A lot of phone names these days seem pretty random, but in this case, the name actually fits the product. Thanks to the new Sprint ID feature, the Samsung Transform lets you download different packs of apps, widgets, and shortcuts to literally transform this Android phone's personality. Choices range from branded ID packs such as Yahoo and EA to themes including Golf Enthusiast and Entertainment. This $149 device also features a comfy slide-out keyboard and a front-facing camera for video calls, perks lower-end Sprint ID-capable phones such as the LG Optimus S ($49) and the Sanyo Zio ($99) lack. Still, $149 is a lot to spend on a device that doesn't have 4G data capability or a high-res screen. Does the Transform have enough going for it, or would that dough be better spent on an Evo 4G or Epic 4G?
At least with the 3.5-inch screen off, the Transform could easily be mistaken for the Epic 4G. They're both solidly built handsets with unassuming rounded edged and hard black plastic on the back. The Transform measures 4.6 x 2.4 x .6 inches and weighs 5.4 ounces, while the Epic is taller and slightly wider and heavier (4.9 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches and 5.5 ounces), owing to its larger 4-inch display. This is a reasonable size and weight for a phone with a physical keyboard, which slides out easily.
The top of the device has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB port. The right side has a volume rocker, and the left side has three buttons--one for power/sleep, one for voice commands, and one for the camera.
The Transform has a 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen with 480 x 320 resolution. The screen can get plenty bright if the user chooses, but colors are muted and text looked fuzzy on some pages. The screen takes to fingerprints and smudges easily. Compared to the Epic 4G's 4-inch Super AMOLED screen with 800 x 480 resolution, the Transform's display looks lackluster.
The full QWERTY keyboard on the Transform is the best feature the device has to offer. Gray keys and orange accents give it a hip feel. It's very comfortable overall, and there is enough spacing to type quickly and accurately. We only wish that the flat keys were raised a little more. The virtual Android keyboard works fine, but it doesn't have Swype pre-installed like the Epic 4G. Since the physical keyboard is available, we'd much rather use that anyway.
The Transform runs a modified version of Android 2.1. There are five home screens to arrange apps and widgets. With Sprint ID (explained below), you can set up custom profiles with different apps and widgets on your home screens. You can tap the Sprint ID button on the main home screen to switch between profiles.
Sprint ID and Apps
Sprint ID is currently available on three Sprint Android phones--the Samsung Transform, the Kyocera Zio, and LG Optimus S. All of these packs are available for free, and some include ads. As of this review, 13 choices were available, including Entertainment, Socially Connected, Small Biz, Auto Enthusiast, and even Clean, which simplifies the phone experience down to the basics with almost no apps or widgets on the home screens.
You'll have to be patient when downloading Sprint ID packs. First, you have to download the pack, which can take several minutes (if you're on 3G). Then the ID pack installs, which took another couple of minutes for the packs we installed. Even after this wait, in many cases you'll have to then download all the apps an ID pack bundles with it. For example, the Socially Connected pack just provided a shortcut to the Android Market for the Facebook app, not the app itself.
We also tried Games by EA, which includes wallpapers, demos of EA games like Tetris and Scrabble, and shortcuts EA on the web. The Tetris and Need for Speed wallpapers are cool if you're into those franchises. Another pack is The Big Apple, which has shortcuts to download New-York-themed apps, wallpapers of New York City, and widgets for weather and news. Other brands that have signed up to provide ID packs include ESPN, MTV, Notre Dame, the Oprah Winfrey Network, RadioShack, and Weather Channel.
The Transform comes pre-loaded with Google apps like Latitude, Navigation, and Maps, and Sprint apps like Nascar, Sprint TV, and Sprint Football Live. Like on all Android phones, you can also download apps from the Android Marketplace, which currently has 80,000+ apps.
Specs and Performance
The Transform was inconsistent when it came to performance. With the stock interface out of the box, the phone's 800-MHz processor proved mostly responsive. We noticed occasional lag when swiping around, but it wasn't too distracting. However, once we turned a Sprint ID on, the whole experience slowed down, with noticeable delays when opening apps or menus. The Transform has 256MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM and we suspect this just isn't enough to run Sprint ID fluidly.
The Transform was slightly slower than average using Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network. With a full 3G signal, it took 12 seconds to load ESPN's mobile site, 9 seconds to load the New York Times mobile site, and 55 seconds to load LAPTOP's full home page. We'd recommend grabbing the Dolphin HD Browser from the Android Market because it runs faster than the stock browser. The device doesn't support 4G so there's no hope of getting faster downloads in areas that have WiMax.
E-mail and Messaging
Like other Android phones, the Transform offers e-mail in the form of two apps--Gmail and a standard E-mail app that gives you access to messages from corporate or other personal services. Text messaging worked well with the QWERTY keyboard.
Camera and Camcorder
The Transform's 3.2-megapixel camera took dull photos with washed-out color and so-so detail. We found it frustrating that, to fully use the camera app, users must sign up for a photo-sharing service. After every photo, the app asked if we wanted to share it and the only way out of it was to tap the physical back button on the phone.
There is also a front-facing VGA camera for video chat. We tried to get video recording to work with the front camera on Qik, but we only received error messages. Fring's video chat did not work either. The camcorder app also wouldn't record using the front-facing camera.
The Transform can also record videos, but not in HD. When you start the app, it asks if you want to record in Normal (352x288 pixels) or MMS (176x144 pixels) mode. The videos in Normal mode looked decent, but we wouldn't share them on YouTube.
Music and Streaming Media
The standard Android music player on the Transform worked fine, and songs sounded full but a little fuzzy through a good pair of headphones plugged into the headphone jack on top. For music, we'd recommend downloading the doubleTwist app from the Android Market because you can sync playlists with the desktop version of doubleTwist and play podcasts and videos from the app.
Slow connection times hindered the experience when we were streaming media. While streaming Pandora on the Transform, it took a long time for songs to load and the sound quality was subpar.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The Transform delivered very good call quality--voices sounded natural and full through the earpiece, and others said we sounded clear. Reception was average, and we usually had a few bars in New York City buildings. No calls were dropped during our testing.
The 1500mAH battery is rated for 6 hours of continuous talk time and 15 hours of standby time. That said, we found that the battery didn't fare well during a routine day of testing. With moderate use and switching between calling, web surfing, and using apps, the phone died before 6 p.m. when starting at 9 a.m..
The Transform is a mid-range phone that costs $149 after a $100 mail-in rebate on a 2-year contract. Comparably, the Epic 4G costs $249.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a 2-year agreement. The Epic also costs $10 more a month because of 4G access, but it delivers a premium experience with its hardware and service, so it's worth the extra cost. If you can live without a keyboard, the $199 Evo 4G is another great choice, though it also requires $10 more monthly for data. Those looking for an affordable Android phone with a physical keyboard on Sprint should also consider the $99 Intercept. It has a smaller 3.3-inch screen and lacks a front-facing camera, but it has the same processor as the Transform and costs $50 less.
We like the idea behind the Transform--a smaller, less expensive Epic 4G with an interface you can easily personalize with apps. However, the Sprint ID packs take longer to download than we'd like, and then there's additional work involved. Plus, Sprint ID slowed down overall performance. We might recommend this device if it cost less and didn't suffer from sluggishness, but $149 is a lot to pay for a smart phone on Sprint when, for just 50 bucks more, you can get 4G speeds, HD video recording, mobile hotspot capability, and more.