Photo: Ellis Hamburger
Samsung’s latest smartphone for Verizon, the DROID Charge, is their first play in the sparsely populated 4G LTE arena on Verizon.It would’ve been here sooner, if it weren’t for Verizon’s 4G outage the other week. Due to the outage, the phone is still delayed, but should be coming out any day now.
Should the Droid Charge be your first 4G Verizon phone? Read on for our full review of the Charge.
Big, Beautiful Screen
The Charge boasts a huge 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen, which in layman’s terms, means the screen is incredibly bright and vibrant. The Charge’s screen puts my iPhone 3GS’ screen to shame in every possible way. But the iPhone 4 still has a higher overall resolution.
The screen is sturdy, made out of durable Gorilla Glass. The black border surrounding the screen makes for a luxurious affect. I’m glad the plastic bezel didn’t extend onto the top of the device.
The colours pop, pictures and video look sharp, and it’s a pleasure to type on–even in portrait mode.
Just below the screen, you’ll find four hardware buttons for Menu, Home, Back, and Search. You might be accustomed to seeing these buttons as capacitive touch buttons, but Samsung opted for clicky hardware buttons on the Charge. It’s not a bad touch, but your thumb might have trouble reaching all the way down to them.
Considering the size of the massive screen, if you’re holding the phone one-handed, it’s no easy task to pull down the notification bar from the top of the screen, then press the Menu hardware button.
This is one of the many tradeoffs you’ll encounter by choosing a phone with a large screen, except most phones with screens this big use software navigation buttons that are closer to the screen. I’m not sure why Samsung didn’t choose to give the phone a button-less “chin” instead, moving the buttons upwards to replace the Samsung logo.
This would’ve made the thumb-stretch a little more bearable.
This Thing Is HUGE
Overall, this is one of the biggest cell phone’s I’ve ever held. I didn’t mind though, because the screen is so fun to look at. The phone is pocketable by all means, but is definitely chunky.
The back of the phone is covered entirely by a plastic shell that pops up when you pull from the top of the device. The phone is thinner towards the top (12mm), and tapers outward to create a bulge towards the bottom of the phone (14mm).
The phone weighs 5.4 ounces, but it feels lighter in your hand because the weight is spread over the back of such a large device.
One issue I had with the build quality of the phone was that the plastic backing feels cheap and doesn’t sit flush with the top of the phone. I can imagine lots of dust and dirt slipping into this crack.
As I noted, typing on the phone is a pleasure, but the sheer size of the phone often compels you to hold it with two hands, even if you don’t need to. It’s a little too wide to be considered comfortable for consistent one-handed use.
There are two volume buttons and a micro-USB port (for charging) on the left side of the phone, and a power button on the right side just above an HDMI-out port.
The top of the phone has a headphone jack and a noise-reducing microphone for calls.
Even With 4G, The Battery Life Is Pretty Good
If you’re looking for a 4G Verizon phone right now, the battery life alone on the Charge could be a selling point. The 1600 mAh battery works overtime to make this phone whole-day-worthy.
Even when using the browser relatively frequently, the phone made it through an entire day of work (with some juice left to spare). When using 4G very frequently, you’d be lucky to make it through 3/4 of the day.
Just make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi whenever possible.
This phone has by far the best battery life of any 4G phone we’ve tested thus far, and when used as much as my iPhone 3GS, it came through the day with more of its battery left over.
So, How Fast Is It?
I downloaded an entire album from Amazon MP3 in less than a minute. I felt like I was in the future.
After several test in New York City, the Charge’s 4G speeds were always impressive, but not close to the 21 Mbps 4G networks are capable of. Our results wavered between 5.4 Mbps and 14.4 Mbps for downloads, and 1.8 Mbps to 4.6 Mbps on uploads. Even if it hasn’t reached its full potential yet, this phone is plenty faster than your cable modem at home.
It all depends on where you live, though–several other Charge testers I’ve read had better luck with download speeds, often achieving upwards of 15 Mbps on every test.
The Charge is a snappy phone–there’s no doubt about that–but it has some trouble keeping up with the intense 4G speeds the phone’s modem can deliver.
I’d load up a whole web page in seconds (via 4G) only to be disappointed when the phone choked on displaying a large part of the page at once. It eventually displays the content when you’re all-the-way zoomed out, but the experience is sometimes laggy and unresponsive when you scroll up and down.
The Charge has a 1 Ghz Hummingbird processor, which isn’t exactly on par with those speedy dual-core processors in many other powerful Android phones, but it does the trick. There’s also 2GB of internal memory and a 32GB MicroSD card that comes inside the phone.
Apps on the phone run blazingly fast with almost no delay. Lets Golf 2, which came pre-loaded on the phone, looks gloriously colourful and bright. However, the game takes forever to load. Once it loaded, the gaming experience was delightful. It’s also a pleasure to fling some birds at some pigs on this phone.
One other minor gripe I have is that when you exit a graphics-intensive app, your home screen icons and pages can take a few seconds to load.
Can You Hear Me?
Perhaps I have a defective phone, but the call quality on the Charge was abysmal.
Listeners said I sounded loud and echo-y, while on my end, there was a constant buzz whenever anything came out of the speaker. Whether I heard ringing or a person’s voice, there was a very audible and obtrusive buzzing. I refuse to believe that this is anything but a defect, but it’s still worth mentioning.
I tried turning the volume down as well as other quick fixes, but nothing helped.
The Charge’s 8MP rear camera consistently impressed me. It performed well even in less-than-optimal indoor conditions, and I like how well the macro focus works for close-ups.
Tap-to-focus works as expected in camera mode, and videos look great in 720p HD, while the 1.3 MP front-facing camera was decent.
My only gripe with the camera is the densely-packed amount of software buttons in the camera interface. There are some cool features like exposure settings, but this shouldn’t always be visible, crowding the viewfinder onscreen.
The Charge runs Android 2.2 Froyo and is skinned with Samsung’s iOS-inspired TouchWiz UI, which makes navigation easy.
The phone’s massive screen allows you to place many rows of icons and widgets on your home screen, and the lock screen offers a unique “put the puzzle piece into the puzzle” unlocking mechanism.
But the Charge is still stuck on the outdated version of Android. Where’s Gingerbread? If Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S II can ship with Gingerbread, there’s no reason why the Charge should miss out.
The phone has built-in Mobile Hotspot connectivity for up to 10 people, so you can share around the 4G goodness.
Should You Buy It?
The Charge is an amazing, albeit somewhat underpowered, 4G LTE Verizon smartphone. I’d recommend it over the Thunderbolt, and for anyone looking to buy a 4G Verizon Smartphone, as long as they can deal with its hulking size and the expensive $299.99 two-year-contract pricing.
The Droid Charge's box is all the proof Apple needs that Samsung is ripping off its designs, and even its boxes. The box is nested, the top snugly fitting onto the bottom. It looks just like an iPhone box.
The Charge is big, but fits well in the hand. Two thumbed-typing is a pleasure on its massive screen.
The back of the Droid Charge has a curved lip on the bottom of it, and has plastic similar to that on the Nexus S.
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