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Review: Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G for MetroPCS

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Feb 4, 2012, 11:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung brings a mid-range Galaxy-class device to MetroPCS's network in the Attain 4G. This simpler smartphone packs some surprises, along with some disappointments.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

MetroPCS's latest LTE 4G smartphone is the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G. It lands in the middle of the food chain in MetroPCS's lineup, and offers a good mix of features for the price. Android fans that want a pre-paid phone should take a look at the Galaxy Attain 4G.

Body 

The Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G is a simple phone, yet manages to impress. Its appearance follows the trend of mixing black, silver, and textured surfaces to give it a classy and elegant look. It certainly isn't pushing any boundaries when it comes to looks, but it’s still a winsome device. Simple, yet refined.

The size of the Attain 4G makes it comfortable to hold and use. The materials don't feel top-of-the-line, but they don't feel cheap, either. The edges are all rounded, free of sharp angles, and I found the dimpled texture of the back surface appealing. It is nice and light, without feeling like it’s made of air. It is not super-duper thin, but it is thin enough. It will fit into most pockets with no problem.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Attain 4G's display measures 3.5 inches, and it is surrounded by a lot of bezel. The usual set of Android controls are close to the bottom edge, and are four physical buttons. The buttons have a nice, angled shape to them, and are very easy to find and use. Travel and feedback was quite satisfying.

The volume toggle, located on the left edge of the Attain, works perfectly. The button has a good profile, and offers satisfying feedback. The same can be said of the dedicated camera button, which is found on the lower right edge of the Attain. It’s a two-stage button, and both stages are well defined. Many of Samsung's recent phones don't include a camera button, so this is a nice feature to have.

Much to my delight, Samsung located the power/lock button on the top of the Attain, next to the 3.5mm headset jack. (Samsung typically places the power/lock button on the right edge of its Android phones.) The power button is a small, round thing, but has a good profile and the perfect amount of travel and feedback. The microUSB port is located on the bottom edge of the Attain.

The battery cover peels off easily with the help of your thumbnail. The microSD card slot is accessible without the need to remove the battery.

The Attain clearly chooses function over form, but Samsung manages to strike a good balance between the two. It's a good-looking phone that doesn't let the design get in the way of functionality.

The Three S's 

Screen

The Attain's screen measures 3.5 inches across the diagonal and offers a relatively pedestrian 480 x 320 pixels. The display looks good for the most part, though individual pixels are visible from time to time. It's not as stunning at the company's Super AMOLED displays, but it still does very well. As for brightness, it performs just fine inside, and loses only a little visibility under the glare of the sun.

Signal

Signal performance was a bit problematic. According to MetroPCS's coverage map, I have solid coverage where I live in NJ, but the Attain was never able to capture more than 2 bars of 1x network. I was still able to make and receive voice calls without problem, but the phone dropped calls frequently. It was disappointing that the Attain 4G had trouble even in areas with excellent MetroPCS coverage.

In the data side of things, I was able to bring the Attain to a spot where it found MetroPCS's LTE 4G network. Data speeds were nothing to get excited about, but they were markedly better than what the Attain could attain over 1x.

Sound

Call quality was not very good. First, I heard a lot of popping and noise during voice calls. Second, the earpiece volume is not nearly strong enough. It's far too easy to lose track of a conversation in a moving vehicle or room full of noisy kids. Poor quality plus weak earpiece is not the combination you want. Calls routed to the speakerphone were no better. The volume is severely lacking and the noise issues persisted. Ringers and alert tones can be set to decent levels, but you'll easily miss them if they are not set all the way up. The vibrate alert is plenty strong.

Battery

The Attain 4G has very good battery life. During my tests, it consistently lasted a day and a half between charges, though that was mostly when under 1x coverage and not LTE. That means you can unplug it on Monday after breakfast and go to about dinner time on Tuesday without a problem. The smaller display helps conserve battery, as does using in under 2.5G conditions. In the time that I tested it under LTE conditions, I didn't notice the battery drain faster.

Basics

Menus 

The Galaxy Attain 4G ships with Android 2.3.6 and a light user interface treatment from Samsung.

The overall appearance of the menus is near-to stock Android. There are seven home screen panels for customization and plenty of MetroPCS widgets and apps plastered on them. The main app menu is a grid that slides left and right rather than up and down. Samsung has given the app icons the "Samsung look." The default view is an alphabetized grid, though the grid can be rearranged or shifted into a list view.

The settings are standard for an Android device and allow users to make a wide range of adjustments to the Attain 4G's behavior.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls/Contacts 

Calls

The Attain 4G uses the stock Google calling and contacts applications. From the home screen, press the phone icon and the dialer pops open, plus the usual options. The Attain offers haptic feedback when you dial numbers on the touch display. Call features include mute, speakerphone, add a line, etc.

Contacts

The Attain 4G will import all of your Google and Exchange contacts if you have them. Adding Facebook friends is optional. Contacts can hold innumerable phone numbers, email addresses, notes, and so on. The Attain doesn't have any nifty contacts or calling widgets for the home screen; only the stock tools are available.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

The Attain 4G runs all of the stock Android 2.3.6 messaging applications, and doesn't offer anything new or unique.

It has the generic email app for POP/IMAP/Exchange email, and the dedicated Gmail application for Google users. Both of these applications are capable and time-tested.

The stock SMS/MMS app is loaded on the Attain 4G, and I didn't notice any different or unusual behavior with it. It offers threaded conversations, as always.

As for IM, the Attain 4G has Google Talk on board, and a MetroPCS-branded IM catch-all app that covers AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live, Yahoo, etc. The native Google Talk client or something else that you find in the Android Market are your best bets, as the MetroPCS IM app is crashy and very, very slow.

On the social networking front, the Attain defaults to the same MetroPCS IM app, as it also supports Facebook and Twitter messaging. I'd highly recommend you skip this app entirely and download the native Facebook and Twitter apps. They offer a much richer experience than the generic app.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Media 

Music

The Attain 4G uses the new Google Music media player. It has a richer feature set than the older stock player and lets you stream music that you've stored on Google's servers. I found the music streaming service didn't work at all when under 1x coverage. It did work under LTE coverage.

The Attain 4G also ships with the Rhapsody music service on board, which lets you stream music to the device for a monthly fee.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Attain 4G has minimal video play-back features. Only the stock Android video player and YouTube player are on board out of the box. I found that the Attain 4G handled side-loaded content (movies that I placed on the microSD card) just fine.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera 

Camera

The Attain 4G runs a Samsung camera application rather than the stock tools. On the right are the standard controls. On the left, you'll see an extra control strip for adjusting the flash, exposure, switching to the user-facing camera, or accessing the full menus.

The full settings tools let you take a fair amount of control over the behavior of the Attain's camera. There are six different shooting modes (smile shot, action shot, cartoon, panorama, etc.); 14 different scene modes (sunset, sports, candlelight, etc.); as well as items such as timer, white balance, effects, and metering.

Press either the software or physical shutter button and the Attain takes about a second to focus before snapping the picture. The Attain includes touch-to-focus, but it's awkward to use. You press the subject you want to be in focus, and the camera focuses. Then you have to shoot the picture quickly by pressing either shutter button. If you're not fast enough, the focus re-adjusts back to the center of the screen. Weird.

Rather than offer a review screen, the Attain 4G takes you right back to the viewfinder. Reviewing images is only possible in the gallery, though you can see a teeny thumbnail of your most recent picture at the top of the screen.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Gallery

The gallery is the stock Android option. Photo albums float in stacks in the main gallery view, and you can sift through them in the chronological timeline in which they are arranged. It has a neat 3D look and feel to it. It also taps into your Picasa/Google+ accounts and will show you the photos you've published online, too.

Editing options are severely limited. Crop and rotate are all you get. Sharing options are solid, and incorporate all the social networking apps on board the Attain 4G, in addition to Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, SMS, Gmail and Bluetooth.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Photos/Video 

Photos

The Attain 4G has a 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash. It performed really, really well. The vast bulk of images I captured were in focus, had accurate white balance and color, were free of grain and other digital noise, and just plain looked good. The Attain outperformed some 5- and 8-megapixel camera phones on the market that I've tested in recent months. Truly impressive. Worth sharing? Absolutely. Well done, Samsung.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The highest video quality that the Attain 4G can capture is 720 x 480 resolution. I was very impressed with the video quality. There was definitely some grain present, but by and large the video looked very good. Shooting outdoors in sunlight produces the best results, but even in a well-lit room, you'll be satisfied with what you get. You'll be happy to share your best results on YouTube, no doubt.

Browse/Customize 

Browser

The Attain ships with the stock Android browser, as well as some MetroPCS-branded web tools (MetroWeb, etc.). The stock Android browser is a known entity. It works well, though it suffered due to the Attain 4G's signal problems. It was nearly unusable when under 1X coverage thanks to the poor radio performance. I often had to resort to using Wi-Fi. Browsing speeds were much better under LTE coverage, but not as fast as what's available from AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

The Attain 4G can be customized as much as any other Android smartphone. As mentioned, there are seven home screen panels, plenty of widgets, and the app menu can be arranged to your liking.

Extras 

Apps

The Attain 4G is stuffed full of MetroPCS applications. Some include: M Studio, MetroNavigation, Metro411, MetroWeb, MyMetro, and VirtualCard. Some of these can be deleted, some cannot. There's still enough space left on the Attain for you to download your own applications.

Bluetooth

The Attain 4G supports mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. I had no trouble pairing with either. Sound quality through mono headphones made using them nearly worthless. I mean, with the phone all the way up and the headset all the way up, you might be able to hear conversations, but I doubt it. Calls routed through my car were also terrible. The Attain also connects with computers and/or other phones for pushing files around.

Clock

The Attain 4G offers the standard Android clock on the lock screen, which is visible when the device is first woken from sleep. It’s a nice, large digital read-out that's easily visible everywhere except under direct sunlight. It can't be customized, though.

GPS

The Attain 4G includes Google Maps and MetroNavigation. Google Maps and its Navigation and Places features make for a powerful set of tools when it comes to routing directions and discovering nearby points of interest. The trifecta of these applications means there's no excuse to get lost nor to find a great place for dinner. Of course, its effectiveness is dependent on a strong network connection. The Attain 4G's GPS radio performed very well in most circumstances, and was able to pinpoint my location to within 15-25 feet most of the time.

Wrap-Up 

The Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G is a decent little phone. It does most things well, though it stumbles badly in a couple of places. The hardware works very well and still manages to look modern. The screen is good and battery life is even better.

The Attain 4G offers a good software experience with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, has just as many tools as today's leading devices, and delivers great images and video from the camera.

However, I have serious concerns about the Attain 4G's network performance. Even under strong coverage, the device had a hard time connecting to and using the network properly. Voice quality was terrible, and the Attain was prone to dropping calls more often than any other phone I've tested in recent memory.

If your a fan of pre-paid services and have solid MetroPCS coverage where you live, the Attain 4G could be worth considering if you're a heavy data user and don't care much for voice performance, but I'd only buy this device if MetroPCS's LTE network is available in your area.

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Subject Author Date
From the "we don't give a crap" dept. bluecoyote Feb 4, 2012, 8:30 PM
Call quality MarryTheNight Feb 4, 2012, 12:28 PM
 
 
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