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.)