The Samsung DROID Charge is the second 4G LTE capable phone for Verizon Wireless which immediately makes it a must-consider device. Although 4G network problems caused a delay in the April 28th launch date, Samsung’s first 4G phone for Verizon will be arriving sooner rather than later. The questions is – when it arrives – is it for you? Let’s find out.
The DROID Charge has some striking angles and curves that give it an enjoyably original look: the front has a curved top and angled bottom while the rear also angles in and brings the phones bulk to a cusp at the bottom. This shape and style is duplicated with the design of the camera.
Call me crazy, but from a stylistic standpoint the curves and angles remind me of a DODGE Charger mixed with a little Transformers.
The most impressive feature of the screen isn’t the massive 4.3-inch size (which is great) but instead the Super AMOLED Plus technology. It’s amazingly bright and beautiful – even more so than the Super AMOLED predecessor – apparently that extra plus packs some power. Under sunlight, the DROID Charge performs better than most of the competition. Overall, one of the most vivid screens available on a mobile phone.
With an 8MP camera, 1.3MP front-facing camera, 3.5mm headset jack, HDMI-out, MicroUSB port, MicroSD slot and 1600 mAh battery, the DROID Charge is rounded out with strong smartphone features. But beyond the beautiful screen, the highlight here is the 4G LTE connectivity offered, requiring a 4G SIM card found underneath the battery cover.
The Charge is driven by a 1GHz single-core Hummingbird processor and has 2GB of internal memory, 512MB RAM and 512MB ROM. A couple years ago 1GHz was impressive, but with added features like Super AMOLED Plus and 4G LTE connectivity, the power required to run smoothly has been boosted too. I’d like to say this phone is amply powered but I noticed plenty of sluggishness over several days of use, mostly in screen animations and web browsing, so I can’t be sure if problem is mostly hardware or software based.
A few final gripes include the lack of an LED Notification light and an overall plasticky feel that is prevalent in Samsung’s other Android products including the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab. However, this also means you get an extremely light device for it’s size and it’s slim too, measuring less than 1/2 an inch thick. Much like the hardware buttons on the bottom (Menu/Home/Back/Search), the general feel and look of a device is usually composed of tradeoffs and preferences.
Running TouchWiz atop Android 2.2, the Droid Charge operates much like Samsung’s previously popular line of Android Devices based on the Galaxy S Series. You’ve got 7 home screens, 4 software buttons (Phone/Contacts/Messages/Applications) fixed on the bottom of the screen, and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS/Mobile Data/Auto-rotation toggles in the pull-down notification area.
Pressing on the application tray shows all applications and games installed, allowing you to scroll through them horizontally. A nice new feature is the ability to re-arrange applications within the app tray or delete them from your phone completely from the app tray; simply touch the gear in the upper left to initiate these options. Similarly, the gear on the homepage allows you to easily change which of the 7 screens acts as your Home Screen.
There are a lot of apps that come pre-installed on the phone, most of which you won’t ever use. However those who prefer Swype for their keyboard input will be happy to know it’s included. Some of the other apps that come pre-installed include Amazon Kindle, Backup Assistant, Bitbop, Blockbuster, Let’s Golf 2, Rhapsody, Rockband, Slacker Radio, TuneWiki, ThinkFree Office, Task Manager, and many more.
Keep in mind that Samsung and Verizon have both put their own proprietary portals on the device including AllShare, MediaHub, Verizon Apps, and Mobile Hotspot. That last feature will allow you to connect up to 5 devices to your phone and use your phone like a Wi-Fi router. With 4G connectivity this means a load of awesomeness. You could take your laptop and phone anywhere you’d like and get internet access on your computer through your good old DROID Charge (assuming it has connectivity).
While Touchwiz has improved, I’m still unimpressed overall when considering design and functionality. In many ways, Touchwiz looks like an Android and iPhone UI lovechild but it lacks the functionality of the first and beauty of the second. The square boxes surrounding app icons in the application tray distract my eyes and behind apps/games downloaded from Android Market, look flat-out ugly. Furthermore, most of the widgets are useless because they try too hard to look pretty. Case in point is the “Buddies now” widget that not only marginally improves quick communication, but greatly slows down the home screens (see video for example). Fortunately, we’re still running on Android 2.2 which means you’ll be getting most of the goodies you bargained for when going with a DROID.
One hidden gem of the DROID Charge is it’s out-of-the-box ability to take screen captures. Check out this little tutorial:
You can take screen captures pretty much anywhere, from home screens to in-app screen shots, all by holding down the back button and pressing the home key. Very nice little addition that will inevitably be loved, and to celebrate I’ve already started the Official “Share Your Homescreen” thread on AndroidForums.
Above are a few of mine stitched together. Cal Ripken, Andy Rubin, Zelda… I don’t keep bad company!
Videos and Games
The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen is nothing short of bright, beautiful, and brilliant. It’s an instant advantage for anyone who plans on using their device for watching videos and playing games. Combined with HDMI-out, DLNA connectivity, and a 3.5mm headset jack, the DROID Charge is a great device for entertainment seekers of all kinds.
Out of the gate you’ve got YouTube which will allow you to select from a HUGE number of videos to watch in HD. Both BitBop (labeled as TV on the go) and BlockBuster (labeled as that video place you always used to go to back in the day) are both pre-installed on the device, providing a couple alternative High Def video options. Regardless of what you use to stream video, we haven’t yet mentioned the component (beyond the amazing screen) that makes the DROID Charge a heavenly video watching phone: 4G.
If you’re in a 4G area, you’re in luck, because your phone will be able to download streaming videos at lightning speeds- you’ll rarely have to wait while the video “buffers”. And as we’ve explained, once it arrives on the screen it looks really, really good. Don’t forget you can also store your own videos on the MicroSD card (which holds up to 32GB) and the Charge is compatible with a number of different video formats. Just like video, gaming is impressive and enjoyable, but one downfall is some of today’s top games require a dual-core processor for downloading.
If Video and Gaming are the high points, web browsing is definitely the low point. While the screen is still beautiful and 4G speeds still impressive, the Charge seems extremely clunky when loading and interacting on the web. Scrolling through pages with ads was like pulling teeth, pinching and zooming wasn’t too much better, and overall the web browsing experience just wasn’t there.
Fortunately, this can be partially fixed by:
- pressing “Menu > More > Settings”
- choosing “Enable plug-ins On demand”
While this essentially prevents ads from loading, it also prevents other type of content from loading such as videos and animated “feature” sections. Hopefully this is an issue Samsung can correct with a software update… I know ALL of you want to browse Phandroid with ads fully intact to support our hard work and efforts (/sarcasm).
Music & More
Audiophiles won’t have a field day with the DROID Charge but they’ll get by enjoying the standard Android audio experience. You’ve got a decent media player, plenty of space to store songs, lots of streaming music apps to try, and a 3.5mm headset jack that’ll help your phone replace your iPod. The sound quality using headphones and speakerphones were both pretty good. Unfortunately, the DROID Charge doesn’t have FM Radio functionality.
The DROID Charge has both an 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a 1.3MP front-facing camera for self-pics, video chat, and mirror functionality. Overall, I found the camera quality to be excellent. Unless you plan on printing life-size posters I think you’ll find the DROID Charge camera to be amazing… and I’ve got the pictures to prove it. It doesn’t come without flaws, and I’ve got a couple minor gripes (which I’ll share), but let’s take a look at the results.
First of all, I was stunned by the macro shots this camera took. By selecting Settings (the gear) Focus Mode > Auto Focus > Macro, you can take some fantastic up close pictures of flowers, insects, or whatever else may be super close. Take a peek at this flower I snapped in my parent’s garden (click to enlarge):
At only 550px wide that looks great, but click on the image above and you’ll see its full 3264 x 2448 pixel glory. Or take a look below at a cropped portion of the full-sized image:
In case you didn’t know, that’s an absurdly great picture for a mobile phone. That’s a better picture than I’ve gotten on most of my dedicated digital cameras and to be honest, seems like DSLR quality! When taking Macro pictures… maybe that whole poster-size image exception isn’t needed. I’m still wowed.
I was also impressed with the front-facing camera. At an Orioles vs. Red Sox game, I decided to test out the functionality. The look on my sister’s face is of genuine surprise: she was literally amazed with the self-pic feature and smiling/gasping at what she thought was really cool:
Wow. For a front-facing camera that’s only 1.3MP, that’s a solid picture (click to enlarge). To be honest, I’d argue that the front-facing camera on this phone is better than the 5MP+ main cameras on a lot of mobile phones on the market. Definitely goes to show that consumer obsession with megapixels derives from marketers marketing and consumers taking the bait – it’s not all about megapixles, other elements are equally important. I was really impressed with this quality and it makes the general purpose of a front camera so much more meaningful when it works this well.
“But wait a minute-” my sister said, “Your shirt is backwards.”
She was right. The front-facing camera functions like a mirror, inversing the values of the X axis. That’d be great if its primary feature was a mirror, but if you’re using the camera to take self-pics you’ll publish on Facebook, be warned. This was my backwards expression after realizing she was right:
Disbelief. And no, I’m not homeless, I was just too lazy to shave. It grows fast.
So it takes great Macro pictures and great backwards front-facing pictures, but what about regular old point-and-shoot pictures? How’s the flash? I found the typical scenery or portrait picture quality to be well above average and the flash wasn’t great, but definitely on par with the upper class of other Android offerings.
I was a little bit less impressed with video, which I would call average. Nothing to write home about, but no glaring problems that reduce it to useless. The below video was taken with 1280 x 720 dimensions, saving as an MP4 of 51.1MB and uploaded directly to YouTube:
My main complaint with the Samsung DROID Charge camera is the User Interface – it’s a bit too complicated. On a mobile device you want QUICK access to all the features and while Samsung’s intentions are good – eager to provide a host of options – they’ve made tinkering too tedious for my liking.
You’ve got “shooting mode” options which are paginated (2 pages) which allow you to take a regular picture or select special modes like Smile Shot, Panorama, Beauty, Continuous, Add Me, Action and Cartoon. Try them all… they’re actually pretty cool “trick” shots. Then there is a settings option which has 2 tabs (camera / tools) and each of those are paginated (5 pages and 2 pages respectively). This is where it seems like a bit too much and I feel like they could have designed the options to be a bit more user friendly.
That being said, quick access to switching cameras, flash/no-flash, and white balance are helpful options and the volume up/down functioning as the zoom in/out is a nice touch since it’s in the perfect place. When it comes down to it, the most important feature of the camera is the result, and the DROID Charge is a real winner in this category.
Verizon 4G LTE
Verizon’s 4G speeds are pretty phenomenal and as of this review, can only be found on the HTC Thunderbolt and Samsung DROID Charge Android Phones. It makes activities like watching streaming videos, listening to streaming music, downloading apps/games/content, and browsing the web much more instantaneous and enjoyable. The days of “buffering” and waiting are almost over.
Wow. I’m not sure what else there is to say. Do the math – there’s a good chance my Droid CHARGE is consistently quicker in downloading/uploading data then your Wi-Fi modem. I did this test from my desk in the heart of Baltimore and obviously, your results will vary based on location/proximity to 4G towers.
It would be reckless of me not to include that the DROID Charge was delayed because Verizon’s 4G network had an outage that created huge problems for HTC Thunderbolt owners for a couple days. I experienced the tail end of this and found that the 4G outage prevented ALL my data services from working but I could still make voice calls.
Verizon’s 4G network is now back up and running and I’d bet on increased reliability in the future. Verizon is known for reliability and there are just certain unforeseen hiccups you come across when launching a new network on a national scale. Don’t let the 4G drama war prevent you from picking up the DROID Charge.
Wildcards: Battery Life, Call Quality, Quadrant
You’ll find a 1600 mAh battery in the the Charge which is larger than many of its compareable competitors. This is a good thing because while I got decent battery life, I didn’t experience any noticeable improvements over my current phone (Droid X) which has a 1540 mAh battery. However, considering the Charge needs to power a Super AMOLED Plus screen and channel a 4G network, I’d say battery life was adequate.
Call quality was good. Everything could be heard and transmitted loud and clear and the speaker phone provided plenty of volume – I get irritated when I can’t turn it “up” any higher and still can’t hear it well enough.
Lastly, the latest rage seems to be performing various benchmarks on phones to see which perform best. I agree, this is a great way to measure and compare various aspects of phones, but I also wonder about their accuracy. They’re essentially consumerizing a bunch of data that’s way over the average person’s head and putting it into a numbered score that oversimplifies reality. That being said, if you use it as a general indicator and not law of the land, it can be helpful: my Quadrant score for the Charge consistently lingered around the 1000 mark.
I was prepared for an average device when I started using the DROID Charge but what I experienced blew me away. In my opinion, the DROID Charge will launch as the phone with both the best camera and the best screen (Super AMOLED Plus), with 4G connectivity to boot. These facts alone mean I can confidently recommend the DROID Charge, especially if taking pics and big screens are your thing. To enjoy these features, you’ll have to endure Samsung’s Touchwiz interface, lack of LED notifications, plasticky and light build quality, and a processor that seems slightly underpowered considering the ship it’s steering.
If you want a great Android Phone now, the DROID Charge is a good pick. If you’re willing to wait, you may want to consider holding out for a dual-core device, but the camera and screen surely make this tempting. For help deciding, head on over to Android Forums and visit the DROID Charge Forum to hear what others have to say.