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Sprint’s New Samsung Phones: What Difference Does $100 Make?

Sprint Vision M300 Sprint Power Vision M510

Today Sprint introduced a pair of thin, attractive Samsung phones, the Sprint Vision M300 and its big brother, the Sprint Power Vision M510. One buzzword was “colorful”–the M300 comes in dark silver or the above “misty rose red” while the M510 is available in hot pink with black accents and black with blue accents (shown here). Another buzzword was “advanced”: they both have Bluetooth, built-in cameras, VoiceSignal voice recognition and reported talk times of over 3 hours. But while the M510 will be out in June for $129.99 with 2-year contract, the M300 is out now, for just $29.99 with the same agreement.The side-by-side introduction provides an opportunity to wonder what the difference really is these days between the “entry phone” and the primo model, hemmed in on the high end by such diverse power tools as the BlackBerry, the Nokia N95, the Sidekick and yes, the iPhone. After the jump you get analysis, plus a gallery of side-by-side shots of the two new Samsungs.

The essential difference is that the M300 runs on the 1X network for voice and data, while the M510 is a Power Vision phone, capable with the right service plan of video downloads over the high-speed EVDO network. You can also browse the Web on the faster network, but it would be limited to the phone’s screen. The M300’s camera is 640×480; the M510’s has 1.3 megapixels. As you’ll see in the gallery, the M510’s higher-res screen makes it better for file management and Web activity, but it’s not truly ample. The M510’s battery gives slightly longer talk time at 3.5 hours, as opposed to the M300’s nonetheless respectable 3.2 hours. The M510 has a MicroSD card slot, too, and of course a media player that can handle music and videos.

The M510 has a new interface, with animations for nearly everything, from menu selections to dialing of numbers (which it actually writes out with a calligraphic flourish if you select the “feather” option). And even though it can send news headline snippets and weather info directly to its welcome screen with no need to go online, I couldn’t find any way to sign up for RSS feeds. In general, the data available to me is through Sprint partnerships, some good, some not so good. Many of the enhanced capabilities of this phone are not the enhancements I particularly want.

On the contrary, the new introductions at the bottom-end M300, the Bluetooth, the voice-command dialing, the low-res camera for quick-and-dirty recall, those are all welcome. Even the minimalist-icon based menu is more satisfying than the M510’s crazy animated menu scheme. And while the home screen on the M300 appears to be from a template developed years ago, and WAP browsing was pretty ugly (as you’ll see in the gallery), I think it’s the better bet.

This isn’t a jab intended solely for Samsung or for Sprint. This is about phones in general, and the rapidly changing rules of the market. There is no $129 phone built that can best an iPod and a Canon Digital Elph camera, so why pay for the delusion? What difference does $100 make? When it comes to what you will actually use every day, I’m willing to bet the answer is “not a lot.