We have to hand it to MetroPCS. The contract-free carrier is gripping the 4G bull by the horns and making the 4G-capable Samsung Galaxy Indulge its first lasso at the smartphone rodeo. The Indulge, an off-shoot of Samsung's respectable line of glossy black plastic smartphones, has Android 2.2, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard in addition to a Swype-enabled virtual keyboard. There's good voice quality, and a satisfying set of features.
However, the specs pale in comparison to its more-premium Galaxy S cousins, like the Samsung Epic 4G. The Indulge lacks the brilliant Super AMOLED screen of other upmarket Galaxy handsets, its camera isn't as good, and several TouchWiz features are absent, like the social and media hubs and the mobile hot spot. Battery life is disappointing, as well.
Despite those setbacks, it's still poised to be the carrier's best phone yet, especially if you don't mind frequently juicing up your phone.
The Indulge costs $399 without a contract, a high figure at first glance, but one that doesn't lock you into a two-year contract. MetroPCS is offering two plans: the unlimited rate plan (talk, text, Web) with 1GB data costs $50 per month, and the $60 monthly plan gets you unlimited talk, text, Web, and data, not to mention 4G speeds for both.
Editors' note: Portions of the User interface and Features sections were taken from our reviews of the other Samsung Galaxy S models, since the devices share a common UI and similar core features.
Like most of its Galaxy S brethren, the Samsung Galaxy Indulge has a smooth, glossy black design with rounded corners. At 5.2 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, it's slightly shorter than the slide-out Epic, but matches that handset in depth. The weight feels right at 5.4 ounces, which also lends it a feeling of durability, and the smooth body helps the phone feel natural in the hand and on the ear. Since it's completely constructed of shiny black plastic with no soft-touch material on the back, it comes across as slick. Even so, the plasticky look and feel never interfered with usability.
Specs-wise, the Indulge comes from the branch of the Galaxy tree that is decidedly more modest. The capacitive touch-screen display, for example, is a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen with HVGA resolution (800x480 pixels). Although it's a step down from the brilliant Super AMOLED screen found in most other Galaxy smartphones, the Indulge still produces a crisp, bright image.
The screen itself is as smooth and responsive as any other Galaxy phone, for which we can thank the speedy Android 2.2 operating system and the 1GHz Hummingbird processor. Its accelerometer is equally snappy, rotating the interface from portrait to landscape view in less than a second. The standard Android onscreen keyboard is there for flying fingers, but so is Swype, software that lets you trace letters to create words. If that shoe doesn't fit, you can switch between the two virtual keyboards. Like all phones running Froyo, the Indulge supports pinch to zoom.
Below the display are physical buttons for the menu, home screen, back button, and Google search. The buttons are comfortable and fast-acting; they depress with a satisfying, audible click. On the right spine you'll find the camera shutter and a Micro-USB charging port; the volume rocker is on the other side. Up top are the 3.5mm headset jack and the power button. You'll find the 3.2-megapixel camera on the back, and nestled beneath the back cover is the microSD card slot. It can hold up to 32GB of extra storage.
There's more hardware to be had on the Indulge: a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with four rows, one row less than on the even more spacious Epic 4G. The backlit keys feel fairly flat, but they're spaced out and easy to press, with the right amount of resistance. We did have some minor complaints on behalf of those with smaller hands, however. The function button was often awkward to reach in the top left of the keyboard, and the width of the keyboard itself might be a stretch at times. Still, typing was fast and comfortable and most hands should adapt.
Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface for the Galaxy S series is familiar by now; the Indulge runs a "light" version of it that's missing some features, like the mobile hot spot and Samsung's Media Hub. At the top is a pull-down notification bar with one-touch controls for toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, vibrate mode, and airplane mode on and off. There are seven home screens (you can whittle them down to fewer), which, like HTC's Sense interface, you can see in a consolidated view by pinching your fingers together on any home screen.
Four persistent shortcuts appear on the bottom of each screen; they open the dialer, the address book, the messaging inbox, and the application launcher. You'll see those shortcuts, too, from within the application tray.
Speaking of which, icons in the app tray are square-shaped and strikingly colorful against the black background. Unlike some other manufacturer-customized Android skins, you swipe horizontally rather than vertically to move through multiple pages of apps. In addition to the TouchWiz look, feel, and widgets, you can also tweak the Indulge by changing the wallpaper to a static or animated image, and you can always add your own choice of widgets and application shortcuts.
Whether you like the TouchWiz look and feel is a matter of preference, and indeed, your faithful CNET mobile team is sometimes at odds about its favorite Android experience. One concern with any extra interface is that the additional layers of software may delay the Android update process, like we've seen time and again in this Galaxy series and in others. As always, Samsung and MetroPCS say they'll work with Google and with each other to hasten future OS updates on the Indulge. That said, there's no guarantee. You can read more on TouchWiz 3.0 in this review.
The Samung Indulge is a CDMA phone, and the second handset in MetroPCS' lineup to take on 4G in addition to 3G. It's also the carrier's first 4G LTE smartphone, a nod to user demand and to blowback from the Samsung Craft. Despite the Craft's history-making debut as the networks--and the world's--first 4G feature phone, its lack of smartphone pedigree and features underwhelmed many. Never fear, the Indulge packs plenty of punch, even if it doesn't reach the highest heights of its even more premium cohort.
Although the phone runs Froyo, MetroPCS says it should be upgradable in the future.
As we mentioned above, the Indulge is equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The mobile hot-spot capability isn't enabled on the Indulge. Like all Android phones, some apps come standard, like Google Maps with voice navigation, Gmail, a music player, voice search, and YouTube. There's also your array of essentials: a calendar, a calculator, clocks and alarms, a stop watch, and a timer.
MetroPCS has made its signature contributions as well, in the form of its own app store, social networking and IM bundle, backup app, and music service. Samsung's AllShare service lets you wirelessly share stored media (that includes pictures, HD video, and more) to other DLNA-certified home electronics. You'll also find Nuance voice commands, the ThinkFree Office and Write & Go productivity apps, and MySpace, to name a few.
The physical keyboard and good-size screen make the Indulge ideal for texting, multimedia messaging, and composing e-mails. In addition to the standard Android Gmail app is another mail application you can program to your POP, IMAP, and Exchange accounts, either separately or in a combined inbox we frankly find overwhelming.
MetroPCS has given the Indulge yet another option in its MetroMail e-mail app. Though it isn't a bad app, MetroMail seems extraneous; Google does more than a fine job handling e-mail, and MetroMail is less savvy at managing the inbox since it buries some of the e-mail management tools. It also pulls notifications rather than Android's method of receiving alerts pushed down from the server in real time.
As it goes with Android, you can sync your calendars and merge contacts from your various e-mail and social network accounts into your phone book. The phone is often smart enough to link the contacts for you, but we found we had to do some manual linking for a few of our contacts. On Android phones, the address book size is limited only by your phone's memory.
MetroWeb is the carrier-branded experience that tops the default Android browser. The address bar and bookmarks are clearly labeled, and pressing the Menu button still invokes menu options to controls browser windows, page search, settings, and so on. Among the number of things you can do in settings is change your default home page from MetroPCS' self-titled pick. Alternative browsers and myriad other apps are available for free download or for purchase from the Android Market app.
The onboard music player is a cut above the standard Android fare, thanks to the TouchWiz skin that spruces up the look of controls. Features-wise, the player remains the same, with options to pause, skip, shuffle, repeat, add to an on-the-fly playlist, and play via Bluetooth. As with all Android phones, you can purchase and download songs from the Amazon MP3 store, though we had to download the store ourselves from the Android Market. Of course, you can also load your own music via USB or microSD. The Indulge has 2MB internal memory and can take up to 32GB of external storage.
We've seen brighter, clearer, truer photos than on the Indulge's 3.2-megapixel shooter. They're sharp enough to work with, but duller than in real life. The camera includes autofocus, but no flash, and the thumbnail link to the photo gallery is absent from the capture mode. The Indulge still has its complement of six shooting modes, 15 screen modes, an exposure slider, and additional settings for aspects like the timer and shutter sound.
We got a chance to test out the Indulge's media prowess with the Indulge's preloaded "Iron Man 2" movie. Although the Indulge doesn't have the formidable screen size and ultrahigh resolution of some of the other Galaxy S phones, the media playback was satisfying when we tested it on the train, at the gym, and in the home. It also lacks the Media Hub of most other Galaxy S phones.
We tested the Samsung Galaxy Indulge (CDMA 850/1900; 1X EV-DO Rev O; LTE) in San Francisco using MetroPCS' network. Volume was a tad low on the Indulge, but just about right once we raised it all the way. The clarity and voice quality themselves were both very good overall, although interrupted at times by a bit of distortion and buzz. On their end, callers heard no distortion, and voices sounded clear and loud. The voice quality, however, sounded a little off to their ears, though our friends had a hard time describing exactly why.
"Crystal clear" was one caller's description of speakerphone. Callers agreed they heard a comfortably loud volume and no background noise. The forecast wasn't quite as sunny on our end. The volume was almost overly loud and very tinny, although we agree it was clear.
Samsung Galaxy Indulge call quality sample Listen now:
Performance felt fast on the 4G-ready Indulge. Android 2.2 and the 1GHz processor kept things zippy, plus 4G fared well on MetroPCS' LTE spectrum. For browsing, we were able to load both CNET's and the New York Times' mobile-optimized sites in 5 seconds. Full versions of both sites took longer: closer to 15 seconds to render the graphics-heavy home pages.
Although we'll have more in-depth tests later from our labs, we did want to quickly see how well the Indulge's 4G speeds on MetroPCS fared using a standard diagnostic test on the SpeedTest.Net app for Android--especially when compared with another 4G-capable Samsung Galaxy phone, the Epic 4G. Of course, diagnostics don't always translate to real life, coverage and network strength differ greatly by area, and this quickie test isn't conclusive by any means. Also, the Epic 4G for Sprint runs on a 4G WiMAX network. Still, we were curious.
We ran two tests on two different days at different times of day. SpeedTest.Net on both phones routed to the same Phoenix server and we sat the phones side by side and started tests at the same time. In both tests, the Indulge had slower LTE download speeds, but slightly faster upload speeds.
|Test number||Device||Download speed||Upload speed|
On the power end, battery life was sorely lacking. One full charge rarely lasted throughout the day, even when we restricted our calling and data usage. At one time in our testing period, we had to charge the phone twice in one day.
The Indulge has a lithium Ion 1,500mAh battery with a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 3 hours and 26 minutes. FCC tests measured the Indulge's digital SAR at 0.64 watt per kilogram.