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Samsung Wave GT-S8500 - black review: Samsung Wave GT-S8500 - black

Samsung Wave GT-S8500 - black

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
9 min read


Samsung Wave GT-S8500 - black

The Good

The Samsung Wave has a gorgeous, crystal-clear Super AMOLED touch screen. The 1GHz processor keeps the phone running smoothly, and the Wave has great call quality. The Wave also has a 5-megapixel camera and can capture HD video.

The Bad

Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 user interface is much improved over its previous versions; however, it is not as intuitive as others are, particularly as you get deeper into apps. It doesn't merge contact information from various accounts together and the Samsung App store is not available in U.S.

The Bottom Line

For international markets, the Samsung Wave is a nice, budget-friendly foray into the world of smartphones, but there are more affordable and more full-featured options for the U.S.

Samsung unveiled the Wave at Mobile World Congress 2010 and it is the first phone to run Samsung's Bada mobile operating system. Samsung didn't design the OS to compete with Apple's iOS and Google's Android, but to bring the smartphone experience, regardless of cost or geographic location. As such, the Wave and Bada particularly affect markets where smartphones aren't normally subsidized by carriers and thus cost a premium to own, so it won't really affect the U.S. market. According to Samsung USA, it's still very much committed to Android and Windows Phone, as evidenced by the Galaxy S series. Still, we'd thought it'd be cool to check out the Wave. The Samsung Wave is available unlocked for about $370 to $400, but if you're in the market for a smartphone and don't want to break the bank, check out some of these affordable models.

In a lineup of touch-screen phones, the Samsung Wave might not be the flashiest or rock a large display like the HTC Evo 4G or Droid X, but its compact size is sure to attract some buyers. At 4.6 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Wave is ultrathin and feels comfortable to hold as a phone. Samsungs use of an aluminum body gives the handset a very solid and high-quality construction.

The Wave features Samsung's Super AMOLED touch screen, measuring 3.3 inches diagonally and supporting 16 million colors at a WVGA resolution. There are a number of advantages to the Super AMOLED display, including wider viewing angles and improved responsiveness, but more than anything, it's the screen's sharpness and vibrancy that's truly impressive. To be honest, it's difficult to even describe in words just how crisp and rich the screen is and video really doesn't do it just either. It was as colors practically jumped off the screen and even though the screen is on the smaller side, we could still make out fine details because of the clarity of the display, and it was also viewable in bright sunlight.

Pictures don't do justice to the Samsung Wave's vibrant Super AMOLED screen.

The touch screen is quite responsive and provides a smooth swiping and scrolling experience. Pinch-to-zoom support is also available, and it, too, was very smooth. The built-in accelerometer is quick to change screen orientation. However, the virtual keyboard is a little problematic. First, the portrait keyboard is extremely cramped and the letter keys are already tiny, which isn't a good combo. It definitely slowed us down and even then we had some mispresses. The keyboard's better in landscape mode but even then, it's still not the most spacious and users with larger fingers might have some problems with it.

Below the display, there are several physical buttons, including Talk and End/Power keys and a menu button. On the left side, you will find a volume rocker and on the right, there's a lock button and a camera activation/capture button. In addition to the 5-megapixeal camera and LED flash on back, you get a front-facing camera for video calls. Finally, the Micro-USB port, which is protected by a sliding cover, and 3.5mm headphone jack are located on top.

Though you'll mostly use the touch screen, there are several physical buttons on the Wave.

Our Samsung Wave came packaged with a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, a 1GB microSD card, and reference material. Being a phone for the international market, the charger isn't compatible with U.S. outlets but since the Wave is equipped with a Micro-USB port, you can use most any charger with a Micro-USB connector. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.

User interface and software
The Samsung Wave is the first device to run on the company's Bada mobile operating system. Bada, which means ocean in Korea and is meant to represent the "limitless variety" of the platform, isn't so much an OS to take over the Androids and iPhones, of the smarphone world. It's more of an evolution of the middleware that's been on Samsung's phones all along and was created to bring that smartphone experience to everyone, more specifically to those in emerging markets.

As such, you'll find many of the same features on Bada as you will on other platforms, such as a unified in-box, a push calendar, and a focus on social networking. In addition, Samsung now offers its own app store. We'll talk more about some of these capabilities in the Features section below.

Running on top of Bada is Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 user interface. It's definitely improved from previous versions, with some enhanced functionality and a more polished look. You have more widgets to choose from now, including a Feeds & Update one for getting all social network updates, most visited Web sites, and favorite contacts (called Buddies now). You can add widgets on up to 10 home screen panels by pressing small widget button on the upper left side of the screen, and then dragging and dropping the desired widget. To remove one, you have to open the menu again and drag it back into the tray.

The added widgets are certainly nice and mostly useful, but we wish you could add app shortcuts as well, though there is a toolbar along the bottom with quick-launch buttons for the phone, contacts, and messages. There's also a pull-down tray on top where you can manage your wireless connections, sound profile, and notifications, much like Android. The main menu is laid out in a nice grid view with attractive icons, and all your apps spread out over several pages, which you can swipe from side to side.

Overall, the user interface is pretty intuitive, so you should be able to start using the phone right out of the box. That said, once you started getting into the apps and various functions of the handset, it's not always immediately clear how to access some settings and options, so this requires a bit time and exploration.

As we said earlier, the Samsung Wave and Bada were designed to bring the smartphone experience to everyone and is quite a full-featured handset. It's a quad-band world phone with a speakerphone, conference calling, video calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, group ID, photo caller ID, and so on. However, unlike some systems like Android and Palm WebOS, Bada didn't automatically pull in contact information from the various accounts we had entered on the Wave, including Gmail and Facebook.

The Wave is 3G-capable (HSDPA 900/2,100MHz) but since the smartphone wasn't designed for the North American market, it doesn't support our 3G bands. However, it has Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n. The Wave features Samsung's Webkit-based Dolfin Web browser, which offers Flash Lite support, multiple windows, share, and search. It's a decent browser, but has some drawbacks. For example, when you double-tap on the section to zoom in, the browser doesn't automatically resize the page to fit the width of the screen, so some additional scrolling is necessary.

E-mail is well represented on the Wave, offering support for Exchange ActiveSync and POP3/IMAP4 accounts, as well as push delivery and SSL encryption. The e-mail app also has a search feature and can send and receive/open attachments up to 5MB in size. We had no problems setting up our Gmail and Exchange accounts on our review unit, but it didn't sync up all our various Folders.

The smartphone also comes preloaded with Facebook and Twitter apps, and an IM client called Palringo. The latter supports a number of the popular IM clients, including AIM, Yahoo, and Google Talk, but you will need to sign up for a Palringo account first before you can get started with the others. In addition, to provide you with easier access to your messaging options, Samsung has included something called the Social Hub where you can quickly communicate with your contacts whether it is through messaging or your social networking sites

The Wave ships with a number of other personal information tools--a calendar, task list, memo pad, voice recorder, mini diary, calculator, and so forth. More apps are available through the Samsung App store but the market isn't available in the U.S., so unfortunately, we couldn't check out the selection of titles.

There's a decent helping of entertainment options on the phone. Aside from a built-in FM radio and a dedicated YouTube player, the built-in music and video players support MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, MPEG-4, WMV, H.263, H.264, DivX, and Xvid files, among others. The music player displays album art when available and also has some extra features, such as a music recognition engine and song recommendations based on the style or artist of the current track. Meanwhile, the video player has 5.1-channel surround sound when listening through your headphones. The smartphone offers 2GB of internal memory, which can be expanded to an addition 32GB via the expansion slot.

We were pretty happy with the picture quality.

Finally, we come to the Wave's 5-megapixel camera. It has an LED flash, auto focus, and standard editing options like white balance, effects, and ISO. There are also some more advanced features like antishake, blink detection, and exposure metering, and the camera is also capable of recording 720p HD video. Picture quality was pretty good. Despite the auto-focus, we still got some blurry shots but overall, we found images to be clear and with good color. The Wave also produced some of the better-looking videos we've seen from a cameraphone, with fairly good clarity even during action sequences.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz) Samsung Wave in New York using T-Mobile service and call quality was excellent. We enjoyed clear conversations with very little to no background noise, and the audio quality was some of the richest we've heard on a cell phone. Friends were also complimentary. One said he could hear a slight echo at times, but otherwise no other major complaints. Speakerphone quality was also good, with plenty of volume to hold calls in noisier environments. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones with no problem.

Obviously Web browsing would be better with 3G but even with an EDGE connection, the speeds weren't awful. CNET's full site loaded in 32 seconds, while the mobile versions of CNN and ESPN loaded in 12 seconds and 7 seconds, respectively. YouTube clips loaded within a few seconds and played but without interruption, but we did run into one problem, which is described below. Quality left much to be desired, but our own MPEG4 clips looked absolutely brilliant on the Super AMOLED screen. There is also a noticeable difference when you turn on the 5.1-channel surround sound; it's no gimmick.

The Wave is equipped with a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, which kept the smartphone humming along beautifully. It was quick to launch apps, and we never really hit a speed bump. However, we did have one isolated incident where we had to take out the battery and reboot the device. We were watching a YouTube clip and paused it briefly, but when we tried to return to the video, we found the phone to be completely frozen. We couldn't even power it off, so we had to take out the battery. Again, this only happened once and we didn't have any other problems during our testing period, so we think it's just a fluke.

The Samsung Wave comes with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 15 hours and up to 23 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Wave fell short of its promised talk time, delivering just 6.5 hours on a single charge. The Wave has been tested to meet European Union standards and has a digital SAR rating of 0.998 watt per kilogram.


Samsung Wave GT-S8500 - black

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8