Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Samsung Captivate

AT&T very kindly loaned me a Samsung Captivate for use during the weekend of BlogHer. I had sent out a request to the internet asking for someone to help me with this, because i had signed up to be an official photo-taker during the Tutus for Tanner run (more information here: http://herbadmother.com/tanner/) and I was meant to upload and live tweet the event. Roaming charges while in the US are nausea-inducing for most Canadian carriers, especially for data, and I was frustrated about the fact that I would need to spend money that way instead of using it more constructively - such as giivng it to Tanner's cause. So when I sent out my request to the ether and AT&T responded I was extremely delighted - not only would I get to try out a new smart phone, but I was also able to give the money I would have spent on roaming fees to Tanner's cause.  Win all around.

The Samsung Captivate was waiting for me when I arrived at the Hilton NYC. I eagerly opened the box to find the phone nestled attractively in smart packaging. The protective film across the front and back gave me helpful information, such as instructions on how to install the battery. However, since I fail at "paying attention", I missed the crucial "install the battery" detail and spent several minutes wondering why on earth the phone wouldn't turn on. Once I rummaged through the box and discovered the battery floating around inside, it all made sense. The back snapped off easily, I inserted the battery, snapped the back on securely and turned on the phone.

The boot up took approximately a minute, playing a little song and showing various splash screens as it worked. Once it was ready, I inspected the screen. Being used to other smartphones, I was intrigued by the virtually empty screen on the Captivate. Four little buttons along the bottom carried out the functions (settings, home screen, back and search) and the icons on the main screen took me to the phone, email, browser and applications. The apps folder held all the applications that the designers felt you wouldn't need right away, but I believe everything's modifiable so with more time I would have been able to customize my home screen as I wished. By default, an icon for the camera was on the main screen as well.

After using it for a few days, I found there was a lot to like about the Samsung Captivate. Such as:

The device felt good in my hand. Perhaps a bit lighter than I'm used to, with more cornered edges. But I was able to flip it around as needed, and use one hand to carry out many tasks, which is crucial.

The main uses I had for the device were using the camera and uploading to Twitter. The camera was much more robust than I am used to, with many customizable settings usually found on a regular point and shoot camera. This led to good picture quality in good lighting, although as with any flashless camera the quality degrades with the light. The browser was quick and the keypad easy to use, even with fast and fat thumbs.

The phone itself had good sound quality and I never experienced a dropped call.

Size and weight. The device felt good in my hand.  I felt it wasn't going to fly out of my hand when I was walking, but it was also light enough that it wasn't a pain.

The screen display. Big (bigger than my current device) and clear and bright. I had no issues adjusting from indoor to outdoor use.

The Camera. I loved being able to customize the photo taking experience to nearly the same extent I would have been able to do with a point and shoot camera. The picture quality in good lighting was excellent.

The device gives a little shake when you press buttons. There's probably a way to turn it off, but I liked it. I liked having physical feedback of key presses.

The battery life was truly excellent. I went two full days of pretty heavy use of the viewscreen without a charge (not many phone calls, though, to be fair).

The mail app showed the my gmail folders as tabs. This was truly brilliant. I haven't been using folders effectively in Gmail, but if I had this device permanently it would probably permanently affect the way I used folders, because I can see this being very useful.

However, nothing is perfect. Here are a few things the Samsung Captivate needs to work on:

As you get deeper in to the UI, there were times when I felt like I'd gone down a rat hole. In certain applications - particularly the camera - I would be in a certain area and I had no idea how to get out. Now, admittedly I can be a bit of a flake, but after pressing every button and hitting the screen and trying everything seemingly obvious and finally resorting to removing the battery and rebooting the entire device to get out of the camera screen, I was frustrated. It turns out that there is a lock switch in camera mode I must have inadvertently turned on, which is no good - if I can turn on a lock without knowing it, I also don't know how to turn it off.

Auto correct. While the auto correct on my current device does drive me mental at times, I very much missed it when it wasn't there. Now, there may be a setting to turn this on, but I felt it should have been on by default.

Clearing your data - when I was preparing to return the phone, I was attempting to erase my data and email accounts from the device. I searched for quite some time and was not actually able to delete my email account from the device. The only way I found to get my personal data off the phone was to reset the phone. Now, this won't be a big issue for anyone who owns the phone and won't be planning on giving it back, but it seemed strange that there was no way to remove that account from the phone.  Also, in resetting the phone, it didn't erase the photos I had taken, which seemed odd as it stated it was going to remove all data.

Final impressions:

I'm an iPhone devotee. In my own experience, if using a device comes close to the experience you get with Apple, it gets high marks from me.  I'm not talking about doing things exactly as Apple does them; I'm talking about figuring out how people truly want to do tasks with a phone and making your device operate intuitively based on that. And the Samsung Captivate has gotten it right. It was virtually no transition from using my iPhone to using this device, even though they do operate fairly differently, because they've taken the time to figure out what people want at their finger- (er, thumb-) tips. The device is intuitive, plain and simple. So if you're in the market for a device with reasonably equivalent functionality to the iPhone, I definitely advise you to take a look at the Samsung Captivate.

Once again, thanks to AT&T to providing me the phone to try out and use during the BlogHer weekend. Thanks to them I was able to donate $100 to Tanner's cause on a day which raised more than $25,000. This money will now be used by his family to modify his home appropriately to have a live-in caregiver and allow Tanner to stay at home, which means more than words can say. Thank you, AT&T.

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