Editors' note: We have updated the review and ratings since the original publish date to reflect new devices on the market. Portions of the User Interface section were taken from our review of the Samsung Vibrant since both phones share the TouchWiz user interface.
Out of the four major U.S. carriers, AT&T was the most in need of a solid Android smartphone, and it's finally got one in the Samsung Captivate. Part of the Galaxy S series, the Captivate is by far AT&T's most powerful and feature-rich Android device, boasting a gorgeous Super AMOLED touch screen, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and some great multimedia features. It won't win any beauty contests, and we wish AT&T would stop restricting app access, but overall, the Captivate delivers and is a great alternative to the iPhone 4. The Samsung Captivate for AT&T will be available starting July 18 for $199.99 with a two-year contract (voice plan and minimum $15 data plan required).
Like many of today's touch-screen smartphones, the Samsung Captivate has a slate design that's not particularly sexy. In fact, its design is rather lackluster, but the look is clean and simple. At 4.18 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.39 inch deep, the device is a bit of a handful, but Samsung managed to keep the handset pretty thin, so you can still slip it into a pants pocket. Plus, the Captivate has a much more solid build than the Vibrant, which comes at a price of a little extra weight (4.5 ounces versus 4.16 ounces), but we much prefer that to a cheap-feeling mobile.
The front of the device rocks a 4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive touch screen, which supports 16 million colors and a WVGA resolution (480x800 pixels). It's one of the best-looking screens we've seen on a smartphone, showing off rich and vibrant colors and a sharpness that makes text easy to read. Aside from the brilliance and crispness of the display, there are a number of other advantages to Super AMOLED screens, including wider viewing angles and improved responsiveness. They also consume less power.
The Captivate's touch screen was responsive and fast. We were able to quickly swipe through the various home screens and menu pages, and the scrolling experience was smooth, as was the pinch-to-zoom gesture. The display also has a six-axis accelerometer, which comes in handy for gaming, and it was fast to change the screen orientation whenever we rotated the phone.
Below the screen, are four touch-sensitive Android shortcuts: menu, home, back, and search. On the left side, there's a volume rocker, and a power/lock button sits on the right. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, as well as a Micro-USB port, which is protected by a sliding cover. As usual, the camera is found on back, and just as a quick tip: if you want remove the battery door to swap out cells or access the SIM card or expansion slot, slide out the bottom portion of the phone first before removing the door.
AT&T packages the Samsung Captivate with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Like the rest of the Galaxy S series, the Captivate runs on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. The latter is definitely improved from previous versions, with some enhanced functionality and a more polished look.
To start, there are new widgets, including one called Feeds & Updates and another called Buddies Now. Feeds & Updates streams updates from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and you can choose to display content from one, two, or all three of the social-networking sites, as well as set the refresh rate, ranging from 30 minutes to once a day. Buddies Now is like a favorites list and lets you immediately call or text those contacts, as well as comment on any of their updates. There are a number of other Samsung widgets, as well as Android widgets and other shortcuts, all of which can be added to one of seven home screens.
The home screens can also be personalized with live wallpapers, but there are two elements that can't be changed: the pull-down notification tray on top, which now includes wireless manager and profile functions, and the toolbar along the bottom with quick-launch buttons to the phone app, e-mail, Web browser, and applications. Pressing the latter takes you to a nice grid view of all your apps; they're spread out over several pages, which you can swipe from side to side to get to. We much prefer this layout over the standard Android one, where you have to scroll up and down. It feels more natural and easier to navigate.
Admittedly, we missed some elements of HTC Sense, such as the Leap screen, which provides a thumbnail version of all your home screen panels, but for the general consumer, TouchWiz does a good job of making Android quite easy to use, almost to the point that it doesn't even look or feel like an Android phone.