Samsung Captivate Review

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Samsung’s Galaxy S series of devices are a really big deal for the company. They represent the best engineering the company can muster both in terms of hardware and software for a smartphone device. By the holiday season of 2010, there will be a Galaxy S smarpthone on every carrier in the US, and many overseas. The first Galaxy S device out of the gate (besides the unlocked European version released last month) is the Captivate on AT&T. It boasts a speedy processor, a large Super AMOLED screen, and a lot of tweaks made to Android to make the device more interesting. Read on for our full review of the AT&T Samsung Captivate!

BOX CONTENTS



Here’s the unboxing for the Samsung Captivate. Not included was a microSD card because thankfully, the device comes with 16GB of storage space built in.

HARDWARE



Let’s talk specs. The Samsung Captivate is running with a Samsung Hummingbird CPU running at 1GHz (see more on the Hummingbird) on top of Android 2.1, although you can expect an update to Android 2.2 later in 2010. It has 16GB of built-in storage, plus it has microSD expansion. If you buy a 32GB microSD card, you’re up to 48GB of space. The capacitive display uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology and is 4.0″ and WVGA resolution (that’s 800×480). In terms of wireless radios, the Captivate is fully equipped: WiFi (with N), UMTS with HSDPA, Bluetooth 3.0, and GPS (assisted). For imaging, the rear camera (which has no flash) takes stills at 5MP and video at 720p. For audio and video out, there is a 3.5mm jack, and for syncing and charging, we have microUSB. The battery is 1500mAh. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.

front


The Captivate has a very interesting screen size. AT 4.0″, it’s larger than the iPhone 4 and Nexus One, but smaller than the Droid X and EVO 4G. It uses Super AMOLED screen technology (a Samsung exclusive) which means that outdoor visibility is fantastic, and the color reproduction is better than what you’ll find on a standard AMOLED display. Also, the Super AMOLED screen has a sweet blue hue when it’s turned off, as you can see in this image.

The device looks clean. It has no hardware buttons on the front, and as we’ll discover later, all sides have a gentle slant to them, giving the device a wedge-like feel. This translates into a super-thin profile.

buttons


The placement of the four capacitive buttons is extremely close to the Samsung logo. These buttons, since they are flat, are often difficult to feel for. Also, sometimes the backlighting doesn’t turn on in time in a dark environment, leaving you to hit the wrong button.

side1


On the left side of the device we have the volume rocker. You may also be able to see the wedge-like shape of the edge from this angle. The Captivate has a VERY thin profile at just 9.9mm.

side2


On the right side of the device we have the power/standby button. If you’re coming from the iPhone or an HTC device, this side placement will take some getting used to; most other smartphones have the power/standby button on the top.

top


On the top we have the 3.5mm headphone jack, which will also work with the video output. Sadly there is no HDMI output as found on the Sprint EVO 4G and Verizon Droid X. To the right of the 3.5mm jack is a microUSB port hidden next to a very sturdy sliding door.

rear


Flipping over to the rear we have the predominate Galaxy S branding etched into a real metal back battery cover which has an attractive carbon fiber-like design. The speaker vent is above that, while the 5MP camera lens is towards the top of the device. Samsung didn’t spend much time adorning the camera lens with chrome or any sort of text advertising its capability, which gives it a lower quality appearance in comparison to other newer smartphones.

backopen


Taking off the back battery cover we see the 1500mAh battery, SIM card slot, and microSD slot. Because of the placement of the microSD slot, you don’t need to remove the battery to swap your memory card. Nice!



The 4.0″ high resolution Super AMOLED screen makes for a terrific web browsing experience.

SOFTWARE



In this video we take a tour of the homescreen layout on the Captivate. What Samsung has done is pretty cool. They give you the option to have up to seven homescreens, but if you only want to have one, you can delete the rest! That’s great. On other Android devices, you can’t delete homescreens, even if you don’t use them.

Samsung has included some useful widgets that you can use to fill the homescreens, like ones for social networking, keeping your calendar, watching the news, or keeping tabs on a stock quote. Certainly you can add your own widgets through the Android market.



In this video we take a look at how the Captivate organizes applications. Samsung has done something very interesting to Android: instead of having an endlessly long list of applications, you get multiple screens that you can access by swiping right and left. The device will automatically place a colorful tile behind every icon, giving the application tray a very consistent look. Also, you can customize the application tray into a list or grid view (with alphabetically arrangement, or custom arrangement).

In the second part of this video we compare the internet performance of the Captivate with that of the iPhone 4 and Nexus One on Froyo. As you can see, the Captivate beats the iPhone 4, and sometimes the Nexus One (no easy feat since the Nexus One has the faster Froyo browser). Panning and scrolling is smooth, and rendering fidelity is top notch. The Captivate is a fantastic internet browsing device.



Samsung’s attention to detail is prevelant even in the input options. Most Android phones give you one or two choices for text input. On the Captivate, you have more than five! You can access Swype, the stock Android keyboard, or several different versions of Samsung’s keyboard that even includes a T9 pad and handwriting recognition function. Nice!

CAMERA

The HD video camera (which records in 720p 1280×720) on the Captivate records crisp audio, but the video quality is sub-par. You can see some samples of the HD video recording capability here. Another problem with the camera on the Captivate is that it lacks a flash, so low light videos come out dim.

For still photography, the Captivate can take photos at 5MP. Here are a few photo samples at full resolution: indoor low light macro, outdoor low light landscape, outdoor bright light landscape. The resulting images are devoid of vibrant colors or satisfactory contrast.

PERFORMANCE

From a technical standpoint, the Hummingbird platform of the Captivate should be significantly faster than the Snapdragon found on many other Android devices like the Nexus One. In daily use, it’s only marginally faster. You can tell this through the internet speed test shown above. That said, the 512MB of RAM and snappy performance of the CPU makes for a device that can multitask with ease and open applications quickly.

CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED

Call quality over AT&T’s network was fantastic, and I experienced no dropped calls.

Cellular data speeds over AT&T’s data network were strong. The highest download speed I clocked was an impressive 3.1mbps.

BATTERY LIFE

The Captivate’s battery life is slightly above average. With heavy use, I could just barely make it through one day. With moderate use, the device went a day and a half before needing a charge. With light use, a full two days of use can be expected.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

Starting on July 21, 2010, you can buy the Captivate from AT&T for $199 with a two year rebate.

PROS

+ Up to 48GB in storage space

+ Super AMOLED display is gorgeous and has great outdoor visiblity

+ Thin and light

+ Great performance

+ Excellent Samsung Android tweaks

+ Many keyboard input methods

+ Above average battery life

CONS

– Poor camera

– No side-loading of apps

– Doesn’t come with TV-Out cable

– No front-facing camera

CONCLUSION

The Samsung Captivate is not only the best Android phone currently available on AT&T, but it ranks highly among the Android smarpthones that are available on any carrier. It’s fast, has a stunning display and above average battery life, plus it’s super thin and also quite light. Samsung has also made a lot of enhancements to Android to make it more customizable and easier to navigate.

Its biggest weakness is the camera, and so if imaging quality is of the utmost important to you, the iPhone 4 may be a better choice. Another problem with the Captivate is that you can’t load non-Market applications on to the device. For most people, this won’t be much of a problem. As a power user, even I seldom find the need to side-load applications.

Overall, the Captivate is a well-rounded smartphone that we can highly recommend.

I give the Samsung Captivate a 4.5/5.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.