most advanced is a browser. It isn't pretty, but if you're patient and desperate, it will load your pages. Just know that it'll count against your free first 50MB of Web access with the $30 PayLo plan.

If you've got a microSD card loaded with music (it accepts up to 32GB), you'll be able to use the basic music player. I like the idea of the Internet map, but it loads as a WAP site and costs a fee. So does access to social-networking services like Twitter and Facebook.

There's the usual complement of standard-issue tools, like an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, and a world clock. You can also type in a memo or record a voice memo. Nuance powers the engine behind voice commands, which is a great (and also common) way to boost the hands-free capabilities of the humble feature phone. Dig into the MyStuff folder to find games demos for Bejewled, Family Guy 2, and Texas HoldEm Poker. An online storefront gives you ample opportunity to buy more apps and games in full.

Camera
   
The M575's 2-megapixel camera is clearly an afterthought. With no flash, a low resolution at its best (you can get even lower, to 320x240 pixels), and a lot of image noise, your photos won't look their best. One indoor video I took of a fun magnetic office toy became extremely "soft" and out of focus, even when viewed on the phone's small display. An outdoor shot looked much brighter and crisper.

I do like that Samsung incorporated enough settings, so there are shooting modes like single shot and panorama and night shot. You'll also find the full array of white-balance options, which cover clouds and artificial lighting, and have a manual mode.

A brightness scale, a self-timer, and shutter sound are other items that can be adjusted, and you can choose to store photos on an SD card or on the phone. There's even a grid to help you line up shots.

On the video side, there are similar options to the camera's, but with the addition of choosing a smaller file size ideal for multimedia messaging or a larger size for other uses. Video quality was even worse than photo quality, and that's with the long-form video selected. An extremely grainy, dull picture was worsened by soft volume and persistent static. It's also odd that videos only shoot in landscape mode and only play back in portrait mode at a fraction of the original size.

Due to a serious Bluetooth issue, I only managed to get one camera photo transferred off the device. I'll go into more details in the Performance section.

Call quality
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 1900) Samsung M575 in San Francisco on Virgin Mobile's network. Volume was a high point for me and for my caller, but everything else varied. Volume was strong on my end, and there wasn't any background noise to be found on either end of the line. However, the longer I talked, the more I noticed the distortion that sometimes caused voices to vacillate between sounding human and digital. There was also an occasional crackle and both my caller and I heard muffling around the edges.

We had completely opposite experiences when it came to speakerphone. Volume was high when I held the phone at waist level, and still sounded full when I lowered the volume from a maximum of level 6 to a more subdued level 4. However, it was also very tinny, and peaked in a really unpleasant and harsh-sounding audio sharpness. The phone also physically buzzed at me through during these episodes at my caller's higher voice registers, even at volume level 4 of 6.

As soon as I turned on speakerphone, my testing partner complained about the precipitous volume drop and the feeling of vastness, like I was speaking from a remote location rather than just a foot or so from my face. Although there wasn't any background noise, my caller missed half the conversation because she couldn't hear me, even when I spoke slowly and deliberately.

Performance
Phone calls and texting are really what the Samsung M575 is about; it limps along on EV-DO 3G data speeds. More important to a purchasing decision is how good the battery life is. At 1,140mAh, the M575's battery has a rated battery life of about 6 hours of talk time and about 12 days of standby time. That's certainly longer than some, and but keep in mind that the more you use the phone, the shorter its ticker's duration.

One episode I'd like to share is the Bluetooth debacle I experienced. It took over a dozen search attempts and two laptops with integrated Bluetooth to finally transfer a single photo to the computer for use in this review. I'll spare you the detailed logs of what occurred, but the gist of the matter is that the M575 paired with my laptop, the photo didn't transfer, and then the phone couldn't locate the laptop as a Bluetooth source despite reboots on both sides. I was finally able to offload one photo onto a colleague's computer, but after the single transfer, the same thing happened -- his computer never appeared in the pairing list again.

All cell phones in the U.S. must pass the FCC's radio emissions test of under 1.6 watts per kilogram. The Samsung M575 has a digital SAR of 0.53 watt per kilogram.

Conclusion
Even after reading this review, some people are going to buy this phone. Simple, inexpensive, contract-free devices are hard to come by, and sometimes your list of financial requirements outstrips the feature musts. The Samsung M575 is less expensive than ever, and PayLo service starts at $30 per month, a price that's hard to beat. As for other requirements, the phone places calls and sends and receives texts, which is all that some people really need. No, it isn't a beauty, and yes, it's a bit thick, but when your choices are slim and your needs clear, sometimes the handset that simply exists is the one that wins.

However, if you're of the camp that has more flexibility, please do yourself a favor and keep shopping around on Virgin Mobile and its competitors. You might consider a trio of elders: Boost Mobile's Motorola Theory, AT&T's Pantech Link P7040p GoPhone, or MetroPCS' Samsung Freeform III, all 3G messaging phones in roughly the same price range.