Just as we were suspecting that the environmentally aware phase of cell phone construction had waned, Sprint announced the Samsung Replenish, its first eco-friendly Android phone after the rush of the LG Remarq, Samsung Restore, and Samsung Reclaim.
For a pretty low fee, the touch-plus-QWERTY Replenish resembles a cheaper knockoff of the Motorola Droid Pro, except that what it lacks in high-end features it attempts to make up for in recycled build materials. That's not a criticism. Sure, the Android 2.2 Froyo operating system, 600MHz processor, and 2-megapixel camera are on the lower end of the Android smartphone scale, but there's an important place for entry-level smartphones, especially ones that cost less than their monthly data plans.
The Replenish is made from 34.6 percent post-consumer recycled plastic (the highest percentage in Sprint's eco-stable), with a total 82 percent of the phone crafted from recyclable materials. The packaging is also recyclable and is made from 80 percent post-consumer material, and it's printed with soy ink (rather than petroleum-based ink, which is also slower to biodegrade.) When you consider the natural resources needed to build consumer electronics, you may agree that with eco phones, less new material is definitely more.
This beginner's smartphone also comes at a moderate price. The Replenish costs $49.99 after a $100 instant rebate with a new two-year service agreement and an Everything plan. It comes in three colors: Arctic Blue, Onyx Black, and Raspberry Pink. We reviewed the Replenish in Onyx Black.
From a distance, the Samsung Replenish resembles the Motorola Droid Pro and the recently announced Motorola Titanium, both candy bar designs with a smallish touch screen topping a vertical QWERTY keyboard. Like its rivals, the Replenish is also black, with silver accents. It's also tall, standing 4.8 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, and it weighs 4.1 ounces, which feels about right in the hand, although the device felt a tad blocky on the ear.
The Replenish has a 2.8-inch QVGA touch screen with a 240x320-pixel resolution and support for 16 million colors. As low as the resolution is compared with premium and proprietary offerings like Sasmsung's Super AMOLED and Super AMOLED Plus screens, it's appropriate for the phone's screen size. Colors and sharpness were decent, and we couldn't complain about brightness, at least when out of direct sunlight. At times we wished the screen were larger, since 2.8 inches isn't much once you cram in all those application and home-screen icons and attempt to read e-mail or surf the Web.
Below the screen are four hardware buttons that correspond to the menu, home, back, and search. While they're long and narrow, we didn't have any trouble using them. Beneath them is the four-row QWERTY keyboard with buttons that are rounded, raised above the surface, and backlit. Although we could type quickly and accurately, the keyboard felt a little cramped, and keys weren't as responsive or grippy as we've seen on other keyboards. While most Replenish owners shouldn't have a problem, we know that Samsung can do, and has done, better.
The Replenish has a volume rocker on the left spine, and a voice command button and camera shutter button on the right. The Micro-USB charging port is at the bottom, and the power button and 3.5mm headset jack are on top. Some of the buttons feel like cheap plastic, but since it's such an affordable handset that we can't complain too much that the components don't feel premium. The 2-megapixel camera is on the phone's back, and there's a microSD card slot behind the back cover. The Replenish supports up to a 32GB memory card, and comes with a 2GB starter card.
As with a handful of other energy-conscious handsets, the Replenish has an optional back cover that uses solar panels to help charge the phone. That variation is a separate purchase that will cost you an additional $29.99.
The Replenish runs Android 2.2 Froyo with Sprint ID, Sprint's attempt to diversify its Android offerings by creating a gallery of third-party ID packs filled with wallpaper, widgets, shortcuts, apps, and so on. In our initial review of Sprint ID, it struck us as meddlesome bloatware, since you have to download an ID Pack in its entirety before you can individually strip out unwanted elements. Although Sprint has promised to make Sprint ID less obtrusive in the future, it still has a noticeable presence on the Replenish.
The Green ID Pack is one difference. Following the phone's eco theme, this Earth-aware ID pack contains wallpaper and seven applications, like iRecycle and Treehugger. Many of the apps and shortcuts were fluff in our opinion, such as the LightBulb Finder app, which calculates financial and environmental savings for each bulb you replace. It took 4 minutes to download and install Sprint's Green ID Pack, and this is one pack that won't let you uninstall apps individually.