- Environmentally friendlyOptional solar-powered battery coverGood battery life
- Slow processorLow-res displayCheap and flimsy feel
The concept of selling phones made of recyclable material is starting to pick up speed. Sprint's decision to offer a green smartphone in its lineup is likely in reaction to strong sales from other phones in the same environmental category, and we imagine the carrier is testing it out with confidence that an Android phone made of the same materials will do well in the mainstream lineup. The Replenish is full of stuff that would please the waste-averse: 34 percent of it is made from recycled content, and 82 percent is made from recyclable content. Heck, even the packaging is in the green game -- it uses soy inks and is constructed with 80 percent post-consumer waste materials. And Sprint means business when it comes to propagating recyclable phones; not only is the Replenish selling at an affordable $50 with contract, the usual $10 monthly smartphone data premium will be waived if you choose to purchase one.
When we took the phone out of the box, it felt a bit flimsy; it wasn't until we lit up the screen for the first time, however, that we understood exactly how much the cheapness radiated. Once we saw the 2.8-inch, QVGA display with 240 x 320 resolution pop up, we immediately saw the pixelation pouring out of the screen, as if we were trying to relive the glory days of 2008 when this type of display was more commonplace. It was slightly disappointing to see, since we'd have a much more enjoyable time with a green phone if it had a good quality display. To make matters worse, we experienced some rather unsettling scratches on the top half of the Replenish, and we don't even understand what could've caused it -- the review unit was used just shy of a week, and it rarely came out of our pockets (to clarify, these were pockets that didn't contain keys or other sharp items). We can't even tell for sure whether the display is glass or hard plastic; regardless, needless to say, if you purchase the Replenish it's not a bad idea to look into alternative methods of protecting the display so it doesn't get scratched up as much. Lastly, the phone isn't going to hold up through much of a beating due to the recyclable materials it's made of.
The Replenish feels like a long phone, even though it's not -- the optical illusion here is the result of two unbalanced halves, the top being the longer display, with the bottom being a short keyboard. The two halves are divided by a row of the four usual buttons: menu, home, back, and search. On the left side of the handset we find a volume rocker sitting next to a hole that a lanyard can loop through; the top has a 3.5 mm headphone jack on its left and power / lock button conveniently on its right; and the right side has a dedicated camera button and voice dial key. Down underneath is a microUSB charging port and mic, and on the back we see a small speaker grill sitting next to the 2 megapixel camera sans LED flash. The battery cover is delicate and slick, and is just glossy enough to easily pick up fingerprints. Our unit came with only the black cover, though several color choices should be available soon.
One area in which the Samsung Replenish should earn a round of applause is its optional solar-powered battery cover, which takes the green theme a step beyond any other phone that came before. We're impressed with the innovative length the companies went through just to embed a simple solar charger into a battery cover, which we think is something that should be done much more often. We love the fact that no clunky accessories are necessary to make it work. Instead, the cover is snapped onto the back just like normal, and can snatch up sunlight and charge the device without additional wires. It's not a quick charge, mind you -- one hour of exposure to direct sunlight will hook the phone up with 20 minutes of talk time -- but it will definitely work in a pinch when you're nowhere near an electric outlet.
The Replenish is geared with a 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM7627-2 processor, which is now standard on entry-level smartphones. An OS like Android 2.2 demands a lot out of its CPUs, and they get pushed hard. The CPU works okay for normal tasks, but we noticed some performance concerns that could be related to either the processor or buggy firmware; we've seen better performance out of other Android phones with the same specs, so we're leaning toward the latter. Our issues stemmed when, over the course of two days, the device crashed and rebooted three separate times -- each time occurring as it was pushed to the upper limits of its performance. In addition to the processor, the Replenish also houses 512MB RAM, a laughable 136MB internal storage space (with 2GB microSD included), and a 2 megapixel camera. We were, however, pleasantly surprised to see a 1600 mAh battery included that claims to offer 5.5 hours talk time. In our tests, we could use the phone moderately (making calls, sending messages, taking pictures, browsing the web and downloading apps) throughout the full day without requiring another charge, but definitely needed to plug it in at night. Calls were loud and clear until switching to speakerphone, in which voices still came out clear enough but sounded slightly tinny and muffled. We didn't experience any dropped calls or fluctuations in service with our unit.
Say what you will about BlackBerry devices -- its keyboards are still the standard by which any other QWERTY handset strives to live up to. Research in Motion has mastered the skill of making the most out of the limited real estate its devices have to work with, and while there are a few key differences, it's as though Samsung was purposely trying to achieve the same end result. Each individual key is rather small, but an oval-shaped bubble lifts each one up higher. In theory, the bubbled contour of each key is supposed to help you type faster, but our initial typing resulted in smashing our thumbs onto multiple keys at once. We got used to the keyboard after a while and were able to speed our typing up by a little, but typing still felt completely cramped. The Replenish offers four rows of typing goodness, which inevitably means something had to be left out; in this case it was the dedicated row of numbers on the chopping block, leaving the stranded digits to gather on the left side of the keyboard in the same form as an old-fashioned keypad. If we can't have a dedicated number row, this format is the next best thing. We liked the specialty keys added into the Replenish keyboard: .com and emoticons were offered as Fn options, along with dedicated voice control and @ buttons. Overall, the typing experience was about as good as can be expected on a portrait QWERTY; we're working in tight quarters, but it's still usable.
We don't typically have high hopes for a 2 megapixel sensor with fixed focus lens, but we stress that megapixel count doesn't always correlate with the actual quality of the sensor. The Replenish's shooter didn't sound all too great on paper -- we have low expectations from cameras in entry-level devices, especially ones that don't offer LED flash or macro mode -- but Samsung has a habit of producing top-quality sensors that offer more value than the cost, and we definitely noticed an extra dash of love thrown in here. It cranked out mighty fine images in bright sunlight and indoors, and even pictures taken in low-light conditions caught more light than ones we took on comparable phones like the Pantech Crossover.
The video capture was a mixed bag. While the visuals turned out well enough, and there was a small amount of anticipated choppiness when capturing moving objects such as cars. The audio, however, was only okay until the wind picked up, at which point even the slightest breeze would overwhelm the mics and drown out any voices or other sounds we were hoping to hear. Wind can be a hard thing to defeat when capturing video on a phone, but the Replenish sounded worse than many other devices. Aside from the sketchy microphones, the video capture worked as well as we'd expect, but the still camera exceeded our expectations.
The Replenish runs Froyo, but don't expect to get the full suite of benefits you see on most handsets powered by Android 2.2. Due to the underwhelming processor, one huge feature didn't get past the final cut: Flash Player. It's hard to imagine a device with Froyo not coming with its key ingredient, but the phone needs a minimum 800MHz Snapdragon CPU in order to run it. We also discovered that many apps we normally use in our reviews -- our Engadget app included -- were missing from the Android Market because the screen's resolution is too low to be supported by many apps. As mentioned earlier, the OS runs smoothly enough when performing normal tasks one at a time, but we suspect it's being helped along by cutting some of these basic features.
Sprint has also implemented its Sprint ID into the Replenish to offer more customization options. In short, Sprint ID is much like Scenes in HTC Sense or Themes in other Android skins: developers create their own custom collection of apps, widgets, and settings, and then make them available for you to download and use. This comes in handy if you want something to do something different and are too lazy to put your own personal touch, although it can help you discover new apps you would've never used otherwise. Beyond this, Sprint adds in its usual bits of bloatware: Sprint Zone, Sprint Music, Sprint TV, and some third-party apps like ThinkFree Office and Telenav GPS, just to name a few.
A device like the Replenish is a decent choice for first-time smartphone buyers because of the low cost and waived monthly data premium, though it's not something you'll want to switch to if you're already packing an Android phone. It performs admirably for normal tasks, but has a difficult time holding up to more rigorous use; we also cannot excuse the cheap display and flimsy chassis. As much as we love the concept of recyclable handsets, we're anxiously awaiting the day that the term "eco-friendly" doesn't have to mean "low-end." The Replenish is a swift move forward for phones in this category and indicates a heavier interest in green smartphones, although this genre still has a long way to go before it can be considered the standard. This device is a good baby step toward that goal, however, so we should expect to see more of them around the corner, with the bar raised higher for each new generation. Can we eventually see recyclable devices at the same caliber as a Droid Charge or Galaxy S II? Maybe. Ultimately, we like the direction environmentally friendly phones are taking -- but we're much more interested in the destination.