Verizon Samsung Continuum Review

Have you ever looked at a Android touchscreen handset (any kind, it doesn’t matter which one) and thought “you know what this needs? A second screen”? You probably haven’t, but Samsung engineers and designers did, and innovation was born in the form of the Samsung Continuum. Sporting a very unique way of presenting information on a Android, the Continuum has a lot of intrigue behind it.

The Continuum comes as the latest in a now-very-long lineup of Galaxy S series smartphones made by Samsung. Up until now, though, all of its brethren also in the lineup had a rather specific look and feel to them, and they all had identical specs with only a few exceptions. In other words, the Continuum is the black sheep of the family that looks more like a cousin than a sibling.

But that’s okay — it doesn’t have to be a blood relative to get an invite to the family Christmas party. It just has to be as entertaining and captivating as the other guys. So let’s see if the Samsung Continuum has the cojones to keep up with the best of the best. The Samsung Continuum review starts……….now.

Unboxing of the Samsung Continuum

In the below video, I tackle the box the Continuum calls home and dig deep inside to find any hidden treasures (or not-so-hidden treasures, for that matter…I’m not picky). I also give my very first impressions of the phone. It’s good times, don’t miss it. Then, we’ll proceed with the review.

Hardware and Design of the Samsung Continuum

Two screens. Need I say more?

Okay, I’ll get specific. First of all, the Continuum actually has one large Super AMOLED touchscreen that’s divided up into two separate “screens”: on top the screen takes up 3.4-inches, the bottom encompasses 1.8-inches. As far as I can remember, this style has never been done before on a touchscreen phone. Cleverly, the bottom screen will be used as a moving ticker with constantly updated information, almost like news tickers most commonly found on cable news channels and ESPN. More on that later. Suffice to say, including this second screen and sacrificing the extra screen space to try it out was a bold move for Samsung, and it’s hard to say quite just yet if it will pay off.

The Continuum is a heckuva long and skinny phone, but Samsung makes it work. In fact, the phone feels right at home in my hands. I never felt like it was going to slip through my hands and hit the floor because it was so easy to grip onto. If it were larger, the glossy plastic material making up the sides and back is slippery enough that it would be much more difficult to keep a firm grasp on it without having it slip right through your fingers.

But this is definitely nothing new for Samsung; the phone maker tends to favor this choice of materials because it gives its phones a much sleeker and sexier look than much of the competition. And it works — it just needs to be offset by the much less-attractive protective cases to ensure it doesn’t break into two pieces when dropped. The Continuum could probably stand a few drops, but not many.

Also to go along with the sleekness of the phone’s body and accompanying Super AMOLED, the Continuum is also a sleek fingerprint magnet. Keep a clean cloth handy, and you’ll survive this.

To go along with the second screen, Samsung added in some grip sensors on the side of the Continuum near the very bottom, essentially at the left and right sides of the ticker screen. These sensors will detect when you’re giving a good firm grip to the ticker and responds by activating only the ticker screen, for your perusal or brief glances while the rest of the phone remains inactive.

Beyond the unique second screen and grip sensor, though, there isn’t much extra innovation to the phone’s design. It has a standard flat back with camera and LED flash, along with some speaker openings; there’s no crazy angles or bulges to note. 3.5 mm headphone jack and screen lock on top, camera button and MicroSD card slot on the right, and volume up/down toggle on the left with standard MicroUSB charger port. Nothing outlandish or special; just the usual controls you’ll find on any smartphone (but don’t forget the lanyard hole!).

Software/OS of the Samsung Continuum

The Continuum runs Samsung’s Touchwiz user interface, laid over the top of Android 2.1. It’s hard to believe that this phone was released this past month, but is now 2 versions behind. All Galaxy S series phones are scheduled to receive the 2.2 update, nicknamed Froyo, but with 2.3 Gingerbread now slowly spreading out to new devices, this would still mean the Continuum is obsolete even with a fresh update. There hasn’t been any word on whether or not these phones will get 2.3 though I’m optimistic that Samsung will put it on all the phones in this lineup.

Touchwiz separates itself from the stock Android build in a few key ways. One way is by including 4 different app options on the bottom row, compared to the standard 3. The other way is the app tray that scrolls left to right and encompasses multiple screens, a la iPhone style, whereas the stock build just has a continuous stream of apps going up and down that you scroll through, on only one screen. These are some of the most recognizable ways the Touchwiz is different; quite frankly, I like the user interface. Samsung keeps it simple, so it’s easy to figure out and navigate around the phone to what I need when I need it.

All in all, the software on the Continuum is nothing new and offers no new features that we haven’t seen on any other Galaxy S Touchwiz-enabled phone. Except the ticker.

The Ticker

The scrolling ticker at the bottom of the Continuum draws a very fine line between being incredibly convenient and being incredibly annoying. And it all comes down to what we use it for and how often it gets used.

Weighing heavily on a small 1.8-inch SuperAMOLED screen, the ticker offers three to four different types of screens you can scroll through, left to right. The first screen shows the time and date along with a quick weather shortcut. The next screen shows different icons that indicate missed calls, unread emails and text messages, and IM messages awaiting your response. Next to that you can get a screen that offers continually updated information for several services ranging from social networking like Facebook and Twitter to RSS feeds to news updates like ESPN and weather, not to mention new emails and messages, and even a music player.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to the kinds of information that can be loaded into the ticker for now, as the necessary codes (APIs) to access this potentially powerful tool are still under wraps. I say potentially powerful because thousands of developers could build apps that access the ticker and bless our lives with convenience in ways we may not be able to imagine yet.

Samsung is definitely taking a gamble with the move, not opening up the ticker code to developers. If they don’t allow open access to this feature, it’s wasting a precious opportunity to exploit the ticker for what it’s worth: a powerful open-ended tool on an open-ended platform. By restricting the kinds of apps and features that can utilize the ticker, the phone will remain stale and will go obsolete very fast. Nothing will change on it, and it will be just like most other Android phones. But by keeping it updated with new ticker-accessible apps, the Continuum can continue to be a relevant phone in the market for a very long time — it can be a shining example of how clever ideas such as the ticker can make a winning product succeed well in an incredibly saturated market.

Here’s a rundown of all the features that currently can utilize the ticker: Twidroyd, Facebook, RSS feed reader, Verizon Voicemail, Weatherbug, an IM client (for Gtalk, MSN and Yahoo), text messages and missed calls, and Samsung’s mail client.

So as of this writing you can get all of your messages and social network updates, you can chat via IM, and get updated on the latest blog posts, all while doing other activities on the phone or while not even having the main display on at all.

But remember at first that I said this ticker draws a very fine line between being very useful and very annoying. Such great ideas don’t come without drawbacks. The annoyance of the ticker is how often it light up and show updates if you have certain services on, such as a heavily-used Twitter account. It can be rather frustrating seeing so many Twitter feed updates or Facebook status updates and messages coming through that ticker. It can be overwhelming. My biggest recommendation is to not activate the vibration setting on the ticker, as you’ll notice your phone shaking around the desk like crazy.

Another nice thing Samsung thought up on the ticker settings was a way to put it in sleep mode after a certain time of night, so as to not wake the entire house up with all the constant updating.

The other concern I have with the ticker is that the Continuum uses the same processor as all of the other Galaxy S phones, but has an additional display to worry about operating simultaneously to the main screen. The more the ticker is updating and being used, the more processing power gets pulled away from all of your phone’s other processes, which means a significant change in how fast it can run.

But overall, I have found the ticker to be useful because I was able to adjust the settings to receive only the crucial stuff that I really consider essential when I’m not using the phone actively. The updating feeds and the notifications are nice, but I don’t absolutely need the notifications there when i can find them in the top notification bar when I’m actually ready to turn on my phone’s display and use it for the day.

How does the Continuum compare with other Galaxy S phones?

The Continuum, by all technical specs, is a Galaxy S phone: it comes with a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, runs on Android 2.1, throws in 2 GB internal storage plus 8 GB card included (and 32 GB max), a 5 MP camera with 720p HD video recording, and it even has the DLNA feature. It just doesn’t look like the others at all.

It doesn’t have as large a display: when comparing side-by-side to another Galaxy S phone, the 4” Samsung Captivate, the Continuum’s screen is actually skinnier but longer. Usually smaller screens hurt a phone’s credibility, but the phone is still easy to handle and use without worrying about how hard I have to grip it so it doesn’t fall out of my hands. And it’s still easy to type on and play with.

Turning on the phone I was instantly reminded of the look of the Samsung Fascinate’s user interface. It uses the same default wallpapers and the same type of bloatware; heck, it even uses Bing as the default search engine like the Fascinate did. More on that in a moment.

What else can this thing do?

Being a high-end smartphone, there’s a lot of things this phone can do, though nothing beyond the ticker is truly groundbreaking. It can do all of the same stuff most other top of the line Android phones can do.

The music player is nice on the Continuum. First, I found the Continuum easy to sync media files from my computer. After setting the USB to music sync mode, I plugged my unit into my PC and was promptly given a pop-up menu — the first option was to sync my music using Windows Media Player. Not too shabby, Samsung. Not too shabby.

From here, I found the music player using the Applications menu. This can be done easier by simply pressing and holding the music player icon and pulling it onto the front screen so you can access it faster. Once I was in the player itself I was given a listing of my entire library; I put a few different kinds of songs that I could listen to, and in no time I was listening to my selection. As I was listening to my music, the screen would go dark due to staying idle. But this wasn’t an issue when I wanted to change the song because I could either use the ticker controls, or turn on the main display and pull down the CD icon until the music controls popped down. The player also has an EQ with several preloaded settings as well as my own custom setting, in which I can adjust the bass and treble however I wanted.

There are also extra effects you can add in: you can add reverb like you’re in a concert hall or just barely outside the arena eavesdropping on the live set, or just throw in extra bass or add stereo widening. Changing the sound effects kept me entertained for quite some time. Listening to music on my Skullcandy headphones was a joy because of that EQ. The sound was rich and sounded just like any dedicated PMP or iPod, for which I was happy about.

Taking pictures with the Continuum was very similar to my experiences on the other Galaxy S phones. With the 5 MP camera and 720p HD video, I was able to take excellent pictures and videos. Samsung always does a tremendous job adding in all sorts of extras to its phone cameras. In the Continuum there are several options to customize each individual picture, such as various scene modes, several shooting modes (like panaroma shots, for instance), white balance and ISO settings, face detection, and one of my favorites, Macro mode for close-ups. I’ve never felt like phone cameras can match all of the features and quality of a typical DSLR or even point-and-shoot digital camera, but Samsung tries to make the experience as close as possible.

Here are some selections for your viewing pleasure below.

In traditional Verizon Android style, the Continuum does offer WiFi hotspot features, which can be accessed for an additional monthly fee. This hotspot can broadcast Verizon’s data network to up to 5 devices.

And lately Verizon has been using Bing as the default Android search engine. I had a sizeable rant about this in my Fascinate review, but my opinion in a nutshell: terrible idea. Bing shouldn’t be the only available option here, especially for a Google phone. It just doesn’t make any sense. I do think that with the open-source debate, Bing should be offered as an option, but not the only option.

Performance of the Samsung Continuum

The Continuum’s Hummingbird processor, rated at 1 GHz, proved speedy enough for any of my normal processes, but it did end up being slightly more sluggish than the standard 1 GHz CPU due to the extra processes taken up by the ticker display. It’s not really much a shocker; this ticker running continually in the background, constantly picking up updates that get pushed into it from the internet, will require some extra power out of the CPU. That ends up meaning you’ll sacrifice some speed in order to use the ticker. For first-time users, however, you likely won’t even notice that there is a difference.

My call quality on the Continuum was equal to that of the Fascinate in that there were no problems with the speaker and the mics. Battery life is rated at 7 hours talk time and 312 hours standby, thanks to its 1500 mAh battery. And let’s face it — battery life is going to be greatly affected by how much you use the ticker. If it’s buzzing and lighting up every few seconds because you got a new email or article in your favorite RSS feed, it will drain your battery even faster than the rated talk time.

Why on earth should I want this phone?

Because you like the ticker, plain and simple. The Continuum doesn’t add anything extra besides the ticker that you can’t get with any other Android phone on Verizon. The only other reason you would want this phone is because you prefer a Galaxy S with a smaller screen. That actually is quite understandable; sometimes wider phones with larger screens can be too hefty or bulky for your taste. The Continuum body is easy to hold and grip onto.

But other than that, this is just a typical Android 2.1 phone. I do hope though that Samsung will release the API codes to developers and make something of this ticker. And if it does well, this could be a new lineup of phones for Samsung, all of them throwing in the live ticker. If Samsung doesn’t improve the ticker options, the Continuum will mysteriously disappear very soon, never to be seen again.

Get the Continuum for $.01 at Amazon.

Please view my video review below:

Author: Brad Molen

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