I'm all for U.S. Cellular adding more 4G LTE phones to its roster, and I'm a supporter of the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. What I do lament is that the carrier's Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G hits the lower rungs of smartphone offerings in ways that really drag down the user experience. Halting network speed results weren't U.S .Cellular's fault; San Francisco is outside of its network footprint, so I only got 3G speeds. However, the Metrix is behind in Android versions, and possesses a slower processor than it should.
The other appointments are terrific for an entry-level phone, and on par for a midrange device. I'm talking about the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, the responsive keyboard, and the LTE support. Video quality is also good, but the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera is variable.
The Metrix 4G costs $179 after a $100 mail-in rebate if you're outside of U.S. Cellular's 4G zone, and $129 after a $100 mail-in rebate for those who can tap 4G now or will get 4G by the end of the year.
Design and build
Many Samsung phones look like variations on a theme, and the Metrix 4G fits right in, though it has fewer fancy touches than some other handsets. The black device belongs to the Galaxy S family tree, where it sports rounded corners, an all-black body, and a thick build owing to the slide-out QWERTY. This is a phone that's definitely built for comfort rather than speed. Since you asked, the dimension are as follows: 5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.55 inch deep. It weighs a hefty 5.8 ounces.
The keyboard is of the capacious five-row type, similar to the one on the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G for T-Mobile's network. This means that numbers rule the top row. I like that the comfortable keys angle in, which makes them easier for me to reach. Despite that, I find that I have to stretch to type sometimes. It slows me down, but I personally like the precision of typing on a physical keyboard. I can't complain about the responsiveness of the buttons either. It's nice that Samsung adds the navigation buttons to the physical keyboard as well, but pressing Alt and finding those punctuation keys made for inconvenient digital hustling and dexterity I just don't possess.
The phone's 4-inch Super AMOLED screen is a bright spot, with the rich, vibrant color typical of Samsung's chosen display technology. The 800x480-pixel resolution affords a crisp picture for the screen size. It's predictably satisfying.
Beneath the screen are four capacitive navigation buttons for the menu, home, back, and search. Above the screen is the front-facing camera lens. The power button is on the right spine; the volume rocker is on the left, and the 3.5-millimeter headset jack is up top. You'll charge the phone through a Micro-USB port on the bottom. The camera lens and LED flash are where you expect them on the back, and beneath the back cover you'll see the microSD card slot, which can hold up to 32GB in external storage.
OS and features
One look at the OS and it's clear that the Metrix will never make the big time. It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, two versions behind the absolute most current Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Gingerbread was a good OS, and it's just fine for this phone, but it isn't the most advanced in terms of its software extras. Then again, its properties and power do match the rather disappointing processor. It's an appropriate fit, but don't expect any major software upgrades.
Before you get too dismissive, however, the Metrix's combination of Gingerbread with Samsung's TouchWiz interface layer gives you all of the core functionality of Android. There are multiple customizable home screens, a pull-down menu to access system settings at a glance, and the entire bundle of Google apps and services. That includes multiple Google and social-networking accounts, all-you-can-eat app downloads, maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation, YouTube, and other goodies.
There's hot-spot support for up to five other devices, plus Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Wi-Fi Direct is another connection, and like all of Samsung's Android phones, it has VPN support too. The Swype virtual keyboard is an onscreen option if you want to skip rotating the phone to slide open the full-fledged keyboard.
A sampling of the preloaded apps include Samsung's device-to-device sharing program, a ton of Amazon apps, and the calendar, calculator, music player, and clock basics. There are a few game demos here, as well as productivity tools like Quickoffice and more assets in the voice recorder and task manager. U.S. Cellular's branded apps include the Tone Room ringtone store.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back has its good and bad moments. Several indoor photos taken with plenty of light turned out nicely, but others revealed that the camera has an odd predilection for turning whites blue. You may find you need to adjust white-balance settings before shooting with abandon. Portraits and candids often turned out softer and less sharp than pictures of inanimate objects and you'll need to tap to focus and hold still. There's no autofocus. (Compare photo quality here.)
Speaking of settings, I enjoyed using the larger, finger-friendly icons in the camera app. Extra controls slide in and out to toggle from main to rear cameras, adjust the shooting mode (there are six straightforward and fun types,) toggle flash, and slide the exposure value. Other settings let you work out focus, choose one of 14 scenes, and set a picture resolution that ranges from 5 megapixels at the top end to 0.4 megapixel at the low end.
There are also color effects, ISO and metering controls, blink detection, geotagging, and a self-timer. With the exception of panorama, most of Samsung's tools are here.