Samsung Captivate Review| By Eric Lin
Android is quickly becoming a household name. Each month, a new smartphone running Google's operating system is released to the market. After dominating the handset market, Samsung fell behind to Apple. But now the South Korean electronics giant is making a coordinated push by introducing its Galaxy S line of Android smartphones on all four major U.S. carriers. In addition to the Captivate for AT&T, Samsung is launching the Vibrant for T-Mobile and Epic 4G for Sprint.
The company hopes the Captivate's large 4-inch touch screen sets it apart from the standard pack of iPhone challengers. It also comes with a built-in 5-megapixel camera with high-definition video recording and 16-gigabytes of storage capacity. With a focus on features and functions, the Captivate promises to be a strong contender in the smartphone race.
The Captivate is bland. The plastic exterior is reminiscent of a solid black slate, lacking the fashion statement of the iPhone 4's sleek glass-paneled exterior. But it does have a simple and clean look. Although not necessarily flimsy, the handset as a whole felt rather "cheap." The highlight is its gigantic 4-inch touch screen, capable of displaying a 480-by-800 pixel resolution.
Samsung is pioneering "Super AMOLED" display technology, which boasts more vibrant colors with less battery drain. And the Captivate's screen is definitely top notch. Below the display, are four standard touch-sensitive shortcut keys -- menu, home, back and search. The placement -- almost flush to the bottom edge of the handset -- is a bit questionable because they're often pressed accidentally.
The back side features a 5-megapixel camera. Missing, however, is an LED flash, which is a little strange, but the lens makes up for in giving us a HD recording. Power and volume controls and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack are located around the edge of the handset. The decision to put the USB port at the top takes a little getting used to.
For its large frame, the Captivate is actually very light, but it feels rather odd in hand. It has solid features and hardware, but it falls just short of the "wow factor" needed to draw the style conscious. Unlike the accents of its Galaxy siblings -- like the metal band surrounding the Vibrant's casing -- the Captivate is defiantly bland. Out of the box, the Captivate comes with a USB wall charger, a micro-USB cable and an in-ear stereo headset.
Like many Android smartphones, the Captivate comes with a 5-megapixel camera with the standard accoutrements, such as exposure brightness, white balance, effects (grayscale, sepia, negative solarize, posterize or aqua), image properties (contrast saturation and sharpness), flicker adjustment and geo-tagging. In addition, there's a choice of more advanced functions, including manual or auto-focus, ISO setting and metering. For better photos, Samsung added Anti-Shake, Blink Detection and Smile Detection. But the last two -- Blink and Smile Detection -- are a hit or miss at best. The photo quality is average compared to other camera phones. And with all these features, the Captivate can nearly replacement a digital camera. In low light, however, pictures suffered due to the lack of an LED flash.
The Captivate shines as a video recorder. Able to capture clips at HD 720p, the quality is impressive. Imaging is clear and bright, under bright conditions of course, and there's an ample 16-gigabytes for storage. Photos and videos can be shared on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. But it's not that nicely integrated in the camera app, which HTC devices do well.
The addition of HD recording allows the Captivate to give the iPhone 4 a run for its money. Add to it the flexibility of the 5-megapixel camera and plethora of bundled filters and functions and the Captivate surpasses most smartphones with the industry-standard 3-megapixel lenses. The only feature missing would be a forward facing camera.
The Captivate is a simple and clean handset both in design and user interface. Android, which has seven home screens, is preloaded with shortcuts to Contacts, Camera, Messaging, Android Market and a Google search bar. Taking a page from the iPhone, the Captivate also has a convenient "launch bar" at the bottom of each home screen. But it lacks widget and mini-apps that are often embedded in the home screen, such as live news updates and weather forecasts. Preloaded launch apps include Phone, Email, Browser and Applications. Android 2.1 also supports "live wallpapers." Instead of the standard photos or pictures, you can download various photos that have "movement." These include spiraling galaxies or wind-swept fields.
On the business end, the Captivate fails miserably. There aren't any pre-installed office apps. In order to open document you'll need to scour the Android Market place for its relevant apps. The operating system also has improved speech-to-text capabilities, so you can now speak more naturally with commands and searches that don't require training. It's surprisingly accurate. Additional features include an internal GPS antenna and a digital compass, which with Google Maps can provide voice directions and navigation. This app is rather spotty, perhaps due to bad reception. But tested against an in-car navigation unit, the Captivate lost its signal or missed the located completely. Do not give up your GPS.
The one big disappointment here is the 1-gigahertz Hummingbird Cortex A8 processor. The Captivate seems to stumble and the promise of speed seems to fall short as often when switching and launching applications.
The main attraction of the Captivate is definitely its huge 4-inch touch screen display. Unlike most Android phones, the Super AMOLED, or active-matrix organic light emitting diode, technology is spectacular. It produces 16.7 million colors that are bright, vivid and crisp without adding thickness or require backlighting to save power.
Compared to the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen, the Captivate's display is 15 percent larger in size, making it ideal for watching movies and browsing the Web. But at 480-by-800 pixels, it has 38 percent fewer pixels than Apple's crystal-clear 640-by-960 pixel "Retina" display. Regardless, in landscape mode, the Captivate's widescreen display provides a comfortable viewing experience, in addition to providing a nice, spacious virtual keyboard.
The speaker's audio quality is disappointing due to its placement. Like other handsets with speakers located on the back of the device, the sound, whether held in hand or placed face up on any surface, becomes muffled. Audio is hollow and lacks bass. Even when the volume is turned to the max, sounds are distorted with static. This is more of a problem when used as a speakerphone rather than for music.
The phone does include a rather nice and simple music player, though. Reminiscent of the iPod's interface, you can sort by albums, artists or playlists. Meanwhile, call volume and quality is good and without troubles. However, sound quality is better when using the included in-ear headset, which helps block out background noise. It's a great addition since most handsets either skip the headset or include, like the iPhone, on-ear headsets.
The Captivate offers the standard array of messaging options including text messaging, multimedia messaging and email. It includes Swype so you can glade over the on-screen keyboard -- without picking up a finger -- for faster typing. Like other Android phones, the Gmail app and synchronizes contacts linked online to contacts, making the transfer quick and easy to manage. The mail app can also access an Exchange protocol and other POP3 or IMAP4 accounts such as AOL, Windows Live or Yahoo. There are separate apps for voicemail, texts, Gmail and other email accounts, so integration is a bit disjointed in the interface.
Games and apps can be downloaded through Google's Android Marketplace, but quality is often hit or miss. Unlike iTunes, which tightly scrutinizes quality and regulates guidelines, Android Market is lax and cluttered with junkware.
But Google offers some nifty Android-only apps, such as Google Goggles. Goggles let you take pictures of menus, signs, textbooks, and then translate the photo to perform a visual search. The app also tells you what an item is and where you can buy it. Google Sky Map is another Android-only app that uses augmented reality. It uses GPS to pinpoint your location and identifies stars and constellations in the night sky. Other software includes locations of friends close by as well as points of interest that have been uploaded by others in the area. This is a great tool for tourists looking to interesting sights and sounds.
AT&T also includes some of its own built-in apps, such as AT&T FamilyMap to track family members, AT&T Music to buy and download songs and AT&T Navigator for turn-by-turn directions. But all of which require subscription and additional fees after a trial period.
Websites loads quickly, but launching and switching between apps produces a slight lag under heavier conditions. Still, you can pinch to zoom in and out, and watch YouTube without any problems. You can also connect to the Internet via the built-in Wi-Fi. This ensures the fastest connections depending on what is available.
Social networking sites offer apps to get access to friends, and the Captivate includes a Facebook widget to pull real-time updates. It is a freestanding app so you can leave it running on one of the seven home screens.
The Captivate comes with 16-gigabytes of internal flash memory -- the same as the iPhone 4's cheaper model -- and likely to be enough for everyday use. But if you plan to load movies and catch up with the latest missed TV shows, look into buying a microSD card. It can take cards up to 32-gigabytes in size.
Connect to your computer via the included micro-USB cable. The connection process is a bit confusing and unfortunately does not allow for storage mode. Alternatively, you can use Bluetooth, which works with headsets, headphones and handsfree devices, as a modem for laptops.
A new era of smartphones is here. Palm and RIM once stood as reigning champions, but now Google's Android devices and Apple's iPhone are the new kings. Android is widespread in sheer volume and variety, and Samsung has set itself apart with the Captivate's 4-inch screen and 5-megapixel camera. It's not as stylish as the iPhone 4, but it makes up for in screen size -- with 15 percent more real estate than the iPhone's 3.5-inch display.
On the downside, the interface and app selection still falls short. And even with the snappy 1-gigahertz processor, it suffers from slight hiccups when switching between apps. Still, the Captivate is a worthy alternative to the iPhone -- just not for the style conscious. ♦
Categories: Android | Business | Fun
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Super AMOLED (Gyroscope / Accelerometer / Compass / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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