Review: Samsung Craft
Sep 30, 2010, 9:43 AM by Philip Berne
The Samsung Craft is the first LTE phone on the U.S. market, available on Metro PCS. Is it the herald of great things to come?
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The Samsung Craft is the first LTE phone in the country, available on MetroPCS’ burgeoning LTE network. It may use the latest networking technology, but this is no smartphone. Instead, the Craft is looking to entice MetroPCS fans to upgrade to a faster model. Is the contract-free carrier missing the boat with this QWERTY slider?
If I handed you the Samsung Craft and didn’t tell you it was the first LTE phone on the market, you might think it was a feature phone from a couple years ago. It’s thick, but only slightly thicker than the Samsung Epic 4G, so it’s not too far behind the curve. The phone is entirely plastic, but it has a solid, sturdy feel to it. Samsung also throws in some of the red gradient effect found on their Touch of Color TV lineup, which looks great on the Craft’s battery cover.
The front of the phone bears the 3.3-inch, AMOLED touchscreen. Just beneath the screen are three hardware buttons: Send, End and Back. I’m glad MetroPCS went for hardware buttons, I’m not a fan of capacitive touch buttons on Samsung’s phones. On the right side of the phone you’ll find the camera key, the microUSB port and the screen lock key. It bugged me that the End key, which doubles as a power button, wouldn’t wake up the phone. The only way to bring the phone to life is to press the lock key, which only brings you to the lock screen. Then you have to press the key again. That seems like one press too many, and to make things worse, the lock key was often unresponsive, until I jabbed at it numerous times.
Up top there’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. On the left side, you’ll find the microSD card slot behind a port cover. There’s also a volume rocker, nicely raised and very curvy so it’s easy to find without looking. There’s also a voice dialing key, which is always a welcome shortcut. Overall, the exterior is well appointed and I couldn’t ask for more useful buttons.
The keyboard slides open with a strong snap, revealing the 4 row QWERTY beneath. Numbers get their own row up top, though that top row is a bit close to the upper part of the slide, so I stuck with the onscreen keypad for dialing numbers. There’s also a set of arrow keys in an inverted-T layout. No punctuation marks get their own key. That made for a bit of a learning curve as I hunted down the necessary symbols in my first few hours of use. Also, the Z key is stuck far to the left. It looks almost out of alignment, it’s pushed so far over.
Otherwise, typing on the keyboard was very pleasant. The keys are quite flat, but nicely spaced with a ridge between each key, so typos were kept to a minimum. I wish there were more punctuation keys (or any at all) and some shortcuts, for the @ symbol or maybe a .com key, perhaps. The only shortcut involves pressing the Fn key, then the Shift key to create a new text message. Sure, that’s nice, but it doesn’t save much time over tapping the screen.
The screen on the Samsung Craft is definitely the phone’s standout feature. The 3.3-inch, AMOLED display is colorful and bright, though it’s not as bright with colors or dark with inky blacks as the Super AMOLED displays on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S phones. In any case, text is completely legible, even at small sizes, thanks to the generous 800 x 480 pixel resolution. Pictures look crisp and sharp. The phone does lose much of its dazzle outdoors, where the display fades considerably. I was still able to read the display in bright sunlight, but it helped when I was standing in a shady spot.
Call quality on the Samsung Craft was not very good. Voices came through with a slightly muffled, digital effect. The Craft uses the older CDMA 1x network for voice, and it sounds like a phone using an old network. On their end, my callers reported some static and even some clipping where my voice would drop out completely for a moment, but this was not common.
The Craft does have a good speakerphone. It’s loud enough for a moving car, and ringtones also played loudly. I had no trouble hearing the phone ring across the house. With the sound off, the vibration was a bit weak, and could use a little pick-me-up.
One complaint I had is that the volume rocker keys only work from the main, three-panel homescreen. If you’re in any app or browsing any other menu, the volume keys don’t do squat. Oh, actually they make a beeping noise, but that beep remains at a constant volume, whether you’re pressing up or down.
I received my Samsung Craft review unit before the announcement that Dallas would get LTE service, so imagine my surprise when I found the 4G icon in the notification bar. Even more surprising? LTE coverage is fantastic. MetroPCS says they tried to launch with about 80% coverage, and in my travels around the greater Dallas metroplex (a large area), I never had trouble finding a 4G signal. Compared to Sprint 4G and Clear WiMAX devices I’ve tested (which both use the same WiMAX network), MetroPCS has come out swinging with a very impressive early network. Of course, they only launched in two cities so far, but who’s counting?
Performance was another issue, but not a complete disappointment. The MetroPCS LTE network performed like it was last year’s model. It kept pace with phones I have running on Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO network. In a straight download test, my Google Nexus One, running at 7.2Mbps on T-Mobile’s HSPA network, bested the Samsung Craft handily. But in a side-by-side browser test (which you can see in my hands-on video), the two ran neck-in-neck.
In the speedtests I ran, download times usually hovered around 1.2Mbps. In the same spots, my Google Nexus One running on T-Mobile’s HSDPA network often doubled those speeds, and sometimes ran even faster. Right now, MetroPCS’ LTE network is performing like a low-end 3G network. Of course, Metro skipped 3G altogether, leaping directly from 1xRTT to LTE in a single bound, so these speeds should still dazzle current MetroPCS customers.
The bottom line is that MetroPCS’ LTE network hasn’t reached the super fast speeds that LTE promises, but it is a stable network and it works without hesitation. There were no delays in load times and I never lost my data connection. The Craft was always able to connect to the network without delay, and the 4G network never disappeared from the notification bar. I’ll be very curious to see how smartphones perform, especially when MetroPCS launches a phone with tethered support.
I did have some trouble making phone calls. On the 1x network for calling, the Samsung Craft occasionally failed to place calls. I got a variety of error messages from the phone. I would say less than 1 in 10 calls failed to go through, but it was enough that I noticed. Text messages and incoming calls seemed to have no such trouble finding their destination.
Battery life on the Samsung Craft is pretty awful. I started testing the phone early in the morning, focusing primarily on multimedia features and calling, and the phone was dead by lunch. Even in a more realistic, mixed-use situation, the Samsung Craft did not last all day. Worse yet, in my tests I never used Wi-Fi and I only barely used GPS. This phone deserves more than a warning to charge it during the day. You might actually need an extra battery if you’re going to be taxing that LTE network on a regular basis.
The Samsung Craft uses a capacitive touch screen, but it feels like a resistive display, it was so unresponsive to the touch. There is a noticeable delay scrolling through the home screens, then another delay as the phone takes time to draw the TouchWIZ widget icons on the screen. In the simpler settings menus, the phone could be more responsive, but it was never on par with a good modern smartphone.
I have never been a fan of the TouchWIZ interface that Samsung uses on the Samsung Craft. The interface relies on a drawer full of widgets that you drop onto one of the three panels of the main home screen. It gets cluttered easily, and even if you do manage to arrange the widgets neatly, they simply don’t offer many interesting features or shortcuts.
The Main Menu screens are little help. The two menu screens offer an icon grid with 12 items on each page. The first page is completely dominated by “Metro” branded apps, to the point that it’s almost funny. Eight of the twelve apps have “Metro” in the name, and it’s hard to remember which leads to what service. If I want to check Metro’s custom-built social networking app, is that “mail@metro,” “metroSTUDIO,” “myMetro,” or “@metro?” Actually, that’s a trick question. The app is called “IM and Social,” (no metro?) and it gets its own menu item.
On the next page, you get more useful stuff, but some of these items seem to repeat themselves. For instance, “metroSTUDIO” offers downloadable movie clips and access to your multimedia library. So why is there a “Multimedia” option on page 2? Why a separate music player icon, and another for YouTube? There is a menu for “Tools,” and another for “Widgets,” even though many of the widgets are just like the small apps offered under Tools.
Open the keyboard in landscape mode and things change just a bit. Now, where the widget drawer used to be, you get a smaller selection of apps that you can’t drag or change. You get the Web browser, music player, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth menu. I almost thought my TouchWIZ widgets had disappeared, until I noticed the tiny tab sticking up from the bottom of the screen. That’s where the widgets hide in landscape mode.
Making calls with the Samsung Craft is easy enough. A button for the Dialer and another for the Contacts list persist at the bottom of the home screen. If you want to dial from the call log, press the Send key to open your call history.
Once you’re in a call, the phone presents an easy calling screen with large, touch friendly buttons. You can activate the speaker, send the call to a Bluetooth headset, or mute the call. There is no hold button. You can also send a text message or scribble a memo by tapping buttons on the call screen. There’s an End Call button, but that seems redundant with a dedicated End key just below the screen.
You can make conference calls with the Samsung Craft, and though the process is simple, the phone offers no visual aid to help manage two calls at once. The phone also features voice dialing from Nuance, and the voice commands feature worked very well in my tests.
The Craft comes with a basic assortment of messaging options. You get a very simple text messaging app. It does not use the threaded, conversational style of message display that I prefer; it presents messages one at a time. You can send picture messages from the phone, but you have to choose MMS messaging in advance if you want to attach a picture, because there is no attachment option once you start writing a text message.
The phone also comes with the mail@metro email app, which looks nice but doesn’t function very well. The inbox displays only the sender’s name. It doesn’t give you the subject message until you open the email, let alone a few words from the email itself. The app cannot display HTML email, either, which is a shame on a phone with such a robust data connection.
The email app also offers some bare-bones support for email contacts. You can see the names and addresses of contacts you’ve emailed recently, but not your entire online address book.
The phone can be inconsistent with scrolling, and this came out in the messaging features. On the main menu screen, dragging your finger down moves the text down, following your finger. On the email inbox screen, your finger controls a selector that you can drag down to highlight the message you want to read. On the message itself, your finger controls the scroll bar on the side. Move your finger down, the scroll bar moves down and the text moves up. It’s all quite counterintuitive, and lazy design.
The Samsung Craft ties social networking and IM together in one application. “IM and Social” offers support for AIM, Yahoo and Windows Live for instant messaging. These all worked fine. The interface didn’t look great, but messages always went through with no trouble. I wish there was more support, though. I’d like to see Google Talk support, and as long as the same app deals with Facebook and MySpace, chat support for those networks would have been a great addition.
For social networks, IM and Social can help with Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The app offers better than average support for these networks, but it can be difficult to manage. You can read status updates on Facebook, and leave comments or even “Like” a Facebook wall post. You can post your own updates and even upload pictures directly from the app.
For Twitter, you can check your feed, post an update or read direct messages. You can post pictures and even search Twitter for anything you like. The app still lacks plenty of features. Notably, you can’t see trending topics, and I couldn’t figure out how to send a DM instead of a public @reply.
The IM and Social app is very difficult to manage by touch. The status feeds and the tabbed menus at the top of the app all felt very sticky. I would drag my status feed down, and it would bounce back into place, making it impossible to progress and read further into my feed. With the tabs, the Craft would only let me drag the tabs some of the way left or right to see the options hidden on either side. I had to open the keyboard and use the arrow keys instead to read Facebook notifications, for instance.
Even though it is difficult to control, for a feature phone, the IM and Social app offers more features and a better interface than the similar apps I’ve seen on recent AT&T and Verizon Wireless phones. It’s unfortunately necessary, too, because the phone’s Web browser does a poor job handling the touch friendly versions of the popular social sites.
The Samsung Craft should be a multimedia powerhouse, especially with streaming and downloadable content that takes advantage of the LTE network. Instead, it’s a sad also-ran device that doesn’t offer any compelling content, and completely fails in some important areas.
For music, MetroPCS offers an over-the-air music store. I tried downloading songs and ran into repeated errors. Worst of all, every time I got an error message, the phone charged me for a song download anyway, with no way to recover my track after the download was cancelled half way. If this weren’t a loaner unit, I’m sure I’d be on the phone with customer support trying to recover my lost cash.
I did manage to download one song successfully, but I was not able to play it. The music player on board did not see the song, even though it did appear in my music library. So, until these bugs are worked out, avoid the music store and sideload your own tracks.
Of course, you’ll need a microSD card. Humorously, MetroPCS includes a 2GB card with the Craft, but fills it completely with a copy of J.J. Abrams recent “Star Trek” movie. The card is actually locked, so you can’t write to it or erase the movie. In other words, the Craft doesn’t actually come with a microSD card, it just comes with a copy of “Star Trek.” You can copy the movie to your own hard drive, but you can’t delete it. You just need to buy a new card.
MetroPCS also includes a streaming video service filled with snack sized video clips. You can’t piece together a complete episode of any show, but there is enough to ruin the episode of “The Event” that you have sitting on your DVR (trust me, I know). Frankly, this service is an embarrassment. The content is awful. Nobody wants to watch 3 minute bursts of television shows. The quality is terrible. Videos playback very choppy, with a framerate hovering below 10 fps, I’d guess. It can’t compare to any of the competition, from AT&T and Verizon’s MediaFLO mobile TV service features to Hulu or Netflix apps on other smartphones like the iPhone.
I expected much more from the first LTE phone, and I think MetroPCS needed to provide some content to justify using the faster network. But it’s clear that there is no better content available on this carrier, and the phone’s performance, whether it’s a network issue or a hardware problem, isn’t up to snuff for true video and multimedia fans.
Samsung gives the Craft a great camera interface that is very touch friendly and easy to use. You can dig through a couple short menus, but all of the best options, like exposure controls, scene modes and macro focus, are all up front and easy to find. The camera button works in two stages so you can auto focus first, then fire your shot.
Getting to the camera can be tricky. You can only press the camera button from the homescreen. Like the volume controls, the camera button has no effect elsewhere. Once you’ve snapped a picture, you can review your shot, but the camera button does not take you back to shooting more pics. Again, the camera button is useless, and you have to press the “Save” button hidden in the lower corner on screen. This seems unnecessarily difficult.
Camera performance was fine. The camera came to life fairly quickly, and fired off shots without any annoying lag time.
The image gallery on the Samsung Craft is a bit of a mess. First, there’s no gallery app, you have to dig into the Multimedia menu. Once you have your pics onscreen, you can view them as a list, a grid of thumbnails, or as a staggered tree of images that you can manipulate, very slowly, with your finger.
Tap an image to see it fullscreen. Images look fantastic on the Craft’s AMOLED display. Colors are vibrant and details are sharp, at least as much as you can see fitting your image into the window space. There is apparently a zoom option for the gallery that involves tapping and dragging a single finger but it never worked for me in my tests. Tapping an image rotates it to landscape and removes the details and the onscreen buttons. This would be a fine phone for passing around and sharing images, as long as you don’t need a close look.
The phone also includes some basic editing tools. There are a number of color filters, some of which are obvious, like greyscale and sepia, and some of which are enigmatic, like “Cinema-Normal” and “Soft-Glamorous” (as opposed to the “Soft-Elegant” or “Soft-Charismatic” options). You can crop and rotate pics, and you can combine two pictures into one double exposed image, which might be a neat trick. But there are no more advanced editing tools.
From the phone, you can upload images to the MetroPCS Communities site. You can also send pictures as MMS messages, or transfer the files via Bluetooth. The phone makes it easy to move images around to and from the memory card and internal memory, but there are no advanced uploading options from the gallery itself.
Image quality was actually not bad for a 3.2 megapixel camera. I was expecting much worse, but I was pleasantly surprised by the photos the Samsung Craft took in my test run. Colors were bright and mostly accurate, except for a few bright red flowers that blew out the sensor and bled into their surroundings. The camera couldn’t handle mixed light very well, so backlit spots outdoors tend to shine brightly and overshadow the borders between fore- and background.
Indoors, there was plenty of noise, but it was kept mostly in check to the point it looked like a pleasant film grain rather than speckled color noise. The phone even did a respectable job with the flash, rendering my action figures with accurate colors instead of washing them in harsh blue light.
The Samsung Craft can shoot videos up to VGA resolution. The video camera is a mixed bag. My videos looked pretty good, and again the camera did a fine job with colors. The camcorder even handled the switch from indoor to outdoor light better than I expected. Motion was a problem, and you might get sea sick watching feature length home movies shot with the Craft. One serious problem: the camcorder did not record any sound. All of my movies were silent. There was no setting to fix this issue, so I’m assuming it was a bug and hoping it will be fixed.
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 4.8 MB
Without a doubt, the Web browser on the Samsung Craft is the biggest disappointment on the entire device. Samsung has delivered a Polaris browser on this phone, instead of including a more advanced and capable Opera Mini browser, as I’ve seen on plenty of other TouchWIZ phones. The Polaris browser can barely handle mobile Web pages, and mobile pages are most of what you’ll see. Some of my favorite sites like CNN or the New York Times refused to display their full desktop version on this phone. Other sites that are more friendly to mobile phones, like the Google Reader touch site or the touch.Facebook.com site, did not render properly on this device, and so they lacked the cool design and features you’ll find when you view them on any modern smartphone.
The browser was also difficult to navigate by touch. There is no zoom option. You can double tap to zoom once, then again to zoom in further, but if that’s not enough (and it often was not enough), you have to peck and pray. I tapped incorrectly so many times on tiny little links that I stopped visiting many sites altogether with the Craft.
I don’t understand how this phone could have left the stable without a proper Web browser on board. Even a good mobile browser like Opera Mini would have been a dramatic improvement. Why bother with an LTE phone at all if you can’t provide a solid Web browsing experience. MetroPCS reps tried to justify their choice and explained that some sites, like YouTube, looked great and performed well in the Polaris browser with Flash Lite enabled. Sorry, that was simply not my experience. Every site I viewed looked worse on this browser, and many simply did not load properly at all.
The TouchWIZ interface does provide some customization options, but not as many as you might think. The selection of widgets for the TouchWIZ homescreens are quite limited, and many aren’t actually functioning widgets, but rather Web links or other shortcuts. You can customize the wallpaper on the three homescreen panels, but that’s it. You can’t rearrange the Main Menu screens, and there is no way to change the overall theme of the phone, including the font or color choices.
Pairing the Samsung Craft with my Bluetooth devices was no trouble. I linked the phone to my Bluetooth headset easily. Sound quality wasn’t great; the headset cut in and out a lot during my conversation, especially as I moved the devices about. But when I was still, it worked better. The phone also paired with my Bluetooth stereo speakers, and these worked much better, as they usually do. I was also able to send image files to my Macbook Pro over Bluetooth.
The Craft offers a big digital clock on the lock screen. The screen lock button can be unresponsive when waking the phone, so checking the time might not be quick, but it will be easy. Once you unlock the screen, there is no clock in the notification bar, but Samsung offers a few clock designs as a TouchWIZ widget, including a dual-time world clock. Unlike on Android phones, though, you can’t duplicate this widget across multiple homescreens. One clock is all you get.
Turn-by-turn navigation service comes from MetroNavigator, which is actually a Gokivo app, which is actually built by Networks In Motion, who make Verizon’s VZ Navigator. The app works well enough, but it could be difficult to control. The maps were not very touch friendly, and the input fields could be somewhat small, which made for difficult text entry considering the phone’s unresponsive touchscreen. Still, once all that was settled, the phone found my location quickly, and it tracked me through my journey in and around the city. The GPS app also offers some cool extras, like local movie times, local events, and a list of local MetroPCS stores. That last seems somewhat silly, and you can replace it with a number of options, including local gas prices, which seems more useful.
The Samsung Craft is a phone for a museum. It should be displayed on a shelf with a placard that reads “First LTE Handset” and a sign that warns visitors not to touch. Besides its briefly unique status, there is little else to recommend this phone. The features that should best take advantage of the new, supposedly faster network technology completely fall flat. The multimedia features aren’t worth a second look, and the Web browser would be more appropriate on a 1x phone like the Samsung Caliber, not an advanced phone like this one.
Even the basics fall flat. Call quality was unimpressive. Battery life was almost frightening, even without power-hungry features like Wi-Fi and GPS turned on. Messaging features ranged from an SMS app behind the times to a social networking app that was very difficult to control by touch.
If you are a MetroPCS fan for life and you’ve been stuck with a slower 1x phone, the Samsung Craft will undoubtedly impress. In talks with MetroPCS reps, it’s clear existing customers are the target audience for this phone. The Craft offers faster networking, plus the QWERTY slider form factor, which is uncommon on MetroPCS, and other new technologies like the great AMOLED display.
Unfortunately for MetroPCS, other prepaid carriers, like Cricket and Virgin Mobile, are offering Android phones for less than the launch price of the Samsung Craft, and the LTE network hasn’t yet proven it’s worth over EV-DO, let alone newer networks like T-Mobile’s HSPA+ and Sprint’s WiMAX.
In other words, this might be an interesting phone to look at, but I would not buy one. Let’s see what else MetroPCS has up their sleeves.
Thanks for the review
metropcs is still trying things and I think they are going to stick around, not because of gimmicks but because they are actually trying to be competitive.
Even if the Craft is short, its just a stepping stone on a long long path... to infiniti and beyond
After talking with MetroPCS
First, MetroPCS isn't focused on new customers with this phone. They seem to be thinking about their existing base. They imagine folks who already bought the Samsung TouchWIZ 1xRTT folks they offered will be thrilled with this phone. It's got faster networking and the fantastic AMOLED display. Those customers won't mind the interface.
Second, LTE is MetroPCS' 3G. Their network performance is disappointing if you've used T-Mobile's HSPA+, Clear's WiMAX or even AT&T's and Verizon Wireless' networks on a very good day. But if you've been using 1xRTT for the last couple years, it isn't so bad.
Third, this is the most expensive phon...