It's big, it's bright, it's fast — but is it worthy of the Droid name?
How many 4.3-inch 4G LTE smartphones does Verizon need? How many you got? Because with the launch of the Samsung Droid Charge, Big Red now has a pair of large, fast Android 2.2 smartphones.
The Droid Charge finds itself coming into existence at a weird time. It was announced at CES in early January 2011. And now, four months later, finally is coming to market. And in that time we've seen Samsung unleash the likes of the Galaxy S II which is, in a word -- sexy.
So we've got a few reservations. A few worries. One is in Verizon's LTE network and its ramifications on hardware. While it's blazing fast, it'll drain a battery faster than a blogger drains a beer. And another is in Samsung's perceived inability to update the software on its phones in a timely fashion. Whether or not that's true, well, that's another matter.
So join us after the break as we dive into the Samsung Droid Charge.
First off, let's take a spin around the Droid Charge, shall we?
All set? Then let's go.
Let's not mince words -- this sucker is pretty big. It's 5.11 inches tall and 2.66 inches wide. That's taller than the HTC ThunderBolt and Evo 4G, and just a smidge taller than the Droid X. But like the Droid X, it's surprisingly slim at 0.46 inches. And at 5.04 ounces, it's a nearly perfect weight. We're not really into the uber-light smartphone. We don't want a brick, but just a bit of heft is fine. And the Droid Charge is proportional.
The front of the phone is dominated by the 4.3-inch display. And that display is gorgeous. It uses Samsung's new Super AMOLED Plus technology, which is a fancy way of saying "Damn, that looks good." There's no non-nerd way to describe it, other than to say that each little dot on the screen -- called a pixel -- is made up of subpixels. And whereas a normal AMOLED display uses 8 subpixels for every pixel, Super AMOLED Plus ramps things up to 12 subpixels for every pixels. As a result -- things just look better. Does that mean you shouldn't buy a phone that's not Super AMOLED Plus? Nah. But if you have the option, we certainly recommend it.
The bottom of the phone tapers off to a sort of shield-like point. And that's where you'll find four physical buttons in the menu-home-back-search configurations. Physical buttons are kind of hit and miss. And the buttons on the Droid Charge are really good in terms of how they feel -- they're big and have very little wiggle (unlike, say, the Droid X buttons), and they've got just the right amount of clickiness to them. But on the front of the device, with that large, glossy screen, they almost look out of place. It's just a pretty harsh break in what otherwise is a sleek design. They're not an afterthought -- there's a tiny amount of texture to them -- they just look a tad off. But functionally, they're just fine, though we'd love for one of them to wake the phone when pressed so we don't have to reach all the way up to the power button (it is a good 4 inches or so away).
Above the screen you've got the phone earpiece that continues the shield-design metaphor, the Verizon logo and the 1.3MP front-facing camera. Something's missing here, though. We'd really like to see some sort of notification light. But for whatever reason, Samsung and/or Verizon just won't put one up there.
Flip the phone over and you'll see the rear-facing 8MP camera with flash, speakerphone and a little bump that we're more used to seeing on Samsung phones on T-Mobile. It's the old reverse chin, folks.
The battery cover is made of a hard (but thin) plastic. It pries off from the notch at the bottom of the phone. And once you've opened it, you see the 1600mAh battery, spring-loaded 32 microSD card (nice!) and SIM card. If you're new to LTE, it uses the same size SIM card as you'd find on a GSM phone. The battery is removed easily enough should you need to swap it out.
The left-hand bezel is home to the lanyard holder, volume rocker and microUSB port. The right-hand bezel has the power button and microHDMI port. On the bottom is the microphone, and up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and secondary noise-canceling mic. And the bottom almost looks curved, a nice little trick on the eye.
All in all, there's not anything overly spectacular about the Droid Charge's design. It's a big black slab with a really nice screen, and despite its size, it's pretty slim and is a good fit in the hand.
What's under the hood
As far as RAM and ROM, if you're into that sort of thing, you've got 512MB of both. We're really starting to want a good 1GB of program storage, but you can move apps to the SD card if need be.
Benchmark-wise, the Droid Charge does about 1,000 (give or take) in Quadrant. But except for when we're running benchmark tests, we never really think about those scores.
Bottom line is the Droid Charge is a speedy phone, hands-down. Don't think too much about the specs.
But let's talk about the battery for a minute: Our tests with the Droid Charge came at an interesting time -- namely, Verizon's 4G network was in the dumper, and still kind of touchy. (So much so that Verizon delayed the launch of the Droid Charge because of it.)
But even without 4G data, we were getting OK battery life. Not spectacular, just OK. Like, by the end of the day we're glad we didn't have anywhere else to go, because we were looking around for something to plug into. You have to remember that you've got a 4.3-inch display on the Droid Charge, and it's going to use some battery. Add on LTE data, and, well, this could get interesting. We'll update later with our findings.
The Droid Charge is running Samsung's Touchwiz user interface. If you're used to Touchwiz, well, it's the same old UI we've had for a year now. If you're new to Samsung phones, you get a colorful UI and bevy of widgets that Samsung dubs "Smart." The idea is to present a wealth of information that you use every day, from calendars to social networking to news and messages.
OK, so that's the same as what other UIs (HTC's Sense, for example) are trying to do. And Touchwiz does it pretty well. If it's not your cup of tea, you can install a third-party launcher on top of it, no sweat. But there are a bunch of little tweaks that we're rather fond of, including the toggles for Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and mobile data in the notification pull-down, and the ability to swap out the phone, contacts and messaging icons in the bottom dock.
Between Samsung and Verizon, the Droid Charge is loaded with apps out of the gate. Here's the list:
- AllShare (Samsung's multimedia sharing app)
- Amazon Kindle
- City ID
- Daily Briefing (Touchwiz's news/weather/finance/calendar app)
- Let's Golf 2
- Media Hub (Samsung's TV and movie store)
- File browser
- Rock Band
- Slacker Radio
- ThinkFree OFfice
- VCAST Media
- Voice recorder
- VZ Navigator
That's quite the list, eh? And you're not able to uninstall any of those apps. While some may be more useful than others, we'd love for them to -- OK, let's not mince words here -- not be there. The Android Market is huge. Let us pick our own apps, please.
Let us just say this about that: The Droid Charge has one of the better shooters we've used on Android. It's an 8-megapixel sensor, and you've got a flash (for what that's worth). You're still pretty dependent on having good lighting (no surprise there). But outdoors? This thing's nice.
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Our only real complaint we have is with Samsung's camera software. You have all the usual settings and such. But you don't get a preview after snapping a picture, so you either have to hope you got a good one, or go running to the gallery.
And Samsung has added a locking feature to its camera (and video playback, for that matter). It's not new, but it's still a pain. If you're in the camera app and press the power button, you'll see a little lock appear on the screen. None of the physical buttons will work until you unlock it by pressing the power button again. That's handy if you're shooting video, so you don't accidentally stop before you're ready. But it's kind of a pain the rest of the time. If you want to take a quick picture, then turn off the camera, you have to press home or back first.
The video camera function will shoot at full 720p resolution, if you want. It's not set that way by default, so you'll need to dive into the camera settings to enable it. For a day at the fountains with the kiddos, it worked great.
Other odds and ends
- Keyboards: You've got Samsung's custom keyboard active by default. Swype is on there as well, as is the stock Android keyboard.
- Speakerphone: It's actually pretty loud. Not the loudest we've used, but it'll do.
- HDMI out: It's there, it works. But does anybody actually use it?
- 3.5mm headphone jack: Can't quite put a finger on it, but for some reason the silver ring on it looks especially stylish.
- Guided tours: There are a number of videos on the phone that will walk you through the basic functions of the Droid Charge. If you're new to Android, they're worth watching. There's a shortcut to them on the main home screen.
- GPS: Locked on quickly. Very quickly. Maybe Samsung's finally beat that gremlin.
- Hackability: Samsung does a nice job of not actually locking down its phones. So expect rooting and ROM action to take place.
The wrap up
Let's step back and take a look at what we've got here. The Droid Charge is a big phone with a big, colorful screen. Is it a big Samsung Fascinate? Eh, kind of. You get sort of the same feel. And that feel is plastic. Hardly a deal-breaker, but we know how that turns some of you off. (We're just fine with it.) We like the physical buttons, but they look just a bit out of place. The phone's large, but not unwieldy.
As for the Super AMOLED Plus screen? Consider us sold. We wouldn't turn down an otherwise awesome phone that doesn't have Super AMOLED Plus, but it's definitely a nice evolution.
We're just now seeing the first dual-core smartphones. Do we miss that in the Droid Charge, with its single-core processor? Nah. Unless you just have to have that sort of gaming and power, you'll be just fine without it. We are, however, very curious to see what kind of battery life we'll get on a dual-core LTE smartphone.
A question you'll undoubtedly ask is "If I don't have 4G, why would I want this phone?" Well, maybe one day you will have LTE data. And in the meantime, you're getting a very nice smartphone with a beautiful (large) screen -- one certainly worth of its "Droid" name.
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