The Samsung Blue Earth (unlocked GSM world phone; U.S. pricing not available) is the latest in a new batch of ecofriendly phones, including Samsung's own Reclaim handset. However, the Blue Earth--available in Western Europe for 300 euros now, and in Asia by year's end--is the first green phone with a touchscreen. It is pretty compact and powerful, but a few limitations keep it from shining.
Measuring 4 by 2 inches, and just over a half inch thick, the Blue Earth is one of the smaller touchscreen phones available. The 3-inch touchscreen takes up most of the face. Below the screen are three keys: a green confirm button, a red power/cancel button, and a royal-blue home button that matches the hue of the rest of the device. A quad-band phone, the Blue Earth uses the EDGE/GPRS network but does not support U.S. 3G networks. It weighs 4 ounces and unobtrusively fits in a pocket.
The touchscreen is nice and responsive. When touched, the Blue Earth vibrates, but it also emits a corresponding beep. As annoying as the noise could be, it creates a kind of certainty for the user; pressing a number prompts one type of beep, starting a program produces another, and so on.
The real selling point here, of course, is the environment-oriented design. The phone is made from post-consumer materials, more specifically recycled water bottles. The box is also made of recyclable materials. Finally, on the back of the phone is a solar panel that will slowly charge the battery.
Even Earth-sensitive techies will be surprised at the lack of support inside the box, however. The Blue Earth comes with no instructions and no mini-USB connector. A wall plug and headphones are included, but learning how to use the smartphone requires a trip online. The package offers nothing to highlight the Blue Earth Web page for further information, and the site doesn't provide a downloadable manual. We're hoping that Samsung will correct this shortcoming in the very near future.
The main Blue Earth screen, divided into three areas, uses Samsung's TouchWiz widget user interface (as seen on the Impression, the Omnia, and other Samsung phones). With TouchWiz, you slide a widget to a particular area, and, within that spot, you can have the program running. Along the bottom are keypad, phone book, and menu icons. Tap a little tab in the bottom-left corner, and a thin column shows all of your multimedia information and programs. Filled with time-zone indicators, social networking services, and other items, the program list is overwhelming and terribly crowded--especially on such a small screen.
Music on the Blue Earth is below average, for a few reasons. The music player supports all major formats, such as AAC, MP3, and WMA; but, as mentioned earlier, Samsung doesn't include a mini-USB cord for you to transfer your own tunes. If you want to play music immediately, you'll need to use the built-in FM player or get songs from the proprietary service. The player itself is basic and easy to use, though the sound is heavy on the treble and rather tinny.
The most impressive Blue Earth multimedia functions are the Web browsing, the video playback, and the camera/camcorder. Surfing the Web is butter smooth, even on more complex sites, and the Blue Earth's accelerometer makes reading horizontally or vertically easy. YouTube and other video sites load up quickly, and look and sound great. I also liked the videos and pictures captured with the 3.2-megapixel camera. In camera mode, the lens area is surrounded with self-explanatory icons to help you improve the shot. The camcorder records at 15 frames per second and, surprisingly, replays at a higher sound quality than the music player.
In light of the impressive online setup, it is unfortunate that the Samsung Blue Earth doesn't support a full virtual QWERTY keyboard--even in horizontal mode. Instead, users must perform classic cell phone tapping, with "abc" on key 2 and so forth. With a 3-inch touch display, it seems so unnecessary.
Call quality and reception, on the other hand, are great. My only criticism is that voices tended to sound high-pitched--again, that's mostly an issue with Blue Earth's treble-heavy sound system. Expect to turn conversation volume down, lower than normal.
The Samsung Blue Earth proves that a solid, ecofriendly touchscreen phone can work. Ironically, the problems with the phone, such as the limited music player, the lack of support, and the puzzling on-screen keyboard, have nothing to do with being green.