Samsung Reclaim: Eco-friendly Cell Phone

Like most web workers, I’m dependent on my cell phone for staying in touch with my clients when I’m out of the office. I’ve gotten used to having a smartphone with a calendar, an address book, a web browser and downloadable apps, in addition to the phone functions. But since I now have an iPod touch that can get a Wi-Fi signal from my Overdrive hotspot, when I lost my venerable Treo 755p, I decided to see if I could do without a smartphone — and the expensive monthly plan that most of them require.

It was a coincidence that I had to shop for a new cell phone on Earth Day. But buying  the Samsung Reclaim from Sprint seemed like a good way of marking the occasion. Sprint says that the Reclaim is “both eco-friendly and…feature-rich.”

Reclaim’s hardware is made from bio-plastic materials extracted from corn, making 80 percent of the phone recyclable. Reclaim’s eco-friendly features extends to its packaging and support materials, which include a link to an online user manual in lieu of a print version, use of soy-based ink on enclosed printed materials, a phone box and phone tray made from recycled materials, and an Energy-Star approved phone charger.

In honor of its green-ness, the Reclaim is available in a “Earth Green,” but the color is too bright for my tastes. I opted for “Graphite Grey,” which, in light of the recent news, looks rather like volcanic ash. On the whole, it’s a nice-looking gadget.

The Reclaim is considerably lighter and thinner than my old Treo. Its screen is bright and clear, and it seems to be pretty sturdy. I’ve dropped it a couple of times with no adverse effects. The covers for the slots for the charger plug and the MicroSD card seem awfully flimsy, though, and I suspect they may break easily.

I prefer full keyboards with vertical layouts as on the Treo, Palm Pre, and many BlackBerry phones. Keyboards that slide out sideways don’t work too well for me, since I’m left-handed, and the navigation keys are invariably on the right side of the keyboard. The Reclaim’s keyboard is well laid out, but the keys themselves are flat, close together, and not easy to type on.

Incoming sound quality is very good; one person said I sounded a bit “electronic,” but otherwise, outgoing voice quality seems to be fine. Signal strength has been excellent, even in places with marginal reception.

The volume of the ringer, earpiece, and speakerphone can be set quite loud, which I appreciate. I haven’t had the phone long enough to really test its battery life, but Sprint claims 6 hours of talk time. I also haven’t tried some of its other features, including a 2-megapixel camera, voice recognition and stereo Bluetooth.

The software isn’t bad, as long as you know what you’re getting. The Reclaim comes with Sprint’s “One Click” interface and basic productivity apps, including a mail app, a web browser, a calendar and an address book. It also has apps for social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. The screen fonts on the Facebook app are so tiny I can’t read wall posts, even with my glasses on — I guess Sprint figured that oldsters like me wouldn’t be using Facebook.

Sprint claims that this phone can download 60,000 free applications through the “Digital Lounge,” which is the Sprint-branded version of the GetJar app store. I did find some free apps, but most of the useful apps I looked at carried monthly fees of $3-10. And the quality of apps is variable. The free version of Google Maps is almost illegible on the Reclaim’s screen, and didn’t pick up where I was, even after enabling GPS.

So compared to the one-time purchase costs that are common on the iPhone/iPod touch and Android platforms, apps for the Reclaim can get expensive very quickly. Sprint even charges a monthly fee for their service to back up one’s contact list — and it’s not even full sync. For me, this is the biggest limitation of the Reclaim’s software: its inability to sync address book and calendar data. (There are some third-party solutions that claim to be able to do this, but I have no idea if they work.)

Sprint is continuing its green efforts and has just announced the Restore, another eco-friendly phone, which is scheduled for availability this summer. Meanwhile, Sprint is offering the Samsung Reclaim online at no charge after rebates and with a two-year contract, which is a good deal. But for web workers who are used to smartphones like the iPhone, Treo, Pre, BlackBerry or Android-based phones, the Reclaim has limited functionality. If all you need is a phone that can make calls, send texts and do some light web browsing, it might work for you.

If you find the Reclaim’s green tech credentials appealing, you should check out our Green:Net conference, which takes place on April 29 in San Francisco — there are still a few tickets left.

Do you think you could get by without your smartphone?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Cleantech Market Overview, Q1 2010

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