A dual-screen 'Ticker' brings a new look to Verizon

Samsung Continuum

We've been talking about the Samsung Continuum for a while now.  We were able to get a hands-on with it before it released, so we've hashed over the hardware, and I don't think there's anything more that can be said about TouchWiz. This is a Galaxy S phone, after all.

But something as potentially innovative as the "Ticker" needed some attention, and we're about to dive head-first into in on Verizon's newest Samsung phone.  Hit the break to see what this Ticker is all about, and what it can do for you, for Android, and for the world.

The Hardware

Let's get the formalities out of the way first.  In case you're not familiar with the Continuum, we're about to fix that.  It's the latest Samsung Galaxy S phone to launch on Verizon, and in addition to sharing many impressive specs with the rest of the Galaxy S line, it has a split display-- the top 3.4-inches of the Super AMOLED screen acts as your main touchscreen interface, the bottom 1.8-inches is the Ticker, and they are separated by a strip about a half-inch high that has the four capacitive buttons you'll find on most Android devices.

Samsung Continuum face  Continuum ticker layout

If you haven't seen it, it sounds a bit confusing.  That's easy to fix.  Because it brings a new feature to the standard black-slab, we've been following it closely and have a few good hands-on videos with it -- both pre-release and post.  Have a look:

  • Phil has a look at a pre-release Continuum, ninja-style, here and here.
  • Dieter was live at the Continuum event in New York, and had some time with it here.
  • I had a quick look at the final version from Verizon right here. I'll include the video in-line so you don't have to go page jumping.  We aim to please.

 

YouTube link for mobile viewing

One thing to clear up that I've learned while checking out the Continuum -- the camera button does not control the Ticker in any way, it's all done via touch sensors on the bottom outside edges of the phone's plastic shell. 

The rest of the specifications match up with it's Galaxy S siblings -- same Hummingbird cortex A8 CPU as the rest of the Galaxy S line, the same 5 MP camera with Flash (and software) as it's big brothers the Fascinate and the Mesmerize, SAMOLED screens all around, 2 GB on-board memory, 512 ROM and 384 RAM, plus the usual Bluetooth, A-GPS, and WiFi.

rear view  assploded view

camera hardware

The power button is up top this time (welcome back my little buttony friend) and the microUSB port is on the left, under the volume rocker.  No little slider to keep the filth and grime out of the port like other Galaxy S devices, and with the port in a place where it will be under your finger it could have been useful.  A great touch that we're starting to see manufacturers moving back to is an exterior microSD card slot.  You'll find it right beside the camera button.

Continuum USB port  top view

microSD slot 

As a phone, the Continuum works, but it's not all you would hope for.  Callers had few complaints on their end, but sound through the phone's earpiece was a bit crackly unless the volume was fairly low.  This wasn't a reception issue, as the speakerphone, while a little "tinny" didn't have the issue, nor did a Bluetooth headset. 

I won't comment too much on battery life, because most of my time with the Continuum was in an extended network area.  Without knowing exactly how often the phone was polling for a home tower, judging the battery life just wouldn't be quite fair.  I did the next best thing, and asked around.  Battery life is on par with the Fascinate -- be careful how much you use it and you can get through a day without issue, but if you keep it in your hands all day long, bring a charger.  Unfortunately the idea that a small backlit screen to see messages would save battery doesn't work as well in practice as in theory.

The Software and the Ticker window

The software is all pretty familiar, too.  TouchWiz is TouchWiz, until you slap the Ticker on it. 

Think of the Ticker as another notification bar, that some of the included applications can use to give you an enhanced notification of events.  This can be incredibly useful -- imagine playing a full screen game, and a text comes in.  You can see at a glance who it's from, and just how long you can safely ignore it. 

Ticker bar - alerts  ticker-bar-sms

It's also incredibly frustrating.  The API isn't (yet) open to third-party development, so the apps that can interact with the Ticker are limited. Pretty severely limited in fact, as only these apps communicate via the Ticker.

  • Samsung's mail client
  • Twidroyd
  • Facebook
  • Verizon Navigator turn-by-turn directions
  • Samsung's RSS feed reader
  • Samsung's IM client (supports Gtalk, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger)
  • Missed calls and SMS messages
  • Verizon Voicemail
  • Weatherbug

ticker-mail  ticker-twitter 

ticker-verizon navigation  ticker - rss reader

ticker-caller id  ticker-weatherbug

The fact that the Gmail client, Google Talk, and Google Maps Navigation don't work with the Ticker is maddening.  They have to be installed, they are always signed in, and I don't see how they were left out. 

The Ticker itself, as well as the integrated apps have a few user definable settings.  You have the expected notification and sign in settings for social media, feed management for the RSS reader, location set-up for the weather client -- all things you would take for granted are there.  The settings for the Ticker window itself are pretty useful.  You can control the backlight display brightness and time on, and set sleep settings so that the bright yellow text on the Ticker doesn't blink all night while you're trying to sleep.

ticker-display settings  ticker-sleep settings

The Ticker is cool, and a very welcome contrast to the typical faceless Android phone.  I really think version two (if it ever materializes) will make even the skeptics take notice, because the untapped functions are just dying to be used.  But as it stands it's a bit disappointing  because of the limited application integration.  Developers could have a field day with an open and documented API for the split display, and we really hope Samsung will make that happen.

Hackability

Samsung has done nothing out of the ordinary to try to lock up the Continuum's hardware.  Thumbs up for that, Samsung.  The phone is easily rooted with the Z4root application from the Android Market, and from there you're free to do as you please -- just like any other Galaxy S phone.  Performance after cleaning up a few things is right in line with the rest of the Galaxy S series.

Continuum Linpack  Continuum Quadrant

The Continuum suffers from the same slow RFS file system as every other Galaxy S device.  It's just screaming for a decent kernel and remapping of the file system, and I hope someone does it. 

The GPS

OK you unlucky folks with a bum GPS on your Galaxy S device, make room for a friend.  I know it's been frustrating seeing reviewer after reviewer have GPS that seems to work while yours seems to have a mind of its own, but we can't help being lucky -- until now.  I know Phil's been through his share of Galaxy S phones with working GPS, both reviewer's units as well as his own.  I had a great GPS signal on the Mesmerize, and even used it through the mountains without any issues.  But this unit just isn't going to cut it.  Randomly it will work well for a few minutes, then lose signal, then put me somewhere I'm not.  This happens regardless of location settings, on both Google Maps as well as Verizon Navigator.  Of course it's nothing we didn't already know, but at least now you can point and laugh at the blogger with a bad GPS.  Here's a few images to help vindicate y'all, I'm sure it's nothing you haven't seen before.

GPS status Continuum  Verizon Nav, no GPS -- Continuum

Busted GPS -- Continuum

Yes, Samsung says they will address these issues, and it looks like they are trying to help with some fixes already.  Here's hoping they hurry.

The big question is, which Galaxy S phone should I get on Verizon?  The answer depends on what you're looking for.  Both the Fascinate and Continuum perform about the same, and besides physical dimensions they are pretty identical in the hardware department.  The Continuum gives up a little real estate on the main screen, and it's a little narrow to hold.  You get used to that quickly though.  On the plus side, it's not the same run-of-the-mill black slab we see so often in today's smartphones.  If you're a communicator -- always sending and receiving some sort of message -- the Continuum may be just what you're looking for.