REVIEW: Samsung Continuum (Verizon) – Does the ticker display make us tick?

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.

Verizon’s 2nd Galaxy S phone, the Samsung Continuum, is one of the more unique Android handsets out there due to its secondary “ticker” display. It still has all of the innards that make up most Galaxy S devices, but is shrinking the primary display just to add a smaller secondary display worth it?

Verizon Samsung Continuum

Now available for $199 on new two-year contract

Specifications (Spec-sheet)

  • 3.4 inch (800×400) Super AMOLED displayImages of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.
  • 1.8 inch secondary ticker display
  • 1GHz Hummingbird CPU
  • 5 mega pixel camera with LED flash
  • 720p HD video recording
  • 3G data connectivity
  • WiFi (B/G/N)
  • 2GB internal memory
  • 8GB MicroSD card pre-installed
  • Android 2.1 with TouchWiz UI
  • 3G Mobile Hotspot capable

The Good

  • The Continuum’s secondary display keeps you connected
  • Grip sensor activates secondary display
  • Thin and sleek design
  • Hot-swappable MicroSD card slot
  • Mobile Hotspot capable
  • Super AMOLED display is nice and bright

The Bad

  • Lightweight materials make for somewhat cheaper in-hand feel
  • While the ticker is nice, it does take away from the primary display’s size
  • Touchwiz could potentially slow Android updates
  • Some may prefer the Fascinate over the Continuum

Hardware

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.The Continuum sports some simple hardware that looks almost reminiscent of the Palm Pixi. It’s basically a slab that looks similar to a bar of soap in some ways. It’s also longer (taller) than other smartphones, because this particular handset is elongated to make way for the 1.8 inch secondary ticker display, which is located directly underneath the Android navigation buttons. This results in a phone that gives you more to hold onto when in the hand. It’s not uncomfortable, thanks to the rounded edges, but you’ll notice there’s a little more phone when you hold the Continuum for the first time.

When the Continuum is locked, there’s nothing to see on the front of the handset. The four capacitive Android buttons are backlit, and only appear once the device has been unlocked. It almost makes it look like the Continuum doesn’t have two displays. Alas, the two displays are separated by the Menu, Home, Back, and Search buttons. We rather like the clean look of the device when it’s off, as all will be revealed once unlocked.

While smaller to other Galaxy S phones, the Continuum’s 3.4 inch primary display pops right out at you as you’d expect from any Super AMOLED display. Even the ticker, which is obviously much smaller, is still impressive. Samsung keeps it pretty simple with the Continuum, as you’d expect from the Galaxy S devices currently available. One addition we are happy to see is a dedicated camera shutter button, which had previously only been on the Epic 4G out of all of the Galaxy S variants.

With additions, come subtractions, and we miss the small slider that  covers the microUSB charging port. I definitely like the microUSB port cover on the Vibrant, but it seems adding an LED flash and a camera button was more important that certain cosmetic features. The charging port is found on the left side of the device, below the volume rocker. Samsung put the lock button back on the top of the device, where you’ll also find the 3.5mm headphone jack.

The back of the Continuum just has the bare necessities, housing only the 5 megapixel camera (with LED flash), speaker grill, and the expected Galaxy S branding. Like the Vibrant, the Continuum also sports a plastic back which seems terribly flimsy when taken off, but it stays securely in place as it protects your battery.

What would a Galaxy S device be without the 1GHz Hummingbird processor? You’ll find it within the Continuum, but since the handset is still running Android 2.1, you really don’t get a feel for the device’s sheer power underneath those two displays. Once the handset receives Android 2.2 Froyo, the handset will fly so fast it’ll make your eyes bleed.

On the down side of the hardware, the Continuum only comes with 384MB of RAM where other Galaxy S phone ship with 512MB. You likely won’t notice the difference unless you’re a power user, in which case you may find it easier to bog the handset down with multiple high-powered apps running at the same time than would be the case with other Galaxy S phones.

The Ticker

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.The stand-out feature of the Continuum is the secondary ticker display. It will keep you up to date with your RSS feeds, and missed calls/emails/texts with nothing more than a touch of the sides of the phone. The sides surrounding the ticker are touch sensitive, and the ticker will turn on once you touch both sides of the area with your thumb and index finger. It can be a little tricky to get the thing to turn on, but once you get it, you get it.

It’s really nice to have your phone sitting on a table, and be able to see what time it is, if you’ve missed a call, etc, or read RSS feed updates without having to physically unlock the device. The idea is to feed you snippets of information without turning information consumption into a task. If you’re with a group of friends, no longer do you need to miss out on the conversation by refocusing attention to your phone in order to unlock it. Just touch the sides of the ticker (or just grab the phone as if you’re making a call), the time will display, along with any missed notifications, and you can get back to what you were doing. Simple as that.

You can also keep up to date with Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter with the ticker, but you’ll need to sign into these individually within the Ticker settings. This goes the same for email, as just signing into the official Gmail account won’t be enough. You’ll need to use the regular email application for the ticker to recognize new emails, which is pretty annoying, but easy enough to get over.

The ticker brings a whole new form of functionality to the device, and it provides some simple, convenient access to important info. I was skeptical of this ticker, and I’m walking away very impressed with it, even if I wouldn’t dump my current phone for the Continuum. But, as impressed I am with the use cases of the ticker, I’m not sure I love it enough to sacrifice screen real estate of the primary display. The four inch Vibrant is perfectly sized, and I wouldn’t want it any bigger or smaller. If screen size is not your priority, the ticker display is definitely worth a look.

Software

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.Just like any HTC Sense UI-toting phone, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. This is very much the case with the Galaxy S devices. The Continuum comes with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, which looks terribly similar to iOS in many ways – that’s either going to be a positive or a negative attribute, depending on your perspective.

What matters here is that a lot of work was put into TouchWiz, and it works rather well. It’s all about the small things – like adding a small pull down tab to the lockscreen when your listen to music so you don’t have to unlock the device and navigate to the Music app just to pause or skip a track.

The TouchWiz UI’s similarities to the iPhone’s iOS are obvious, and may be helpful for someone who is transitioning from an iPhone to an Android phone. If this is the case, I would recommend a Galaxy S phone to any ex-iPhone user. From the custom icon badges to the custom made applications that come pre-installed on the phone, Samsung has created an iOS look-alike UI that’s as different as as it is similar. You’re given 7 home screens that can be configured to your liking, and TouchWiz comes with a many customized apps and widgets.

For the business person, or anyone who’s always on the go, Samsung has created Daily Briefing, a quick overview of the news, weather, stocks, and any calendar dates that you may have scheduled. To integrate Daily Briefing further into the TouchWiz UI, Samsung provides a custom widget, as well as an option to add it to your alarm. If you choose it as an alarm, you’ll be greeting with the Daily Briefing screen once you turn your alarm off. This is one of many addition Samsung has provided with TouchWiz, and you can also expect many custom widgets such as Buddies Now, Weather Clock,  and a handful of other helpful widgets.

One thing we’re not in love with is that TouchWiz itself can, and likely will stall Android OS updates down the road. When a new version of the OS is available, the handset makers have to get the software ready for the OS update. This has  proven to take a long time for some devices, and then the update needs to go through the carriers. We can expect the Continuum to get Android 2.2 or possibly 2.3 sometime in 2011.

Web Browsing, Multimedia, and Camera

Web Browser

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.

The Continuum comes with the stock Android web browser, with only a few minor tweaks. Most notably, Samsung has added a dedicated browser brightness setting. This may be welcomed for some, but unneeded for others. We don’t have much of an opinion on the option, but we aren’t complaining. Other than that, it’s your standard Android browser that we all know and love.

Being on Android 2.1, the Continuum can’t take advantage of the JavaScript V8 engine that Google has implemented in Android 2.2. Given the lack of the performance boosts inherent to Android 2.2. Froyo OS, the browser could stand to be a little more snappy, but it does it’s job just fine. Also missing as a result of the lack of Android 2.2 is Adobe’s Flash, so you’ll have to wait for a Froyo update before you’ll be able to get Flash content on this device.

Multimedia

Like all Galaxy S devices, the Continuum supports a handful of commonly used video codecs, including  MPEG4, 3GPP, H.263, H.264, 3G2 ,WMV (9) ,DivX/ Xvi. Of course, we’d love to see more compatible formats, but there are apps in the Android Market that can help fill in those gaps as we cross our fingers for Google to bake in more format choices into Android OS. What matters here is that you shouldn’t have much of a problem loading up movies you’ve downloaded (legally, of course) online.

One thing that we’re happy to see gone untouched is the 3D Photo Gallery that debuted with Android 2.1. HTC has scrapped the 3D gallery for their own iteration, which isn’t bad, but is in no way better than the official Gallery. We’re glad to see Samsung left it as is.

Camera

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.The Continuum comes with a 5 megapixel camera, and comes with a LED flash. I’ve always been impressed with the quality of the pictures taken with Samsung phones, and the Continuum continues that tradition by taking some great shots. I had the camera app freeze on me once, and it got to the point that pressing the home button did nothing. Thankfully, the handset came to its senses and hasn’t since given me any freezing problems with the camera app.

Since we’re in San Francisco, we couldn’t capture optimal lighting conditions with the Continuum, but it still performed like a champ, capturing the gross SF fall for all that is is. Some white balance issues are shown below.

Outdoor, marginal daylight (partial low light conditions), no flash, full automatic mode

Outdoor, marginal daylight (partial low light conditions), no flash, full automatic mode

Indoor, marginal daylight (partial low light conditions), no flash, full automatic mode

Call Quality and Battery life

Images of the Samsung Continuum Android phone for Verizon with the ticker screen and TouchWiz UI.As expected, the Continuum performs like a champ thanks to Verizon’s unbeatable network. Calls came through loud and clear with no noticeable background fuzziness on either end. I wasn’t expecting anything less from Verizon’s call quality, but I got more than I was expecting. The speaker phone performs quite nicely, but can get rather loud even at a low volume. Some may consider this a good thing.

So does that extra screen drain battery faster than a normal Galaxy S phone? Well, it can if you’ve got it constantly updating all the time with Twitter and Facebook going off every three seconds. The screen is basically “on-call” all the time, but you can adjust how much it updates, and you can even de-activate the grip sensor if you so choose. We know that the recent tests show that Samsung’s Super AMOLED doesn’t perform all that well in terms of battery life, but I had no issues with the Continuum through out my time with it. It’ll easily get you through a day with no problem.

So does the Continuum’s ticker make us tick?

While the Continuum and its unique ticker display helps this Android phone stand out from a crowd of attractive smartphones, the main attraction on the Continuum could be seen as a gimmick, of sorts. We’re sure that the ticker will be a big draw for some users – those who want to always stay on top of their news, RSS, and social network feeds. And, for what the Continuum and the ticker display does, we’re impressed.

Still, in terms of Galaxy S phones, the Continuum sports the smallest primary display. That doesn’t mean the Continuum is a bad phone in any way. It’s a great phone, and the grip sensor is just too cool for school. But, the addition of the ticker display isn’t going to be enough for some users to sacrifice primary display real estate. That’s just how it’s going to be.

In the end, the Continuum does make us tick. The ticker display is innovative and unique. The grip sensor is just plain cool. And, we have no doubt that the Continuum will find plenty of good homes with Verizon customers. That said, we’re not convinced the ticker display will become the norm in smartphones any time soon.

The Continuum could be the perfect phone for you, so why not head over to a Verizon store and see if the Continuum is a good fit?

  • http://twitter.com/WillieFDiazSF William Diaz ?

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