Hands-On with Freetel's Samurai REI
Freetel is a Japanese company, but their team actually has deep roots and experience in the US market. They are bringing a range of unlocked phones to the US this spring and summer, including the premium-but-affordable Samurai REI, an Android phone with a premium metal body and decent specs. We checked it out. Read on for some background on Freetel, and our impressions of the REI.
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Freetel was founded just a few short years ago by ex-Dell people, after Dell exited the phone space. It was a Japan-based group, but they recruited folks they knew from Dell USA, Motorola, and even Apple. They wanted to make awesome phones for Japan. However, much like the USA a couple of years ago, careers controlled the market. So they started their own carrier (an MVNO, actually) in oder to sell their own phones.
Now they have global ambitions, bringing their phones to the world as unlocked GSM and LTE models. Since a lot of their people hail from the US, it's one of the key markets they're targeting first.
The REI is a $250 phone with the premium metal-and-glass design of a much higher-end phone. In that regard, it competes with the likes of the new Vivo 5 from Blu. The design is solid metal, very thin, and very light. The front glass is rounded (very rounded, in fact) at the edges. The extra rounding (or perhaps just extra thickness of the glass) is a nice treat for how it feels.
The bezels are thin, as are the side buttons. The buttons are a tad stiff but mostly work well. The metal is mostly matte with a shiny chamfer, as is the norm for this style of phone. Above and below the display, there are areas with subtle patterns behind the glass. There's both a glitter-like sparkle and a woven design. However, there's both so subtle that it usually looks like a solid color, depending on the ambient light.
In all, it's a great-looking and great-feeling phone.
Below the display is a big home button. It might look like a fingerprint reader, too, but it's not.
We can't say much about the software, because the demo models were running Android 5 L, while the shipping version will run Android 6 M. But Freetel uses standard Android without any kind of skin.
Look for the Freetel Samurai REI in May for $250, available on Amazon, or directly from Freetel's web site.
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