Reviewed November 4, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Even with all the hype about multimedia features on mobile phones this year, users and cell phone carriers know that texting is still the heavy hitter in our daily lives. This is why, during this holiday season, we’re seeing a barrage of texting phones with full QWERTY keyboards including the Samsung Rant for Sprint, Samsung Propel for AT&T, the Verizon Blitz and more. The Samsung Rant joins the LG Rumor in Sprint’s texting phone line up and offers a full QWERTY keyboard, Sprint TV, Sprint Music store access, GPS with Sprint Navigation capability and Sprint’s One Click feature. Add built-in Bluetooth with A2DP stereo, a microSD card slot with SDHC support and a 2 megapixel camera, and you’ve got a texting phone that’s also a strong multimedia phone at an affordable price.
The Samsung Rant (SPH-M540) is a digital CDMA phone offered by Sprint in the US. Unlike the LG Rumor, the Samsung Rant has Sprint fast broadband EV-DO support. Currently the phone comes in two colors, red and black ( purple is available exclusively from Best Buy).
The LG Rumor is sturdy but the Samsung Rant feels even sturdier with a cleaner look and good heft. The full QWERTY keyboard slides out to the left (unlike the LG Rumor) and has four rows of keys as opposed to three rows on the Rumor. We like the keyboard a lot: it has good tactile feedback and the keys audibly click when pressed. Since there is an extra row of keys the Samsung has all the keys at the right places and offers 4 directional buttons, an OK key and text messaging launch key. Like the Rumor, the Rant has two soft keys below the landscape screen, and the display will change orientation automatically when the keyboard is deployed or tucked away. The full keyboard plus soft keys provide everything you need without using the keys on the phone’s front face.
The 2.1” display looks good and the call control keys and the soft menu keys are flat with speaker launcher, back key and menu/OK key raised with chrome-like cover. The d-pad is a decent size but it flatter than the raised button surrounding it. For most functions the controls are easy to use, but in gaming the flat d-pad against raised neighboring buttons is a pain to use. The backlight is a bit faint on the front number keypad, but works very well on the full QWERTY keyboard. There isn’t an option to adjust the brightness of the backlight, only the timing. Side buttons are minimal with only the camera launcher on the right and the volume rocker on the left. There are also a 2.5mm audio jack and a charging port on the phone’s side. The built-in 2 megapixel camera lives on the back with a self-portrait mirror above the rear-firing speaker. The microSD card is under the battery door, but thankfully the back cover has a latch on top that makes it easy to open the cover and it’s not necessary to take out the battery to access the memory slot.
Phone and Web
The Samsung Rant has good reception but not exceptional. It usually gets half to full signal strength in good to excellent coverage areas and it has never dropped a call. The audio quality is very good on the incoming end with a very effective DSP but outgoing voice is slightly muddy. The Samsung Rant comes with a phone book that can store up to 600 entries and each entry can store up to 7 numbers, a photo ID, ringtone, email, URL, memo and more. You can also assign speed dials to phone numbers and the Samsung Rant can store up to 98 speed dials. The Samsung Rant comes with Nuance’s excellent voice command software that can voice dial reliably and launch any application, bring up text/photo messaging screen, check the phone’s and more, all via voice command (no voice tags required). Voice dialing and voice commands worked well over Bluetooth headsets in our tests. The Samsung Rant worked well with the Jawbone II Bluetooth headset for both voice quality and DSP performance.
Sprint One Click
The Samsung Rant and the Samsung Highnote are the first phones to feature Sprint One Click, a new User Interface that puts popular applications and services in a single line of icons at the bottom of the screen (carousel as Sprint calls it) so that you can launch them with just one click. These applications and services include Google search, YouTube videos, Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, music, favorite web sites and more. It looks cleaner than the traditional icon-based UI that often gives you menu trees that can go several steps deep. You can of course customize the carousel icons to launch your most used apps and add shortcuts to see most content on your phone. It does cut down the number of clicks if you put your most used stuff there, and if you prefer the traditional icon-based UI it’s still there.
If you want to expand your horizon from the LG Rumor, the Samsung Rant offers a slew of multimedia features that are beyond the LG Rumor’s reach. Thanks to the Rant’s broadband (EV-DO’s new flashy term) support, you get Sprint Music store access, Sprint TV, movie and radio services along with 3D gaming. Sprint’s Music store offers songs at $.99 per track and you can download it to your PC for free after you buy the song and download it over the air. The music download is fast and the phone has a built-in music player that supports playlists. While Sprint is offering the Samsung Highnote as their new music phone, the Samsung Rant has all the bells and whistles to play music except a circular music control. The Rant has a 2.5mm audio jack that worked with all the headsets we’ve tested with, though the package doesn’t come with a wired headset. The Samsung also supports Bluetooth A2DP to work with stereo headsets wirelessly. The audio quality is actually quite good for a non-music centric phone via the built-in speaker which has very loud volume. The quality is much better through 2.5mm headphones with clear audio on all channels and loud volume. We tested the Rant with two Bluetooth stereo headsets: the Samsung SBH-500 and the Motorola ROKR S9-HD. When working with the Samsung SBH-500 Bluetooth stereo headset, the audio quality on the Samsung was very good with a bias favoring the trebles. The bass could have been a bit clearer (something we don’t usually say about the SBH-500). The volume was loud via the Samsung headset.
We did encounter issues with microSD card compatibility. The phone’s specs indicate that the microSD card slot supports SDHC cards up to 16GB. We tested SDHC cards on the Rant, and while it had no problem saving the photos and videos we took with phone’s camera, it couldn’t access the 4GB card to store music we bought from Sprint Music store. We used a non-SDHC card to store the music and that worked. Given the fact that there were several firmware updates for the LG Rumor when it first came out, we wouldn’t be surprised if this gets fixed in future updates.
While the music experience was mostly enjoyable, Sprint TV and movie watching wasn’t super exciting. That’s not to say that Sprint TV and movies don’t offer exciting content. In fact Sprint beefed up their TV program line up and added current and popular full-length movies. Often the EV-DO connection is the culprit when Sprint TV runs slow, but in this case, we suspect it’s the device itself. The phone feels sluggish launching many applications, especially Sprint TV programs and movies. Even in very good coverage areas, TV shows and news clips often looked blocky, stuttered, and audio was out of sync with video. The movies had slightly better quality than the TV programs but there were noticeable frame drops and occasional blockyness. We hope this is not due to a slow processor and that performance can be improved with future firmware updates. One plus is that the Samsung Rant can display full screen video in landscape mode.
Gaming on the Samsung Rant is mostly enjoyable thanks to the nice speakerphone, fast game downloads and a precise d-pad. Some games have both subscription and buy options while others have only a subscription option. A monthly game subscription usually costs $3.49 and the buy price is usually $7.49. We tested many games including arcade games like Pacman, action games like Spore and casual games like Zuma. The games run reasonably fast and the d-pad feels responsive. The only imperfection in gaming is the raised buttons surrounding the d-pad. Since they’re higher than the d-pad they get in the way of pressing the d-pad.
GPS and Sprint Navigator
GPS performance is very good on the Samsung Rant, getting quick fixes and accurate positions, even indoors. The Rant works with Sprint Navigation and Sprint Family Locator services. Sprint Navigation v2.1 offers route mapping, checking traffic, turn-by-turn directions and voice guidance. The route mapping is fast but if you diverge from the given route, re-routing on the go is a bit sluggish. Maps load reasonably fast on the Rant in either 2D or 3D mode, and you can send location info to friends and record your locations. Sprint Navigation costs $9.99/month, though if you have Sprint’s Everything plan or the Talk/Message/Data Share plan, it’s included in those packages.
One more upgrade you will get moving from the LG Rumor to the Samsung Rant is the built-in camera. The Rant has a 2 megapixel camera with fixed focus lens that takes decent still photos, but not exceptional ones by 2 megapixel camera phone standards. The photos have overall nice quality but some outdoor shots are overexposed. Colors are mostly balanced with a slight cool tint in some indoor shots. Most photos look pleasing though they don’t have a huge amount of detail. The camera software offers lots of settings from brightness to color correction to shooting mode (multi-shot and night-shot modes) and 5 resolutions and 3 picture quality settings. The camera phone can also take with audio at 176 x 144 resolution. Though small, videos look quite good; they’re smooth and clear with proper audio sync.
Battery life is another area that could use some help from firmware updates. The Samsung Rant comes with a 3.7V rechargeable Li-Ion battery that’s 960mAh in capacity. The battery on our Rant wouldn’t fully charge reliably: it repeatedly reached 80% charge and then stopped charging (even a master reset didn’t help). The battery run time is also short, getting well below the claimed 5.6 hours usage time, and achieving only a few days of standby. We remember going through this with the LG Rumor and the Samsung UpStage when the phones were first released. They too had issues with batteries and after a couple of firmware updates the phones behaved normally. We expect the same for the Samsung Rant.
The Samsung Rant uses a narrow blade connector for charging that’s the same as the Samsung Highnote, but different from the wider blade on other Samsung feature phones like the Samsung Sway or the Samsung Propel.
You might not take the phone’s name seriously, but the Samsung Rant offers strong text-centric features with beefy multimedia muscle. The QWERTY keyboard is good and the GPS, Sprint TV and music are all there. The phone has some stability-related issues but it has very good potential and hopefully after a few firmware updates, the Rant will be a solid phone. If you like the LG Rumor but don’t want to compromise on EV-DO and multimedia features, the Samsung Rant is the way to go. For bargain hunters this holiday season, it’s almost a no brainer since Sprint is selling both the Rumor and Rant for the same price at the moment.
Pro: Sturdy build with a great QWERTY keyboard. Full set of multimedia features and a good camera. GPS has strong performance.
Con: The phone needs a little bit of work in several areas.
Price: $49.99 with 2 year contract, $299.99 without contract
Display: 2.1” 262K color TFT screen. Resolution: 176 x 220 pixels.
Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, 960 mAh, user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 5.6 hours.
Performance: Phone book can store 600 entries.
Size: 4.5 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches. Weight: 3.5 oz.
Phone: CDMA digital dual band phone, 800/1900MHz. EV-DO for fast data.
Camera: 2 megapixel camera with self-portrait mirror. Support multi-shot and night shot modes. 5 still image resolutions and 3 picture quality levels. Can take video with audio at 176 x 144 resolution. MMS and long video lengths.
Audio: MP3 player onboard to play music in AAC and WMA files. Supports Sprint Radio streaming services in over 150 channels. Can record voice memo. Supports vibration alert.
Networking: Bluetooth 2.0. Supported profiles: Hands-free, DUN, OPP, FTP, BPP, ADP, AVRCP and Phone Book Access. USB 2.0.
GPS: Yes. Works with Sprint Navigation and Sprint Family Locator.
Software: Both icon-based UI and Sprint One Click UI. Polaris 6.0 HTML browser and Web-based IM on board. PIM tools include Contacts, Calendar, Task List, Countdown, Calculator, Alarm Clock, World Time and Memo Pad.