Samsung Wave S8500 review -

4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati, 12/12/2011 3:58:13 PM

8out of 10
Performance
8 out of 5
Look and feel
8 out of 5
Ease of use
10 out of 5
Features
6 out of 5
Battery life
Pros:

Excellent social networking, universal calendar, phonebook that syncs with Facebook, Twitter and more, super-AMOLED touch-screen, and an HD video camera that also takes great pictures

Cons:

Hardly any apps available for download, temperamental maps feature, user interface is a little unintuitive and restricted

Like politics, religion and Marmite, the Samsung Wave will divide people. On the one hand, it's an powerful piece of hardware packed with some advanced social networking features. On the other, this flagship smartphone for Samsung's open-source OS, bada, still has some quirks and glitches in its new interface, which doesn't navigate quite as fluidly as say, the HTC Desire or even Samsung's own Android phones. 

Our eyes, our eyes!

The first thing you notice is its incredibly bright, clear 'super-AMOLED' screen. This next-gen screen tech means fewer layers of glass have been used to create the display and the LED lights are closer to the surface. Visually it looks incredible, and in direct sunlight, there is much less glare, a common problem with AMOLED screens.

 

Made of aluminium alloy and plastic, the long, slim chassis is somewhat reminiscent of Samsung's i8910HD. The 3.3-inch tempered glass display feels great to swipe, and the capacitive touch-screen is Samsung's best yet - responsive, fast and accurate, even in the keyboard, which has traditionally been a weak point of Samsung touch-phones. The auto-correct does a good job of guessing the words you mean, though adding an off-piste word requires a couple more clicks than it should - and it's actually impossible to type a word that's not in the dictionary without adding it first. If you send a lot of messages, you'll probably also find it annoying that you have to switch to a symbols screen to type a full stop, and that pressing spacebar doesn't automatically switch you back to alphabet.

 

The screen supports multi-touch, which makes zooming in pictures, web and maps very intuitive - though our favourite gimmick has got to be the puzzle-theme unlock screen. Messages and missed calls show up as a jigsaw piece that you drag to a hole in the puzzle to unlock the phone and head straight to the missed event. A 1Ghz processor means the phone can run around eight programs without slowing down though it occasionally lags when data-heavy programs were going - and annoyingly, the phone will sometimes automatically shut down widgets that are running in the background. Usually though, it'll give you the option to end some programs manually, and you can do this by holding down the central button to view all open apps. At the top of the phone sits the 3.5mm audio jack and a nicely implemented microSD slot covered by a wee sliding door, and on its sides, dedicated lock and camera buttons.

Touch whiz

The Wave wears Sammy's old TouchWiz interface - and thankfully, the widget-based interface has been upgraded to the more modern-looking v.3.0, with the widget toolbar discreetly hidden and no longer prone to accidental release. The drag and drop action is much smoother, and you can add up to 10 homescreens - but they're customisable only with widgets. You can't add shortcuts to apps, which go into an all-programs menu spreading over several screens, much like the iPhone's, only you can't change the order of the apps.

 

Maybe Samsung thought the provided widgets cover everything one could possibly need on a homescreen, but the current TouchWiz, despite having a very welcome refresh, still feels a little restrictive. We love the new range of widgets though - news from the FT, BBC and tech site The Register; a birthday reminder that now feeds from Facebook as well as your phonebook; and our favourite, a Days widget that pulls info from the Task, Memo, and Diary apps for a single view of all the notes you've made about the current day.

So social

The Social Hub is the feather in Samsung's cap, a social integration app that sets it apart from the company's previous smartphones. In fact, it's the fullest social networking feature around, allowing you to add contacts to your phonebook over the air simply by inputting your Gmail, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Exchange details. You can also add and sync Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live (and more) contacts - either all of them, or a selected few you might actually want to contact in real life. The phone can then match up contacts with your phonebook if they've used the same email address - but crucially, it can't match up a friend's Facebook and Twitter accounts even if they've used the same email address. And unlike phones with HTC's Sense interface, the Wave won't match entries based on name, only email. So if you don't have a friend's email address, you will end up with three (or more) entries - phonebook, Facebook and Twitter, say - until you go through the phonebook and manually sync them.

A great phonebook feature lets you slide your finger right to text a contact, and left to call them, while a 'Buddies Now' widget puts your favourite contacts onto the homescreen with their display picture and latest status update. You can either comment on it, or give the friend a call. Preloaded on the phone are bada-specific Facebook and Twitter apps, both of which offer full functionality, though there's a bad glitch in Facebook where event invitations display only as Yes/No/Maybe buttons, making it impossible to know what you're sending a polite RSVP to. Tsk. Part of the Social Hub is the universal calendar, which syncs Facebook and Microsoft Exchange calendars into a hugely useful, single view. When you create an event, you can invite friends from any of your contact books, a feature we've yet to see on other phones.

Push notifications on all of this is a given, but what really blew our minds was the communication history viewable from each contact's profile - you can see all messages exchanged, whether via text, email, Facebook or instant messenger, as well as view their posted albums and status updates across all networks. Like a lot of smartphones with crazy levels of social-tude, the Wave is just a tad unintuitive when it comes to making the humble phone call. To call someone, you can't just type in the first few letters of their name - you have to tap the phonebook icon, hit search to find the person (unless of course, they're handily named Aaron, or Adam), then tap them again. At least you can message contacts directly from the keypad - useful if someone hasn't picked up your call, for example - and the call log also includes sent and received texts.

Find me

Unfortunately, the Wave doesn't cut it when it comes to navigation - Samsung's preloaded, proprietary maps app requires a fee for routing and directions. Nor is Google Maps available as a bada app (though this may change). Cartoonish and not as detailed as Google or Ovi Maps, the Samsung map is of use only when you need to get your bearings in a new place, as you can search for addresses, and it will display little points-of-interest icons that you can tap for more details. You can also search by keyword or points of interest. There's a good integration feature with the calendar, where any address in an event profile can be mapped. Getting a GPS fix is fine, but the map interface, being data heavy, is one of the usual suspects to freeze when we had lots of apps running.


You can pinch to zoom in the maps as well as the browser, which supports full HTML for desktop-like web. Pages loaded in under five seconds over a Wi-Fi connection with pictures rendered in full and glorious colour, while an autofit feature meant we could zoom in and out without running bits of text off the page. There's the all-important copy and paste function just like in the iPhone and HTC Desire - hold down on a bit of text, then drag two pins to the desired selection - but it's not as neatly implemented and requires some trial and error to get right.

Pixel perfect

Like so many of the Samsung camera-phone stable, the five-megapixel camera delivers incredibly clear images with lovely, warm colours, and lots of different modes such as nighttime and portrait, with explanations of each, as well as tips on using that mode. Lowlight shots come out with good colour, though fuzziness becomes apparent when you zoom in. The flash tends to over-expose a tad - standard for mobile phone snappers though. The video camera can record and playback high-definition video, which comes impressively fast and smooth, though the framerate drops in lowlight. The video player supports DivX and Xvid, two common file formats for high-quality digital video, and movies look crisp and bright on its gorgeous screen. 

 

The new Samsung Apps marketplace is preloaded on the Wave, but still very bare. The phone comes with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but just about any other 'big' app is distinctly missing from the app store, which thus far comprises pretty aimless fare. Companies like EA Mobile have stated their alliance with bada though, so we do expect that in the coming months, the store will receive a substantial injection.

Conclusion

By all accounts, this phone is the (ahem) wave of the future - contacts from various sources pulled into one phonebook; different apps working together for that integrated experience; and a gorgeous, responsive touch-screen to interact with it all. And aside from a few glitches in the UI, it is. We're still not convinced TouchWiz is a better alternative to the standard homescreen where you can add widgets as well as program shortcuts, but hey, we're impressed with the range of preloaded widgets. Out of the box, this is a fun, highly usable phone - you just need to figure out its quirks (and not get too hung up about the apps that those iPhone and Android users have).

Natasha Stokes