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Samsung Droid Charge 4G Verizon Smartphone Review
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Date: May 18, 2011
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

We knew HTC's Thunderbolt wouldn't be the only 4G LTE smartphone available on Verizon Wireless' network for long. Less than two months after the Thunderbolt made its debut, the Droid Charge by Samsung joined Verizon Wireless' lineup of 4G LTE smartphones. This smartphone boasts of a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, 1GHz application processor, rear-facing 8 megapixel camera, front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera, and mobile hotspot functionality.

The Droid Charge definitely has an impressive list of features. Certainly for data-heavy users, the fact that this phone is capable of 4G speeds will be the key spec that makes the Droid Charge stand out among other smartphones in the Verizon Wireless lineup. When you're in one of Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE coverage areas, Verizon Wireless says you can expect download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps from the Droid Charge. Of course, when a 4G connection is unavailable, you'll still get respectable data speeds on Verizon Wireless' 3G network.

The Droid Charge runs on Android 2.2. It is currently available through Verizon Wireless for $299.99 with a two-year contract and compatible data plan. Nationwide Talk plans for the phone begin at $39.99 per month. Unlimited 4G LTE data packages start at $29.99 per month. For a limited time, Verizon Wireless is offering the mobile hotspot feature for no additional charge.

Samsung Droid Charge SCH-i520
Specifications & Features

Processor and memory
1GHz Hummingbird
2GB built-in, 32GB microSD card preinstalled

Operating System
Android 2.2
Connectivity
LTE 700, CDMA EVDO Rev A
Bluetooth
Wi-Fi
GPS
DLNA
microUSB
microHDMI

Display
4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen
Size and weight
5.11 x 2.66 x 0.46 inches
5.04 ounces

Cameras and multimedia
8 megapixel camera with LED flash
front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera
3.5mm Stereo Headset Jack

Additional Features
Mobile Hotspot capability
Samsung Media Hub

Battery
Usage Time: Up to 660 Minutes
Standby Time: Up to 280 Hours

Carrier
Verizon Wireless
In-Box Content
Standard Lithium Ion Battery 1600mAh
32GB microSD card preinstalled
Wall/USB charger
Product Safety & Warranty Brochure
Quick Reference Guide

Price
$299.99 with a new two-year customer agreement

 

Indeed, the Droid Charge has all of the key specs it needs to be a competitive phone in today's hot smartphone market. But does the Droid Charge live up to expectations? Find out in our hands-on review...

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Design

The Droid Charge uses a typical candy bar form factor that seems to be quite popular among Android phones these days. One of the things that really sets the Droid Charge apart, however, is its large, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen. The Super AMOLED Plus technology increases the number of sub-pixels from eight to twelve for an increase of 50% and use a regular RBG matrix. As a result, the screen is designed to offer more clarity and be more visible under bright light such as direct sunlight.

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When we first picked up the Droid Charge, we immediately noticed how thin and lightweight it was. In fact, the Droid Charge is more than an ounce lighter than Verizon Wireless' other 4G LTE phone, the HTC Thunderbolt. Still, the Droid Charge isn't the lightest phone we've tested. Here's how the weight of the Droid Charge compares to a few other phones.

Samsung Galaxy S 4G

4.2 ounces

Samsung Captivate

4.5 ounces

Nexus S

4.55 ounces

HTC Droid Incredible

4.6 ounces

Apple iPhone 4

4.8 ounces

Samsung Droid Charge

5.04 ounces

Motorola Droid X

5.47 ounces

Samsung Epic 4G

5.47 ounces

HTC EVO 4G

6 ounces

HTC Thunderbolt

6.23 ounces

 
Although we're seeing more high-end phones ship with dual-core 1GHz processors like NVIDIA's Tegra 2, many phones are still utilizing single-core 1GHz processors as well. The Droid Charge falls in the latter camp, coming with a single-core 1GHz Hummingbird processor.

With the exception of the Nexus S, most of today's Android-powered phones are also shipping with Android 2.2 (Froyo). The Droid Charge also ships with Android 2.2. Considering Google's new upgrade guidelines, we would expect that the Droid Charge and other popular phones should receive an update at some point in the future, though no update announcement has been made by Samsung.

The vast majority of the front of the Droid Charge is consumed by the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen. Although the Droid Charge's screen did collect some fingerprints, we felt this screen did a better job at avoiding fingerprints than other phones we've seen in the past. Fingerprints or not, the screen always remained responsive.

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Underneath the screen, you'll find four hardware buttons (Menu, Home, Back, and Search). You read that right—these are hardware buttons, not touch-sensitive icons. When you press any of these buttons, you'll hear a quiet click. The 1.3 megapixel front-facing web cam is above the display on the left side.

On the left edge of the Droid Charge, there is a volume rocker and microUSB port. You'll find the phone's power button and miniHDMI port on the right edge. At the top of the Droid Charge, there is a standard headphone jack.

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Taking a look at the back of the Droid Charge, you'll see the rear-facing 8 megapixel camera and LED flash. At the base of the phone near the speaker, there is a slight bulge.

Underneath the battery cover, you'll find the microSD card slot, 4G LTE SIM card slot, and of course, the phone's battery. Both the SIM slot as well as the microSD slot is accessible without removing the battery.

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User Interface

As we mentioned, Samsung ships the Droid Charge with Android 2.2 aka Froyo. The user interface is pretty standard, though Samsung has included a few unique features. For example, Samsung enabled a thumbnail view of all seven home screens. From this view, you can select any of the screens to be the primary home screen.  

The Droid Charge ships with quite a few pre-installed applications and links. There are three full pages of apps from the start. Of course, you'll get your standard Google applications—Gmail, Google Search, Market, Navigation, etc. You'll also get a few Verizon Wireless applications such as V CAST Media, VZ Navigator, and V CAST Apps. Beyond these, you'll find icons such as Bitbop, Blockbuster, City ID, Desk Cradle, Media Hub, Lets Golf 2, and more in the application listing. Some of these applications are obviously more useful than others. The Samsung Media Hub is Samsung’s own content service. It offers a variety of films and TV programs for rent or purchase.

        

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Since there are so many applications already installed on the Droid Charge, we wish there was a way to categorize or file the application icons within the application menu for easier access. Since this option is unavailable, we resorted to placing shortcuts to our favorite apps on one of the seven home screens—something most users will likely do anyway.

       

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Samsung includes its own keyboard as well as the popular SWYPE keyboard with the Droid Charge. The phone also has a Mobile Hotspot feature which will let you share your 4G connection with up to 10 Wi-Fi enabled devices. You can also use Mobile Hotspot to share a 3G connection with up to 5 devices. The Mobile Hotspot feature will be included with the phone for a limited time at no additional charge.

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Performance: Display,Camera and Battery Life

Although the Droid Charge may not have the "latest and greatest" dual-core processor, its single-core 1GHz processor felt pretty zippy and responsive. Pinch-and-zoom controls were very fluid and smooth and the phone responded to our requests without lag.

Although we always like it when manufacturers place the microSD slot in a place that can be accessed without removing the battery cover, it's probably a minor issue for most users, especially since the Droid Charge ships with a 32GB card preinstalled.

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Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus display technology is arguably one of the best display technologies on the market today. We really can't say enough about the screen on the Droid Charge. It is vibrant and just plain gorgeous. Viewing angles on the Droid Charge are superb; In fact, we could still read the screen at nearly a 90 degree angle. Viewing the screen outdoors was better than with some phones, though there were times the screen glared and was difficult to read.

The Droid Charge's 8 megapixel rear-facing camera did a good job at capturing crisp images. The camera application lets you tap the screen to select a focal point and then tap another on-screen button for the shutter. The LED flash near the camera occasionally washed out some very close-up shots. With other shots, the LED flash wasn't quite strong enough. This is pretty typical of smartphone cameras and flashes, so we won't hold it against the Droid Charge.

     

   

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According to Samsung, you should expect up to 660 minutes (11 hours) of usage time and up to 280 hours (11.67 days) of standby time from the 1600mAh lithium ion battery found in the Droid Charge. In our everyday usage tests, the Droid Charge's battery lasted anywhere from one full day to nearly two and a half days of use, depending on how much we demanded from the phone.

When we ran our own HotHardware Battery Test, the Droid Charge didn't fare quite as well as it did in our everyday usage test. In this test, we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Droid Charge's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. For this test, the Droid Charge managed to last a mere 2 hours and 29 minutes before it died. In comparison to the HTC Thunderbolt, the Droid Charge quit more than an hour before the Thunderbolt did. We believe this shows battery life can vary greatly, depending on what capabilities of your phone you use the most.

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Performance: General CPU and Graphics Tests

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

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

 

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

In the Linpack test, the Samsung Droid Charge came in near other Samsung phones including the Nexus S, Galaxy S 4G, and Epic 4G.  These results were middle of the road and not quite up to speed with some of the new smartphones out there. However, in the An3DBench graphics test, the Droid Charge earned the top spot, edging out the Kyocera Echo by a mere 0.06 fps. Though, in the An3DBench XL test, the Droid Charge didn't score quite as well, coming in behind our other reference systems, most of which are tablets (since we're still compiling data for this new version of the benchmark). It's worth noting that the Droid Charge actually outperformed the only other smartphone in our reference (the Kyocera Echo) in two of the three tests shown here. The Droid Charge also earned a respectable score in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark coming in behind the Kyocera Echo, HTC Thunderbolt, and HTC EVO 4G.

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Performance Testing - Web Browsing and Network

Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Samsung Droid Charge compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

In the Xtremelabs speed test, the Droid Charge performed well on Verizon's 4G network and over our 802.11g network. 3G scores with the Droid Charge in the Xtremelabs speed test were not quite as impressive, though the phone did score similarly to the HTC Thunderbolt with 3G coverage.

In looking at the BA.net speed test, the Droid Charge scored well over Wi-Fi. 4G scores weren't quite as high as we would have hoped though they were still respectable. The Droid Charge came in last compared to our other systems when running the BA.net speed test over a Verizon Wireless 3G connection.

The Droid Charge competed well against the HTC Thunderbolt in the Speetest.net speed test while connected to Verizon Wireless' 4G network and our Wi-Fi network. 3G speeds were a little disappointing. As we noted in our review of the HTC Thunderbolt, the scores from the HTC Thunderbolt on the Speetest.net speed test seemed abnormally high (bug in the previous release of the benchmark caused this). However, we were able to re-run this test for comparison with the Droid Charge. As you can see, the two phones now offer more comparable speed results.

Although both our 3G and 4G speed tests weren’t optimal because we couldn't get a clean 5-bar connection in our test locations, the browsing speed tests do show that 4G really does offer significant speed improvements over previous cellular technologies. If you're lucky enough to be in a 4G coverage area, you should see a definite speed boost over 3G.

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Conclusion

The Samsung Droid Charge has a lot of good things going for it, including 4G connectivity and a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display. We also appreciate that the Droid Charge is significantly lighter than Verizon Wireless' other 4G phone, the HTC Thunderbolt.

However, there are a few things that hold the Droid Charge back in comparison to some of today's other top phones. The phone comes with a 1GHz processor Hummingbird. Although it felt quite zippy during our tests, most high-end phones are starting to ship with a dual-core 1GHz processor for even better performance.

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Battery life is a mixed bag on the Droid Charge. In our own HotHardware Battery Test, the Droid Charge came in last. In our everyday usage tests, however, we were pleased with the longevity of the Droid Charge's battery. All in all, the phone's battery life will surely vary depending on how you use the phone.

The Droid Charge also has a price tag that's higher than other Verizon Wireless phones. For $299.99 (after discounts and with a contract), you can pick up the Droid Charge. By comparison, the only other 4G LTE capable phone from Verizon Wireless, the HTC Thunderbolt, is available for $249.99 after discounts and with a contract. Although the $50 may not be much for some, it may influence others when deciding between the two phones. For users who aren't in a 4G coverage area yet or who don't care about the faster speeds 4G has to offer, the price may seem especially high compared to phones without 4G capabilities.

Verizon Wireless continues to build out its 4G network. At the time of this publication, Verizon Wireless offers 4G service in 46 markets and over 60 major airports. The carrier plans to aggressively light up 4G in new cities this year and says the 4G LTE network will be available in more than 175 markets by the end of this year.

All in all, there are a lot of things we admire about the Droid Charge. The phone performed smoothly and quickly and was quite enjoyable to use. We really love the Super AMOLED Plus display, particularly for watching videos and surfing the web. Although our Web browsing speed tests and battery life tests were a bit of a mixed bag, actual real-world usage of the browser and longevity of the phone was acceptable. The price of the Droid Charge may hold some users back, but for users who desire 4G LTE connectivity, the Droid Charge is a great addition to Verizon Wireless' lineup.

     
  • Gorgeous 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen
  • microSD expansion slot with preinstalled 32GB card
  • LTE connectivity
  • Wi-Fi sharing
  • Relatively lightweight
  • 4G coverage is still limited
  • Pricey
  • Browsing speed tests were a mixed bag



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