Samsung Charge review

Samsung Droid Charge for Verizon Wireless

Pros: Super AMOLED Plus display is gorgeous, LTE 4G is very fast in the right markets, camera is a strong contender amongst smart phones, cool flavor of TouchWiz UI, battery life is decent.

Cons: No LED notifications, too laggy for a hot new device, single-core processor, dual-core price tag.

Introduction:

The second LTE device on Verizon’s 4G network, Samsung’s Droid Charge dazzles right out of the box with it’s glorious 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display at 480 X 800 pixels. The display is a prominent feature of the gadget, with virtually all other specs falling right in line with HTC’s Thunderbolt–the first Verizon LTE device. The 8MP cam and 1.3MP secondary cam confirm Charge’s position in the current market, mostly meeting the current standards for flagship Android phones. The single-core processor might dissuade the hardened geek from dropping $300 bones (with contract) on the Charge, but lag has been a fairly minor complaint of mine during daily use. A jitter here and there is probably solvable via software updates, and the Android 2.2.1 handset has seen some fixes already.

If you’re looking for a large and capable device with fast data connectivity, and if stunning displays really make you buzz, the Charge is worth a serious look. But if you expect the latest and greatest in exchange for your hard earned cash, it makes sense to hold out. Dual-core devices have a much longer pocket life at this stage in the Android game.

Software:

Charge runs Android 2.2.1 and a subtly flavored TouchWiz UI that lends the device a touch of sophistication. Considering the loudness of the boldly colored icon pack broadcast by the Super AMOLED Plus display, any UI elements that project refinement are a welcome relief. TouchWiz is full of refinement at this point, both in terms of features and design.

Samsung’s notifications bar provides quick access to some frequently toggled settings.

The sand/orange color scheme makes Charge feel less like a complicated glow stick and more like an adult’s communication device. Still, a bit more customization would provide a uniform experience.

The unique TouchWiz puzzle scheme is included with the Charge, and gives users a nifty method of jumping to particular action areas. When you unlock the phone, for instance, you can perform a simple unlock or select to unlock and jump to an unread message or a missed call.

Samsung has included Swype in the software bundle, and loyalists will be pleased. However, I think many users will find the stock keyboard to be more than satisfactory. Auto correct isn’t any more problematic or quirky than it is on any other Android. The placement of the keys makes for a comfortable typing experience, and I find the landscape keyboard to be particularly nice. Again, the color scheme enhances the experience.

The standard TouchWiz widgets are present, as are bundled apps like AllShare, BitBop, Kindle, Media Hub, Let’s Golf 2, Rock Band, ThinkFree Office, TuneWiki, VZNavigator, and City ID. Verizon’s Mobile Hotspot is on board as well.

Overall, my experience with the Charge software has been pleasant, though I suspect that some lag–especially during home screen transitions–is due to the need for software optimizations. This is fairly common on new devices, and I don’t think the problem should be considered severe.

Hardware/Design:

In terms of specs, the Droid Charge will meet or exceed the needs of a vast majority of mobile consumers. The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display at 480 X 800 is one of those things that exceed. It. Is. Stunning. And much like the explosion of (what then seemed to be) humongous displays we saw at the beginning of last summer, the current line of screens bursting with color and oozing contrast will make short work of the products we were perfectly satisfied with 30 seconds before witnessing the power of the newer technology. Once you see a Super AMOLED Plus next to virtually anything else, you’ll want one. That’s it.

The processor is a single core, Cortex A8 processor clocked at 1GHz. A disappointment for some, but those who need to make it through the day without a recharge should be thankful. The included 1,600mAh battery holds up well under this configuration. The phone has 2GB of memory on board.

The design of the device features a chevron chin that gives off a bit of a BlackBerry flavor. The materials feel nice enough, though the usual Samsung light and plasticky vibe is in effect. The back cover is super smooth plastic. Add a touch of finger grease and the phone loses perceived value at once. A textured or soft-touch metal plate would have gone a long way here. As is the case with most design issues, personal taste is king. If you love Samsung’s other Androids, you’re likely to appreciate the look and feel of Charge.

Camera:

Because so many people contacted me, anxious to learn about the Charge’s photo and video capabilities, I put together a dedicated post on the Samsung Charge camera. I’ve included a couple of samples here, but hit up the dedicated post for a better representation across differing environments.

I consider the photos and videos I captured with the Charge to be very good. They aren’t the best I’ve seen taken with a phone, but the primary camera is definitely good enough to handle vacations, stupid parkour stunts, and Facebook update snaps. I would even trust it at a wedding or birth. And for those with some skills and technique, the 720p-capable camera will suffice for amateur music videos and short movies.

The camera software is the same as on other recent TouchWiz devices. Settings are easily accessible via a page system, and one can rapidly adjust focus mode, resolution, and other adjustments. When the camera app is running, the phone’s power button becomes a software lock. This isn’t an issue on the Charge (though, I still don’t understand the reasoning behind such a feature), because the phone has no dedicated camera button. So, you don’t run into the “why doesn’t my camera work? Oh, it’s locked,” scenario that bothered me when testing the Sidekick 4G. On that device, it was difficult to take pictures without locking the software up.

The primary cam shoots at 8MP witha single LED flash and captures 1280 X 720 video. The front-facing cam snaps 1.3MP.

Daily Use:

The Charge’s 1,600mAh battery is enough to get the phone through a day of what I would consider average use. This includes several phone calls, a couple of dozen texts, shooting several photos, and maybe one video. I also read news and browse the Market daily. However, accepting my invite for the Google Music Beta has abruptly shortened the battery life of all of my Android devices. C’est la vie; more music, more problems.

The lag I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this review hasn’t been a major irritation for me. But if I had just shelled out nearly $600 off contract, I might find the stutters to be more of a sticking point. I usually notice when I’m swiping between screens or using the browser. The screen will jitter, a process will pause. Anyone who has used a few Androids over the years knows the feeling, but today’s “laggy” flagship still beats the pants off of yesterday’s offerings.

Phone calls have been great on the Droid Charge. I have no complaints. I’ve initiated and taken several calls, and even bounced back and forth between a couple, to excellent results. The signal has been as strong as any other in my place, and quality was impressive.

I’ve found Verizon’s LTE 4G network to be blazing fast, and I see strong appeal for using the Charge as a mobile hotspot. Despite bad reviews in certain test markets, and despite warnings that Portland is in a pre-launch phase, I have zero complaints about VZW 4G. It rocks. Your experience in a different city, and in a different environment, may differ.

Hit play on the video of my Droid Charge unboxing below and it will jump to an impressive SpeedTest of Verizon’s LTE.

Conclusion:

$569 is a lot of money. $300 on top of a two year contract is no small investment, either. This is what it takes to get into the Samsung Charge. The phone offers the best of the Android 2.2 experience and will hold its own in any showdown. The Super AMOLED Plus display is a major selling point, and rightly so. The visuals alone outshine most Androids on the market. Verizon’s LTE 4G is also a strong bullet in the spec list. While the Charge is lacking a dual-core processor, and therefore isn’t as “future-proof” as some of its nearest competitors, the display and network more than make up for some missing horsepower. Throw a dual core into this mix and the price tag could reach obscenity. Technology, when combined with consumer economics, is all about trade-offs. Do you prioritize 3D gaming over viewing photos? Processor-intensive applications over watching eye-popping video? If so, look elsewhere. But if Super AMOLED Plus technology has you excited, and you’re a fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz (not to mention fast data speeds), The Droid Charge is worth a test drive.

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