It's big, it's bold, it's thin, it's fast and has one hell of a camera -- and it's caught in the middle of AT&T's '4G' propaganda
From the outset, the Samsung Infuse 4G on AT&T just sounded too big. Ridiculously big. Some 4.5 inches big. If you don't count the Dell Streak as a smartphone (and we don't, really), it's the biggest damn Android device that's intended to be occasionally used upside your head to make phone calls.
But we'll clue you in on a little secret: It's not too big. No, really. We've spent the last week or so with the Infuse and have found ourselves thoroughly surprised by just how usable a 4-and-a-half-inch phone can be.
That's not to say the Infuse is without its quirks. But we put it through its paces the best way we know how -- in the field, on the road, and in our hands at the Google IO developer conference.
So how'd it hold up? Read on for our complete review.
Infuse 4G hands-on
There's no denying it, the Infuse 4G is big. But it's also thin. And that makes all the difference here. Put it next to, say, the 4.3-inch HTC ThunderBolt, and the differences are pretty apparent. The Infuse is a tall 5.2 inches, and it's wide at 2.8 inches, but it's a mere 0.35 inches thick. And that's the ball game, folks. That and it weighs 4.9 ounces. It's tall, but it's thin and light. It's wiry.
The front of the phone is dominated by the display, of course. It's at the usual 480x800 resolution. But before you spec nerds go crying for a qHD screen, remember that this is Super AMOLED Plus, and that means 12 subpixels for every one pixel, instead of the standard eight subpixels. In layman's terms, it's big, it's bright, and it's colorful. (The banding you see in the pictures above and below is the result of the still camera, not the screen.) Above the display is the 1.3MP front-facing camera. One thing you won't find up here is a notification light, and that's just criminal.
Below the screen you have capacitive buttons in the menu-home-back-search configuration. They're stenciled onto the phone, so they don't disappear completely when the screen is dark. And we're just fine by that.
The left-hand bezel has the volume rocker buttons, and the power button is on the right-hand bezel, Samsung's usual placement these days.
On top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and a noise-canceling microphone. On the bottom is the microUSB port that doubles as a high-definition video output. (More on that later.)
Flip the phone over and you'll find the speakerphone and 8MP camera with flash. We'll spoil the surprise and tell you now that we're completely over the moon for this camera. (More on that in a bit, too.) Notice how the phone's not completely flat -- it's got a bit of a reverse chin on the bottom.
The textured plastic battery cover pries off from the top. It's about the flimsiest battery cover we've seen. That doesn't really mean anything, as it fits to the phone just fine -- it's just a bit of a shock on what is on all accounts a solid and sturdy phone. But if this bothers you, we suggest taking a deep breath or maybe try walking around the block. It's just a battery cover.
Remove the battery cover and you see the SIM card and 1760mAh battery. The microSD card is kind of hidden. You'll find it under the SIM card. It's spring loaded and pops out toward the bottom of the phone. But there's yet another trick -- it's seated face-down. Normally the gold contacts point down. But on the Infuse, it's just the opposite. There's actually a little picture on the FCC sticker that can help you remember, but it's not exactly labeled clearly.
What's under the hood
The Infuse doesn't have one of those newfangled dual-core processors, which is a bit of a shame. But Samsung has ramped up its single-core workhorse to 1.2GHz. And through our use, it's been plenty fast for daily use.
We're seeing 428MB of useable RAM. And there's no lack of storage on this thing. You've got 1.59GB of "internal phone storage," plus another 13GB on an "internal" SD card, and then whatever size microSD card you pop in there. (Our review unit came with a meager 2GB card.)
So it's not dual-core. Oh well. While we'd love whatever battery savings that could bring, the Infuse isn't lacking in speed, and it's got lots of storage space.
Hold the phone, folks. We weren't really expecting great results from the Infuse 4G when it comes to battery life. First there's the massive screen -- and we don't care what kind of newfangled battery-saving technology it uses, 4.5-inches is a lot of real estate to light up. And then there's the fact that a "4G" phone usually suckage when it comes to battery life. But seeing as how AT&T's "4G" is vastly different (hint: slower/faux/whatever) than LTE, we're seeing a vastly different experience.
Put it this way: We crank through e-mail like nobody's business during a show -- and especially during Google IO. And on top of that, we were taking pictures left and right with the Infuse's camera (again, more on that sweet piece of sweetness in a minute), and shooting video, too. So when we hit 4 p.m. and still have 55 percent left? It's a Christmas miracle, folks.
Maybe it's the Super AMOLED Plus screen. And the 1760mAh battery is larger then what you'll usually find in a phone, but not grossly so. But the simple fact is that the Infuse made it through a hard day's work on the road, and probably would have made it through most of the night on the town, too. Your mileage will vary, of course. But for our money, we're impressed. We're tough on phones.
AT&T's faux-gee 4G
It's not too often we have to break out a section on data in a review. But with AT&T naming the phone the Infuse 4G, a few things need to be cleared up. There's 4G, and then there's 4G. With Verizon, 4G is done with a technology called LTE. Sprint uses Wimax. And both of them are fast. Very fast. T-Mobile's got a zippy HSPA+ network, too.
But AT&T, which also is using HSPA+, is fudging things a bit while it breaks in its "4G" network. First off, it has actively disabled the high-speed upload capabilities on several other phones and is just now reactivating them. Secondly, AT&T's HSPA+ network requires "enhanced backhaul." That's a fancy way of saying they have to do something to the towers. And they're not saying where (or if) anything's actually been enhanced yet.
The point is, 4G on the Infuse 4G is different (for the time being, anyway) than 4G on other carriers' phones. It's something to be aware of.
As for our tests? We've used the Infuse 4G in a trio of markets. Pensacola, Fla.; Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, and San Francisco. In Atlanta and San Francisco, we'd see speeds around 2500kbps to 3000kbps. Not exactly slow, but hardly what we'd consider to be 4G. And, in fact, not all that much faster (on the downstream side, anyway) than we see in the much smaller Pensacola area. Confusing the matter is that you get an H+ icon in all three markets in which we tested.
Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on where you live. And as a 3G phone, the Infuse is plenty competent. But AT&T's marketing it as a 4G phone, and that just doesn't sit well with us.
The Infuse 4G ships with Android 2.2.1 Froyo. That's not the latest version of Android (not even the most recent version of Froyo). The good news is that we fully expect the Infuse to be upgraded to Gingerbread, and possibly even the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich sometime next year.
The Infuse has Samsung's Touchwiz user interface. It's not the newest version of Touchwiz that we're starting to see on other phones, but that's OK. It's colorful, easy to use and fairly intuitive. The default setup it pretty sparse, though. You've got a widget for social updates (you can connect Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to it), a smattering of app shortcuts, and the Google search bar, and that's it. Of the seven home screens, four are empty when you first launch the phone. It might have been nice to see a little more design initiative taken. But if you like setting things up your own way, there's not much to undo.
The app launcher is the usual Touchwiz horizontal scroller. By default, it's set up as an alphabetically organized grid. But you can switch that to a list, or our favorite, the customizable grid, in which you can rearrange where apps are listed, as well as swap out the four quick-launch apps that reside at the bottom of the screen.
Don't like the launcher? Don't like Touchwiz? No worries -- you can install a third-party launcher at your leisure.
Oh, happy day. With the Infuse 4G, AT&T has ended its ridiculous practice of locking down its phones so that they can only install apps from the Android Market. That's been a headache for more than a year now, but AT&T didn't seem to care until the Amazon Appstore took off and its phones were all left behind.
To enable sideloading Settings>Applications and hit the checkbox next to "Unknown sources." If you're worried about any potential security concerns (we're not), you can always uncheck the box again and lock the phone back down.
That means you'll not need the Sideload Wonder Machine with the Infuse 4G, and we're OK with that. It's time AT&T ended the lockdown.
Like most other Android phones, the Infuse 4G comes with a handful of applications already installed. Most notably, it's got a special edition of Angry Birds. It's still called Angry Birds, and the only special features we've seen are some tweaked levels. But it's on there, and it's special, and we'll take it.
You've also got a sprinkling of Samsung's custom apps, including AllShare, Media Hub and a task manager. But more Samsung's excellent Daily Briefing app is nowhere to be seen, and that's a shame.
If you have a hankering for AT&T's branded apps, you won't be left disappointed. There's AT&T Code Scanner (a barcode scanner), AT&T FamilyMap (track your family), AT&T Navigator (Telenav) and MyAT&T to manage your account. All in all, it could be worse, and you've got plenty of storage left over on the phone.
Let us just say this about that: We're madly in love with the Infuse 4G camera. Samsung's software is decent enough, and you've got a number of effects you can apply when shooting, and easy one-touch access to the video camera. But it's the business end that has us over the moon.
The Infuse, by default, takes still pictures at 8 megapixels. That means a bigger file size, but it doesn't always mean a clearer image. But the Infuse completely delivers. So much so, that a good number of photos that we took in and around Google IO were taken with the Infuse.
Images below open in full resolution in a new window
Video, by default, shoots at 720x480 (seen below), but you can crank it up to 1280x720 in the settings.
Other odds and ends
- Fun fact: The Infuse is so big and vibrates so hard, it registers as a small earthquake. OK, not really, but it's really annoying that there's no way to completely silence the phone using the volume rocker.
- GPS worked just fine for us in the three cities in which we tested.
- Hackability: Super One Click roots the Infuse with ease. Huzzah. Can't wait to see some custom ROMs on this thing.
- The rear speaker is surprisingly loud.
- There's no HDMI port on the Infuse. Instead, there's an "MHL adapter" that plugs into the microUSB port. Seems simple enough, but it also requires you to plug a microUSB charger into the adapter in order for the whole thing to work. That's a pretty big fail. But if you never use HDMI out, no biggie.
- As a phone, the Infuse works just fine. No issues with call quality in our testing.
The wrap up
The Samsung Infuse 4G has quickly become the best AT&T has to offer. We were a little dubious when it was first announced, thanks to that 4.5-inch screen size. But in practicality, the thinness of the phone more than makes up for it being a bit oversized. You really do have to try it to believe it. And, oh, that camera. That sweet, sweet camera.
Froyo is Froyo, and Touchwiz is Touchwiz. We expect to see custom ROMs in the near future, and a Gingerbread update is likely relatively soon (and hopefully Ice Cream Sandwich next year). And while we'd love to have seen a dual-core processor, the 1.2GHz chip is plenty fast.
The only real niggle we have with the Infuse doesn't actually have that much to do with the phone. AT&T hopefully will get its 4G strategy figured out, and it might even do so with actual data speed, and not marketing jargon. We can only hope.
But the name aside, know this: if you're looking for an Android phone on AT&T, you can't do any better than the Infuse 4G.
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