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MetroPCS may be the nation's fifth-largest carrier, but it plays in its own league. That's a fact I can appreciate when comparing its no-contract, 4G LTE phones to those on Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint (T-Mobile has 4G, but not yet the LTE standard.) The phones will typically have more modest features, and the network won't be as zippy.
So with that in mind, the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G is a nice addition to the carrier's lineup. It's much more eye-catching than the bland-looking LG Connect 4G, the second new handset that Metro announced at CES this year, and the specs are bountiful enough to keep your interest--and keep the price to a sensible $199.99, after a $50 mail-in rebate. Now all you have to decide is if the network has enough muscle for your mayhem.
The Galaxy Attain 4G will be available in the coming weeks.
With a silver rim, sides, and backing to offset the glossy black face, the Galaxy Attain 4G is a pretty good-looking phone. It comes in at some fairly typical standards, at about 4.5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, but unless you're obsessed with thinness, its dimensions won't get in your way. I was able to slip it into the back pocket of my favorite jeans, and hold it comfortably to my ear. It weighs in at about 4.5 ounces.
Speaking of screen size, the Galaxy Attain 4G has a 3.5-inch LCD touch display with an HVGA display (that's 320x480 pixels, if you're counting.) It looks bright and colorful thanks to the darker background and brighter icons, but will fade in direct sunlight.
As with the vast majority of handsets announced at CES this January, the Galaxy Attain 4G features Android 2.3 Gingerbread as its operating system. Samsung's TouchWiz interface rides on top, offering Samsung's familiar take on Android. There's the one-touch access to system settings from the pull-down menu, for instance, the overview screen you get by pinching any of the seven customizable home screens, and the look and feel of the app tray.
Below the display, Samsung has added four physical buttons to assist with navigation--they map to the usual Menu, Home, Back, and Search functions. Most handsets opt for the touch-sensitive route instead, but I must admit that I like the responsiveness and feel of these backlit buttons.
Like so many smartphones these days, I'm glad to see that the Galaxy Attain 4G has two cameras, a 3.2-megapixel rear-facing lens and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera that's situated above the display. There's a physical camera button on the right spine, which I really like. Press and hold it to wake the camera app.
As for the rest of the externals, there's a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom, the volume rocker on the left spine, and a 3.5 millimeter headset jack on top. Next to that is the power button, which is about the same size and shape. Beneath the silvery, dimpled back cover is access to the microSD card slot. It'll take up to 32GB in external memory, but the phone starts you off with 2GB already inserted.
An Android phone, the Galaxy Attain 4G has the standard set of tricks, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and voice search. There's an almost-unlimited address book and social networking integration, along with communication staples like e-mail, text and multimedia messaging, and speakerphone. There's also access to Google's vast web of online services, including Google Music and YouTube.
One difference is that there's no hot-spot support with MetroPCS, since that's usually a feature that tacks on an extra $20-to-$30 per month, and Metro is all about offering the unlimited bundle.
In addition to the usual bagful of Google apps, you'll find things like the Swype virtual keyboard that's loaded by default (you can switch keyboards, though.) Between Samsung and MetroPCS, there's a heap of other preinstalled programs, like Samsung's AllShare app for sharing media with DLNA-compatible devices; social-networking apps; a bevy of MetroPCS apps for managing your account; Rhapsody music, and some productivity titles. Unfortunately, you won't be able to uninstall any apps that crowd you, but you can download anything else your heart desires from the Android Market.
Let's just get this out of the way--the worst part of the camera software on the Galaxy Attain 4G is the fact that it's stuck in landscape mode. The orientation won't stop you from taking portrait shots, but the controls don't follow you, and you'll be forced to view your vertical shot in a horizontal mode. It's inconvenient and distracting, to say the least.
The rest of the controls are straightforward enough, and switching between camera and video mode, or front-facing and rear-facing cameras, is pretty easy. The same goes for toggling on the flash, setting exposure, and fiddling with the other settings for focus and scenes. There are 14 of those, incidentally, and they range from backlit to beach/snow, night, sports, and indoor configurations.
I snapped my test shots indoors and outdoors in auto mode to see how well the cameras fared when left to its own devices. The camera did much better than I anticipated, at least as far as the outdoor shots were concerned. They may not have been quite as textured or as detailed as some other camera phones, but the Galaxy Attain 4G's comprehensive quality and clarity are key. There was noticeable shutter lag, but nothing out of the ordinary range. You can see all the test photos in this gallery.
Indoor shots, on the other hand, were often bathed in grayed-out tones, which washed people and scenes in a sickly cast.
The handset's video camera also did pretty well outdoors, though it did lack some image stabilizing, which gave it a--shall we say, authentic--handheld feel. Still, videos will get the point across. The phone's front-facing camera was much more blurred, but still acceptable.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; LTE 1700/2100) in San Francisco using MetroPCS' network. Call quality was a mixed bag. Our caller said it sounded good--nice and loud, and it sounded almost as good as a landline. On my end, however, a persistent white noise every time the caller spoke made voices sound hazy and indistinct. At times voices also sounded completely unnatural, with blips, blops, and moments of distracting feedback. The volume wasn't overly soft, but it could have been a little louder, especially since the caller's voice had to cut through the aural miasma I heard.
Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone also sounded gentler to our caller's ears when I held the phone at waist level. I reportedly sounded rather quiet and hard to hear, and a little echoey, but nothing out of the ordinary for most speakerphones. On my end, volume came in at about a medium, but was tinny and echoey. Strangely, we also experienced some delays while in speakerphone mode, which was probably the result of the network being overloaded. The problems didn't occur during subsequent tests or calls.
When it comes to data speeds, you ought to take MetroPCS' 4G LTE network with a grain of salt. As usual, I conducted two kinds of speed tests. First, there are the diagnostic tests using the Speedtest.net app. Download speeds all over San Francisco ranged from 1.1Mbps to a high of 2.6Mbps, with upload speeds just a tad slower or tad faster. As a reference point, Verizon LTE brings in speeds consistently in the 15 and 20Mbps download range in the CNET offices.
Next, I conducted real-world tests loading up Web sites. During a moment of network strength, the mobile version of the New York Times loaded in between 4.5 and 6 seconds, whereas the full site took about 20 seconds to complete. CNET's mobile site loaded in just under 13 seconds in one test, and 27 seconds in another, with the full site completely available after 20 seconds, or 26 in a second test. The real-world speeds I got in my test weren't bad, especially for sites like the New York Times, which is cleverly optimized for mobile viewing.
Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that coverage was inconsistent throughout the city, often bouncing back between LTE and the 2.5G (1xRTT) network that Metro falls back on in lieu of most other carriers' 3G networks. Since MetroPCS positions itself as an urban wireless provider, that coverage zone is something to keep in mind.
The phone's 1GHz processor kept things moving along sufficiently fast.
The Attain 4G has a rated battery life of up to 3.3 hours of talk time, which is low, and a standby time of up to 8.3 days on its 1,650mAH battery. FCC radiation tests measured a digital SAR of 0.78 watt per kilogram.
There are two things to consider when buying any phone: the handset itself, and the network to which it's tied. For 200 bucks, the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G is a pretty nice package for a midtier Android phone: it looks pretty good, it has two decent cameras, all the Android perks, and 4G LTE support.
Yet if you use a lot of data, the phone is only as good as its network. MetroPCS offers a valuable service and all-you-can-eat business model for customers who don't want to be tied to a two-year contract. For those longtime customers, Metro's 4G LTE network is much faster than the 2.5G (1xRTT) network that's been ferrying data all along, a step up those loyalists can appreciate. However, it's harder to keep that in mind when MetroPCS' LTE network has spotty performance in my tests, and falls back to the 2.5G network when 4G isn't available.
So is the phone good? It'll be one of the stronger choices for MetroPCS' lineup, and one I'd easily recommend for someone who would use data occasionally, or who is dedicated to the wireless provider. However, if you're looking for something higher-powered, you'd do well to check out that LG Connect 4G, and if you're a data-hungry information fiend, I'd have to caution expecting lightning-fast speeds at every turn.