THE GOOD: The Samsung Caliber is slim and lightweight with an attractive display. It has plenty of features like a built-in accelerometer, a 3.0-megapixel camera, and a full HTML browser. It also has great call quality.
THE BAD: The Samsung Caliber lacks Wi-Fi, and the touch screen takes some acclimation.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Caliber could use some refinements, but it is overall a decent touch-screen multimedia phone for U.S. Cellular.
We've seen plenty of Samsung touch-screen handsets come our way, but not many of them make it to U.S. Cellular, a regional carrier based in Chicago. The only one so far has been the Samsung Delve, which made it to the carrier's lineup late last year. Now another one has joined the family: the Samsung Caliber. The Caliber has a slightly larger display than the Delve, and it features additional home screens as well as multiple menu screens. We weren't terribly pleased by the responsiveness of the touch screen, but the Caliber does have a full multimedia feature set and decent call quality. The Samsung Caliber is $319.95 without a contract.
The Samsung Caliber is long and lean, with smooth curved corners and rounded edges, which sets it apart from the rectangular look of the Delve. Measuring 4.55 inches long by 2.23 inches wide by 0.47 inch thick, the Caliber is quite slender and not at all bulky. It's also only 3.59 ounces, thanks to a mostly plastic chassis. Yet, it feels sturdy and comfortable in the hand.
The Caliber has a very nice 3.2-inch touch-screen display dominating its entire front surface. It has support for 262,000 colors and 240x400 pixels, which result in bright and vibrant images and text. You can adjust the backlight time and the brightness but not the display font size. You can also adjust the touch sensitivity and go through a touch calibration wizard to ensure accurate tapping. We're happy to see that the Caliber also has haptic feedback, and that you can adjust the length and intensity of the vibrations.
Still, we weren't always pleased with the touch-screen experience. We would often select something by mistake when we were just scrolling around, for example. It's also not as responsive as we would like due to the resistive screen--it takes more than just a light brush of the fingers to get something to move. To make things a little easier, the Caliber does come with an optional stylus, which we do prefer over the fingers for a wide variety of tasks. There's no slot to store the stylus on the handset, but you can hang it on like a phone charm if you like.
The Caliber has three different home screens, which you can flip through by swiping your finger horizontally across the display. You can customize each screen with different wallpaper plus widgets and shortcuts from the TouchWiz widget tray on the left. You only get 25 widgets that come with the phone, but they do include quick access to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter. Also on the top of each home screen is a collapsible shortcut bar for a new text message, a new memo, the music player, and the Bluetooth settings. You can add and remove widgets from the TouchWiz tray, but not from the shortcut bar. Along the bottom row are shortcuts to the phone dialer, the contacts list, the messaging menu, and the main menu.
There's also an accelerometer on the Caliber that will automatically rotate the display on the phone from portrait to landscape mode and vice versa in certain applications. For example, you can change the alphanumeric text entry to a virtual QWERTY keyboard in the messaging interface just by rotating the phone. The phone has two gesture settings that also benefit from the accelerometer; a Mute gesture, which silences any incoming event by just turning the phone face down, and a Widget reset gesture, which resets all the widgets on the screen just by shaking the phone. Though a little gimmicky, we found these gestures quite useful.
Since this is a touch-screen-only phone, you need to rely on the virtual phone dialer for dialing numbers. Luckily, the dialer has large digits and you can access your favorite contacts, your address book, and caller groups list right from the dialer interface. There's an onscreen back control to erase mistakes, and you can easily add contacts or send a message from the dialer as well.
The same goes for typing out text messages. You have several input methods; one is via a portrait mode alphanumeric keypad, and another is via a handwriting recognition tool in either full- or half-screen mode. Though they work fine, we prefer to use the virtual QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard is similar to other Samsung touch-screen phones, and we like having a shortcuts tab with "www" and ".com" buttons to make entering URLs a lot easier. Entering text on the keyboard was fine for the most part, though we did wish there was an autocorrect feature.
Underneath the display are three physical controls. They are the Talk key, the Clear/Back key, and the End key. A 3.5mm headset jack and the power/screen lock button are at the top. On the left spine are a charger jack and a volume rocker while the right side is home to a camera key, a voice command key, and the microSD card slot. The external speaker and camera lens with LED flash are on the back.
The Caliber has a 500-entry phone book with room in each entry for five numbers and an e-mail address. You can organize your callers into groups; pair them with a photo, or one of 16 72-chored polyphonic ringtones. You can set it to a "no ringtone" option as well. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, am calculator, an alarm clock, a memo pad, a world clock, a stopwatch, a timer, a unit converter, and a tip calculator. More advanced features include voice command support, stereo Bluetooth, GPS along U.S. Cellular's own turn-by-turn direction application, email, PC syncing, a voice recorder, and USB mass storage.
You also get a full HTML browser, with settings like a full-screen mode and the capability to bookmark favorite Web sites. You can use the volume rocker to zoom in and out of Web pages, which is preferable to using the onscreen magnifying glass. Another handy way to zoom in and out is to hold down your finger or stylus on the screen for a few seconds, and then swipe the finger up to zoom in, or swipe it down to zoom out. We're glad to see that the browser also has a form of Flash Lite that lets you play streaming video from sources like YouTube and CNET TV.
The music player on the Caliber has a nice and simple interface. Songs are categorized by artists and albums, and you can create and edit your own playlists on the fly. The player interface has the album art and track title in the middle, with controls along the bottom. You can set songs on repeat or shuffle. You can't access the music player without a microSD card, which is also the primary way you add music to the phone. You can send the music player to the background while using other functions of the phone.
We were quite pleased with the array of options available on the 3.0-megapixel camera. You can take photos in six resolutions, from 2,048x1,536 to a small "picture ID" size, there are four shooting modes (single, multi, mosaic, frame), three quality settings, a self-timer, five white balance presets, six color effects, an adjustable ISO up to 400, three exposure metering settings, flash, plus three shutter sounds with an additional silent option. You can also adjust the brightness, and you can choose between auto focus or a macro focus mode.
Unfortunately all of that didn't necessarily translate to a great picture. We found the colors to be quite muted, and images didn't seem as sharp as we would like, especially without flash. Photo quality was just OK as a result, which is a disappointment for a 3.0-megapixel camera like this one. The Caliber has a built-in camcorder that can record in 320x240 and 176x144 resolution in either MMS or recording mode, with similar settings to the still camera. Video quality was mediocre at best, with pixelation and a lot of jerky movements. Still, it was OK if all you want is to share simple video clips with friends.
You can personalize the Caliber with a variety of wallpaper, graphics, and ringtones. You can download more options from U.S. Cellular's Easyedge store. The Caliber comes with only one game--Namco's Pac-Man--but you can always get more from U.S. Cellular as well. You can also get a few apps, like local sports and weather news.
We tested the Samsung Caliber R850 in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming service. Call quality was good overall. We heard our callers without many problems, and the voices sounded clear and natural. We did hear a bit of fuzziness in the background, but it wasn't a big deal. You can easily turn on the speakerphone during a call by tapping on the screen.
On their end, callers said we sounded very good as well. There was plenty of volume and they said we sounded natural without a lot of distortion. They did report the same fuzziness issue in the background, but again, it wasn't a deal breaker. Speakerphone calls were pretty good, though callers said there was a lot more echo effect. On our end, we thought the speakerphone volume was loud enough, even when the external speaker was placed on a flat surface.
The Caliber supports U.S. Cellular's EV-DO network, but we were unable to access it in our roaming area. Still, even on a 1xRTT connection, browsing Web pages was all right. We loaded the mobile version of CNET in just less than 25 seconds, while the full CNET front page loaded in a minute and 22 seconds, which is a little on the slow side. When playing streaming video, there wasn't a lot of buffering time, but the video quality was poor. There was a lot of pixelation and blur, and images just looked choppy.
The music player on the Caliber was not so great when played over the phone's external speakers. The bass was lacking and overall song quality was thin. We certainly recommend using a headset of some kind--the Caliber comes with a pair of wired headphones.
The Caliber has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 16.6 days standby time. Our tests only showed a talk time of 3 hours and 57 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Caliber has a digital SAR of 0.667 watts per kilogram. The Caliber is compatible with hearing aids with the M3/T4 rating.