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Samsung Captivate Android Smartphone Review
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Date: Aug 30, 2010
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

Smartphone manufacturers have been using very boastful smartphone names lately—everything from the HTC Droid Incredible to the Motorola Droid X (where X stands for extreme).  Certainly with names such as these, expectations will be high. We've already taken a look at both of these phones and deemed them to be worthy competitors in today's smartphone market.

Samsung is following in line with this trend of offering a smartphone with a name that tends to evoke great expectations with its Captivate smartphone. As one of four smartphones in the company's Galaxy S line of devices, the Captivate boasts of a number of compelling features including a 1GHz processor, 4-inch screen, and a price that's a penny under $200.

        

Perhaps even more compelling is the Captivate's Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen which promises brighter images, less sunlight reflection, and reduced power consumption in comparison to the first-generation AMOLED displays. What's even better is that this Super AMOLED touchscreen is thinner than TFT LCD and AMOLED displays, thereby enabling Samsung to make the phone thinner than many competitive phones that use other screen technologies.

In addition, the Samsung Captivate is AT&T's first high-end Android-powered smartphone. Although AT&T has certainly enjoyed great success with the iPhone, it's been widely reported that this exclusivity will be coming to an end. With Android quickly gaining market share, we have to think that AT&T has realized that it must offer some compelling Android-powered smartphones in order to fully compete in today's highly-competitive smartphone market.

AT&T and Samsung are also making the Captivate competitive in terms of pricing. At the time of this review, the Captivate is available for $199.99 after discounts and with a two-year contract. Like other smartphones, a data service plan is required. AT&T's data plans start at $15 per month and voice plans start at $39.99 per month.

Although the Captivate certainly has some compelling features that attract attention, the real question is whether or not it lives up to its name by captivating users and fully competing with other excellent Android-powered smartphones on the market today. Read on as we take an in-depth hands-on look at the Samsung Captivate from AT&T.

The Samsung Captivate In Action...

Samsung Captivate
Specifications & Features

CPU
1GHz Samsung Hummingbird
Platform
Android 2.1 (will be upgradeable to 2.2)
Memory
16GB ROM/512MB RAM
possible 32GB external memory via microSD card, no card included
Dimensions
4.78 x 2.5 x 0.39 inches
Weight
4.5 ounces
Display
4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen WVGA 480x800
Network
Quad-Band EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz
Tri-Band UMTS/HSDPA (850/900/1900/2100MHz)
GPS
A-GPS with AT&T Navigator
Connectivity
Bluetooth 3.0
Wi-Fi
DLNA Wireless sharing
microUSB
Camera
5 Megapixels with auto focus, smile detection and 720p HD video recording, 4x zoom
Music
3.5mm headset jack
Music Player (AAC, MIDI, MP3, WMA, XMF)
AT&T Radio support
Video
MPEG4, AAC, AAC+, H.263, H.264
Battery
1500 hi capacity mAH battery
Talk time: up to 5 hours 50 minutes
Standby: up to 300 hours
Email
POP, IMAP4, SMTP
Additional Features
Pedometer
Dual speakers for 3D sound
Day and evening themes change at preset times
Advanced speech recognition
Samsung's Social Hub
Six-axis sensor
Gyroscope
Swype
In-Box Content
Samsung Captivate
Lithium ion battery
Stereo headset
Wall charger
USB cable
Quick start guide
Health & Safety and Warranty Guide


The Samsung Captivate's Accessory Bundle

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Design

One of the first things you'll notice when you pick up the Samsung Captivate is how lightweight and thin it is. In fact, the Captivate weighs 4.5 ounces and measures just 0.39 inches thick. It is 4.78 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide. The majority of the front of the device is consumed by the 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen display that supports a WVGA resolution of 480x800. At 4.5 ounces, the Captivate is lighter than the HTC Droid Incredible (4.6 ounces), Apple iPhone 4 (4.8 ounces), and the Motorola Droid X (5.47 ounces).

The Captivate features a slate design with rounded edges. The sides of the device are angled as well. Despite its thin and lightweight body, the Captivate feels very solid. Even the back battery cover is quite rigid in comparison to some of the plastic battery covers we've seen on other phones. In order to access the battery, you'll need to pull down on the bottom rear plate of the phone's frame.

Click to enlarge

As far as hardware features are concerned, the Captivate offers many of the must-have features of a smartphone including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, an accelerometer, and a 5 megapixel camera with HD (720p) video capabilities. The Captivate comes with 16GB of onboard storage. Should you find yourself needing additional storage space, you can always add capacity via the microSD expansion slot located under the battery cover. Since the card slot is located above the battery, you can swap microSD cards without removing the battery.

You'll find four touch-sensitive buttons located just below the Captivate's screen (Menu, Home, Back, and Search). When pressed, these backlit buttons provide haptic feedback.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

On the top edge of the Captivate, you'll find a micro USB port that can be hidden by a sliding cover. There's also a 3.5mm headset jack. The cover for the micro USB port is different—most phones don't have this. Please note that although this is unique to the phone, it's not a bad thing, just different. In fact, if you've ever had pocket lint or other debris collect near the USB port of your current phone, this may be a very handy feature.

The right edge of the Captivate contains the Power button while the left spine houses the phone's volume rocker. On the back of the Captivate, you'll find the phone's 5 megapixel camera but no flash. An HDMI port is notably missing from the Captivate.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

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User Interface

Like other phones in the Galaxy S series, the Samsung Captivate runs on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. Samsung has promised an Android 2.2 (Froyo) update and support for Adobe Flash 10.1 for the Captivate and the rest of the Galaxy S series. At the time of this writing, the 2.2 update for the Captivate had not been released.

In addition to the four capacitive touch buttons below the Captivate's screen, each Home screen provides access to the Phone, Email, Browser, and Applications via four non-movable shortcuts. If you're in the Applications menu, you'll notice this latter shortcut changes to Home. You can change these shortcuts to any icon that is displayed in the Applications menu.

Click to enlarge

The Captivate offers three software keyboards: a Samsung keyboard, the standard Android keyboard, and the SWYPE keyboard. The Captivate defaults to the Samsung keyboard which lacks a button to invoke Google's voice-to-text system.

Samsung's TouchWiz interface adds some customizations to the phone. One of these customizations that we found to be very handy was in the contacts application using swipe gestures. By swiping your finger to the right on a contact, you'll call that person. By swiping to the left, you'll send a text message to that same person. It's a feature that makes sending texts and making calls easier and we liked using it.

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The application menu on the Captivate provides a grid view of all of your applications. To scroll between application pages, swipe your finger from side to side across the screen. This is different from some Android phones where you scroll vertically.

It seems that we're starting to see bloatware pre-installed on more and more phones these days. Unfortunately, the Samsung Captivate is no exception. This phone has a number of apps that you probably won't use such as AT&T Navigator which costs about $10 per month. Since Google Navigation is available via the Google Maps application for free, we suspect most users won't find the need to subscribe to the AT&T Navigator service. You'll also find AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Hot Spots, AT&T Maps, AT&T Music, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Radio in the first 6 of 7 application spots on the first page of apps. Although you can't categorize the applications into folders, you can reorder them or view an alphabetized list view of all apps.

You can always add additional apps from the Android Market, but AT&T has blocked the ability to install applications from anywhere other than the Android Market. This will likely frustrate geeks who want complete control over their phones, particularly since other carriers don't put the same restrictions on their Android phones.

Click to enlarge

Like some of the other popular Android phones on the market today, the Captivate offers seven customizable home screens. You can rearrange and delete home screens as you like. To jump between home screens, you simply swipe your finger across the screen. There are seven small dots at the top of the screen that indicate which screen you're on. These dots also let you jump quickly between screens. To access six of the applications you've most recently used, you can press and hold the Home button.

In addition to the standard widgets that come with the Android platform, Samsung has included seven of its own widgets with the Captivate including Buddies Now, Calendar Clock, Daily Briefing, Days, Dual Clock, Feeds and Updates, and Y! Finance Clock.  Buddies Now is similar to a favorites list. It keeps your contact and social network favorites on a circular Rolodex-like display. Anytime a contact that is synchronized with your social networking applications updates his status, the information and pictures will also be updated on Buddies now. Feeds and Updates pulls feeds and updates from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter into a single location.

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Performance

Although the Captivate's screen is slightly smaller than the Motorola Droid X or the HTC EVO 4G at 4-inches, it offers something these other two phones don't, and that's the Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen. The Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen differs from other display technologies in that the layer that detects touch is integrated into the screen instead of being overlaid on top. By integrating these touch sensors into the display, the overall display is now thinner. In addition, colors are more vivid because the touch sensor layer that sits on top of TFT LCD and traditional AMOLED touchscreen displays is no longer there. The Super AMOLED screen also boasts of better viewing angles compared to its predecessor.

Although the Captivate has very good viewing angles, the screen is a bit difficult (but not impossible) to view under direct sunlight. We also noticed the screen tended to attract fingerprints, though they did not appear to affect the responsiveness of the display. Like other smartphones, the Captivate's screen supports multitouch.

If you're interested in learning more about this display, check out this video from Samsung:

Indeed, the Super AMOLED touchscreen on the Captivate is very bright and crisp and has impressive colors. We really can't say enough about this screen—it's just gorgeous and one of the Captivate's best features.

The Samsung Captivate's 1GHz Hummingbird processor made the phone feel zippy and responsive. During calls, the Captivate's earpiece and the speakerphone were adequately loud. Everyone we spoke with said calls came through loud and clear.

Click to enlarge

The Captivate has a built-in 5 megapixel camera that can also capture video. Images taken outdoors or under bright light turned out well. Since the Captivate's camera does not have a flash, you'll be limited in indoor shots or night shots. All of our images had some noise, but they were no worse than other camera phone images. The Captivate's camera may not offer the same resolution as some of today's other  high-end smartphones that have built-in cameras with 8 megapixels or more, but since none of these cameras are quite ready to replace your standalone digital camera, the lower resolution with the Captivate probably won't be a huge detriment to most users.

Samsung claims Super AMOLED screens consume less power than other screen technologies, which should be a nice bonus for users who need lots of talk or surf time. Although battery life is likely to vary based on how you use the phone, we were very pleased with the battery life of the Captivate. Samsung says the Captivate's user replaceable battery can offer up to 5 hours and 50 minutes of talk time and up to 300 hours (12.5 days) of standby time.

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the Samsung Captivate in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Captivate compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

In both the Linpack CPU test and the An3DBench graphics test, the Captivate performed very well. In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, the Captivate didn't perform quite as well as some of the other phones in the group, though it was only behind the Samsung Epic 4G by a small margin.

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Conclusion

Samsung's Galaxy S line of smartphones offer a number of attractive features including a gorgeous Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen and a zippy 1GHz processor. AT&T's Galaxy S model, the Captivate, offers AT&T users an excellent alternative to the iPhone and other smartphones from AT&T.

The Captivate is a quad-band world phone with all of the standard wireless options you'd expect from a respectable smartphone including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G, and GPS. The Captivate doesn't have 4G capabilities, but this is to be expected since AT&T's 4G network isn't ready yet. Thanks in part to the Super AMOLED touchscreen, the Captivate is also thin and lightweight.

Samsung's Captivate offers 16GB of built-in storage. Should you need more space, you can always add storage via a microSD card. We couldn't help but notice that AT&T and Samsung did not include a microSD card with this phone. A memory card is a relatively inexpensive add-on, but since we're seeing many phones in this same price range that come with memory cards we feel like AT&T and Samsung cut a small corner here. Even so, the lack of a memory card is definitely not a deal-breaker. 

We also can't help but notice that AT&T has blocked the ability to install applications from anywhere other than the Android Market. Although this may not be an issue to the average user, we find it a bit annoying especially since other carriers don't place the same restrictions on their Android-powered phones.

 

AT&T was in need of a feature-rich, Android-powered smartphone and the Samsung Captivate delivers just that. It's definitely a worthy alternative to the ever-popular Apple iPhone. We were particularly impressed by the size and weight of the Captivate as well as the gorgeous display.  

All in all, the Samsung Captivate is easily the most powerful and feature-rich Android-powered phone AT&T has offered to date. The Captivate's performance, features, and easy-to-use interface combine to deliver an excellent user experience.

     
  • Fast 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor
  • 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen
  • Thin & lightweight
  • 5MP camera lacks LED flash
  • Doesn't come with a memory card
  • No HDMI
  • No 4G connectivity

 



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