Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy Indulge for metroPCS
We have our grubby little hands on the just-announced Galaxy Indulge, the first Android smartphone for metroPCS with LTE 4G. Check out our first impressions.
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The Samsung Galaxy Indulge is the first Android smartphone in the world with LTE 4G data on board. Others have been announced, but this will be the first such phone to actually hit store shelves when it becomes available later this week.
Android smartphones and 4G phones are both relatively new offerings for metroPCS, a company that previously focused exclusively on simple voice-centric phones, and never had a 3G network. metroPCS is known for its no-contract unlimited service plans, which are generally a great value. The one caveat of this arrangement is that you need to pay full price for your phone up front, which is one reason the carrier hasn't offered may high-end phones; most consumers aren't prepared to pay the full price of a decent smartphone, which can easily be $500 or more.
The Galaxy Indulge will retail for $399, which may sound steep for a phone with only a 3-megapixel camera, but keep in mind the low monthly service cost - since you're not paying for a phone subsidy each month - and you'll probably come out ahead compared to a similar phone on a larger carrier over two years. Also, the Galaxy Indulge doesn't totally skimp on features; you'll find a 1 GHz Hummingbird processor under the hood, for example.
The Indulge isn't tiny or thin, but it's actually a little lighter and thinner than we would have expected for an LTE phone with a sliding keyboard. It's a perfectly nice size, without a noticeable size trade-off for including LTE. Perhaps Samsung is a bit better at this LTE stuff than other manufacturers at the moment, since the Samsung was the thinnest and lightest of Verizon's first four LTE phones.
Verizon's LTE phones are all too-similar touch-slab devices, though, whereas the Indulge sports a slide-out keyboard. The keyboard is huge. The keys are very flat and flush; they look like a nightmare to use. But in real-world testing, they perform quite well. The keys are a bit flexible, and underneath each key is a nice bump in the center that's easy to feel, even though the key looks perfectly flat. The generous size of the keyboard helps, as well.
The keyboard layout sports a dedicated number row, but otherwise leaves much to be desired. You get a dedicated period key awkwardly located on the left edge, but absolutely no other punctuation or shortcut keys without pressing the Fn button. It's relatively easy to press the Fn key and type a question mark or apostrophe, but the comma, exclamation mark, @ symbol, and dash are all on the left side, near the Fn key, making them more cumbersome to type. But if you mainly text friends and can get away with skipping some punctuation, it's quite a decent keyboard for typing letters and numbers.
The medium-resolution screen is not going to impress anyone used to a high-end Android device, but it's worlds better than what you'll find on most feature phones. It will display most Android apps just fine. The touch response is good.
I'm happy to see four true physical buttons below the display instead of touch keys. I'm also very happy to see a dedicated (two-stage) camera button. These plus the volume and lock keys all work well.
The keyboard slides open and closed with confidence thanks to an excellent slide and spring. The overall build quality is solid. It's plastic and it feels like it, but perhaps a notch better than your average all-plastic phone. The rounded corners help it slide in and out of a pocket easily.
The interface is standard for Samsung. You get seven home screens, and a pinch gesture shows you thumbnails of all seven, so you can quickly jump to any one. The same four icons stay at the bottom of the screen through all home screens and the app menu. The app menu swipes side-to-side in pages like an iPhone. It's otherwise standard Android 2.2.1, though.
I was impressed with the overall speed of the phone, and especially impressed with the speed of web browsing using the 4G LTE network. It's extremely fast, beating Starbucks Wi-Fi even with a weak LTE signal. That's a pleasant surprise after the Craft, which disappointed on data speed.
Side note: metroPCS has a unique way of charging for data. At least one of their plans offers unlimited plain web browsing, but runs a meter and limits you to 1 GB when accessing multimedia content such as audio, video, and Adobe Flash. Keep that in mind as you indulge in the blazing browsing speeds offered by this phone.
The camera software is typical for Samsung; it's excellent. You get touch-to-focus, smile detection, panorama mode, scene modes, and quick access to brightness and other controls with just a touch or two. The camera takes about three seconds to start up, and can take a couple of seconds to focus (if you didn't focus first) but does capture photos in less than a second and is ready to take the next one right away.
Samsung also throws in their "AllShare" DLNA app for streaming video to your TV over Wi-Fi, etc. They also include a voice recorder and video player.
metroPCS has included a few of their own apps, such as a contact backup app and a Wi-Fi finder app. There's also their own email app in addition to the regular Android one and GMail. You'll see an icon for Metro411, but it's just a link to a mobile web service. "MetroWeb" is just the standard Android web browser, re-named... for some reason.
metroPCS includes two store apps in addition to the Android Market. AppStore features only apps from metroPCS and its partners. M Studio is a store for content such as ringers and ringback tones.
Overall, the Galaxy Indulge isn't quite a phone for power users, but it is a solid Android phone with no obvious flaws, and therefore a welcome addition to the metroPCS lineup. (Frankly, we wish Verizon's 4G lineup included an affordable model with a keyboard like this.) The keyboard is decent and the speed - between the processor and the 4G network - is indulgent, indeed.
We hope to bring you a full review soon, including our evaluation of camera quality and battery life.
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