What's hot: Fast Android smartphone with high end specs.
What's not: Main display too small relative to its high resolution, still on Froyo OS 2.1 (an update will come some day).
Reviewed December 27, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
We're fans of Samsung's Galaxy S Android smartphones-- they're very fast, Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 software has its quirks but adds a lot of value, and those Super AMOLED displays are the best on the market. But Verizon's second Galaxy S phone (the Samsung Fascinate was the first) doesn't make the strong impression we'd hoped for. Sure, it's a very sharp high end phone with a 1GHZ Hummingbird CPU with hardware graphics acceleration, a solid 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and 3G EVDO Rev. A. It even has 2 rather than 1 Super AMOLED displays, and that feature is what sets the Continuum apart and sets off our gimmick detector.
Are 2 Displays Better Than 1?
The main display is your usual 800 x 480 Android high end phone deal, with one caveat: it's been shrunk to 3.4 inches vs. the 4" display on other Galaxy S phones. Why? To make room for the 1.8" Super AMOLED Ticker display that lives below the main display. It's not adjacent to the main display and that's a good thing because you'd tend to accidentally touch one display when you were aiming for the other. The usual capacitive Galaxy Android buttons separate the two. As with Samsung's other Galaxy S phones, these buttons are nearly impossible to see unless lighting is good or backlighting is on. But we never touched the buttons accidentally when aiming for the Ticker.
The main 3.4" display is vivid, sharp and extremely colorful as you'd expect from Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. But web page text becomes too small to read without zooming when that many pixels are crammed into a small space. And thanks to the size reductions, the on-screen keyboard (even the included Swype keyboard) is difficult to use. Though the Continuum is a cool enough phone, it loses some of that superphone feel when the main display is smallish.
So does the Ticker make it all worth while? Not so much. It's interesting and decent, but doesn't provide an exceptional new user experience. It's there to provide the basics: weather, date and time, missed calls and new texts (if you swipe the Ticker in a leftward motion), and social networking updates if you swipe right. Social networking and RSS feeds will also wake up the Ticker and display as they come in. If you select an item, for example by tapping on weather or a Facebook status update, the application will launch in the main display since there's no room to fit much info in the lower display. With notifications set to a moderate number of sources, the Ticker didn't seem to significantly impact battery life.
You can control the Ticker's behavior via a dedicated settings section. Therein you can manage social networks (Facebook, Twitter and MySpace), RSS feeds, weather, display and sleep time. You can set the brightness of the Ticker for notifications (off, on or dim) and set Ticker display duration (5 to 20 seconds in 5 second increments). You can also set the Ticker to sleep; for example you can set it to run only from 7am to 11pm so it doesn't wake you up in the night and waste battery power.
We found social networking and a heap of RSS feeds were distracting: the Ticker constantly wakes up to display new status messages and feed items (more than once per minute!). If you have oodles of Facebook pals and a heap of news feeds, it's just TMI in our book, but if you're a social and information junky you might love it. We found the most useful feature was using the Ticker display to control other apps such as background music playback. This is limited to the built-in apps though, so 3rd party apps from the Android Market won't be "Ticker-ized".
Deals and Shopping:
Solid Galaxy S Specs
The Continuum is a consummate Galaxy S phone with all the usual trimmings: 3G EV-DO Rev. A, 1 GHz Hummingbird CPU, an OK 384 megs of RAM to run apps and 2 gigs of internal storage (with ~1.6 gigs available). The Continuum scored 849 on Quadrant's benchmark application, which is decent but not among the top Android performers (likely due in part to the phone running OS 2.1 rather than the speed optimized 2.2 Froyo). The smartphone has a microSD card slot and Verizon includes an 8 gig card. There's the usual trio of WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth and a GPS as well as Samsung's very good 5 megapixel autofocus camera that can shoot HD 720p video. Slightly disappointing is the Android OS version: it's 2.1 Eclair. No US Galaxy S carrier phones have gotten their 2.2 upgrade yet, though they will at some point. Now that Froyo 2.2 is on quite a few phones and the recently released Samsung Nexus S hit the market with Android OS 2.3 Gingerbread, 2.1 is looking a little old on a high end Android smartphone.
Like other Samsung Galaxy S phones, the Continuum is gloss black plastic with a subtle visual pattern on the back. It's an attractive piece of hardware even if there's no metal to be found. The phone is narrower than other Galaxy S phones and its back is flat with no hump and that means the phone wants to squirm out of your hand like a bar of soap.
The power button is up top as is the 3.5mm headset jack. The micro USB port and the volume controls are on the left, and the combined camera launcher/shutter button (we love that it has a camera button) and microSD card slot are on the right.
TouchWiz, Custom Apps and Multimedia
Like all Galaxy S phones (we don't include the pure Google Nexus S in this statement), the Continuum runs TouchWiz 3.0. We like TouchWiz more than most Android UI and application enhancement overlays; it's attractive yet it doesn't stomp all over Android the way Motoblur does on Motorola's entry to mid-tier Android phones. The icon palette is arranged in pages and the icons get tasteful square backgrounds-- fine by us. The top menu bar has built-in wireless controls that you can access with a swipe down: handy. Best of all, Samsung, a company that knows a bit about multimedia, has enhanced the otherwise lackluster Google defaults with a more full-featured and attractive UI. They've also expanded file format support since vanilla Android is fairly limited, adding formats like WMV9 and DivX. That means the Samsung Continuum, like all Galaxy S phones, is a great multimedia phone. Music quality is quite good over the surprisingly loud and full speaker, and audio via Bluetooth stereo and wired earbuds is likewise excellent. The display is a bit too small to really enjoy watching movies though, at least compared to its brother the Samsung Fascinate. Media Hub, Samsung's movie and TV show rental/sale portal isn't yet available on the Continuum but should be at some point.
The good news first: we applaud Verizon for changing the ingrained Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab browser setting from mobile to desktop. With an excellent web browser on board, why would we want to be redirected to the mobile version of the New York Times homepage as we are on the Samsung Vibrant, Samsung Captivate and other carriers' Galaxy Tab Android tablets?
The not so good part? As we've seen before, Verizon has let Microsoft infiltrate the Google phone thanks to a business agreement with MS. Now some of you may love Bing's web search (err, maybe not?) and we admit that Bing Maps and POI related items are actually top notch, but when we buy a Google phone, it's probably because we want those Google apps on board: Google Search and Google Maps. After all, you can download Bing if you want, but you can't download Google Search. That means you'll need to use Google Voice Search or run the web browser and navigate over to Google.com to do a Google search. The search widget on the home screen uses Bing.com search. Happily you can download Google Maps and Navigation from the Android Market (Google has gotten wise to manufacturers and carriers omitting some core apps and has made them available for download). Gmail, the YouTube player and other Google Android staples remain intact.
Verizon's software includes VZ Navigator, My Verizon Mobile, Skype Mobile, V Cast Music, V Cast Videos and V Cast Tones. The GPS worked well in our tests of VZ Navigator (requires a subscription), Google Maps and Navigation and Bing.
Calling and Data
The Samsung Continuum has good voice quality for both incoming and outgoing voice. Callers couldn't tell we were on a cell phone when we called from peaceful locations like the office and from the car with windows up. When calling from rowdy big box stores, the DSP worked well to filter out noise and reduced outgoing voice quality just a bit (as you'd expect). The Continuum played well with a variety of Bluetooth headsets and the speakerphone is better than average in terms of volume and fullness.
The Continuum has 3G EV-DO Rev. A and Verizon's 3G Mobile Hotspot feature that allows you to use your phone as a WiFi access point by sharing its 3G data connection over WiFi. If you wish to use the 3G Mobile Hotspot feature, Verizon Wireless charges an additional $20/month with a 2 gig data allowance.This service shouldn't be confused with the basic WiFi use on the phone: if you turn on WiFi and use that to access the Net on your Continuum, Verizon won't charge you a penny. You only pay for 3G data and 3G data sharing services.
Here's our video review of the Samsung Continuum:
Galaxy S phones aren't Energizer bunnies, but the Continuum does better than most. The smaller main display likely improves battery life, and the lower display doesn't seem to impact battery life unless you have new RSS and social network updates coming in every 10 seconds. The Continuum lasted us a day on a charge with moderate use, and we didn't have to plug it in until bedtime. If you use the GPS for an hour or two of navigation, or watch a movie, expect it to need a charge by early evening. The phone has a 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable.
If you're a social networking butterfly or are addicted to news feeds, the Samsung Continuum is for you. The timely status and news updates that wake only the Ticker display will leave you tickled. If you're not a social and news junky, go for the Samsung Fascinate on Verizon Wireless-- its larger 4" display makes for a much richer experience. That said, Verizon has recently discounted the still newish Continuum and it's currently selling for $99 with rebate and a contract-- half the price of the Fascinate. That's a pretty good deal. The Continuum is fast and has that irresistible Super AMOLED display as well as Samsung's pleasing TouchWiz 3.0 UI and software. It's a solid high end smartphone, even if the Ticker isn't for us.
Pro: Fast, high end specs, Super AMOLED display. Narrower than other Galaxy S phones which is a plus if you have small hands.
Con: Main display is a bit cramped, Ticker isn't a great step forward in technology unless you're an information and social networking addict. Phone is slippery, Android OS 2.1 won't win the geeks over.
Price: $99 with a 2 year contract after $100 rebate.
Display:3.4", 800 x 480 capacitive multi-touch Super AMOLED display. 1.8" Super AMOLED Ticker display below main display. Has a 6-axis accelerometer and ambient light sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1500 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 5.5 hours. Claimed standby: up to 300 hours.
Performance:1GHz Samsung Hummingbird CPU, ARM Cortex-A8 with PowerVR 3D accelerated graphics. 384 megs RAM and 2 gigs internal storage.
x 2.30 x 0.48 inches. Weight: 4.41 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz. 3G EV-DO Rev. A. Has 3G Mobile Hotspot feature (requires $20 additional monthly fee for 2 gigs of data if you wish to use it).
Camera:5.0 megapixel with autofocus lens. Can shoot HD 720p video.
Audio and Video:Built
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Samsung customized music player and video player. Can play DivX videos as well as MPEG4.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth (profiles: headset, handsfree, stereo A2DP, phonebook access and object push for VCard and VCal items).
Software:Android OS 2.1 Eclair with Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 and the full suite of Google apps except Google search. Samsung software: Daily Briefing, social networking software, Swype virtual keyboard and AllShare (DLNA home multimedia streaming). Verizon apps: VZ Navigator, V Cast Video, V Cast Music with Rhapsody, 3G Mobile Hotspot, NFL Mobile, Blockbuster Mobile, Visual Voice Mail, My Verizon, VZ Backup Assistant, Bing Search, Bing Maps and Skype Mobile. Upgradable to Android OS 2.2 Froyo. Third party software: Blockbuster, MySpace, Facebook and Kindle.