The Samsung Captivate is the AT&T variant of the Android OS-based Samsung Galaxy S smartphone. The calling card for this line of mobiles is the inclusion of Samsung's Super AMOLED screens -- which offer better color and use less power -- and the new Samsung Hummingbird processor clocking in at 1 GHz.
From a specifications side, the Captivate delivers on what many expect from top-of-the-line smartphones. But, devices are more than their specs, as I have found out with my time with this deviced.
The Captivate is available now for $200 with a 2-year contract from AT&T. Off contract, the price is $500.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Captivate reminds me a lot of the BlackBerry Storm in that it's not so much a long device as much as it has a wide body. Totally dominated by its 4-inch screen, it grabs you with its impressive display.
I was initially very pleased by the screen on the Captivate, and weeks later I continue to be impressed. Probably the biggest reasons have been the performance in direct sunlight, and the lack of need to clean off the screen of fingerprints.
The contrast of the Super AMOLED screen compares quite well to the transreflective display on my Nokia N97. The WVGA (800 x 480) resolution, while fine, still means I can see pixels with some screen contrasts and in some icons -- but 4-inches is plenty to view movies and web pages, and it makes the overall device just large enough for most pockets.
I've been reasonably pleased with the refresh rate when watching videos or doing gestures. I do notice some lag with some gestures -- a lag that is oddly not as present when using Swype for inputting text.
This is really a well done screen, and if not for a slightly different calibration with T-Mobile's Vibrant (also a Samsung Galaxy S smartphone), I'd probably say that its one of the best screens on the market.
Other Buttons and Controls
The Captivate has very few buttons -- Power/Lock and Volume up/down. This would usually lend to a slippery device, but the hard plastic and metal (?) battery panel keeps the device easily in hand. The width also helps here as well.
While I'm fine with the minimalist design approach, it would have been good to have dedicated camera button. As I'll talk about later, the user interface of the camera application could use one to become a bit simpler and faster.
On the software side, everything with the Samsung Captivate starts with the Google Android OS mobile platform. On this device, v2.1 graces the hardware and offers a nice mix of communication, social, productivity, and entertainment features. An upgrade to v2.2 is in the works.
The Captivate has a 1 GHz processor (called Hummingbird). This processor is specific to Samsung's devices and compares to the Snapdragon units found in other smartphones.
Overall performance and efficiency were fine -- not stellar, just fine. I did get a sense many times that 1 GHz might have been too much for either the battery or the materials used for the battery cover and rear surround, as the Captivate took only a few minutes before it would start to generate some noticeable heat (evident from the air slots/speaker in the battery panel first). I only noticed this during browsing sessions, and a few YouTube sessions. Running at idle, or during a phone call did not get the same level of heat generation.
The heat did factor in a few times when on a call via Bluetooth headset and I was mapping or browsing for info. Given how I was holding the Captivate, it just kind of surprised me that it could generate enough heat to want to put the device down.
There have been some reports of the device locking up, or applications pausing, but , I did not experience this with my review unit. I'd assume that some of the issue here would be related to the software, and/or network effects on software.
As a phone, the Captivate is a solid performer. Nothing stands out as overly outstanding or failing. Voice quality is on par with previously tested cell phones, with a caveat that regional issues might affect call quality. I had no problems with dropped calls except for traveling through the mountains in western NC/VA, which matched my experiences with other phones in similar spots.
As with other Android OS devices, you are able to combine the contact information for people stored on your SIM, internal memory, or various social services into one contact card. The limitation with the Captivate for this is a max of 5 connections. The contact card screen will show the linked information, history, social activities, and associated media.
I opted to use a Google account that has only pulled in information from my various Gmail and Buzz lists and found it a bit disturbing that I couldn't identify some people without searching for their full names among my archives. Nevertheless, the search component within Gmail assisted there for many contacts.
As with many Android devices, everything with the Samsung Captivate starts with the homescreen... actually, 7 homescreens.
There's a generic home screen which has the Google Search bar, and primary apps: Contacts, Messaging, Camera, and Android Market. And then there are other homescreens with some pre-filled content. For example one screen has a link to AT&T apps -- Navigator, YPMobile, AT&T Music, MobiTV, and Mobile Video -- but there are also a few screens left blank so that you can add items them.
There's also a main nav bar for Phone, Email, Browser, and Applications which shows up on all the homescreens.
In all, there's more than enough space to customize, but I often wished that Google's operating system is more intelligent in terms of displaying the screens with the most relevant information for me. For example, I placed the Feeds and Updates widget on one screen, but had to manually navigate back to it whenever I wanted to see if there were updates. It would be nice to have the notification bar let me know there is an update, or even the device would just slide to that screen when something was updated. Also, you always see all seven screens whether you have anything on them or not. When a screen isn't occupied, it should be hidden.
Messaging is a key aspect of "phone" use these days and the Captivate doesn't falter there either. Threaded messaging is present, as is the ability to embed audio and images easily. It was in messaging that I was exposed to the input keyboard Swype which lets you enter text by tracing over letters to "write' the words. Outside of the unfamiliar (to the device dictionary) words, because of its quickness and ease of use, Swype quickly became my input mechanism of choice.
There are other options: Samsung keypad and the Android keyboard. The default keyboard was the most plain, but I was initially fastest there. The Samsung keypad was essentially a slightly larger and themed version of the standard Android OS keyboard.
Being an Android OS device, I knew that the Captivate wouldn't disappoint on the web aspects. I was less certain about its chops on the multimedia side when compared to similarly equipped devices.
The browser is the stock Webkit-based one from Google, but the Hummingbird processor seems to have a positive effect on the experience. No matter if I was on Wi-Fi or 3G, pages rendered quickly, and most images as well. I did have some slowness when trying to view larger (8 and 12 megapixel) images, but that was by no means a show stopper.
When it came to mucis and video, It was impressive to have my 8 GB microSDHC card fully scanned within about 5 minutes of the card being recognized. This was the first time that I can remember being nearly oblivious to the rest of the music abilities of a mobile device.
It's definitely has something to do with the speed of the Captivate -- loading both tracks and videos were done without any lag (except for longer videos). And the music play was excellent through wired and Bluetooth headphones. It just worked and worked well.
You don't have to store your music on a removable memory card, as this smartphone has 16 GB of internal capacity.
I had not expected to see a button for the 5.1 channel surround sound, and until I pressed it my X6 certainly had the nod in the music playing department. A bit more noticeable with the Bluetooth headphones, audio was crisper and had a more environmental sound.
The mono speaker -- the same one used during conference calls -- was generally OK, keeping with the mobile tradition of some sharpness in the highs when the volume is maxed out. The Captivate beats out many of its competitors here, though, by seeming to not be maxed out when ever I used it -- there is definitely more power in the mono speaker that's just not used.
Other Applications/Android Market Experience
Before the Captivate, I've had only limited experience with the Android Market with earlier models and quality of applications with Google's operating system. Suffice to say, it's a big place out there, and the quality of applications are all across the board.
It would be very accurate to say that for most people, the default applications would be more than enough. However, when you do want more, you'd like to know what it is you can find. Thankfully, the Android Market is getting better in this regard... but still has a long way to go. In searching for applications and games, I resorted to phrases over just simple one or two worded terms.
It was interesting to see a channel for AT&T apps. I wouldn't have thought a need for this, but a few AT&T branded apps (myWireless Mobile, Mark the Spot, and Code Scanner) seemed to be well worth the trip to that section.
Overall, the software aspect of the Captivate is solid. Some power users who are used to doing a touch more with their devices might end up with a slightly better/worse experience, but most others will find a situation similar to, if not a bit more customizable than other mobile platforms.
This was the first device that I've had in some time that didn't have a dedicated camera button. I took this to mean that camera (optics, video, sharing) were not a focus of the Captivate, and in use, that really seems to be the case.
First, the interface is a bit disconnected from the rest of the device. Upon opening the camera application you see a smattering of icons on the left side, some image information, and then a button on the right which later you find is used to take pics.
Pictures come out cooler (speaking of color tone and temperature) than they appear when initially taken. Shutter speed and saving to a memory card or local phone memory (16 GB of it) takes no time and in moments you are ready for the next snap. Previewing photos after they are shot, in addition to automatically geotagging images can be enabled in the camera settings.
Some interesting sharing options outside of the Bluetooth, MMS, and email options are available. You can choose to upload images to Picasa, a service called AllShare, or your AT&T Online Locker. The Online Locker is basically a carrier-controlled, cloud-based backup for your mobile device's multimedia assets.
Google Maps and AT&T Navigator make up the location-friendly aspects of the Samsung Captivate. As with most other Android OS smartphones, the Captivate supports My Location, Latitude, and Buzz (via the latest update).
AT&T Navigator is a subscription-based service, but I found it mostly a reprise of Google's services. The traffic feature was generally more real-time accurate, which was appreciated on a drive to the mountains.
It was also nice to see location used beyond simple mapping and social networking with the YPMobile application. While this can be seen as similar to using Google Maps in a "yellow pages-like" use, YPMobile is the Yellow Pages and about as trusted as a brand gets for this kind of information. It uses Bing maps to poll for information and points of interest. GPS locks were fast, but the speed of the map updates varied in the same locations but various times of the day.
I've had the hardest time nailing some real-life battery metrics for the Captivate because it's very efficient. After the initial charge and use cycles, I started to see regular use of a clear 24 hours before needing a recharge -- this is with email and social networking app constantly on in the background, 2 hours of calls per day, and several non-Wi-Fi web browsing sessions.
Lighter users could expect 1.5-2 days of use from the top of a charge to the bottom; whereas heavier users will notice the well drying up by the end of the day.
I was impressed that never once did I pay attention to the battery until the end of the day -- it was always sufficient.
The bottom line question of the Samsung Captivate is, does it captivate the imagination? (pardon the pun) I'd have to say it does. The impressive hardware -- heat issue notwithstanding -- and the solid balance of built-in applications versus room to customize makes it well suited as a device for those upgrading from a feature phone, side-grading from an iPhone, or just looking to get into the Android OS.
My main issues have more to do with personal expectations of how much more I'd like to see Android OS devices push the envelope on the user experience. And the camera app could use some polish.
Yet, this is a very nice, and probably as well played a package as one can have, especially right out of the box. There's not much that a user will need to do to get up and running.
It would have probably been a good idea on AT&T's side, though, to include the myWireless application and a data counter widget on the one homescreen panel, but that's nothing that can't be quickly added by the owner. Samsung's also going the route of having Galaxy S models on just about every carrier, so the user experience should be roughly the same, with minor style differences playing the real differentiation here.
The Captivate has a lot more going for it than a pretty screen. And that's great, because the competition in this space, especially among Android OS devices, is very tough.