Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Continuum (Verizon Wireless)
THE GOOD: The Samsung Continuum features two displays; the smaller ticker window is a great tool for quickly accessing information and multitasking. The smartphone also has a 1GHz processor and a 5-megapixel camera with HD video capture. It offers full wireless options and can be used as a mobile hot spot.
THE BAD: The smaller screen makes for a more cramped typing experience. Ticker display currently isn't available for third-party apps. Runs Android 2.1, and Bing is set as the default search engine. You can't uninstall preloaded apps and services.
THE BOTTOM LINE: More than just a gimmick, the Samsung Continuum's secondary display is a useful management and multitasking tool, but its constant flow of information might not appeal to everybody.
The Samsung Continuum is just the latest in the company's Galaxy S series of Android phones, but it stands apart from the rest with its secondary ticker display. To be honest, we initially thought the display might be more of a gimmick than a useful feature, but after some use, we found it to be a great way to stay informed on the go or on the sly, and it even proved to be a great multitasking tool. With some tweaking and fine tuning to expand its capabilities to third-party apps, we can see it being even more beneficial. That said, we realize it won't appeal to everyone, especially since there are some trade-offs, such as a smaller primary screen and some effects on the performance. And for those who want more power, we recommend going with the Motorola Droid X or the Samsung Fascinate. However, if you're after a smartphone with that always-on connection, the Continuum offers that with a handy and unique spin. The Samsung Continuum is available now for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.
The Samsung Continuum is a slimmer, more compact device than the rest of the Galaxy S family. It measures 4.9 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, weighs 4.4 ounces, and has rounded edges for a nice fit in the hand and pants pocket. It has an all-black, lacquered finish, which is very sleek-looking but makes the plastic battery door a little slick and prone to smudges and fingerprints. A soft-touch finish or some metal parts would certainly go a long way in giving the phone a more premium feel, but, minor quibbles aside, the Continuum is quite a solid device.
More than size, what separates the Continuum from the pack is the fact that it has dual displays: a larger 3.4-inch Super AMOLED touch screen on top and a smaller 1.8-inch Super AMOLED ticker display on the bottom (more on this a bit later). As we've seen on the other Galaxy S phones, the Super AMOLED delivers an excellent viewing experience, with sharp quality, vibrant colors, and good outdoor visibility.
The Continuum features Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 user interface, which you can read more about in our review of the Samsung Vibrant. It won't appeal to everyone, especially Android purists, but we think it makes the operating system easier to use for consumers and first-time buyers. The touch screen is quite responsive; it registered all our touches and we were able to scroll through the various screens and menus with ease. Pinch-to-zoom also worked like a charm. The Continuum offers a Swype keyboard, but since the handset has a smaller screen than some of its Galaxy S siblings, it was a little more difficult to use. You can switch back to the standard Android keyboard if you don't care for Swype, though we found it even more frustrating to use since pecking at the cramped keys led to numerous mistaken presses.
Separating the two screens is a small strip featuring the standard Android shortcuts: menu, home, back, and search. On the left side of the phone, you get a volume rocker and Micro-USB port; there's a microSD expansion slot and dedicated camera key on the right. The top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, and the camera and flash can be found on the back.
Verizon packages the Samsung Continuum with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 8GB microSD card, and reference material.
So what's the ticker display all about? Well, it's a small, customizable window that streams real-time information from your social networks and your news, sports, entertainment, and weather feeds and acts as a notification area, with the idea being that you can simply look at the ticker display for quick updates rather than having to wake up your phone from its standby state. To help in this, the Continuum features grip sensor technology that will automatically activate the ticker screen when you touch the bottom sides of the phone with your hand. From there, you can swipe from left to right and vice versa to see your various updates.
Admittedly, we had our doubts about the feature. It could have easily fallen into the gimmicky category. But after a few days with the phone, we found that it can be quite useful when tailored to your personal needs. When first activated, the ticker shows basic information, such as time, date, and weather. (For the weather, you can choose your city when first setting up the phone, and pressing the little icon will also launch the WeatherBug app on the Continuum's larger screen to give you an extended forecast.) A swipe to the right will show you any missed calls, new messages, e-mail, voice mail, and instant messages; by tapping on the icons, you can launch the individual app on the larger screen, where you can view more information or respond to the notifications. Another swipe to the right will display updates from your RSS and social networking feeds. On all of the ticker screens there is a small list icon on the right, which you can tap to view your feeds in one full view or by category.
As we found out early on, the ticker display can be a bit overwhelming and quite distracting if not managed properly. For example, the Twitter integration pulls in all updates, not just mentions or direct messages, so if you follow a lot of people, it gets to be a bit too much. The same is true if you subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds. To manage your subscriptions, you can press the menu key when in your feeds view or you can go to Settings > Ticker Settings. This will bring up a tabbed view of all your current subscriptions, which you can add to or remove, and you can adjust your display options and alerts, and even set the ticker display to go into sleep mode.
We ended up paring our subscriptions down to a couple of news services and turned off Twitter completely, which made it much more helpful. It was nice to get snippets of information and the latest news throughout the day without having to fully turn on the phone, and since the window gives you a small preview of the subject of an e-mail, it made it easier for us to manage our inbox while on the go, responding only to the most important messages. As a result, we found it much more powerful than Android's notification system. The ticker is also helpful in that you can use it while working with other apps on the larger display.
For example, the ticker can be used to control your music player while you're, say, browsing the Web, which is nice. Also, if you happen to be watching a video and a call comes in, the video will automatically pause and, from the ticker, you can choose to accept, reject, or ignore the call with a text message. In some ways, we found this to be the most valuable aspect of the ticker, as it allowed for easier multitasking. Hopefully, third-party apps will be able to make use of the ticker in the future, but for now, it seems to be limited to the features described above. (For example, we couldn't control Pandora via the ticker.)
Though the ticker display won't be for everybody, we do think it serves a useful purpose rather than being just a novelty item.
Ticker display aside, the Samsung Continuum has a feature set very similar to that of the Samsung Fascinate and other Galaxy S series models. The smartphone ships running Android 2.1, which is disappointing, since Android 2.3 is expected to be released soon. The handset will be upgradable to Android 2.2, though a specific time frame for an update was not given. The Continuum supports a number of Google services, including Gmail, Google Talk, and YouTube, but like the Fascinate, its default search engine is set to Bing, not Google.
As a little background, Microsoft and Verizon signed a five-year deal back in January to make Bing the default search engine on some but not all of Verizon's phones. So far, Samsung's smartphones have been subject to this deal. We have no real problems with Bing, but we'd still like the option to choose. For now, if you want to use Google search, there are a couple of workarounds to do so. One option is to use Voice Search (already on the device), which searches with Google; another is to navigate to Google using the phone's Web browser. We should also note that though the Continuum comes with Bing Maps, you can download Google Maps from the Android Market.
Other apps preloaded on the smartphone by Verizon and Samsung include VZ Navigator, V Cast Music and Videos, NFL Mobile, Blockbuster Mobile, Skype Mobile, Amazon Kindle for Android, Twidroyd, ThinkFree Office, and Write and Go. Unfortunately, you can't remove these apps, but on the upside, you can install third-party applications. Just be aware that until the Android 2.2 update, you can only save apps to the phone's main memory (2GB) and not to an SD card.
The Continuum also features a speakerphone, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. Bluetooth, 3G, GPS, and integrated Wi-Fi are all onboard, and the smartphone can be used as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices with the addition of a Mobile Broadband plan, which runs $20 per month and has a 2GB data cap (overage fees are 5 cents per MB).
Messaging and social networking are easily handled on the smartphone with support for Gmail, POP3 and IMAP accounts, Microsoft Exchange, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The system will do its best to merge the address book data from the multiple accounts, but more often than not you'll find that you have to go back and link some contacts together, as we did after syncing up our Gmail, Outlook, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The smartphone also offers a unified inbox and calendar, though you can choose to keep your accounts separate if you prefer.
Compared with some of the other Android devices, the Samsung Continuum (and Galaxy S series in general) offers a more attractive and advanced media player. Some of the perks include a Cover Flow-like user interface, 5.1-channel surround sound, DivX video playback, and DLNA support. The Continuum will also support the Samsung Media Hub video store for TV show and movie rentals and purchases.
Like the rest of the Galaxy S series, the Continuum has a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash and HD video capture. There are a host of editing options, from white balance and ISO settings to effects to blink detection. Picture quality was great. Photos were sharp with very little noise, and colors were also rich. The flash could sometimes blow out the image, however. Video quality was quite good. HD clips came out clear and didn't have that hazy effect that we've seen from some other camera phones.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Samsung Continuum in New York using Verizon service, and call quality was mostly good. On our side of the conversation, the audio was generally clear, but we did have a few instances when callers sounded muffled and we had to ask them to repeat themselves. Meanwhile, friends had positive things to say about the call quality, with no reports of any background noise or voice distortion.
Speakerphone quality was better than average. Though calls sounded a tad hollow, the quality was better than most, and there was adequate volume for holding conversations in noisier environments. We also had no problem pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Verizon's network provided reliable 3G coverage throughout Manhattan. CNET's full site came up in 19 seconds; CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 5 seconds. YouTube videos took a couple of seconds to load, with HQ videos taking several seconds longer, but the wait was minimal and clips played back without interruption and with synchronized picture and audio.
The Continuum is powered by a Samsung's 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and we found general performance on the smartphone to be quite responsive. It didn't have quite the zippiness of the Fascinate; there was an extra pause when launching applications, but, overall, the phone was able to keep up with our demands and ran smoothly. We were able to play games such as Angry Birds and watch videos without any hiccups or interruptions.
The Samsung Continuum ships with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 7 hours and up to 13 days of standby time. The Continuum beat the rated talk time by half an hour in our battery drain tests. In general, we were able to get about a day's use from the smartphone before needing to recharge it. This was with moderate Web use and with ticker settings modified to show just a couple of RSS feeds and Facebook updates. According to FCC radiation tests, the Continuum has a digital SAR rating of 0.70 watts per kilogram and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M4.