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As frustration mounts with cellular service contracts, early termination fees, and high overage charges, many people are turning to pre-paid mobile services. Yet, often these services have a limited selection of phones. We wondered if the pre-paid phone and service was worthwhile. So, today we looked at the both the hardware and the service for the Samsung M340, as offered by the Common Cents Mobile carrier. This phone is also known as the Samsung Mantra and is available from several other mobile carriers.
As you can see in Figure 1, the phone comes in a colorful cardboard sleeve. Inside the sleeve is a thick plastic casing that contains the phone and accessories. The phone itself can be seen in the plastic casing in Figure 2.
The contents of the box are shown in Figure 3. The phone comes with a wall charger, battery, a Welcome Guide and a Terms of Service agreement. As you can see, the charger has a proprietary connector.
[nextpage title=”The Exterior “]
The Samsung M340 is an attractive clamshell phone, being well-shaped and well-sized to easily fit in your hand or pocket. Measuring 3.8" x 1.8" x 0.7" (97 x 47 x 18 mm) and weighing 3.35 ounces (95 g), it is very similar in size, shape, and weight to the LG Accolade VX5600 that we recently reviewed. Figure 4 shows the Samsung M340 next to the LG Accolade.
In Figure 4 you can also see that each of these phones the camera near the top and a small, similarly-sized screen on the front. As with the LG phone, this display screen shows information such as phone numbers, call status, date and time, and signal and battery strength.
The Samsung is slightly more stylish than the LG, with a silver bezel around the camera opening. The top portion around the camera has a dull, soft finish, while the middle and bottom of the front has a shiny black finish, and the two areas are separated by a thin silver strip. The words “Samsung” and “Common Cents Mobile” are written in silver.
One of the differences between these two phones is that pressing any button on either side of the LG will light up this screen. On the Samsung only the volume buttons on the left side of the phone will turn on the outside screen. It is useful to be able to light up the screen from buttons on either side of the phone so that no matter which hand you hold it in, the screen can be turned on easily. The Volume up/down buttons can be seen in Figure 5.
On the right side of the phone are the camera button and the proprietary port, which acts as both the headphone and charging port. Unfortunately, you will have to purchase proprietary headset from Samsung if you want to add wired ear phones. Fortunately, because the phone has no MP3 player and has Bluetooth capabilities, you probably won’t need to buy them.
When viewing the side of the phone as shown in Figure 5 and 6, you can also see that there is a groove between the top and the bottom of the phone that extends all the way around the phone. This makes the phone easier to open than several other similar phones like the LG Accolade.
The back of the phone slides off easily to reveal the battery as shown in Figure 7. The phone is rated for 5.5 hours (330 minutes) of talk time and 300 hours (13 days) of stand-by time, so battery life is very good.
There is no memory card slot, but the phone itself has 64 MB of memory, which is fairly generous for a phone of this type.
[nextpage title=”The Samsung M340 Interior”]
Flip open the phone and you will find a TFT screen that measures 1.25” by 1.5,” as shown in Figure 8. The screen which has a resolution of 128 x 160, is a bit fuzzy an text looks slightly jagged. Although useable, we would have liked to see a screen with a better resolution.
The keyboard of the Samsung M340 is shown in Figure 9.
Although the keypad is backlit, the numbers are fairly small and the backlighting is dim. On the top of the keypad is a square four-way navigational pad with an OK button in the middle. To the sides of that are two keys with hyphens on them. These are used for on-screen choices. One nice feature is a Back key between the typical Talk and End keys.
Navigation is similar to other phones of this type. You can set the Menu to either Icon view of Text List. You scroll through Menu choices using the scroll pad. You make selections using the OK and hyphen keys.
The phone is easy to setup, but you must go through an activation process. This can be done with a telephone call to Common Cents or online at their website. The Common Cents website is informative and easy to navigate. Full usage instructions and the user manual can be found on the Common Cents website.
phone allows you to enter 500 contacts. It is easy to set up contacts and there is plenty of room for information. The address book will accept five telephone numbers, two e-mail addresses, and an IM address. You can assign ring tones, speed dial, and text tones to any contact and you can set up groups, as well.
Common Cents has a Contact Vault service lets you store your phone’s contacts online for safekeeping. With this service, you can transfer all of your contacts to a new Common Cents Mobile phone. If your phone is lost or stolen, the vault provides a backup and lets you erase the contacts on your missing phone, but retains the Vault information that stored online.
[nextpage title=”Everyday Use and Additional Features”]
The Common Cents service is powered by Sprint, so if Sprint has good service in your area, you will be happy with using this phone for calls. All of our calls were crisp and clear. Call volume was adequate, although the speaker phone was not very loud.
This phone has built-in Bluetooth, which worked well with the devices that we tried. It also has a camera. The camera, however, is VGA, which is less than 1 megapixel. So pictures are quite fuzzy. Even with a 4x zoom, the camera is pretty terrible. There are a few basic camera settings like a self-timer, a few white balance settings, and color tone settings like sepia and monochrome.
You can use the phone to send MMS messages and the camera even includes several fun-type frames for MMS messages. You can also set a picture as a caller ID for a contact or as wallpaper. The camera may be adequate for something like that, but you won’t want to use if for any important picture taking. And if you want to transfer pictures to your computer, you will have to purchase a transfer cable for the proprietary port on the phone.
The phone has all the common features like voice mail, text messaging, picture messaging, email, IM, call-waiting, and speaker phone. Several additional features including an Alarm, Calendar, Calculator, Tip Calculator, Notepad, Speaker Phone, and World Time Clock. It also has a very useful voice recording feature. Even better, it has voice dialing and voice services. You can set the phone up to respond to voice commands like Call, Send Text, Send Picture, Lookup, and Go To.
The phone comes with several game demos and you can download more. It also comes with an email app. You can surf the web on this Samsung. The phone uses Opera Mini, which is a pretty good mobile browser, but the phone is painfully slow and the screen is unaccommodatingly small. If you do a lot of email and/or surfing on your cell phone, you will want to look elsewhere.
[nextpage title=”The Common Cents Service”]
Common Cents is a pre-paid mobile service provider. As mentioned earlier, it uses the Sprint backbone. The phone doesn’t come with any minutes. You have to load the minutes after you purchase a Common Cents Refill Card at Wal-Mart. This card is shown in Figure 10.
The USD 20 card shown is good for up to 30 days, and you can also purchase a USD 30 card that is good for 60 days.
You can also refill your phone with a credit card online. If you don’t want to be bothered with monthly or bi-monthly refilling, you can set up an auto-payment plan. You can purchase a $150 refill card online that will be good for a full year. (This option is currently only available online.)
Getting the minutes into the phone is a matter of simply entering the card number either online or by calling Common Cents.
The most notable difference between Common Cents and other prepaid services is that Common Cents Mobile charges 7 cents per minute with what they call “Round Down Minutes.” That means that if you talk for 1 minute and 50 seconds, you will be charged for 1 minute instead of 2 minutes.
It is difficult to put the savings of the round-down option into perspective, but here’s a sample. A USD 20 plan gives you 285 full minutes at 7 cents per minute. If you make 95 three minute calls and half of those calls would normally round up, then you get an extra 47 minutes or USD 3.29. Obviously, the number and length of your calls could save you more or less, but there is undoubtedly a cost savings here.
Also 7 cents per minute compares favorably with other services. Tracfone charges 10 cents per minute and AT&T and Verizon charge as much as 20 cents.
If you use text a lot or plan on using email on this phone, Common Cents has an offer for unlimited SMS, MMS, IM and email for USD 20 for 30 days. You can access the web at USD 1 per megabyte or for 24 hours access.
There are no contracts with this service. The service is nationwide and there are no activation fees, and no roaming fees. When moving to this service, you can arrange to keep your current cell number, if you like.
International calling is possible with the Common Cents service. The rates vary by country.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The Samsung M340 (Mantra) cell phone main specifications include:
- Dimensions: 3.8" x 1.8" x 0.7" (97 x 47 x 18 mm)
- Weight: 3.35 Ounces (95 g)
- Screen resolution 128 x 160, TFT
- Talk time: 5.5 hours
- Standby time: 12.5 days
- Memory: 64 MB
- VGA Camera with 4x zoom
- Hands-Free Bluetooth
- External LCD Display
- Contacts: 500
- Battery: Li – Ion, 960 mAh
- Network: CDMA (1900 MHz)
- Carrier: Common Cents
- More Information: https://www.commoncentsmobile.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 39.77 (pre-paid service)
This phone is has very good call quality and excellent battery life. The phone’s menus are easy to navigate. The phone book is good and the functionality gives you everything you need in a basic phone. The voice dialing and voice commands are a welcome feature.
Most won’t use a phone like this for email or surfing the Web, but it is nice to know that this functionality is available if needed. Unfortunately, the phone itself is marred by low-resolution displays, poor photo quality, and a proprietary charging port. If you can live we these hardware insufficiencies, the phone will serve you well.
The Common Cents service seems to be excellent. Calls we made to them were handled well. The website is informative and easy to navigate.
- Small and comfortable in the hand
- Good call quality
- Excellent battery life
- Easy to navigate
- Good address book
- Good, inexpensive Common Cents pre-paid service
- Voice commands and Voice dialing
- Common Cents service is well-priced
- Round-down minutes feature is very good
- Low-resolution displays
- Poor photo quality
- Proprietary port for charging
- Proprietary headset port