It was about five months ago that the plainly named Samsung 4G LTE Smartphone was first introduced at CES 2011, but now the Android smartphone is ready to rip it up on Verizon's 4G network, and, thankfully, it's got a new name. The Samsung Droid Charge joins the HTC ThunderBolt as the carrier's second LTE handset, offering a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus touch screen, mobile hot-spot capabilities, and an 8-megapixel camera. However, it also comes with the high price tag of $299.99 with a two-year contract. Given that it doesn't even have a dual-core processor, is it worth it? For some, it might be. Read on to see what we mean.
Like most touch-screen devices, the Samsung Droid Charge has a slab design, but it comes to a slight point at the bottom and has a bit of a bump on back. The sloped back makes a nice place to rest your palm, but the Charge still is not comfortable to hold because it isn't a dainty smartphone. At 5.11 inches tall by 2.66 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick, it's a handful and perhaps too large for some, but a plastic construction helps keep it lightweight at 5.04 ounces, so at least you're not getting a double whammy of bulky and heavy.
Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S models, however, the trade-off with plastic is that you get a phone that doesn't have quite the premium feel of some of its competitors, like the HTC ThunderBolt. At the very least, it would be nice if Samsung would add a soft-touch finish to the back so it wouldn't feel so slick, because as we've said many times before, if you're paying good money for a phone (and the Droid Charge is no drop in the bucket at $300), you want a device that feels high-quality.
All that said, you might be willing to overlook some of the downsides when you get a glimpse of the 4.3-inch, 480x800-pixel Super AMOLED Plus touch screen. It has 50 percent more subpixels than the original Super AMOLED touch screens, so the display offers more clarity and better outdoor visibility. It really is stunning: the sharpness of the AMOLED Plus display really comes through when watching video, and colors are rich and pop right off the screen. Also, as promised, outdoor visibility is better than with a lot of smartphones, and we were able to read the screen at various angles.
The touch screen is responsive; applications launched as soon as we tapped on them, and moving through the various home screens and menus was smooth. For text entry, you can use Samsung's onscreen keyboard or Swype. The Droid Charge uses Samsung's TouchWiz user interface, which runs atop the Android OS. You get a total of seven home screens that you can customize with various widgets and shortcuts. TouchWiz now also has a feature similar to HTC's Leap screen where you can pinch the screen to get a thumbnail view of all your home screens or menu pages. The main menu of apps is shown in a simple grid layout with bold icons. It's a very simple presentation of Android and definitely makes the OS easier to use for newbies, but we're sure Android purists will have a very different opinion of TouchWiz.
Below the display are four physical buttons for home, menu, back, and search. On the left side, you get a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port, and on the right are a power button and HDMI port. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top, and just below it on the upper left corner is the front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. There's also an 8-megapixel camera on the back with a flash.
Verizon packages the Samsung Droid Charge with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 32GB microSD card, and reference material.
The Samsung Droid Charge offers a standard set of voice features, including a speakerphone, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. The smartphone can handle video calls using its front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, but unlike a number of Verizon's other devices it doesn't support Skype Mobile. In fact, it doesn't come preloaded with any video chat clients at all. You can, of course, download such apps (such as Fring) from the Android Market, but making video chat easy right out of the box would have been nice.
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard, and as we mentioned at the beginning, the Droid Charge is Verizon's second 4G-capable smartphone. Verizon's LTE 4G network, which is, as of this writing, available in 45 markets and more than 60 airports nationwide, promises average download speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps and upload speeds of 2Mbps to 5Mbps. We experienced great data speeds with the HTC ThunderBolt, and the same was true here (check out the Performance section for more details), which made for painless Web browsing and media streaming. It's also great since the Droid Charge can be used as a mobile hot spot, and you can share a 4G connection on up to10 devices and a 3G connection on up to 5 devices. Normally to use this feature you would need to sign up for a Mobile Broadband plan, which costs $20 per month and comes with a 2GB data cap, but for a limited time Verizon is throwing in the feature for free, so enjoy it while it lasts!
The Droid Charge ships running Android 2.2.1 and not Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but you get the standard Google services, as well as the solid contact and calendar management, social networking integration, and full Web browser that come with Android. The handset comes preloaded with a healthy selection of apps, including some staples like an office suite (ThinkFree, in this case), a calculator, and more fun extras, such as the Amazon Kindle Android app and TuneWiki. Verizon also loads the Charge up with a handful of its services and you can't uninstall them, so you're stuck with them whether you use them or not.
One app we had fun with was Samsung's Media Hub video store, through which you can rent and buy movies and TV shows. There are few handsets that we'd watch long videos on, but the Droid Charge's beautiful display just drew us in. The music player is also more than capable, offering the basic player functions plus a built-in equalizer, effects, and 5.1-channel surround sound.