Smartphones

Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S) review: Everything you need to know

The Samsung Captivate, AT&T's version of the Galaxy S, is a surprisingly strong entrant that now rivals the HTC EVO 4G and the Motorola Droid X among the top Android devices.

The Samsung Captivate, AT&T's version of the Galaxy S, may not have had the buzz of other Android devices such as the Motorola Droid and Droid X, the Google Nexus One, or the HTC EVO 4G, but it easily stands toe-to-toe with those smartphones in the fight for top honors in the Android division.

Rather than overwhelming you with a long narrative, TechRepublic product reviews give IT and business professionals exactly the information they need to evaluate a product, along with plenty of photos, a list of competing products, and links to more information. You can find more reviews like this one on our Product Spotlight page.

Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Android 2.1 with Samsung Touchwiz
  • Processor: 1 GHz Samsung S5PC110 "Hummingbird" (Cortex A8)
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 16GB internal plus microSD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Display: 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED with 800x480 pixel resolution
  • Battery: Lithium-ion with 1500 mAh capacity
  • Ports: Micro-USB
  • Weight: 4.5 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.78(h) x 2.5(w) x 0.39(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0 megapixel with 4x digital zoom, auto-focus, and video recording
  • Sensors: 6-axis ccelerometer, GPS, pedometer
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY keyboard only
  • Networks: GSM quad-band global roaming (850/900/1800/1900 MHz); UMTS tri-band global 3G (2100/1900/850 MHz); EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA 7.2 Mbps
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11bgn; access to 20,000 AT&T hotspots; DLNA; Bluetooth 2.1
  • Tethering: USB
  • Price: $199 (with 2-year contract)

Photo gallery

Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S): Slickest of the Androids

Who is it for?

Users who want a top-of-the-line mobile computing device for messaging, mobile Web, multimedia, and mobile applications will be pleased with the Samsung Captivate. Since this is an AT&T device, people who live in areas like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles that have AT&T network problems because of the high concentration of iPhone users, will want to avoid the Captivate. The good news is that Samsung is releasing similar iterations of the Captivate (Galaxy S) on all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers (though the Sprint and Verizon versions have not yet been released).

What problems does it solve?

With all of the high-end Android smartphones that have hit the market during the past year, none of the marquee devices landed on AT&T, until the arrival of the Galaxy S. This gives both businesses and individual professionals who prefer AT&T an alternative to the iPhone for a high-powered mobile computing device. Sure, there have been BlackBerry options and a few mid-range Android phones, but this is AT&T's first smartphone that's in the same league as the iPhone.

Top features

  • Striking design - When I first heard about Samsung building Android phones, I was concerned. Samsung's BlackJack was a terrific design, one of the best Windows Mobile phones that ever hit the market. However, the Samsung Omnia was the worst smartphone I've ever used, because of Samsung's awful Touchwiz software running on top of Windows Mobile. And, Samsung promised to bring Touchwiz to Android. So is the Galaxy S the BlackJack or the Omnia? In terms of design, it far exceeds both -- especially AT&T's version, the Captivate. It pulls off the great combination of being nearly as thin as the iPhone while having a screen nearly as large as the EVO. The Samsung software customizations are wisely downplayed to allow the strength of Android to shine through.
  • Top-notch display - The Captivate's 480x800 Super AMOLED screen is one of the brightest and clearest that you'll find on any smartphone. It's not quite as good as the iPhone 4 screen, but it's as good or better than the display of any other Android device currently on the market.
  • Good battery life - With all of the power for customization and widgets on the Android platform, many Android devices end up struggling in the battery department if you don't actively manage them. But, the default configuration of the Samsung Captivate has excellent battery performance, even after you install a bunch of apps and widgets. It's battery life is much better than the Nexus One or the HTC EVO, but might not be quite as good as the Droid X, which is the top of the class among Androids for battery life.

What's wrong?

  • AT&T network - As mentioned above, if you're in an area that already has AT&T network problems because of iPhone overload, then you'll want to avoid the Captivate. However, if you're in the metro areas where AT&T has strong coverage then you'll be able to take advantage of the HSPA+ plus upgrades that have given AT&T excellent bandwidth performance in most of those areas. One caveat is that the Captivate does not appear to have the HSUPA capabilities of the iPhone 4. I tested the two of the them side-by-side and in almost all instances the iPhone 4 could get up to 1 Mbps uploaded while the Captivate typically capped out at 300 Kbps. Download speeds were nearly identical.
  • Mediocre software layer - Thankfully, Samsung did not inflict too much of its horrible Touchwiz interface on top of Android. Unfortunately, the few things that it has added are not an improvement. The four dock icons at the bottom of the home screen are not customizable. The all applications screen is made to look and feel like the iPhone UI and it comes across as a cheap knock-off. And, the Samsung custom widgets are sparse and unremarkable. Samsung would have been better off just paring this great hardware with the native Android experience.
  • Inconsistent performance - For a high-end smartphone with a 1 GHz processor, the Captivate feels a little sluggish every once in a while. Some of this may be partially due to the fade-in, fade-out transitions in the Touchwiz interface but moving between apps and menus can lag at times. It's not a deal-breaker but it's something to be aware of. To be fair, there are also a few places that have run benchmarks showing superior performance for the Galaxy S, but I never felt the perception of ultra-snappy performance.

Bottom line for business

The Captivate (Galaxy S) is a surprisingly strong effort for Samsung's first round of Android devices. It rivals the HTC EVO 4G (on Sprint) and the Motorola Droid X (on Verizon) for honors as the best Android smartphone that money can buy. With a touchscreen nearly as large as the EVO but with an overall slimness like the iPhone, the Captivate is a very attractive and capable device.

Of course, since it's on AT&T, it's performance in iPhone-overloaded parts of the U.S. will not be good. We can't recommend it for companies or individual professionals in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for that reason. But, unlike the iPhone, similar versions of the Captivate will be available on all four of the big U.S. wireless networks. My only complaint is that AT&T didn't stick with the Galaxy S product name and that Samsung didn't just release the AT&T version of the Galaxy S on all four carriers. The hardware design of the Galaxy S on the other three carriers is not quite as compelling, but still worth a look.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

13 comments
shantej
shantej

i own a samsung captivate and i have a problem with this review. the 4 icons at the bottom of the home screen is customizable. and u can also change the applications screen to a list view if u dont like how the "iphone" view is. you shouldve read the instructions booklet before you went made this stupid review!

zforray
zforray

The GPS issue is a pain but Samsung promises to ship a fix in September. The screen is the best. I have compared it to co-workers Droid's and there is no comparison. Yes, the battery life isn't the greatest. Wish they would hurry on 2.2 I hear it fixes lots of problems and makes things faster.

don_sanders
don_sanders

I agree that this is a horrible review. I think that you should use a device for a little while to write an intelligent review rather than throwing up a spec sheet and some notes from other people's reviews. As another poster said, the four dock buttons at the bottom can be changed and a step by step procedure is provided in the phones documentation. Personally, I like Touchwiz over some of the others that I have seen but I guess that is a matter of personal preference. Here are some of the current cons of the device: 1. The gps is horrible and has extreme difficulty getting a lock. It can take 10-20 mins to get a lock and sometimes it won't get a lock at all. 2. The sluggishness that you mentioned is from a design flaw. If you move the database to another location in the file system, the sluggishness goes away. The downside is that you have to root the phone and it limits the amount of space that you have to install applications. 3. The built in mail application is horrible. It doesn't allow you to move messages into folders from what I can tell. I've had trouble getting it to sync on schedule with yahoo mail. It would completely stop synching with Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2003 html messages aren't decoded so that you can read the message. The actual html code is displayed. It doesn't support directory searching of Exchange or enforcement of ActiveSync policies. I assume that is mostly just from the 2.1 release of Android and not so much Samsung/ATT. 4. They have removed the ability to sideload applications on the phone itself by just downloading the file and opening it. You have to download the development kit and connect to your phone in debug mode to sideload. 5. There isn't a good media synching application. There is isyncr and doubletwist but isyncr charges a fee and I don't believe that it syncs pictures/movies. While doubletwist does, it certainly isn't iTunes and needs some work. At the time that I tested, doubletwist didn't recognize the Captivate so the pictures were loaded onto the phone at a default low resolution which is to be expected. You can reconfigure doubletwist by modifying some xml files to increase the resolutions. 6. There isn't an option to turn off 3g to save on battery life. On my iPhone, I could switch to Edge only and get through 3 days of standby/minimal use. With this phone, I have to charge every day no matter what. Hopefully, most of these issues will be resolved in the 2.2 update when Samsung finally releases it. If they are fixed, this would be an awesome phone. As you have said, the design is nice and the screen is absolutely beautiful.

wwhite13
wwhite13

The GPS doesn't work most of the time. Samsung says that they are, "working on it." Pretty disappointing. Doesn't have cell range of other phones. Everything, except iphone, shows better reception strength.

robmcsa
robmcsa

Crap review... Anandtech has much better reviews than this. Not much meat to the review. How is this phone so much better than the Evo? You mention only battery life and NOTHING else to back your claim. I own an Evo and use it Like MAD (Internet, wireless, gps , email, calendar, text, phone, etc) during the day and I get 16 or more hours out of it. Also Evo isn't Android 2.1 it now is 2.2 which is a plus. Evo has 1 Gig internal for Programs as compared to the 512 meg Captivate has. Evo has bigger screen (4.3 as compared to Captivate's 4.0). Evo can output via HDMI at 720P.Oh and Evo NEVER feels "sluggish"! Come on guys you are better than this....

gvgvg
gvgvg

um.. the dock on the captivate is custumizable you just have to openthe applications then you can edit it and i have 1

brent.wiley
brent.wiley

I've owned one since the day it arrived in stores and it's been outstanding. Our company has an account with AT&T and I support quite a few iPhones, but wasn't really interested in getting one for myself- very glad that AT&T finally added to it's product offering. Just curious- if the LA, NY & SF networks are already congested, would you recommend an iPhone to anyone there either?

Mr. Dog
Mr. Dog

Despite what some others have said, I liked the review. I used the iPhone for about two years, and just moved to the Captivate. It is a beautiful phone with powerful features and is (almost) on par with the iPhone. One of the strengths of the iPhone is the UI, which Apple obviously devoted a huge amount of resources to develop. The Captivate has an adequate UI, but nothing spectacular. Second, the intuitivness of the Captivate is...limited, and the email really is terrible. The strength of the Samsung is in the OS itself. The open source model is the main selling point for me, rather than the iron-grip closed system that Jobs maintains. Also, the screen is larger than the iPhone and the resolution almost as good. Will I go back to the iPhone? It's possible. The obtuse nature of the Android OS can be frustrating, but so can the closed sandbox attitude of Apple.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

There's no doubt that the EVO has more features than the Captivate (or virtually any other device on the market). But, the EVO is also monstrously huge and the battery life is abysmal based on the default settings (it can be tweaked to get better battery performance, as you mentioned, but that's not apparent to all users). As for the differences in TechRepublic's reviews and other sites such as Anandtech and Engadget (both of which do great stuff and we like a lot) ... as we mention at the top of the review TechRepublic does not do long, rambling narratives about products but instead does a concise summary of the most important information. TechRepublic's reviews are aimed at IT and business professionals. And most of the ones we talk to say that they don't have time to read the long reviews but usually just skim them and then skip to the conclusion. As a result, we've tried to organize our reviews to pull out the most important information (for business and IT folks) so that our audience can get to the crux of it as quickly as possible.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

recommend an iPhone in any of those three metro areas, until AT&T adds more capacity.

sreynolds
sreynolds

I have had the Captivate since it was released and the main issue I have is with email performance. Opening messages, deleting messages and moving between messages is really slow but most other apps I have are quite speedy.

stan.williams
stan.williams

I had a Captivate for a couple of weeks after going in to get an iPhone 4 and being told the store had no stock. I have used all iterations of the iphone (3Gs user currently) and love the interface and the just right for my hands size. The Captivate was fantastic, great screen, great performance (add a task killer), better call performance than iPhone 3Gs and a good selection of apps. I took it back. I missed the elegant way the iPhone GUI goes about its business. Also with the plastic case the Captivate was a bit large to me. Great phone though and great alternative to the iPhone, Sort of like BMW vs. Mercedes.

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