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.
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- 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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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.