If you prize vanilla Android and a slide-out keyboard, and you're on a budget, the Samsung Transform Ultra is a great match. But the phone really isn't much to look at, and even though it's touted as a mid-range phone, it barely makes the cut due to its second-rate camera coupled with a bunch of other unexceptional features.
The big draw is the slide-out keyboard, so let's get down to business: it is cool that the phone has a Swype-capable touch screen and a full-fledged keyboard -- in theory. In practice, the touch screen isn't sensitive enough, so unless you have the patience of a Buddha, you'll be sliding the bigger keyboard out for most of your messages and web browsing.
The keyboard itself is solid, with four rows of slightly raised keys that almost make up for the display's infuriating lag. Even though it should add bulk, the phone is still neat and compact, though Samsung sacrificed the screen size to make that happen -- at 3.5 inches, it's smaller than most of its Android brethren.
The Transform is available through Boost Mobile unlocked for $230 and Sprint for $80 with a two-year contract. The Boost version boasts ultra-vanilla Gingerbread, running the Android 2.3 in its unadulterated form. TouchWiz haters will have a field day, but true Android fan boys will scoff at the lack of Ice Cream Sandwich. Sprint's device comes with a few unnecessary add-ons, but it's not full-fledged bloatware.
The body is the same for both pre-paid and post-paid versions: grey, with an easily graspable back and plenty of curved sides. There are four capacitive buttons at the bottom of the touch screen, and a dedicated camera button. It's not ugly, but it lacks the elegance of other Android entries from Samsung.
And don't get too excited about the camera -- at 3.2 megapixels, it's tolerable but not an adequate replacement for your point-and-shoot. To its credit, though, the Transform does have a bare-bones front-facing camera, so you'll still be able to take some self-portraits or chat on video camera, even though the quality will be borderline-atrocious.
You won't be able to see your pictures particularly well on the screen, since the 320-by-480 resolution tends to pixelate larger images, and will make websites almost impossible to read until you zoom in.
The Transform runs on a single-core processor, which isn't the most appealing since dual-cores are becoming standard-issue -- but it has surprisingly robust battery life, and the utter lack of bloatware keeps the phone running at a fairly zippy pace, besides that cursed touch screen delay.
If you really like keyboards, Samsung is targeting you -- and it's not a bad deal. But you'll have trouble adjusting to the touch screen, since tapping messages on its touch keyboard is equivalent to Chinese water torture. So if you're going through Sprint, there are definitely better phones out there. But if you're on Boost, the Transform is a lot more appealing -- it can be hard to find a mid-range smartphone with a semi-affordable prepaid price. ♦
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