Up until recently, it’s been rare to find a whole lot of reviews on MetroPCS phones. Though it’s the fifth-largest carrier in the US, it’s still only available regionally and isn’t large enough to get the necessary leverage required to get the top of the line phones. Thus, MetroPCS tends to stay out of the limelight whether or not it’s on purpose. Interestingly enough, however, it broke major headlines nationwide with the news that it was launching the very first LTE network deployed in the US. This definitely came as a big shock to many since the carrier doesn’t even use 3G.
But here, all of a sudden, came the announcement of the Samsung Craft, the LTE pioneer in the US, a foreshadowing of the crazy 4G wars that will flare up to a peak in 2011. This is the leaky hole in the dam that you know is just waiting to burst open and flood the valley below.
The crazy thing is, for something so iconic to the industry’s immediate future, the surprising thing is that the Craft isn’t even a smartphone. It’s a standard messaging phone with some decent specs on it.
Is there more to the Samsung Craft than just the fact that it’s an LTE phone?
Hardware and Design of the Samsung Craft
For anyone interested in the Craft, it’s not necessarily because of looks. The Craft is reminiscient of Samsung phones from a couple years ago. While it has somewhat-rounded corners on the front, it’s also thick and looks boxy from the side. It even has the same dark red tint found on the Samsung Omnia II and others from the same timeframe.
The Craft measures out at 4.5″ x 2.2″ x 0.6″. This puts the phone at a hair over 15 mm thick, and let’s face it — that’s beefy. Compared to other touchscreen phones with full QWERTY keyboards, this is on the larger side of the spectrum; but I do believe that the built-in LTE chip may contribute to making it look and feel thicker. And unsurprisingly, the phone weighs in at 5.3 ounces. That’s also above average when comparing other phones of the same style and genre. But yet, even with the extra weight the Craft doesn’t feel as though it would hold up well against the elements or accidental drops. After all, just by touching the phone you can tell it’s made of plastic all the way around. You’ll want to baby this phone to make sure nothing happens to it.
So is there enough to this phone to make it attractive? Granted, the front of the phone and the keyboard are both very pleasant to look at. On the front you’ll notice Samsung’s usual rounded design, complete with the usual keys found on their touchscreen feature phones: call/answer, back, and end call/power. All the rest of the navigating can be done using the screen itself. The screen technology is AMOLED, which means your colors are going to be crisp and deep, and the display will be bright enough to see indoors but questionable outdoors.
The Craft has a 3.5 mm headphone jack, which for some bizarre reason isn’t found on as many messaging or feature phones as I’d like; it only makes sense that phones already designed to be great music players as well as messaging and internet phones would actually let you easily play music through your own headphones, right? Yet too many phones still rely way too heavily on proprietary headphone docks — usually they’re the same exact plugin spot as your charger.
Speaking of music player capabilities, the Craft also increases the enjoyment of your multimedia experience by putting the MicroSD card slot on the outside, where it’s easily accessible and swappable. That card can be up to 32 GB, if you need a lot of movies and music on your phone. It also uses a MicroUSB charger, which is quickly becoming the new universal standard in charging ports.
Lastly, the keyboard is decently good. I had no trouble typing fast on the Craft because all the keys were spaced out, ever so slightly raised (just a teency-weency bit, but enough to do the job), and while the keys aren’t incredibly large, they worked for me. It’s a 4-row keyboard with a dedicated row of numbers, which I prefer. My advice if you have larger fingers and thumbs, however, is that this will probably not produce the best typing results for you.
Also unfortunate is the lack of dedicated keys on this keyboard. My favorite keyboards will often have standalone keys for the period, the @ symbol, .com, and/or dedicated messaging button. The Craft’s keyboard doesn’t have any of these. It’s true that some of them are still on the keyboard somewhere, but only as secondary keys that require pressing the Fn button first. When it comes to speedy typing, this is not the best design for a keyboard.
Software and OS of the Samsung Craft
Like many of Samsung’s touchscreen feature phones, the Craft uses Touchwiz. Many people have a love/hate relationship with the Touchwiz interface because while it can be clever and intuitive by offering widgets (shortcuts) to use on the main screen, Touchwiz has been known to slow many decent phones down significantly so that going into programs or changing screens is a slower process.
The Touchwiz UI typically offers a small side-tray of widgets that can be pulled out and plopped onto the main screen without hassle. These widgets are shortcuts that can take you directly into whatever application you want to go into. For example, by pulling out the Google search widget, you can just type in your search on the main screen instead of having to go into the web browser first, a tedious process that could take several minutes (depending on if you’re using the LTE or not, I suppose).
But another thing that gets added onto the Craft that I haven’t seen on other Touchwiz-capable phones is a pull-down tray on the very top of the phone. By pressing the down arrow, the tray pops down with some of the most popular apps hiding there: browser, music, WiFi, and Bluetooth. That’s right, WiFis included on this phone, which is unheard of with most non-smartphones on the market today. This could be a compromise for those MetroPCS customers who want the Craft but can’t have LTE just yet.
Besides this, there’s a whole lot of bloatware. MetroPCS threw in an incredibly high number of apps geared directly towards the carrier, such as: mail@metro, Metro411, @metro, MetroWEB, metroSTUDIO, myMetro, Metro Navigator, Metro BACKUP, and Pocket Express. Enough with all the Metro branding. That is all I have to say about that.
The Craft only holds around 160 MB of internal storage, so don’t expect to do a whole lot of music playing or video watching with that. However, the Craft comes with a MicroSD card that has the full-length Star Trek preloaded on it. Not too shabby an offering for a phone, and frankly I wish more phones would come with stuff like this. Some of you may call me a hypocrite for hating bloatware but loving movies on MicroSD. But hey, it’s a good full-length movie that I wouldn’t mind keeping for myself, and if I don’t want it, I can delete it; the same cannot be said about most bloatware that shows up on phones these days.
For the camera, we have a 3.2 camera to play with on the Craft, which is slightly above average for a feature phone. It has an LED flash accompanied by a really tiny mirror so when you take pictures of yourself you can make sure you’re pointing the camera the right way before you snap it.
It can also take video, but don’t expect it to be any sort of replacement for your HD camcorder by any means. Far from it. But at a resolution of 640×480 running at 15 fps, it’s adequate for taking videos when you’re in a crunch and can’t find your super-awesome digital camcorder anywhere. But it definitely is choppy when panning the video around from place to place.
Playing videos and music is a great experience on the Craft; it should be, if it’s going to advertise Star Trek being played on the phone’s AMOLED display. Unlike the choppy video record, the video playback is much smoother to the eyes, and any movies you have will actually look like movies (well, movies on a really small screen, that is).
Performance of the Samsung Craft
The performance on a phone such as this can be a huge wild card, because it’s meant to be a standard messaging phone, yet as the first US phone with LTE it’s apparently destined to be something truly groundbreaking. And I can tell it’s having a hard time with these two roles meshing together into one. There were times that I felt as though this phone was only built to get out into the spotlight before any other potential competition could stand in its way. But at other times it turned out to be a pretty decent phone.
It was okay, but not great. Battery life is rated at 6 hours talk time and 200 hours of standby, and I was able to stretch out the battery life to a little over the 6 hour mark. The WiFi also worked fine, when it was connected. I did notice, though, that after a brief time of inactivity, the WiFi connection would disappear and I’d need to go back into the phone settings and re-add my original connection.
Call audio quality was okay. I could hear everyone fine on my end and vice versa. But I did notice some connection issues from time to time, though I’m pretty sure this is due to my coverage being serviced by other carriers (roaming). Since MetroPCS isn’t available everywhere, it uses a lot of roaming networks around the country. It certainly didn’t help me get very fast internet speeds, either. But 2G never does offer fast speeds anyway. The concern is, I wasn’t able to actually test out the LTE network because it’s only available in a handful of cities, such as Las Vegas, LA, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas/Fort Worth. Thus the most important part of the phone in this case isn’t even testable.
I do like what Samsung was trying to do here with the Craft, but it’s still nothing more than a simple messaging phone that happens to do a few extra cool things on the side. And I can’t even say that it’s the best messaging phone either because of the questionable keyboard design and layout. Nonetheless, if you want to check it out, the Samsung Craft is available on MetroPCS at stores or online for $299.99.
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