The Samsung Droid Charge joins the HTC Thunderbolt in Verizon’s 4G LTE handset lineup. The Charge is touted as the slimmest smartphone on Verizon’s 4G network. Since it also sports a Super AMOLED Plus touch screen and an 8-megapixel camera, we were excited to take a look.
As shown in Figure 1, the Droid Charge comes in a small gray box with the red Droid symbol on the top.
Inside the box you find the Droid Charge itself along with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a small User’s Guide, and some reference material, as shown in Figure 2. Our review unit came with a 32 GB micro SD card and the 4G SIM card preinstalled.
The Droid Charge, as shown in Figure 3, is a solid slab design. At 5.11 x 2.66 x 0.46 inches (130 x 68 x 12 mm), it is a full 0.10 inch (2.54 mm) thinner than the Thunderbolt. At 5.04 ounces (143 grams), it is also lighter than the 6.23-ounce (177-gram) Thunderbolt. Yet, when comparing the two phones in the hand, they feel very similar.
While the Droid Charge has a solid feel, it is an all-plastic, shiny black phone. This makes it a little lighter, but detracts slightly from the quality feel found in other phones like the Thunderbolt. While this phone won’t slip out of your hand easily, we really preferred the soft-touch back like the one found on the Thunderbolt.
[nextpage title=”The Main Hardware”]
When you turn this phone on, the first thing that you will notice is the spectacular display. The 4.3 inch, 480×800 pixel Super AMOLED Plus touch screen is protected by a slab of Gorilla Glass. The screen is absolutely gorgeous. The “Plus” Super AMOLED screen has 50 percent more subpixels than the original Super AMOLED touch screens, which creates denser colors and more clarity. Some may find the colors slightly oversaturated, but we loved the way they really popped off the screen. The Droid animation, part of which is shown in Figure 4, that displays when you turn the phone on will amaze you.
Samsung’s 50% extra sub-pixels also do a great job of smoothing out text and graphics. The screen has better outdoor visibility than most other smartphones that we’ve seen. In addition, it can easily be viewed from any angle.
This phone uses the Android 2.2 operating system. As you can also see in Figure 4, under the screen are the four typical Android buttons. Unlike some, these are physical buttons. They include Home, Menu, Back, and Search.
Figure 4 also shows the front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera in the upper left corner.
On the left side of the Droid Charge, shown in Figure 5, you see a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port. In this figure, you can also see that there is a small bump on the back of the phone near the bottom.
The top of the phone, shown in Figure 6, shows the typical 3.5 mm headphone jack and a microphone hole.
On the right side of the Droid Charge is a mini-HDMI port and the on/off switch, shown in Figure 7.
[nextpage title=”Using Basic Features”]
Call quality on the Droid Charge was good. It has the usual set of voice features including speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, a speakerphone, and text and MMS (multimedia messaging). The speakerphone was loud enough for use in an average environment, but noise cancellation of background noises was only average.
The Droid Charge has Bluetooth, WiFi b/g/n, and GPS, including good voice navigation. The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera can be used for video calls, but the phone comes with no video chat clients, so you will have to download an app from the Android Market for video calling. This is a little disturbing since the phone comes preloaded with apps. In fact, there are three pages of apps on the phone when it comes out of the box. These include apps like Kindle, Bitbop, Blockbuster, CityID, Guided Tours, Let’s Golf, My Verizon, Rock Band, ThinkFree Office, TuneWiki, VCast, and VZ Navigator. We liked the fact that there were apps already for us to try, but were aggravated because some of these apps couldn’t be removed. Once the phone is ours, we would like to have full control over which apps are installed.
Media streaming and web surfing on Verizon’s LTE 4G network were, as on the Thunderbolt, quite speedy. Verizon promises average download speeds of 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps, and it didn’t disappoint. The Droid Charge supports Flash, and web pages appeared quickly. Even though the screen is small, watching videos and movies on its brilliant display can be addictive. This device gives you access to the Samsung Media Hub where you can purchase hit movies and TV shows.
In today’s world of dual processors, we were surprised to find that the Droid Charge runs on a single core 1 GHz Hummingbird application processor. Perhaps that is the reason that we found some performance gaps. There were lag times that were quite disconcerting. For instance, when going back to the dial pad during a phone call, there was a perceptible delay. This was also noticeable when performing other tasks. While we experienced no lag time for average games like Angry Birds, really fast-paced games produced noticeable pauses.
The Droid Charge can also be used as a mobile hot spot. A 4G connection can be shared with up to 10 devices, and a 3G connection can be used for up to five devices. Using this feature requires a mobile broadband plan from Verizon, which currently costs USD 20 per month for up to 2 GB of data. Using this feature will also deplete the batte
ry quite quickly.
While we found that we could perform simultaneous voice and data functions on the HTC Thunderbolt whether connected to the 3G or 4G network, this was not true on the Droid Charge. Performing simultaneous voice and data tasks was only possible when connected to the 4G LTE network.
While all smartphones seem to struggle with battery life issues, you would think that a phone with a name like “Charge” might be immune to this problem. This, however, is not so. Battery life was slightly less than the Thunderbolt, barely getting us through a single day of average use. The most noticeable problem seemed to be that when not in use, the Charge discharged more quickly than most devices of this type.
The charge has an expansion slot that increases the storage capacity to 32 GB and the device comes with a 32 GB card pre-installed. This is a useful feature for storing movies, songs, and data.
The Android operating system on the Droid Charge makes using email easy. You can quickly setup Gmail, exchange accounts, or other POP 3 and IMAP accounts.
One thing that you will notice is that because of the screen, the Droid Charge, like other OLED devices displays email and other text with white letters on a black background, as shown in Figure 8. Using a black background on an OLED display produces less battery drain. This type of display was fine for us, but if you have any vision issues, you may want to take a look at the white-on-black display before you buy.
The Droid Charge has a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera as well as a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera, shown in Figure 9. It captures very good photos even in low light. Pictures were crisp and clear with very good color representation and little noise.
The on-screen camera controls, shown in Figure 10, are intuitive. Camera functionality includes autofocus camera with an LED flash as well as camera modes like Continuous Shooting, Panorama, Face Detection, and Smile Shot. The camera has autofocus and also has a useful touch focus feature.
The Droid Charge takes 720p videos at 30 fps. Like the photos, they are crisp and clear, and they also play back smoothly. We encountered a slight blurring when panning quickly, but overall, we were very pleased with the videos.
Videos can be played back with the preinstalled AllShare DLNA app or through the built-in HDMI port.
Like other Android devices, the focus is not on music, however, the Droid Charge is a capable music player. If you connect the phone to your computer with the USB cable, you can easily copy music (as well as other files) to the phone.
The Android Marketplace continues to grow, and there are now several apps that can help you handle your music.
[nextpage title=”TouchWiz Interface”]
The Droid Charge uses Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface, which runs on top of the Android operating system. Samsung has its own keyboard, and we really liked the fact that you can use Swype with this keyboard.
As with other Android phones, you get a total of seven home screens that you can customize with various widgets and shortcuts. You can pinch the screen to get a thumbnail view of all the pages, and you can even set any page you like as your home page, as shown in Figure 11.
Samsung also offers video tutorials right in the phone through a pre-installed app called “Guided Tours.” Newbies will find these useful. Some of them are shown in Figure 12.
The TouchWiz interface also adds several controls to the Android notification screen, which can be accessed by dragging it down from the top of the screen. Icons for these controls include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Mobile Data, and Auto Rotation. Again, newbies will find these useful. Power users might also like the Mobile Data control, which can be used to turn off the reception of email in real time which saves battery life.
The TouchWiz interface has a task manager that appears as an app. This can be used to see the running apps and to shut them down quickly. Samsung also has a functional copy and paste mode, but it is not available in all applications.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications of the Samsung Droid Charge cell phone include:
- Dimensions: 5.11 x 2.66 x 0.46 inches (130 x 68 x 12 mm)
- Weight: 5.04 oz (143 grams)
- Operating System: Android 2.2
- Network: LTE, CDMA/PCS/1xEVDO Rev. A (800/1900 MHz)
- Display: 4.3” touch screen 480×800 Super AMOLED Plus
- Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY keyboard with Swype
- Battery Life: up to 660 minutes usage time, up to 280 hours talk time
- Processor: 1 GHz Hummingbird application processor
- Memory: 2 GB on-board memory
- Memory Card: 32 GB microSD card pre-installed on device
- WiFi: IEEE 802.11b/g/n, mobile hotspot
- Bluetooth: 2.1 with EDR (3.0 when available)
- Cameras: 8-megapixel camera (rear), 1.3-megapixel camera (front)
- HDMI connectivity
- Carrier in the US: Verizon
- More information https://www.samsung.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 570, USD 300 with a two-year contract (USD 350 early termination fee), plus a data plan (USD 30/month minimum)
The Samsung Droid Charge has the best display that we’ve seen on a mobile phone. We found it even superior to the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. The screen is crisp and clear. Colors pop and details are a delight to the eye. Combine that with a good solid design, very good call quality, excellent cameras, and the speed of the Verizon 4G LTE network and this is definitely a smartphone worth considering.
The plastic casing may be a turn-off to some, but it does make the phone a little lighter than similarly-sized competitors. While we would prefer a vanilla Android experience, the TouchWiz interface has some good features.
The entire Droid Charge experience is marred only by a questionable battery life and the single core processor which does
produce some lags. When compared to the HTC Thunderbolt, the Thunderbolt bests the Droid Charge with slightly better battery life and better performance, plus a more quality build.
The USD 300 price tag is also a little high, since the Thunderbolt is currently selling for USD 250. If you decide to purchase a Droid Charge, you might want to check out retailers other than Verizon. As we write this, both Amazon and Wal-Mart are selling the Droid Charge online for less than Verizon’s price.
- Fast 4G data speeds
- Simultaneous voice and data in 4G
- Fantastic display screen
- Very good camera
- HDMI port
- Ample storage
- Instructional videos on phone
- Good virtual keyboard with Swype
- Plastic housing
- Fair battery life
- Performance lags
- Battery drains quickly in standby