Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
8/30/2011 3:43:03 PM
Excellent Social Hub, brilliant high-res screen, great touch-screen and keyboard
Very few bada apps, restrictions on how to place icons and widgets
Over iOS, and all Android-ed out? Maybe Windows Phone 7 is too much work and BlackBerry is, uh, actually for work. What’s an OS-ambivalent smartphone buyer to do? Samsung reckons bada is the answer. If you missed it last year, the Korean giant launched its own-brand OS to tussle with all of the above – though it’s mostly similar to Android. The Wave 3 is, you guessed it, the third-gen version of the high-end smartphone the OS debuted on. But is there enough going on for it to triumph over Samsung’s high-powered Android army?
You can’t fault the hardware on the Wave 3. Sleek and shiny, its aluminium casing feels strong yet light, with slim lines and flat surfaces both front and back – no protruding lenses or random chins on this device (take note HTC and Motorola). The four-inch Super AMOLED Plus display is vivid and clear, stretching to the very edges of the chassis so it actually feels smaller. At 480x800 pixels and 233dpi, its screen is of a very respectable resolution - sharper than Samsung’s Galaxy S II and HTC’s current batch of flagship smartphones. Its 9.9mm thickness is on par with the iPhone 4S’s squared glass body, and if plastics turn you off, you’ll prefer the metallic Wave 3 to Samsung’s latest lightweight Androids. In fact, the chassis is one of the more interesting we’ve seen, where the back slides off but stays attached by the hinge. The single diamond-shaped ‘Home’ button brings to mind Samsung’s feature phones of yore with touch-sensitive OK/End buttons rounding off the base. A 1.4GHz processor keeps things humming smoothly, backed up by 512MB of RAM. The measly 4GB of internal memory can be bumped up by a microSD slot, capable of taking cards up to 32GB. A five-megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash sits on the back, surprising after the Galaxy S II’s swaggering eight-meg snapper. The front houses a lower-spec lens with just a VGA resolution for (blurry) self portraits and video calls – theoretical ones, because there’s actually no bada Skype app, or any other video calling app for that matter. All this is kept alive via a 1500mAh battery, which manages an impressive 517 hours of standby time – we easily got a day’s work out of it, with 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS and push notifications on.
The Wave 3 is the first phone to run the new 2.0 version of bada, which was originally built on TouchWiz, the widget-heavy interface Samsung uses on its feature phones and skins its Android phones with. Icons sit on multiple home screens with a toolbar of four most-used apps along the base. So far, so simple. But actually adding those shortcut icons isn’t as simple. You can press and hold to move apps to different spots on the screen, but not to add them. Instead, you have to head into all-programs to identify the chosen app, and drag it to one of the thumbnails representing your seven home screens. You can kind of see the logic – you’re browsing through your apps and suddenly realise you want that one on your home screen – but in the more likely scenario that you’re already on a home screen and want to add an app, it just adds a couple more steps to the process. (iPhone owners will already be mystified by the idea of putting some apps on a home screen and not others.) Of course, there are widgets too, but unlike standard Android phones, you can’t put them anywhere you want. You have use the widget panel, where you press and hold to view all available widgets with a toggle switch. The ones you leave ‘on’ will then display live-updating information on, say, weather or stocks. It’s a sort of halfway house between the free customisation of Android ‘live’ info, and the pull-down menu in iOS 5, where you can customise what live info shows. Downloaded widgets will show up here too.
Swipe over a screen and you’ll hit Social Hub, Samsung’s proprietary all-encompassing app for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn plus email and texts. Once you add all your accounts, this app alerts you to events in all of them. You can sync Facebook contacts and calendar easily, but to add Gmail and Yahoo! contacts you have to work some techie wizardry and, like on the iPhone, add them as Exchange accounts, which involves knowing things like server and domain names, all easily searchable online. Another consequence of Social Hub is an impressive aggregated calendar that shows Facebook and Exchange appointments – which you’ll remember can include Google and Yahoo! calendars too. With all your stuff on this phone, security should be a concern. All smartphones come with the option for a password lock, but the Wave 3 takes it one step further with the ability to put a password on certain apps only, such as calendar, email and messages. You’ll still get push notifications of new alerts, but you’ll have to enter the password to view them.There’s a hub called Google Hub too, a rather superfluous gathering of shortcuts to Google sites – Gmail, Maps, Calendar, YouTube, Reader, Picasa, News and Translate. No, they’re not apps, so why has Samsung included them? Samsung, of course, has a very close relationship with Google, having recently launched the official Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone, the Galaxy Nexus, so perhaps it’s a holding strategy until Google apps actually launch for bada. You’ll find bada apps at the Samsung Apps store, though as of now, its inventory hasn’t reached 10,000 – by comparison, iOS and Android are at 500,000, BlackBerry around 20,000 and Windows Phone 7 at 25,000. Bada, being almost two years old, is growing at around the same rate as the other smaller OSes, but let’s face it – apps (and internet) are what make a phone smart, and missing out on all the small ways to tweak and play with your handset is a major downfall of this otherwise slick, capable device.
Aside from tweeting, texting and various other creative communications, you can also send free messages over ChatON, Samsung’s answer to BlackBerry Messenger – and indeed, the cross-platform WhatsApp that, you guessed it, isn’t available for bada. It works just the same though, linking with your SIM card to allow you to send messages over the internet without incurring charges. Like similar apps, you can only do this with other people on the app, which is available on both bada and Android, so there’s a reasonable chance you can find a buddy. The virtual keyboard is excellent on the highly responsive, feather-light touch-screen. The layout of the keyboard is comfortable and you can easily type alternate symbols like punctuation and numerals by holding down particular keys – a more efficient method than having to switch screens. Our only beef is the overly aggressive haptic feedback, which almost makes the entire phone vibrate – though luckily you can turn it off. The preloaded WebKit browser supports Flash and picks up mobile and full websites quickly and prettily. No tabbed browsing, but you can easily switch between new pages.
Considering Samsung’s predilection for fancy snappers and fancier camera software, the five-meg offering here is a bit of a surprise – no effects filters, no preset scene settings, and no editing tools. It does take decent snaps though, with only a touch of yellow in fluorescent-lit rooms, but good clarity and colour in daylight. In low light we got decent images as well, though when a dark room was lit, the lens tended to overexpose a bit – standard for most camera phones. After a picture is snapped, you can share it via the usual cornucopia of social routes, as well as AllShare, Samsung’s wireless media sharing app that works over DLNA – compatible with Windows 7 PCs, HDTVs and other DLNA-friendly phones. You can view pictures in a cute slideshow gallery too, where the pictures peel off one after the other. In general, the media interface, like many of Samsung’s high-end handsets, is lovely to behold, the WVGA resolution lending great clarity to videos. The player supports lots of file formats, including DivX and Xvid, so most downloaded video should work.
On the hardware front, the Wave 3 has it covered – great quality metallic body with a fancy hinged back cover, Super AMOLED screen that’s actually brighter and more vivid than the Galaxy S II, and one of the best touch-screens on any phone right now. But as we all know, the name of the game is software – just ask Apple, Google and HTC. Bada works like Android with a couple restrictions – it’s not as easy to put icons and widgets where you want, and though the Social Hub is a phenomenal gathering of events, messages and contacts, its app store is just nowhere near where it needs to be to win over the Android army and Apple fans.