The Droid Charge is the second Verizon 4G LTE smartphone after the HTC Thunderbolt and the Android smartphone promises to bring 4G speeds to your pocket. It offers a larger screen and different software than the Thunderbolt but can it improve on the battery life while also justifying its $300 price tag (on contract)?
Read on for a full review of the Droid Charge!
Samsung Droid Charge
Available soon for $299 on a two-year contract from Verizon
- 1 GHz Hummingbird processor
- 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus WVGA display (800 x 480)
- 8-megapixel camera with LED flash
- 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
- 720p HD video recording
- 32 GB preloaded storage via microSD
- Android 2.2 with TouchWiz UI
- 4G LTE support
- WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, HDMI out, DLNA
- Verizon 4G LTE is blazing fast in good coverage areas
- The Super AMOLED Plus screen is bright and beautiful
- Camera produces good shots
- Excellent battery life for a 4G device
- Software bugs annoyingly pop up from time to time
- No dual-core means it’s not bleeding edge
- Preloaded keyboard and browser aren’t great
- 4G LTE is great but wildly fluctuates
The Droid Charge features a large 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display and this really pops. Samsung is saying that it boosts sub-pixel brightness by 50 percent and it is very pleasant to look at on a day-to-day basis. The colors pop, images and videos are vibrant and the device is well-designed in the fact that the 4.3-inch screen doesn’t seem
Along the face of the device, you have four physical buttons to handle the standard Menu, Home, Back and Search functionality in Android. Along the right spine, there’s an HDMI-out port and the power/unlock button. On top is the standard 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and the left spine has the volume rocker and the microUSB port.
On the back of the Droid Charge, you have a big hump on the bottom and this is probably due to the large 4G LTE module. There’s also a “with Google” label as well as the 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash underneath it.
Once you remove the relatively flimsy plastic back cover, you see the 1600 mAh battery, the hot-swappable microSD slot and the SIM card slot. Yep, even though this is a Verizon phone you still needs SIM cards for the 4G LTE service.
Inside, you have a 1 GHz Hummingbird processor and it’s still pretty good but we would have loved a dual-core processor. I noticed a few lags in my usage and am not sure if this was due to hardware or software but I would prefer to have more horsepower in this, particularly if you’re committing to the Droid Charge for two years at a time when dual-core smartphones like the HTC Sensation. You also get the expected features like WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 3.0, assisted GPS (this one actually works!) and DLNA capabilities.
Build Quality / Fit and Finish
There is nothing wrong with how the Droid Charge is designed but it ultimately feels boring. Except for that big, beautiful Super AMOLED Plus screen, it feels like it could have been designed by any competent handset maker.
The four physical buttons on the face had me concerned at first, as I’ve grown used to the capacitive variety on devices like the Motorola Atrix 4G. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these buttons felt great with good travel back. These buttons also felt like they would last for a long time without losing its quality.
I’m a little disappointed with the design of the Droid Charge because Samsung generally has some great attention to detail, even if some find the overall feeling to be a little cheap. For example, the Galaxy S lineup has a sliding door for its microUSB port connectors and I found that to be amazing and missed it on this 4G LTE device.
There’s a silver-ish trim around the Droid Charge that leads to somewhat of a point at the bottom. This can get a little smudged up but looks like it will hold up to a beating.
The back cover is looks okay but it has a plasticky feeling that seems a bit cheap. This is especially noticeable when you pop off the cover to get at the battery or SIM card. The microSD card is hot swappable though, and that’s always appreciated.
I hate to sound too negative about the look and feel of the Droid Charge because it’s definitely solid. It’s just not the super premium device you would have hoped for with a phone which will cost about $300 on a new contract.
The Samsung Droid Charge rocks the Android 2.2 Froyo operating system with the TouchWiz UI, as well as some custom apps from Verizon. The overall experience is pretty solid but I noticed a few hiccups which really hindered the experience.
Let’s focus on the positives first though, as even though we would have loved to see Gingerbread on this thing, Froyo is more than capable of surfing the web, making phone calls, sending text messages and downloading new apps on the go from the Android Market or the Amazon App Store.
For the most part, things are smooth on the Samsung Droid Charge thanks to the 1 GHz Hummingbird processor but I’d notice some delays when switching between apps or hopping back to the home screen. I’m not sure if this is a processor issue or a software issue but I do know it’s annoying. Compared to the speed and fluidity of something like the T-Mobile G2x, this is a bit of a disappointment.
If you think the TouchWiz UI looks like the iPhone, you’re not alone – Apple is suing Samsung over many of the UI elements in TouchWiz.
This means you get an iPhone-like interface on the apps grid but does a lot to make this interface its own. It’s extremely simple to remove apps from your device with a few clicks and I like the added features to the notification bar like being able to toggle WiFi on and off.
You’ll also get a ton of preloaded media software like the Samsung Media Hub, Rhapsody and more which I’ll cover in other sections.
I want to take some time to talk about how much I dislike the preloaded keyboard on this thing. There’s an odd auto-correct feature which doesn’t even show you the words you’re typing in the input field – instead, the exact letters you’re typing show up below that field along with other things it thinks you’re trying to say. Yes, you can toggle these options off or download something like Swype but I think this is a bad experience.
Verizon 4G LTE
The design and benchmarks aren’t why you’re interested in the Samsung Droid Charge, it’s the 4G LTE network. So, how does it perform? Pretty darn well.
According to 10 Speedtest.net results, I averaged 10.35 Mbps down and 6.65 Mbps up. Those are some whopping speeds for a handset (and even some homes!) but I did find that the speeds fluctuated quite a bit. For example, my highest download speed was 22.94 Mbps down and 9.09 up but my lowest recorded speed was 2.5 Mbps down and 3.2 Mbps up.
Numbers are impressive but what does this mean for the end user? Videos and web pages load really quickly, although the way the browser processes pages can still be a bottleneck. The mobile hotspot feature is impressive too but I’ve found some weird issues with the upload speed: I averaged 12 Mbps down using a WiFi-connected laptop but the upload was steady at under 1 Mbps.
Still, the hotspot will be free for another few weeks and then you’ll have to pay about $20 a month on top of your phone and data services. If you just want 4G LTE data without a voice plan, you may want to check out the Verizon MiFi.
We put the Samsung Droid Charge through the standard benchmark tests we run all Android devices through and didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. I’ve noticed Samsung devices don’t particularly perform well in these tests but that doesn’t mean it always translates to a bad experience. Below are the Charge’s averages and the HTC Thunderbolt’s results will be in parentheses.
Quadrant (System Benchmark)
Average: 962 (1,848)
Neocore (Graphics Benchmark)
Average: 56.7 frames per second (59.4 FPS)
Linpack (Processor Benchmark)
Average: 36.276 MFLOPS (39.425 MFLOPS)
Web Browser, Multimedia, and Camera
The web browser is pretty much your standard Android browser but Samsung has put its fingers in it and there are some highly-annoying things about it. I think it is complete and utter crap any time a default Android browser tells me I can’t open a new window because I have the maximum open and this is exacerbated because the Droid Charge only lets you have four browse windows open at a time. Additionally, I don’t like how it auto-zooms on content, as it doesn’t seem as well done as on other Android phones.
It’s not that hard to close windows or, better yet, make Firefox or SkyFire your default browser but this is still quite a pain in the you-know-what.
The Samsung Droid Charge gives you a variety of multimedia options but it’s still not quite as smooth or as integrated as an experience as the iPhone. Still,
you have the Samsung Media Hub for buying shows and movies (you can share these with other Galaxy S devices), Bitbop gives you streaming tv shows that you can also download, the Rhapsody app is there to give you subscription music, you can buy times from the VCast Store and the TuneWiki app is preloaded as well. The options are pretty solid though and the high-speed mobile network really helps you utilize
Those speeds are still really good (particularly for a Verizon phone) but the coverage could be kind of spotty. Most of the places in San Francisco had a clear 4G signal but many places I used to take Verizon phones
Samsung has quietly been very impressive with its camera quality in its smartphones and the Droid Charge is no exception. The 8-megapixel camera produces some great photos that are crisp, clear and scale up well.
The camera user interface is pretty much the same as on the Galaxy S series and there are multiple settings including various shooting modes (beauty, smile shot, panorama, cartoon, etc.), anti-shake technology, auto-contrast, blink detection technology and more. You can do tap-to-focus and the shutter speed is relatively quick but not as fast as something like the T-Mobile G2x or the upcoming HTC Sensation.
The LED flash isn’t great but I was pleasantly surprised by the low-level shooting capabilities of the latest Droid phone. The flash does stay on for an absurdly long amount of time though.
At 1.3-megapixels, the front-facing camera isn’t anything great but it should be enough to get the job done for some video chatting or self portraits. Check out the photos below and decide for yourself.
While 1080p HD video shooting is all the rage with the dual-core devices, the Droid Charge tops out at 720p HD. Fear not though, as this still looks pretty good and I even noticed some auto-focusing in the video.
Outdoors, 720p HD, standard settings:
Outdoors, 720p HD, Outdoor visibility mode on:
Call Quality/Coverage, Battery Life,
The call quality on the Samsung Droid Charge was above average in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Voices were loud and clear and they said my voice didn’t have any distortion or static. It’s good stuff.
One interesting note is that the phone will cause that weird distortion/interference sound with your computer speakers like GSM phones do. First time I’ve seen that with a Verizon phone and that’s probably due to the spectrum the LTE is using.
The HTC Thunderbolt was a really cool phone with 4G LTE but it had putrid battery life. That is not the case with the Droid Charge because this thing has excellent battery life. I’m not just talking about for a 4G LTE phone either, as I got a full day (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on a full charge and I had about 15 percent left over. This is extremely impressive considering the large screen and the super-fast mobile data network.
The Final Take: Is this 4G LTE done right?
The Droid Charge is a nice-looking Android phone which will let you use 4G LTE data for most of the day without killing your battery life. The big screen is beautiful without seeming too large, the camera produces great shots even if it’s a tad bit slow and the 4G LTE network is blazing fast if you’re in a coverage area. The high initial cost ($300 on contract), software bugs, bad keyboard, mediocre browser and boring design do detract from the Droid Charge, though.
Despite its flaws, the Droid Charge is quite a nice phone that should make many people happy. The all-day battery life is an absolute delight, the screen is gorgeous and using 4G LTE on the go is incredible. It’s not quite a home run but it’s definitely a solid double and, if you add a few apps, you could leg out a triple.
If you’re looking to leap into 4G LTE and can’t wait for a dual-core smartphone, the Droid Charge is likely for you.