Review: Samsung Continuum
Article Comments 3
Nov 18, 2010, 10:51 AM by Philip Berne
The Samsung Continuum takes the winning Galaxy S formula and adds a slim display at the bottom of the phone. Does it prove useful, or is it time to reformulate?
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Is It Your Type?
Is It Your Type?
Samsung tries something new with the Continuum. Up top, it's a full-fledged Galaxy S phone. On the bottom you get a news ticker that displays weather, incoming emails and social messages, and even news from from your favorite Web sites. It's an innovative new concept, and a closer look tells if two screens are better than one.
Though it's part of Samsung's Galaxy S family, the Samsung Continuum is not simply a Samsung Fascinate with an extra screen on the bottom. It's actually a more narrow device, about a quarter inch slimmer than the Fascinate, but it's a hair thicker, too. The screen is smaller. The Continuum uses a 3.4-inch touchscreen, while the larger Galaxy S phones use a 4-inch display, though both push the same 800 by 480 pixels. Directly beneath the screen is a strip of four standard Android buttons: Menu, Home, Back, and Search. These are capacitive touch buttons. Beneath that strip is the ticker, a thin AMOLED display that is just under 2-inches long and less than a half-inch tall. Otherwise, the Continuum and the Fascinate are identical, inside and out, with the same processor, the same networking capabilities and the same interface design on top of Android 2.1.
All of the buttons around the rim of the Samsung Continuum are nicely raised, and most have a thin metal accent strip that makes them easy to find with your fingertips. On the left side you get a volume rocker switch, and an exposed micro-USB port. No cool sliding port cover for this phone, unfortunately. On the right is a nice two-stage camera button. It was very easy to find the halfway point for auto focus, then press all the way to take my shot. The microSD slot is on the right side, with a very flimsy cover. I could easily imagine accidentally breaking that cover off within a few months of buying the phone. Up top is the power / screen lock key, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone port.
There are squeeze sensors built into the sides of the phone, and when you squeeze the phone the ticker display at the bottom lights up. Well, it usually lights up. Nine times out of ten squeezing worked, but a few times I had to squeeze repeatedly to light up the display.
The phone is very slim and tall, but well-rounded at every corner. Even though it's covered in glossy plastic, it felt solid and classy all around. It was easy to slip into a tight pair of jeans, thanks to the smooth, rounded edges. The phone weighs in at 4.25 ounces (lighter than Samsung claims), so it wasn't a burden to carry.
The Three S's
Samsung's super-AMOLED displays are the best screens you can find on a smartphone today. The display is dazzling and rich in detail. The extreme contrast produces black backgrounds that are inky and deep, with colors that pop off the screen. The screen did fade a bit outside on a sunny day, but it was still easy to read even under a harsh glare. Because the 3.4-inch screen on the Continuum uses the same number of pixels as the 4-inch screen on the Fascinate, it has a higher pixel density, which makes the screen look even sharper. Indeed, I had to hold the phone very close to my face to see any jagged edges in rounded shapes, and text looked fantastic.
Sound quality during calls on the Samsung Continuum was mostly good. I heard occasional static crackling in the background, but voices were usually clear. When reception dipped, callers could have a slightly digitized sound to their voices. The overall tone was a bit warm and bass heavy, but not unpleasant. Callers reported fine sound quality, with no static problems on their end. The ringer on the phone could use a volume boost. It was loud enough to hear from another room in the house, but tucked into a crowded pants pocket, I couldn't hear the ringing over the din of my local shopping mall.
The Samsung Continuum maintained a steady connection to Verizon Wireless' 3G network, but the connection could be slow at times. When bars dipped low, I heard more sound problems during calls. In general, data speeds were never very impressive. My speed test scores were usually well below the 1Mbps mark, and Web pages loaded slower on the Continuum's browser than on any other Verizon Wireless smartphone I have on hand, like the Motorola Droid Pro.
Battery life on the Samsung Continuum wasn't great. When I left the ticker constantly updating with social networking messages, the phone would run out of battery life right after lunch time. Turning off most of those updates, especially Twitter and Facebook, helped cut down on the drain, but there is no doubt the ticker takes its toll on the phone, even with the large, 1500 mAh battery inside. Of course, if you rely on the ticker more, and don't turn the screen on at every new message, you'll save some battery time, but you'll want to keep a charger handy at work just in case the phone dies before your ride home.
Touch response on the Continuum was very good. There was occasionally some lag swiping between the seven homescreen panels, especially when they were filled with active widgets. I saw no touch delay whatsoever browsing the main menus, or flicking through Web pages. The ticker at the bottom is also touch sensitive, and it worked very well. You can swipe the ticker left or right to see the various information it can display, and tap on story headlines or message notifications to read more. The ticker always reacted quickly in these situations.
For the most part, the Samsung Continuum uses the exact same interface design as the Samsung Fascinate, with all of Samsung's brightly colored widgets and app icons in place. The interface might be too cheery for some folks, but I think the bright colors really show off the sAMOLED display.
The ticker at the bottom is a thin strip of sAMOLED display. You can cycle between three or four different features, depending on whether you're playing music, by swiping the ticker left or right. First you'll see the time and date, with a little icon that indicates your local weather (sun, clouds, etc). Swipe that away to get to message notifications, where the ticker will indicate how many texts, voicemails, emails, missed calls or IM chat messages you've received. If you tap on the indicator, you're taken directly to that feature so you can jump to your new email messages quickly.
The ticker also offers a constantly updating feed. It can display new tweets from Twitter, not just direct messages or @ mentions. It will show status updates from Facebook, or new text messages. You can also get RSS updates from the ticker, either from a list of preset RSS feeds, or you can add your own RSS feed addresses. The display has a high enough resolution that it can show you quite a bit of the incoming message, which gives you a good idea if you want to click through to read more.
At the far right of the ticker there is a window button. Press that button and you get a complete look at all of your incoming feeds. Or you can pick one of the tabs up top to only view social networking service messages, incoming RSS articles or just text messages.
My attitude about the ticker was neutral at first; when I saw it I thought "okay, why not?" But I wonder if the ticker causes other problems on the phone. The Continuum has the same processor as the Fascinate, but here it's driving a second display, and constantly updating your feeds while it's performing other tasks. From the start, I felt the hit to the Continuum's performance, and the phone reacted much more slowly to opening and closing apps, or switching between tasks, than other Galaxy S phones.
Graphically intense games and Flash playback in the browser were also sub-par, compared to the rest of the Galaxy family. Using Android benchmark software, the Continuum achieved half the score of other modern smartphones, like the fast new myTouch 4G, and a much lower score than similarly spec'd phones. Some hardcore games wouldn't even play on this device, even though they loaded properly on other Galaxy S phones.
I definitely found the ticker useful. I would turn off the steady stream of Twitter messages if you follow an active group of tweeters. But with only a few RSS feeds loaded and incoming messages displayed, I often found myself squeezing the phone to check the ticker when I normally might have unlocked the screen and opened separate apps. I also liked being able to jump right into my incoming messages or voicemails.
My biggest concern about the ticker is that I worry Samsung won't offer new features for the little bar, or follow through on its offer to share the APIs with other developers. Since it only appears on one device, Samsung might not have the motivation to constantly improve it, but I think there's a lot of untapped potential in that little screen.
The Galaxy S lock screen is a bit silly. You drag a puzzle piece into place to open the screen. When you have a new message, a second puzzle piece appears with your message count, and dragging it into place takes you directly to the messaging app. But other Android phones let you mute the sound from the lock screen, which is a nice feature. Also, the lock screen offers music playback controls when music is playing, but the same controls appear on the ticker, which is sort of redundant.
Calls / Contacts
Making calls on the Samsung Continuum was simple. There are buttons for the phone app and the contact list that persist at the bottom of the screen, whether you're viewing the homescreen panels or browsing the phone's app menu. Hit the phone icon and you're always taken to the dialer. From there, you can hit the tabs up top to see the call log, contact list or your list of favorite contacts. Strangely, there's a button on the dialer that opens a new text message window.
From the call log or contact list, you can start a call directly or jump to a person's address book page. From the contact list, you can also open the cool Android shortcut bar for contacts, which gives you a button for calling, messaging, or even navigating to that person.
I wish Samsung got the ticker involved in calling. I'd like to see a ticker window with the last call you received or placed. That way you could return a call quickly, or resume an interrupted conversation. I'd also like to see contacts shortcuts in the ticker. A row of contact faces would be a slick shortcut for fast calling or messaging.
Samsung offers a nice widget for contacts, in addition to the direct dial shortcuts that are part of Android 2.1. You get a ferris wheel of faces, sort of like The Price Is Right wheel, and when you stop on an individual contact, you get a shortcut button to call or message that person. It's not as fast as a simple thumbnail grid of pictures, Brady Bunch style, but it does look cool.
The contact list on the Continuum offers plenty of detail for each contact, plus a few extra features. You can organize contacts into groups. There is also some social integration in the contact list. You get a History tab that shows you all of the calls and messages you've received, either from your social networks or via text or email. There is also a more general Activities tab that gives you a complete look at all of the tweets and status updates from your social circle. From that tab, you can reply to Facebook updates or retweet the twitter messages.
The Samsung Continuum has plenty of messaging options, and the ticker does a nice job helping out in the messaging department. You can set the ticker to receive social messages and texts. You can also link the ticker to your email inbox and your favorite IM client. When I did add my email address, I got a tip that my device will now display duplicate email notifications. The phone suggested I dig through my email settings and turn off those notices. Uhh, you're the phone, why don't you turn off those duplicates for me?
The ticker doesn't give you much time to view your incoming messages. When an email was delivered, the phone would sound an alert, and the email would show up in the ticker for about five seconds. Then it disappeared. Why the rush? If there isn't a crush of messages coming in, I'd like to see those emails repeated a few times, in case I miss it at first.
The phone has a nice text messaging app that displays both sides of an SMS conversation in colorful cartoon bubbles, with a different color for each person. MMS pictures also came through fine, and they showed up inline with the conversation. For instant messaging, the phone uses Google Talk, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger. AIM users get dissed. I don't think I've ever seen another phone that offers Windows Live and Yahoo but not AIM. All of the available services are lumped together into one catch-all IM app, and it's a pretty nice looking app, a definite improvement from the usual Verizon Wireless junky IM program.
For email, the Continuum can handle IMAP and POP accounts, corporate Exchange accounts and Gmail. All of these get their own app, so there are three email apps total on the phone. That's not including the duplicate messages you'll get from the ticker. Some business folks might prefer this, since it keeps your business and personal email separate. But if you like a unified email inbox, you won't find it on this phone.
For social networking fans, the Continuum comes with the official Facebook app and Twidroyd. Twidroyd is an okay app, but I prefer the official Twitter client, which is available as a free download from the Android app market. When you tap a Twitter message in the ticker, however, you're always taken to Twidroyd, even if you have Twitter installed.
I wish the ticker allowed for better customization of which messages it will display from my social sites. Even though the ticker settings menu seems to suggest you can choose to receive only direct messages from Twitter, in practice I found it was all or nothing. I'd like to see @ mentions and DMs, but if Twitter is going to clog up the ticker with every single tweet, that ticker quickly becomes a nuisance.
The Samsung Continuum has a well-appointed music player with plenty of sound enhancement options. If you dig through the settings menu, you'll find preset equalizers for Dance, Pop, Jazz, etc. There is also an effects menu that gives you stereo widening, adds reverb for concert hall effects, or kicks the bass up a notch. These settings are worth playing with. Some of them made my music sound better, though some had little or an adverse effect. On the main music player screen, for instance, there's a 5.1 channel 'surround sound' button, but it's really more of a 'make your music sound awful' button.
It was very easy to control the music on the phone. There are no music player widgets for the homescreen, not even the stock Android widget, but this wasn't a problem because most of the time I used the music controls in the ticker. I wish you could start playing music from the ticker, but you have to open the player and hit the play button first, and then the music controls appear. A widget would be more accommodating.
Getting music onto the phone was a chore. Connected via USB, the Continuum would not show up on my computer either as a mass storage device or with the music sync feature. We've tested two Continuum review units, and both have these problems. These USB problems have been an ongoing issue with the last few Samsung devices I've used. I copied my music files to the microSD card using an adapter, and then the music player had no trouble scanning the card and finding my music. Thank goodness the card isn't located under the battery, so I don't have to restart the phone every time I want to retrieve my pictures or add music to my library.
The Samsung Continuum has a nice camera interface with a wide range of features. The camera uses touch focus, a feature I like very much. Just tap on the screen where you'd like the camera to aim and it brings that area into focus. It didn't do a great job adjusting the lighting for that area if I was aiming at a dark spot, but it did keep my subjects looking sharp.
Some better organization would streamline the camera experience. The camera has two different menus, and both contain useful options you'll want to access frequently. There is a drawer that pulls out from the left side, and there you'll find a selection of 9 shooting modes, including a panorama mode, a continuous shooting mode, and even a vintage mode for you hipstamatic fans. You can also control the flash and exposure levels from buttons in the drawer.
But wait, there's more. There is also a Settings menu in the drawer, and this opens a further set of options. Here you'll find focus modes, including face detection and macro mode. There is also a selection of 14 scene modes, including modes for shooting sports, night scenes, fireworks or even text. You can also adjust white balance and ISO sensitivity from this second menu, as well as numerous other exposure settings you can control.
These two menus need to be consolidated, and the features users will need most should be top-level options. The camera takes no advantage of the ticker, either, and this is again a missed opportunity. Some of these controls could easily be moved to the smaller screen.
The image gallery on the Samsung Continuum is almost exactly like the stock Android 2.1 gallery. It uses a 3D look and slick animations to display your photos in groups, thumbnail grids and individually. There is a cool two-finger preview that is missing from this version, but it was more aesthetic than useful.
The gallery makes it easy to send and share photos. You can send pictures via email or picture message, or upload pics to your favorite sites and social networks. Because so many social networking features come preloaded, the Continuum has extensive sharing options, so you can send pics through Twidroyd, Facebook, or MySpace without any additional downloads. You can crop and rotate photos, but that's all the editing you'll find on this phone.
The 5-megapixel camera on the Samsung Continuum took some very good photos. Indoors and outside, I was pleased with the results all around. Details could get a little fuzzy at full zoom, but some images were good enough to be print-worthy, so they'll definitely be worth sharing on your favorite social sites. Colors were usually accurate, and though the camera did oversaturate deep red colors, it still held onto details and performed better than many other camera phones in its class. The flash was bright enough to light up a scene. Some images suffered when there was a dramatic mix of lighting. Details in the shady areas would be lost in the darkness. But the camera did a fine job keeping backlight at bay, and there were no noise problems, neither in the dark spots nor in the brightly exposed areas.
Video quality was also above average. The camcorder shoots in a variety of resolutions up to full 720p, that's 1280 by 720 pixels. Videos looked sharp, and there was no wavy look while the camera was in motion, like on many cheaper phones. I encountered some very strange issues with the sound, as you'll hear in my sample video below. The microphone sounded great at first, then cut out almost completely. I had to double check to make sure I wasn't covering the microphone, but that was not the case. I wonder if there was some noise reduction happening, and perhaps the wind noise outside caused the mic to clam up. It's too bad, because when the mic worked properly, the sound was very clear and present.
Be sure to change the video resolution on the YouTube clip below to 720p, and watch the video full screen to see the best quality sample.
Browse / Customize
The Web browser on the Samsung Continuum is the standard Android 2.1 browser. The only addition I could find was a brightness setting for the browser itself. This seems to be a trend with Samsung, since I know the Galaxy Tab tablet has the same feature. I found it unnecessary. The browser also uses Flash 10.1. Flash videos could be very slow to start, with a framerate that looked to be in the single digits. But once the video was preloaded it played more smoothly. It never reached the performance of the other Flash-enabled Android phones I've used, like the Fascinate or the aging Google Nexus One, even. But it did let me watch CNN videos in a pinch if something caught my interest.
The ticker on the Samsung Continuum allows for some customization within the limited feature set it offers. You can choose from a number of popular news and sports RSS feeds, or you can enter your own feed address and the ticker will deliver headlines as they pop up. I wish it were more automatic. You cannot simply enter a site's regular web address and let the phone figure out the RSS feed. You have to enter the actual feed XML address, which can be cumbersome for some sites.
The ticker also gives you some control over the social information it delivers, but not enough. Like I said, you can't choose to receive only @ mentions or DMs from Twitter, for instance. You do get more options with Facebook, where you can receive only pokes and friend requests, for instance, or just incoming messages. I'd still like to see the ticker's capabilities dramatically extended. Every feature on the phone should take advantage of that small screen in some way.
You can customize the app menu by rearranging the app icons. The app menu is divided into panels, like the homescreen. It can be tough to move everything around, but once you have it set up how you like, it becomes a convenient option.
I paired the Samsung Continuum with my Bluetooth headset with no trouble. Sound quality was pretty good, and there were few reception issues; it was only a problem when I moved the phone from pocket to pocket. Pairing with my Bluetooth speakers was also easy, and there is an option in the music player menu to send your tunes directly to a paired device, eliminating some menu digging. I was also able to transfer an image file from the gallery to my laptop with ease.
There are many clocks available on the Samsung Continuum. The lock screen gets a nice big clock, or you can simply squeeze the phone and check the time and weather on the bright ticker screen. Both were easy to see. There is a clock in the notification bar up top, and there are seven different clock options available from Samsung's widget selection, including a weather clock and a dual-clock for world travelers.
Navigation services on the Samsung Continuum are provided by VZ Navigator, with local location-based searching by Microsoft's Bing. VZ Navigator looks pretty good on this phone, and offers some cool features from the front page, including local gas prices, movies and events, and a number of other options. Just like with Google Maps, VZ Navigator is connected to your contact list, so when you tap a physical address in your contacts you can start navigating right away.
I was delighted to find VZ Navigator takes advantage of the ticker. When the screen is off, you can squeeze the phone and the ticker will light up with your next turn. This is exactly the sort of use I would hope for.
If you're a dyed in the wool Google fan, you can still download Google Maps from the App Market, but VZ Navigator does a fine job on its own. You can also use Microsoft's Bing Maps app, but it isn't quite as advanced or feature rich as the Google app. Google Maps will also work from your contact list, so when you tap an address you'll have the choice of using VZ Navigator or Google's app, but it won't work with the ticker.
The Samsung Continuum comes with a number of extra features, some of them useful and some just bloatware. There is a Blockbuster video app from which you can rent and download movies to watch on your phone. The phone has Samsung's AllShare, which is a DLNA app that lets you play movies and other media from the phone on a DLNA-capable home theater setup.
The phone also comes loaded with a number of game demos, like Tetris and Scrabble. You cannot erase these demos. You can either buy the full version, or live with the demo on your phone as long as you own it. I'm not a fan of this sort of junk clogging up my app menu.
The Continuum also has Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities. Because the network connection was so sluggish, I would only suggest using this option in an emergency. It certainly isn't worth paying Verizon an exorbitant monthly fee to use.
The Samsung Continuum is a fine phone, but also an example of lost potential. The phone has many of the great traits of the other Samsung Galaxy S phones, like a fantastic sAMOLED screen, but it can't quite live up to the Galaxy S name because it tends to underperform, both in terms of navigating the phone and its apps and features, and also in terms of networking speed and performance. I fear the ticker might be to blame, since it splits the phone's attention between two screens.
The ticker could be a very useful tool, and with more apps and features available, it might even be worth some of the sacrifice in performance. It certainly drained the battery faster than other Galaxy S phones, and it could be overwhelming if you let Twitter and Facebook run rampant with constant updates. But finely tuned to your preferences, it's nice for updates and previewing incoming messages, and very useful when combined with the music player or the driving navigation. There's a lot that Samsung could do to take advantage of the ticker, so I hope they don't abandon development for it.
I have no problem recommending this phone as a convenient, fun device for social networking fans. The camera takes great pictures, and most of the features really deliver. But this isn't a superphone like the rest of the Galaxy S lineup, so if you're looking for a top notch Android experience, you'll be happier elsewhere.
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Samsung Continuum => LAMEO
Is that a water ski?? Oh, its just a phone. Seriously the Samsung Continuum has got to be one of the ugliest phones ever. Also the "ticker" idea is ridiculous. Are you happy to see me, oh its just your phone. lolz