We always say there's no point in a manufacturer upgrading a phone without updating it. Sadly, that's the way some sequels and trilogies go, like the ill-fated Samsung Eternity II, which actually downgraded the camera compared with its predecessor. Although the camera in the Samsung Freeform III (SCH-R380) remains the same with an unremarkable 1.3 megapixels, the third edition of the MetroPCS feature phone doubles its external memory allotment, from the 16GB of the Samsung Freeform II to 32GB.
Unfortunately, that's about the only substantive change, and the Freeform III remains a very average feature phone for the prepaid market. It costs a reasonable $49 with a $50 online instant rebate. If you're a Freeform II owner, this new handset offers little reason to trade up a model. If you're new to the Freeform series, its excellent call quality is the best part of an otherwise adequate cell phone with some basic multimedia features.
Those already familiar with the Freeform II will need just one look at the Freeform III to guess its lineage. Samsung has adjusted the design to round the corners more and slightly enlarge the screen. Otherwise, it's almost the same matte black handset with its characteristically dish-shaped soft-key buttons. Standing a little taller at 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Freeform III has a 2.4-inch QVGA display with a 320x240-pixel resolution, compared with the 2.2-inch screen of the Freeform II. It weighs just 3.3 ounces. The light weight combined with the phone's rounded edges and smooth gray back cover had the phone slipping and sliding out of our hands more than once. Luckily, it never fell too far or too hard to inflict any real damage.
Back to the screen: the display is wider than it is tall (a bonus for most pictures) and looks relatively bright and colorful, except in direct sunlight, when the screen looks bleached out, an unfortunate reality for most cell phones. You'll be able to adjust settings like brightness and screen time-out. Although there are two soft keys and a four-way directional pad with a central select button, the onscreen navigation could be a bit more fluid. That said, there is a lighthearted, graphical menu layout for accessing tools and applications, and there's a shortcut so you can scroll through some of the additional apps, like MetroWeb, without going through the menu.
Below the screen are also a speakerphone control, a back button, and the Talk and End/Power buttons. A four-row QWERTY keyboard makes up the Freeform III's lower third. Keys are ridged and compact, fairly comfortable and with a good grip for our fingers, although people with larger digits could find them small and cramped. Typing went pretty quickly for us overall, at least until it came to punctuation. The placement of the Function key and some of the punctuation marks made it frustrating to stick with the Queen's English, and there's no automatic addition of period markers as there is on other phones when you hit the space bar twice. The lack of a spell-checker was also upsetting, though we recognize that not everyone is as precise as we are when it comes to composing e-mails and texts (we can't help it, it's what we do.)
We did, however, appreciate the keyboard shortcuts to put the phone in silent mode, open the calendar, launch voice commands, and hop into messaging from both shared and dedicated keys.
As for the other physical characteristics, Samsung listened to our pleas and moved the microSD card slot beneath the back cover to a covered slot on the phone's left spine, right below the volume rocker. Up top is the 3.5mm headset jack and on the right is the dedicated camera button. On the bottom you'll find the Micro-USB charging port, and on the back is the lens for the phone's 1.3-megapixel camera.
Inside the Freeform III is the usual feature fare. The contact book holds 1,000 names, each of which can be associated with multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and a note. You can also differentiate individual contacts with a photo ID and one of 22 ringtones. The Freeform III employs calling groups and speed dials, and you can set favorites.