Samsung Continuum: Two displays not better than one
- 05 December, 2010 01:33
When we first heard about the Samsung Continuum ($200 with a two-year contract from Verizon), we were equally skeptical and intrigued. Does a full-touch smartphone really need a secondary "ticker" display? While we found the ticker display more useful than annoying, it still might not be for everyone -- and it can occasionally be a pain to use.
Slim, Attractive Design
In terms of design, the Continuum looks a bit different than its Galaxy siblings. It is a bit narrower and longer, measuring 4.9-by-2.3-by-0.5-inches thick. It weighs a comfortable 4.4 ounces, yet feels solid in hand. It is very much in the Samsung design aesthetic with its piano-black finish, rounded edges and a subtly patterned battery cover. It's a bit plasticky feeling and definitely finger-print prone, but the Continuum is quite attractive overall. On the face of the phone, you'll find the typical Android softkeys: Menu, Home, Back and Search. These keys are sort of awkwardly placed, though, between the main display and the ticker display (more on that in a bit). On the top of the phone, you'll find the power button and the 3.5-mm headphone jack. On the right spine, there's the volume rocker and the micro-USB port and on the back you'll find the 5-megapixel camera and flash.
The main attraction of the Continuum, of course, is its dual displays. There's a 3.4-inch Super AMOLED display the small secondary display (also Super AMOLED) that lies below it. The main display is a bit smaller than what we're used to on Galaxy phones, but the Super AMOLED technology is really quite fantastic. Colors burst out of the display, and animations appear lively and smooth. Some reviewers have noted that colors look oversaturated, but I don't really mind the effect. The display also does quite well in bright outdoor light, too, though the phone's glossy hardware sometimes reflects a killer glare.
The smaller, narrower screen makes typing incredibly frustrating. The keyboard feels very cramped and we made more mistakes typing on the Continuum than on other Galaxy phones. You can switch to Swype (gesture-based keyboard), but even that was somewhat excruciating to use.
The 1.8-inch ticker display can be customized to stream real-time updates from your various social networks and well as information from your news, sports, entertainment and weather feeds. It also displays notifications for new messages, e-mails or missed calls. The bottom sides of the phone are touch-sensitive so you can activate the ticker display by simply picking up the phone. The idea behind the ticker display is that you can always be tuned in to what's happening on your phone without having to wake it up.
Our opinions were somewhat mixed regarding the ticker display. On the one hand, it seems gimmicky, unnecessary and distracting. But the touch sensors worked quite well and we slowly got used to the feature. You can scroll through your various feeds by flicking the display side-to-side, but this wasn't always so responsive. It lagged a bit transitioning from Twitter to the weather feed. Also, when we were trying to swipe, we'd accidentally click on a notification, which would open up the app associated with it. This could be incredibly annoying and doesn't really support the "at-a-glance" purpose of the ticker display.
To really get the most out of the ticker display, you have to be very selective about what shows up on it. If you sync your Twitter account to it and follow a lot of people, you're going to get really sick of seeing your friends' updates. Make sure to only subscribe to feeds you actually care about or else you'll constantly be flooded with useless information. Thankfully, it is quite easy to program your feeds via the Settings menu.
We really liked being able to control the music player from the ticker display. There's no need to switch away from the app you're using on the main display; it is quite a clever feature. The ticker switches over to show basic audio controls (back, play/pause, forward) whenever music is playing.
Unfortunately, the ticker display's APIs have not been opened up to third-party developers so you can only program a handful of apps or feeds to show up.
TouchWiz 3.0 Interface
Like the rest of the Galaxy pack, the Continuum runs Android 2.1 (Éclair) with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 user interface running over it. Unfortunately, there might be some delay in upgrading to Android 2.2. When the Continuum launched in New York City last month, PCWorld asked Samsung when an update to Froyo might be happening. A company executive said that because the Continuum is so new, and it because it had the additional hardware (the ticker), it would probably take longer for 2.2 (and subsequent updates) to get to it.
Overall, TouchWiz is a fun and nice-looking take on Android-but it isn't for everyone. Like we've stated before, the biggest problem with the TouchWiz interface is that it is overdone -- so much so that the result doesn't even look or feel like an Android phone. Additionally, the skin sometimes interfered with the Continuum's speediness (see the "Performance" section below).
Another issue we have with the Continuum is more on Verizon's shoulders than Samsung's. Despite the obvious fact that this is a Google Android phone, the Continuum's search function defaults to the Bing search engine. We also saw this on the Samsung Fascinate. There's nothing bad about the Bing search engine, but when you buy an Android phone, you expect Google-everything. And what does Google do best? Search. Even worse, you can't change the default settings. To use Google search, you have to go to Google.com in the Web browser, and then search from there.
The 1GHz processor in the Continuum will keep it running smoothly, even when juggling several tasks at once. The Continuum runs Android 2.1 (Éclair) and much like the Fascinate, most of the stock Google applications have been replaced with Microsoft's offerings. Instead of Google Maps, the phone comes equipped with Bing Maps, which we found to be slower and clunkier than their Google counterpart. Thankfully you can still download and install most of the stock Google applications. Both screens on the Continuum were very responsive, though they did feel a bit cramped especially when typing out messages on the on screen keyboard (both using Swype and the stock Android one). Games like Angry Birds ran without a hitch, but as we mentioned the screen can feel cluttered at times.
We ran the FTC-endorsed Ookla Speedtest app to test the Continuum's upload and download speeds over Verizon's 3G network in San Francisco. The Continuum achieved an average download speed of 577 kbps and average upload speed of 463 kbps. This is slower than the results we saw on the Motorola Droid Pro, which is also on Verizon (averaged download speeds of 1340 kbps and upload speeds of 1061 kbps). These speeds will of course vary wherever you're located.
Call quality was generally quite good over the Continuum. Voices sounded clear and natural with an ample amount of volume. Our contacts reported very good quality on their side with little to no background noise, even while we were standing on a busy street corner.
Camera and Multimedia
The 5-megapixel camera on the Continuum isn't the best we've ever seen, but it's also not the worst. You have some basic image options you can fiddle around with, although they didn't seem to affect image quality too drastically. Outdoor shots came out surprisingly dark, while pictures taken indoors had overly saturated colors. Photos taken in darker settings looked slightly washed out by the camera flash. Video captured on the phone tended to lag slightly, but overall came out really well. Sound was picked up nicely and motion blur was minimal.
Video playback had some digital artifacts, but was still clear enough that you could watch without a problem. Music playback is where the phone really shines. Audio is crisp and as we've have said before, we much prefer the TouchWiz media player to the stock Android one.
The Bottom Line
If you like to be constantly in the loop with your news feeds and social networks, you might find the ticker display useful. Once we pared down our feeds, we certainly did-and we loved the fact that we could control our music via the display. But if you're not big on social networks, you'll probably find the ticker display annoying. And on top of that, the main display is compromised to make room for it. It is simply too cramped to comfortably type long messages so if you plan on doing a lot of texting or e-mailing from your phone, the Continuum is not for you. If you're considering the Continuum, we recommend getting as much hands-on use with it in-store before purchasing it.