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Samsung Captivate Glide hero (1020px)
Samsung Captivate Glide hero (1020px)

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Samsung Captivate Glide review

Good phones with good keyboards are few and far between — is the Captivate Glide the one you've been waiting for?

Reviewing the Samsung Captivate Glide right after the Samsung DoubleTime is a study in contrasts. The DoubleTime is outdated, slow, and ugly, while the Glide is modern, fast, and sleek. The natural successor to the Epic 4G, the Glide is a hybrid of the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II — it has a nice 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, an acceptably recent version of Android, and though there’s no LTE it still connects to AT&T’s HSPA+ network. It also has a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and — most importantly of all — a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard.If all the Glide had to do was be better than the DoubleTime, this would be a very short review, but the $149 (with contract) Glide is also competing with the rest of AT&T’s smartphone lineup, which is formidable opposition. How does it stack up? Read on for the full review.


Hardware / design

Hardware / design

It's well built, but it doesn't feel high-end

My last phone before my current Droid X2 was a Galaxy S-based Samsung Fascinate, and side by side with the Glide it’s hard to tell the two phones apart, other than the carrier logos. The Glide is noticeably smaller than the Galaxy S II devices, mostly because it only has a 4-inch screen rather than the 4.2- to 4.5-inch displays on the others. It’s a full 13.7mm deep, though, and since the screen’s not huge it feels even thicker. It’s not particularly heavy, weighing 5.2 ounces, but it feels big in my hand.

Otherwise, it’s just a Galaxy S II on top of a slide-out keyboard with the same capacitive Android buttons on the bottom and Micro USB and headphone ports on the top. The back is among my least favorite of the Galaxy S II bunch, with a textured feel that goes so far as to feel almost like sandpaper. It’s also more obviously plasticky than other GSII devices, which makes it feel a bit cheap. It’s a relatively good-looking phone, but I’ve just never understood why Samsung uses so much plastic in its otherwise high-end phones.

Keyboard

I have to assume part of Samsung’s reason for putting a smaller screen onto the Glide was so that the keyboard wouldn’t be any more unmanageably wide than it already is. Thank goodness, too — the keyboard is pretty humongous as it is. It’s nice-looking, though, with a much better blue-and-white color scheme than the hideous pink on the DoubleTime. The four rows of keys are spaced out nicely, and the keys feel good to press; I was typing pretty quickly without a lot of learning curve. I’ve got good-sized hands, though, and even for me there was a lot of reaching to hit the middle keys, along with a lot of accidentally pressing the volume buttons, which are right where my pinky finger rested while I was typing. I gave the phone to my dad, a longtime Droid owner, and he echoed my thoughts, saying that while it’s much improved over the Droid it’s still too large. We both liked the four physical Android buttons (two on each side) as well as the dedicated voice entry and .com buttons, and hated how small the Enter button is, as well as the fact that it’s buried next to a much-too-large set of arrow keys.

The biggest problem with the keyboard is that Android’s just not designed to be used exclusively in landscape mode. Whenever you open up the keyboard the device tries to rotate horizontally, but it doesn’t always work. Plenty of apps only work in portrait mode, and though that’s a problem on all phones it’s much more jarring when you’ve got the keyboard open and suddenly the screen is sideways. Plus, the 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen means you can’t see much on the screen at any given time. None of these issues are Samsung’s fault, really, it just seems that big-screened Android phones don’t mix perfectly with landscape keyboards.

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Display

Display

It's a Galaxy S screen, but I wanted a Galaxy S II
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There are only so many different ways I can say this, most of which I’ve exhausted in my various Samsung smartphone reviews, so I’ll just say it: on a 4-inch or larger display, 800 x 480 isn’t an acceptable resolution. At the Glide’s 4 inches the resolution is more manageable than it is at 4.5, or even 5 inches like we’ve seen previously, because the pixel density is higher, at 233ppi versus the Galaxy S II’s 207. It’s still not enough to be competitive with the best phones out there like the 720p Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4S, or even the Motorola Atrix 2, which has a 960 x 540 qHD display that looks far better.

The Super AMOLED panel is bright, vivid and occasionally over-saturated, and has great viewing angles but pretty severe blue discoloration when you get off-center. It’s not as good as the Super AMOLED+ displays we’ve seen on the Galaxy S II and elsewhere, though, largely because it uses the PenTile pixel arrangement. Text looks a little jaggy, and it’s pretty easy to pick out individual pixels on the screen. I don’t hate the screen, but I’m unimpressed with it.

Cameras

Cameras

It'd be a good camera, if it weren't so slow
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The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the Glide takes decent pictures, but not as good as the other Galaxy S II models, which is a little odd. These pictures were consistently softer and noisier than those from Samsung’s other phones (and "soft" and "noisy" could certainly apply to those phones’ photos too). The biggest problem, though, is that the Glide’s shutter speed is ridiculously slow, ranging up to and occasionally beyond a full second between pressing the button and a picture actually firing. That’s long enough that more than once, I framed a photo of a walking person or moving car, and the subject wasn't even in the resulting photo. (I’m pretty sure they weren’t vampires, in case you’re wondering.) It’s also awful in low light, again largely because the slow shutter speed means anything you shoot is virtually guaranteed to be blurry unless you’re shooting a still life from a tripod. There are a few cool features, like a panorama mode and Samsung’s always-awesome tap-to-focus feature, but they can’t make up for unspectacular image quality. As with any of the Galaxy S II phones, this camera will definitely do in a well-lit pinch, but don’t expect much.

Same goes for the camera’s 720p video (no 1080p, like some of the other GS II models), which was always soft and usually pretty noisy in my tests. Colors were accurate and audio was really good, but I couldn’t get over how soft video looked even in the best lighting. You can zoom with the volume buttons, which is a smart trick, but given that it’s digital zoom I’d advise against doing so.

I’m just going to start calling smartphones’ front-facing cameras "video chat cameras," because that’s exactly what they all are. You can check your hair pretty well, and video chat serviceably, but do not under any circumstances try to take decent pictures with the Glide’s 1-megapixel front camera — you will be sorely disappointed if you do..

Software

Software

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Perhaps the most obvious litmus test for whether or not you’re holding a Samsung phone is whether or not the odd "sweep glass to unlock" lock screen shows up, giving you zero instruction as to how to access your phone until you touch the screen. That’s here, too, part of Samsung’s TouchWiz skin on top of Android 2.3.5. I don’t dislike TouchWiz nearly as much as I used to, because Samsung’s slimmed it down a lot, and even I’ve grown to love a couple of features, like the power manager in the notification window and the massively improved camera app. For the most part, though, I found myself wondering why Samsung felt the need to change icons and redesign the calendar, email, and browser apps. Samsung’s general aesthetic is very black-and-gray, which both mutes the awesome vividness of the screen and is just kind of ugly to look at. But that’s my own preference, and if you’re not against TouchWiz normally the Glide is certainly no worse an offender.

The larger problem with TouchWiz is how long it’s likely to delay the Captivate Glide receiving an upgrade to Android 4.0, if it ever gets one at all. Samsung’s track record for updating its phones to newer versions of Android is poor to say the very least (and even worse on non-flagship phones like the Glide), and given how good Ice Cream Sandwich is, it’s hard to recommend a phone that might not get it any time soon. My recommendation for now, and this goes for any Android phone buyer: if you can wait to buy a phone, wait for one with Android 4.0.

There’s plenty of bloatware here, but no more than usual, and probably nothing you haven’t seen before. AT&T and Samsung are each partly responsible for the presence of AT&T Navigator, FamilyMap, Social Hub, Qik Lite, Yellow Pages, Amazon Kindle, and a bunch of other apps that you probably don’t want (I’d like to meet the person who uses "Featured Apps" all the time), but it’s nothing overly intrusive or problematic. A few can be uninstalled, but you’re stuck with most of them. My biggest annoyance is Samsung’s undying love for filling all seven of its phones’ home screens with widgets, more widgets, apps, and a few more widgets. They’re all easy to get rid of, but it’s an annoyingly long process just to make your phone look the way you want it to.

For some inexplicable reason, the Glide doesn’t do USB storage the way most Android phones do. It uses the MTP protocol, which works as expected on Windows machines but doesn’t talk to Macs at all — the phone doesn’t even show up — without the help of a third-party app. You can change that in the settings, but it’s buried, and the fact that you can’t just plug your phone into your computer and drag and drop files on and off is totally inexcusable. The Galaxy Nexus acts the same way, and though it’s done in the name of security and simplicity I’m not a fan. Samsung’s excellent Kies Air app is available in the Market, but for once it may have been a good idea for Samsung to preinstall it..

TouchWiz, bloatware, odd storage options — sounds like a Samsung phone
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Performance

Performance, call quality, and battery life

The Tegra 2 inside the Glide does its job nicely
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Samsung’s other high-end phones tend to run either the company’s own Exynos processor or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, but for the Glide Samsung went with a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but it works out fine; despite a technically slower clock speed, the Glide still zips along nicely. There’s the occasional lag, especially with the capacitive Android buttons, but overall I was really happy with the performance. One thing I always worry about is the constant rotation that happens when you’re opening and closing the keyboard all the time, and that was rarely an issue here; occasionally it would take a half-beat longer than usual, but it was usually instant.

Benchmarks were actually more impressive than I anticipated, with Quadrant scores consistently exceeding 3,000 — that’s about as as good as a stock, unmodified smartphone can be these days. I’ve used phones that felt a little zippier, including the Galaxy S II, but this one’s no slouch

Call Quality

As long as I wasn’t in a very loud room or on a busy street, call quality was really good — the microphone is clear, and I other people told me I was very easy to hear and understand. It’s also surprisingly loud, which I always like. But the noise cancellation on the phone borders on non-existent, so any time there’s something happening in the background the person on the other end of the line is guaranteed to hear you. The speakerphone story was the same: I sounded good, even from a few feet away, but a sound as small as scratching my arm got picked up by the phone. One thing I wanted was for sliding the keyboard out to activate speakerphone (which I’ve seen other phones do), but no such luck.

The Captivate Glide doesn’t support LTE (only the Samsung Skyrocket, LG Nitro HD, and HTC Vivid do), but it does connect to AT&T’s "4G" 21Mbps HSPA+ network. It got decent speeds at its best moments, but was wildly inconsistent; I’d get 2Mbps down at one moment in our offices in New York City, and 200Kbps the next. I suspect that’s more AT&T’s fault than Samsung’s, but nevertheless that’s what you’re getting with the Glide. Upload speeds were similarly inconsistent but always mediocre, ranging between about 100 and 300Kbps.

Of course, the tradeoff for the foreseeable future with LTE devices is battery life. if you’ve got LTE, you’ll need everything to download quickly because your battery life is certain to be awful. With no LTE onboard, however, the Glide’s battery life is pretty solid. I always got a full day from the battery when using it as I normally would — streaming a TV show or two, making a few phone calls, sending a number of emails and texts, and some light web browsing — and it was easy to stretch it into a day and a half or even two before I needed to charge the phone..

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If you can’t wrap your mind (or fingers) around the idea of relying solely a on-screen keyboard, you should absolutely buy the Captivate Glide. In effect, the phone is a slightly smaller, much thicker Galaxy S II — a very good phone — with a QWERTY keyboard underneath. The keyboard is good, too, or at least as good as a keyboard can be on a phone this large. The Glide is going to be almost immediately out of date, though, because it doesn’t come with Ice Cream Sandwich (and Samsung’s track record says it’s going to be a while before it gets updated) and doesn’t support AT&T’s new LTE network.

If you don’t need a physical keyboard, you can get Android phones with slightly better specs and performance (especially from the cameras), all in much more pocketable bodies — the Galaxy S II is a great place to start, as is the Motorola Atrix 2. But if you’re in the market for a smartphone with a physical keyboard on AT&T, you shouldn’t buy anything other than the Captivate Glide. In fairness, that’s because its best competition might be the DoubleTime, but luckily the lesser of evils is a pretty good phone in this case. If you’re carrier agnostic, though, Verizon’s upcoming Droid 4 looks poised to blow the Glide away.

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