Environmentally friendly, “green” phones started popping up about two years ago, with the debut of the Samsung Blue Earth and Sony Ericsson GreenHeart feature phones in the summer of 2009. Initially I thought the idea was a bit of a gimmick. But here we are in 2011, and the green phone has made a comeback in the form of the Samsung Replenish ($50 with a two-year Sprint contract as of May 5, 2011). Running Android 2.2, the Replenish is one of the first ecofriendly smartphones. Unfortunately, allthough you might feel like a better person for buying an ecofriendly phone, the Replenish is largely underwhelming.
Keeping true to its identity as a green phone, the Replenish is constructed with “reduced environmentally sensitive materials,” according to Sprint. That is, its materials are free of polyvinyl chloride and phthalates, beryllium, and brominated flame retardants. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
Basically, the Replenish meets the European Union’s Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, which limits the use of certain chemicals and materials in electronics. Furthermore, the Replenish’s casing includes 34.6 percent postconsumer recycled plastic content; according to Sprint and Samsung, 82 percent of the phone is made from recyclable materials.
That’s great and everything, but how does the Replenish look? Well, I can’t say that it is the prettiest phone. The face is piano black with chrome detailing, while the backing has a slight texture to it. It isn’t ugly, by any means, but it does look a bit plasticky. We received a black review unit, but the phone also comes in a slightly more attractive “Arctic Blue” as well as “Raspberry Pink” (which isn’t coming until June).
The face of the 4.84 by-2.36-by-0.45-inch phone is split between a 2.4-inch display and a full QWERTY keyboard. Four hardware buttons separate the keyboard from the display (the standard Menu, Home, Back and Search keys). The 2.4-inch QVGA display is decent for using basic apps, reading e-mail and texts, and looking at certain Websites, but the low resolution and smallish size make it less than ideal for watching video.
The full-QWERTY keyboard isn’t the best I’ve ever used, but it is decent enough for hammering out messages and short e-mail messages. It is a little on the narrow side, and the keys could be better contoured (ala BlackBerry keyboards) for more comfortable typing. I fear that people with larger hands might have a harder time using this keyboard.
The Replenish runs standard, unadulterated Android 2.2 (better known as Froyo), so it has no custom interface overlay. We’ve written a lot about Froyo in the past; for starters, check out our hands-on look at Android 2.2.
Last October, Sprint introduced Sprint ID—packages of mobile apps, wallpapers, and themes designed for specific groups such as sports fans, fitness buffs, or auto enthusiasts. Naturally, the Replenish comes loaded with the Sprint ID Green Pack. The home screen is loaded with the latest in all things green, from TreeHugger.com (one of my favorites), Earth911, and GreenBiz.com. You also get access to TreeHugger TV videos as well as Earth911’s iRecycle app, which makes finding recycling drop-off sites easy.
Flip to the right, and you’ll see the Live Green screen, which has a widget that gives tips from Green America and a link to the Green You app, a carbon-footprint calculator. Flip to the left of the home screen, and you’ll see the Shop Green screen, which offers a widget from GreenDeals.org, sort of an eco version of Groupon. You’ll also find a link to EcoEtsy.com and eBay Green.
One neat option is the Replenish’s solar-charging battery cover, which lets you charge your phone on the go. The cover is sold separately, but Sprint has not announced pricing for it. Solar chargers and cases take quite a bit of time to give a phone battery more juice, but selling such a backing is a clever idea. I do wish it came included with the phone, however.
The Replenish’s charger meets the European Commission Code of Conduct on Energy Efficiency of External Power Supplies—which, again, doesn’t really mean much to the average consumer. One useful feature, however, is that it will give you a visual alert when it is fully charged.
The Replenish’s 2-megapixel camera is nothing to write home about. It has no flash, so photos taken in poorly lit environments look fuzzy and dark. Photos that I took indoors—even with sufficient lighting—had a bit of a dark cast to them. My outdoor photos had nice colors, but details were a bit blurry.
The Replenish also offers video capture, but my videos looked about as fuzzy as my photos did.
The Replenish froze and crashed quite a few times during my hands-on review. While I was navigating through the App Drawer, the phone first froze and then entered hands-free activation for driving—even though I didn’t select that option. When I tried to add a new Sprint ID pack, the Replenish required me to do a force shutdown. Finally, I had to restart the Replenish for the Sprint ID pack to work.
Call quality was decent over Sprint’s network in San Francisco. Even though I was making my calls on busy city streets, my colleagues couldn’t hear anything in the background with the exception of a large truck going by. My contacts reported that I came through loud and clear, and that my voice sounded fairly natural. Oddly, I couldn’t really say the same for my friends’ voices; they sounded as if they were talking too close to the speaker—even though they swore they weren’t.
Nobody loves the environment more than I do—seriously. I applaud Sprint for its sustainability efforts. From contributing money to the Nature Conservancy to initiating an aggressive cell phone recycling program, more tech companies should follow in Sprint’s footsteps. That said, I’m still not sold on a “green” phone. It is a neat idea, but manufacturers need to figure out a way to make a phone both green and desirable. The Replenish’s low-resolution display, mediocre camera, and buggy performance just don’t do the trick.
On the plus side, Sprint is offering some nice incentives. Priced at $50, the phone is incredibly inexpensive, and you can sign up for Sprint’s Everything Data plan for unlimited text, Web, and calling for just $70 per month. Furthermore, Sprint is waiving the $10 monthly premium data add-on charge for going green. The Replenish is a good deal with good intentions—if you can get past the underwhelming performance and occasional crashing.
[Ginny Mies is an associate editor for PCWorld.]