MetroPCS, an American regional wireless carrier is offering talk, text and Internet at 4G speeds for $50 or $60 a month - and without a contract. Their 4G plan has an impressive list of features, including a $5 monthly add-on for unlimited calling to Mexico and a $10 monthly add-on for unlimited international long distance.
For some people, that $75 monthly fee is a real bargain while they are making a lot of out of country calls from their home billing area. MetroPCS never built a 3G network, so Internet speeds of their existing phones have been pretty slow.
Their 4G offering is available in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, a few locations in Florida, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Sacramento and San Francisco. We tested both their 4G phone and network.
The Samsung Craft is the inaugural 4G handset for MetroPCS. It's a tri-band CDMA (800/1700/1900 MHz spectrum) device with dual-band LTE (1700/1900) and dual mode (LTE/EvDO).
To learn more about LTE and its benefits over GSM and CDMA radio technologies, check out our recent guide to LTE.
The Samsung Craft evaluated here is based on BREW and similar to the feature phone portfolio MetroPCS offers to their eight million customers over its 2G CDMA 1X network.
The Samsung Craft still has many advanced hardware features, such as the high-resolution 3.3-inch active-matrix organic (AMOLED) touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel camera, soft keypad and hard slide-out keypad and includes a 2GB MicroSD card which can be upgraded to 32GB.
The Craft has colorful box with all you need
The Samsung Craft's TouchWiz 2.0 user interface is reasonable, but not exciting. TouchWiz 2.0 is a three-year old design that has been superseded with the much more flexible Android interface. With MetroPCS' 4G plans and the Craft you do have a HTML browser and AOL features.
A frustrating thing with the Samsung Craft is its lack of preloaded software. There are lots of icons in the main menu, like Loopt, Mobile Banking or Metro Navigator. But clicking on any of them will only provide you the choice of downloading them. It seemed like all the advanced apps had to be downloaded before we had the opportunity to use them.
The first evaluation unit we received was replaced because of multiple problems. The Samsung Craft factory specifications claim up to 200 hours of standby time. The best we observed in the second unit we tested was 21 hours while just turned-on and sitting on the desk.
The factory claim is up to six hours of talk time, while our demo unit never made it past 3.5 hours. We didn't find this surprising, since the writer has been testing cell phones since 1985 and has never come across a unit's battery that lives up to the manufacturer's specifications.
With the $60 4G plan comes a Real Networks-powered multimedia service called MetroStudio, which offers up full-track music downloads and video content from NBC Universal, Black Entertainment Television and Univision.
The touch screen is not very responsive. About one-quarter of the time we had to touch the screen a couple of times to get the Craft to activate the icon.
Instead of building a robust 4G network that can deliver 25+ Mbps download speeds claimed by other LTE operators, MetroPCS built a more modest LTE network, starting with downlink-uplink bandwidth of 5 MHz-by-5MHz spectrum. Some of their LTE locations bandwidth may be as small as 1.25 MHz, which is the same size as a CDMA channel, meaning it will be able to deliver speeds only marginally faster than 3G. More on that later.
Tom Keys, chief of operations for MetroPCS said:
We didn't build this network or this device to be all things to all people. We did this is in a very methodical fashion. We didn't try to get everything in the beginning.
MetroPCS 4G uses AWS 1710 to 1755MHz spectrum
So how are the download speeds for the Samsung Craft on MetroPCS 4G network in Sacramento? Because the carrier's network is the AWS 1700 to 1750 MHz spectrum with 5 Mhz-by-5MHz bandwidth, they cannot compete with Verizon's fourth-generation LTE network.
Verizon has MHz of nationwide contiguous spectrum bandwidth – 10MHZ-by-10MHz downlink-uplink. The AWS 1700 MHz spectrum requires cell towers be placed closer together than the 700 MHz networks. Besides not going as far, 1700 MHz doesn't penetrate buildings and normal things like trees and bushes, as Verizon's and AT&T's 700 MHz spectrum does.
The Samsung Craft is also handicapped because it doesn't have Flash. Most of the speed test benchmarking software needs either Flash or Java. In part, this is because those applications take advantage of widely accepted data compression techniques. Thus, for download speed benchmarking we were forced to use DSLReports' Simple Mobile Speed Test that sends 8-bit text to the Samsung Craft. We saw data speeds under 270Kbps with just over 1.2 seconds latency.
We decided to compare a desktop PC using DSL and DSLReports' Simple Mobile Speed Test application Again, there was no compression of the data stream. We saw just over 1400Kbps, with latency of 0.291 seconds.
Next, we used DSLReport's Flash speed test with the DSL desktop. We saw 2502 Mbps download speed and latency of 37 milliseconds.
Overall, the Samsung Craft is reasonable for daily use if you have not been using a smartphone or something like the LG feature phones on a CDMA or GSM 3G network. We liked the high-resolution AMELOD display and the slide-out keypad was reasonable. However, if you have smartphone expectations, we cannot recommend purchasing this phone.
This comparison showed that MetroPCS needs to have a different handset so we can benchmark the throughput the same way we do with other smartphones. However, help may be on the way to show the 4G networks' speeds because MetroPCS is about to get its first LTE device, the Samsung SCH-R910, if Boy Genius Report is to be believed.
The carrier's next offering will be compared to T-Mobile's 4G HSPA+ network that's due to be upgraded by the summer of 2011 with support for 42Mbps download speeds. MetroPCS 4G will be compared to Sprint's new 4G WiMax phones or HTC's three new smartphones for the other 4G mobile carriers.
Also bear in mind that MetroPCS does not have contiguous nationwide 4G coverage as they only operate in the cities where they bought 1700 MHz AWS licenses from the 2006 FCC auction. To help put things in perspective, we've included below the original map of the MetroPCS 4G coverage area in Sacramento.
Wrapping up, we want to thank all the people at MetroPCS who pitched in and made this review possible and we're looking forward to testing their next 4G phone.