I get a deja vu moment looking at the Samsung M575 QWERTY phone for Virgin Mobile. Although technically a different model than the Samsung Restore texting phone (the M570), it's almost a spitting image. Both feature phones are shaped like a capsule, are very thick, and have two buttons on the left of the screen for navigating in landscape mode. This wasn't a terrific look to begin with, and it certainly isn't an appealing design in the era of slim, shingle-shaped handsets.
There are a few redeeming features, like the phone's spacious keyboard, but not enough to earn it plaudits. At $49.99 (originally $79.99), it's really the only option in this price range with the PayLo plan, so Virgin Mobile customers who want more than a simple phone but who don't want to pay for a smartphone plan are limited to the M575 and the marked-down LG Rumor Touch. The M575 fits the bill for a captive audience of active texters, but other carriers offer alternatives.
The return of the Samsung Restore under a different name, the M575 is pill-shaped, with a highly rounded top and bottom capping a 4.6-inch tall body and a 2.1-inch width. You could also call it three-dimensional, since it's an eye-blinking 0.6-inch deep. That's nearly twice as thick as the ultraslim Samsung Galaxy S3, one of today's thinnest phones. A 0.4- or 0.5-inch thickness is more the norm. At 3.7 ounces, the phone feels solid for its size and is a little thick for pocket travel.
Plasticy, with an all-black body, the M575 isn't meant to feel premium, but neither does it feel like a hunk of junk. A silver accent piece rims the phone face, and deep blue highlights the keyboard. The phone has a 2.4-inch screen with a QVGA (320x240-pixel) resolution. Screen text and images look jagged when you peer close, but it's fine for basic use. Navigation is straightforward, with soft keys controlling the menu and contacts portals. Settings control brightness, backlight time, and wallpaper, but you can't customize the font type or font size.
On the left side of the screen are two oblong buttons that become the soft keys when you turn the handset to landscape view. Below the screen, Samsung has nicely spaced the soft keys, Send and End buttons, and the speakerphone and Back buttons. In the center of it all, the four-way navigational pad and center select buttons are easy and intuitive to use. Beneath this array are the dial pad keys, which slightly angle in and down. These buttons are long and narrow, but also fully separated and raised above the surface, so they're easy to use.
Slide out the four-row QWERTY keyboard for a texter's paradise. Keys are spacious, and together they curve in like a globe. The keys are nice and responsive, but fairly flat, which tripped me up. I personally prefer more compact keyboards with taller keys, but every pair of hands is different. The sliding mechanism feels fairly snug and clicks into place, although I could rock the phone face while the handset was open. Still, I didn't get the impression of fragility.
On the M575's right spine is one feature I wish we saw more often, a dedicated camera shutter button. It's joined by a 3.5mm headset jack. On the left spine is the contoured volume rocker (which I do like). You'll find the Micro-USB charging port up top and the microSD card slot behind the back cover. There's a 2-megapixel camera lens on the back as well, above a tiny vanity mirror.
A feature phone, the M575 runs on a simple, proprietary operating system. There's some support for network-driven Internet connections, and for Bluetooth, but not for Wi-Fi or heavy GPS use. Texting, multimedia messaging, e-mail, and calls are the key activities, but there are also apps to help manage your cell phone account, plus simple social-networking tools and some games.
There's room for 1,000 contacts in the address book. You'll be able to document each contact well with a photo, multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, an IM handle, and a custom ringtone. Other fields can hold a URL, address, birth date, job information, and a memo section. Calling groups are easy to create, and you can choose from seven ringtones or download or create your own.
Apps are pretty straightforward on the M575. The most advanced is a browser. It isn't pretty, but if you're patient and desperate, it will load your pages. Just know that it'll count against your free first 50MB of Web access with the $30 PayLo plan.
If you've got a microSD card loaded with music (it accepts up to 32GB), you'll be able to use the basic music player. I like the idea of the Internet map, but it loads as a WAP site and costs a fee. So does access to social-networking services like Twitter and Facebook.
There's the usual complement of standard-issue tools, like an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, and a world clock. You can also type in a memo or record a voice memo. Nuance powers the engine behind voice commands, which is a great (and also common) way to boost the hands-free capabilities of the humble feature phone. Dig into the MyStuff folder to find games demos for Bejewled, Family Guy 2, and Texas HoldEm Poker. An online storefront gives you ample opportunity to buy more apps and games in full.