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printed October 26, 2014
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Review: Samsung Transform

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The Samsung Transform uses the new Sprint ID interface concept on top of Android 2.1. It's almost entirely a stock Android interface with no improvements, except for the Sprint ID shortcut where the Browser shortcut is usually located. Sprint ID is meant for people who find customizing and setting up an Android phone confusing. I can certainly empathize; I like Android but I've always felt the system has a steep learning curve (especially after I tried to teach my 60-year-old mother how to use her Android phone). Sprint ID offers its own download store, nearly identical to the standard Android App Market, where you can choose from a number of Sprint ID packs. Right now, ID packs are all free, though Sprint has hinted that it could charge for premium ID pack content in the future. ID packs include apps, ringtones, wallpapers and widgets. In the future, Sprint will give packs some control over settings, so they can set brightness levels or activate Airplane mode, that sort of thing.

Some ID packs are based on lifestyles, like the Fashion and Beauty pack, the Golf Enthusiast pack or the Home Base pack. Others are based on brands. Yahoo has an ID pack with some apps that seem to be unique to Sprint's lineup, like a Flickr app. Electronic Arts has an app pack, though it doesn't offer much beyond a few quick demos and some Sims 3 wallpapers (even though Sprint reps claimed earlier this year that the EA pack would ship with full game versions on board). More branded packs are coming. MTV, E! and Oprah have all apparently signed on to create new packs, though it doesn't seem like much would be involved in creating an ID pack, so the lack of support at launch may indicate a wait-and-see attitude. In other words, I wouldn't recommend buyers count on more ID packs coming unless these phones sell well.

The key feature on the Samsung Transform, the new Sprint ID interface concept, will not work over Wi-Fi. Though the Sprint ID packs each require a large download, you can only download the apps and pack data over Sprint's EV-DO network. Because the Transform had such an unreliable and often slow network connection, this seriously hurt the Sprint ID experience. At best, ID packs might load in four or five minutes, but at worst, it could take 20 minutes or more to load a new pack.

I have a lot of problems with the Sprint ID concept, but it all boils down to this: Sprint ID is supposed to make setting up the phone and downloading the apps you want much simpler, but it does nothing of the sort. The entire process was long, complex and confusing. Downloading packs took a long time, then more time to actually "Install" the pack, then even more time to switch between packs. Long enough that if you are using the "New Yorker" ID pack and you suddenly feel like living la vida Yahoo!, the time it takes to switch packs will discourage you from making that move.

Even worse, though, is that the payoff is slight. There is no imagination to the organization of apps or widgets onscreen after you've switched from one pack to another, and sometimes the app choices don't even make sense. What about the "Home Base" pack, which is supposed to be for managing a household, implies that I want a download link for the game "Collapse!"? Nothing, but it's there, nonetheless. Sure, you also get ToDo lists (for Astrid Tasks, which I don't use), as well as recipes and exercise apps. But E!, or Pandora, or a car finder app? That just doesn't make sense. This is the case with most app packs. They are a mix of apps that are cool and useful, apps that relate to services you may or may not use, and apps that come seemingly out of left field.

At least Sprint makes it easy to delete what you don't want. Instead of having to go to the confusing Manage Applications submenu, when you delete an ID pack from your phone, you get to pick and choose which apps, wallpapers and ringtones get deleted. So, if you didn't use the Socially Connected ID pack much, but you want to keep Tweetcaster (included instead of the official Twitter app, strangely), you can delete the pack and keep the apps you liked. This also works with the Sprint branded ID pack. You can delete the Sprint pack, removing some unwanted, carrier-branded apps from your phone, but you can still keep the NASCAR app if you're a racing fan.

Beyond the Sprint ID features, there really isn't much to the Samsung Transform that you wouldn't find on any stock Android device, like the slightly smaller Samsung Intercept, also on Sprint. Actually, for an Android phone, the Transform offers a sub-par experience that is sluggish all around and somewhat unreliable. Beyond the problems with touch sensitivity I mentioned above, the phone crashed often, and problems with the network wreaked havoc on the ID pack features. Widgets that continually update in the background would often fail, leaving an error message on screen where the widget usually offers information. Some apps did not open at all. The Transform supposedly has a USB mass storage mode, but my computers, both my Windows and my Mac OS machines, never found the device. After so many problems, I tried a hard reset, wiping out all the phone info. Then, after a few more days of testing, I decided to hard reset again. I've never reset a phone twice in a testing period.

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