What's not: Sluggish, made worse by Sprint ID packs that bog down the phone.
Reviewed October 18, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
If you were hoping the Samsung Transform smartphone was the poor man's version of the flagship Samsung Epic 4G Galaxy S phone on Sprint, I'm here to tell you it's not quite there. The Transform is currently $100 cheaper than the Epic 4G with contract, and it avoids Sprint's WiMAX tax where you pay $10 extra/month whether you want or can receive that 4G signal. But the Transform's features are decidedly entry to mid-level and it's nowhere near as fast in terms of data speed and CPU. What the Transform does bring to the table are a very solid build, a decent QWERTY hardware keyboard and Android 2.1. Unfortunately, Sprint ID is here too, and it bogs down the phone more than the nominally slower and cheaper Sanyo Zio.
At launch, the Transform sells for $50 more than the Samsung Intercept that was released in July 2010. The Transform's keyboard is better, it has the faster version of 3G EV-DO Rev. A rather than Rev. 0 and you get a front-facing camera (though we couldn't find an app that supported it), but the specs are otherwise quite close. The Transform looks classier, with a hint of that Galaxy S look from the front, but we're not sure that's worth the extra bucks. Both phones run Android OS 2.1 on an 800MHz CPU and both have a 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery. If your budget is very tight, we'd recommend looking at the Intercept too if you want a mid-range Android QWERTY phone on Sprint. If you've got the money, we say definitely pony up for the Epic 4G-- it's worth it.
Specs at a Glance
The Samsung Transform SPH-M920 has a 3.5" capacitive multi-touch display that's responsive to finger touch. Resolution is the usual mid-range 320 x 480 pixels and the display is bright though not nearly as color saturated and sharp as Samsung's AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays. The phone runs on Android OS 2.1 Eclair with Sprint ID and it has an 800MHz Samsung ARM6 family CPU. The Transform ships with a 2 gig microSD card pre-installed in the slot under the battery cover (you need not remove the battery to access the card). The smartphone has EV-DO Rev. A 3G, WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth with A2DP stereo and a 3.2 megapixel camera with LED flash.
The Transform is a standard QWERTY slider phone with none of the T-Mobile G2's hinge strangeness. It's solid and not a bad looking phone, particularly from the front where you see a clean glass and black front with very functional touch-sensitive buttons that nearly disappear when backlighting is off (aesthetically pleasing but not so great for usability). The phone has a sliding cover over the USB port up top, a design cue borrowed from the higher end Galaxy S line. We love the sliding cover since there aren't any fiddly plastic pop-off covers or exposed ports to collect lint, but the location up top means you won't want to use the phone when it's charging unless you're using a headset. The power/wake button is on the upper right side, again like the Galaxy S, and there's a dedicated camera button. There's also a voice dialing hardware button that uses Google's voice dialer-- unusual for an Android phone.
Deals and Shopping:
The 4-row keyboard is fairly large and we like the embedded arrow pad. The keys have decent travel and the surface resists slippage without being too grippy. Oddly, when you deploy the keyboard, the display doesn't switch to landscape mode when in the home screen. It does switch in most all applications. The number row is embedded in the top row of keys, and these are activated using the Fn key in the lower left corner. The keyboard is backlit and you can set the timing of the display and keyboard separately. Overall, the phone feels good in hand when used in candy bar mode and when used with the keyboard open for typing.
Hardware and Software: Performance and Sprint ID
Despite the nominally fast 800MHz CPU, the Transform, like the Intercept, isn't a fast phone. Sprint ID only makes things worse because it loads an awful lot of software onto a phone that's best run lean with only the apps you really need. After we'd loaded a few ID packs onto the phone, the Samsung became so balky and buggy that we had to hard reset it and start from scratch.
What are Sprint ID packs? Sprint offers approximately 13 free packs, and there's a shortcut to Sprint ID on the home screen (the far right button, where it shares real estate with the dialer and applications drawer shortcut). When you first boot the phone, it asks you to select a Sprint ID pack as a part of the setup process. You can download packs that match your interests such as fashion, entertainment, autos, golf and business tools. You can select the "clean" pack that installs no added software, not even the standard Sprint apps and services, so we suggest you go with the basic Sprint pack to get Sprint TV, account management, TeleNav and more. Each pack you download stays on the phone, so you can switch between them. Note that it takes at least 5 minutes to download a Sprint ID pack over 3G EV-DO Rev. A, but after that, the switch takes a minute or less.
Sprint ID adds widgets, applications and shortcuts related to your area of interest. If you choose autos, you get a mileage manager, shortcuts to a variety of popular car enthusiast and review sites and a few apps. Note you don't get paid software for free-- the ID packs only install apps and widgets that are available free on the Android Market. The EA Games pack doesn't give you cool games for free, but you do get a few trial games. The service is handy for those who are new to Android and have no idea what free apps might suit them, but it's heavy-handed for those who've been using Android for a while. Ultimately, the packs slow down the phone, which may discourage novice users rather than excite them about Android. To see Sprint ID in action, watch our video review below.
The Transform is one of 3 Sprint ID phones launched in the fall of 2010. The other two are the Sanyo Zio and the LG Optimus S.
Here's our Samsung Transform video review with a focus on Sprint ID:
Calling and Data
The Transform has good incoming voice quality and volume, and very good outgoing voice quality. Reception is average compared to Sprint's current smartphone offerings, and it's a bit better at pulling in a signal than the Sanyo Zio, though it's not as good as the HTC EVO 4G. Data transfer speeds weren't impressive despite the 3G EV-DO Rev. A cell radio (that's the faster flavor of Sprint 3G).
Multimedia, GPS and Battery
Samsung often endows its phones with enhanced multimedia applications, calling on their expertise in portable video and audio players. The Transform instead sticks with Android's basic music and Gallery applications that handle music playback, photo viewing and video playback. For its Sprint ID phones, Sprint wanted vanilla Android to avoid the challenges of adding both the ID packs and manufacturer custom software like Samsung's own TouchWiz or HTC's Sense UI to mid-range phones. The good news is all the standard Google apps are on board: Google search, Google voice command, Google Maps with navigation, YouTube, Gmail and email.
The GPS worked fine with Google Maps and TeleNav (aka Sprint Navigation) in our tests, and the phone didn't lose track of satellites at highway speeds. You get the full implementation of Google's location services including Places, Navigation and Latitude.
Despite the beefy 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery, we didn't get particularly stellar runtimes. We had to charge the battery each evening with moderate use, and with heavy use, we had to top the battery up by 4 pm. Sprint and Samsung claim up to 6 hours of talk time, but we got 4.5.
3.2 megapixels is now the baseline for low end camera resolution, and that's what the Transform offers. We like the LED flash and dedicated camera button, but keep in mind that the camera uses autofocus with the camera button (press lightly half way to focus) but not with the on-screen shutter button. Images are acceptable for a low end camera phone, with some white out in bright outdoor images and dull colors indoors unless light is good.
In the end, we like the Samsung Transform's hardware and basic Android 2.1 bundle, but Sprint ID brings it down. Sprint ID overwhelms this phone and the result is a slow and buggy device. For $149 with contract after a $100 rebate, we'd like to see a little more improvement over the $99 Samsung Intercept as well-- the hardware is solid low to mid-range but $149 puts it too close to high end phones like the HTC EVO 4G. The gap in hardware and performance is too vast to call the Transform a poor man's Epic 4G. That said, if you like the quite decent hardware QWERTY keyboard and responsive touch screen but can't spend the cash for a higher end Android smartphone and 4G plan, you might like the Transform if you stick with the basic Sprint ID pack.
Display:3.5" capacitive multi-touch
color LCD. Resolution:
320 x 480, supports both portrait and landscape modes via keyboard and accelerometer.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1500 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 6 hours.
Performance:800 MHz processor.
Size:2.42" x 4.6" x 0.61". Weight: 5.4 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A 3G.
Camera:3.2 MP rear main camera with LED flash. Front-facing video conferencing camera (no video conferencing software included).
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth with A2DP stereo.
Software: Android OS 2.1 with Sprint ID software. Full Google suite of applications, including Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, email, web browser and Android Market. Sprint apps and services: Sprint TV, NASCAR Mobile, Sprint Zone, TeleNav and Sprint Football Live. Third party applications vary depending on Sprint ID pack currently active, but Tweetcaster, Daily Deal and Handmark Express are in all.