Samsung’s first bada phone – the Samsung Wave S8500 – is finally here. A few months ago we reviewed a prototype unit, which left us with rather high expectations for the final product. Now that it’s here, we are ready to see what Samsung’s latest and greatest creation has to offer. Being a full-featured mobile platform however, bada will inevitably face some pretty strong competition in the form of BlackBerry, webOS, Android and iPhone OS. Or will it? According to Samsung, bada is the easy to use type of OS, which will combine the greatness of having rich 3rd-party apps with a user-friendly interface that would appeal to every average Joe out there. So bada is not that much of an opponent to BlackBerry and Windows Phone, than it is to the iPhone, webOS and Android. Congrats, Samsung, you just painted some really tough future for yourself.
The manufacturer’s vision is well-represented by its slogan “smartphone for everyone”. Well, a bada smartphone for everyone is no doubt what every Samsung executive envisions, but as of now this is surely more of a dream than it is a reality. The question is if, eventually, some day, the bada-based smartphones would really become a part of the general customer’s life, similarly to the iPhone now.
Samsung Wave S8500 Video Review:
In terms of design, the Samsung Wave S8500 is a great achievement of technology (and of Samsung’s design team). It is definitely a good looker, sports a pretty solid metal chassis and is really thin at just 0.43 inches (10.9mm). The in-hand feel of the smartphone is top-notch, thanks to the high-quality materials used and its significant weight.
The Samsung Wave S8500 sports a pretty solid metal chassis and is really thin
The Samsung Wave looks similar to the Nexus One and has almost the same dimensions, but there’s one important difference – the capacitive screen measures 3.3 inches, while the Nexus One has a 3.7-inch one. Except for that one issue, we are perfectly happy with the Wave’s display. Like every AMOLED, it delivers great contrast, blacks are really pitch black, and colors are incredibly vivid. However, Samsung has utilized a new “Super AMOLED” technology, which is said to provide even better image quality and less reflection. The manufacturer has achieved this by removing the panel for the touch sensor and the air gap between the AMOLED and the touch sensor. This should also allow for better visibility under bright sunlight, which is something not very common for AMOLEDs. We compared the Wave’s screen with the one of the iPhone 3G and it was better in almost every respect. When indoors, the Super AMOLED provides a lot more clarity and saturation, while its viewing angle is incomparably wider. The Wave is indeed quite usable when outdoors, but still the iPhone 3G demonstrated its supremacy here.
Samsung Wave S8500 (Left) and Apple iPhone 3G (Right)
The resolution is 480×800 pixels – very good for this screen size, although things do not appear crystal clear.. For example, texts have an obvious pixelization to them, and you might also experience some not very accurate color representation.
The resolution is 480×800 pixels, which is very good for this screen size
Samsung has covered the display with tempered glass, which is really firm, and has even applied an oleophobic (from the Greek “oleo” – oil) coating so it doesn’t get the annoying fingerprint smudges. The end result is near perfect.
You can compare the Samsung Wave S8500 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
Below the screen we get nicely designed send and end keys, as well as a menu key, which is also used to bring up the multitasking menu. On the left side is simply the volume rocker, on the right are the lock key and camera shutter, and on the top you’ll find the loudspeaker, 3.5mm jack and microUSB port. On the back are the 5MP camera with 720p video recording capabilities and LED flash. We didn’t really like the batter door, which is again made of metal, but uses a different shade of the color, making it look less uniform. Once you remove that, you get access to the 1500mAh battery. Once you remove that… you can then use the SIM and microSD card slots.
The sides of the Samsung Wave S8500
On the whole, the build quality of the Samsung Wave S8500 is great. It is obvious that Samsung wanted to come up with a killer handset for the introduction of bada, and we’ve got to admit they have achieved very good results here in the design department. It is clear however that what’s more interesting on this particular handset is its software – the bada OS and its web browsing capabilities, its application marketplace and multimedia features. So, let’s check it out!
On top of bada OS, the Samsung Wave S8500 uses TouchWiz 3.0, which looks a lot like what we have previously seen from Samsung’s touchscreen devices, bringing some nice visual improvements. However, to start with, we would like to note that the Wave runs perfectly smooth. There’s no lag almost anywhere in the interface, which comes as a surprise from Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, as it has been suffering from severe lag from time immemorial. Now, we are not sure if the Wave’s flawless performance is due only to the 1GHz processor inside it, or it’s bada that makes things run smoothly, but we can tell you that it is way more enjoyable to use the Wave, than any other TouchWiz phone . Using the Samsung Wave S8500 is like using the iPhone 3GS – you get a perfectly smooth experience, which isn’t something you see every day.
The Samsung Wave S8500 uses TouchWiz 3.0
We have described the new (and even the insignificant) design changes in our Samsung Wave S8500 Preview, so here, in our review, we would like to pay more attention to the ease of use of the operating system, as well as the overall experience that the user gets with it.
Let us put it this way: we are experienced users (e.g. professionals), as we’ve tested and reviewed many phones and smartphones, so if bada is to be an intuitive platform, chances are we wouldn’t experience any problems with it. Well, that’s not the case. Using basic features of the OS, such as arranging widgets on the homescreen, or starting apps and creating calendar entries is as easy as on every modern touch cell phone out there. However, we found it extremely hard to set our custom email correctly, so that we could send and receive messages. Alright, we coped with the receiving part, but we still couldn’t send emails. The answer is probably somewhere deep in the settings menus, but we just can’t see why we would have no problems setting everything right on every other phone and not here.
We also had some troubles starting bada’s app store, named Samsung Apps. In short, sometimes the app starts, sometimes it doesn’t. And we can’t really tell you what the cause of this is, since we have not done any changes in settings between the attempts. It just… happens.
Phonebook and Organizer:
The phonebook allows you to store IM information for your contacts (you can choose from AIM, Windows Live, Yahoo!, Skype, QQ and Google Talk), as well as import you social network friends from MySpace and Twitter. Facebook was not available as an option in our unit, which is rather strange (in the negative way), but that might be depending on your region. You can track each contact’s latest online activity through the phonebook application, which is called SNS functionality (from Social Network Service). SNS is also used in various other phones such as the LG GW620, LG Pop and Samsung Lindy. The good thing is that your contacts appear with their online images, which makes the phonebook way more colorful and enjoyable. The bad thing is that you’ll have to manually link your phone contacts and the imported social network friends.
The phonebook of the Samsung Wave S8500
Of course, you can store a lot of information for each contact. Searching by typing a name is well-made – once you tap the “Search” button, the QWERTY comes on screen and results start to appear as you type. Simple and elegant, as it should be. However, Samsung hasn’t missed the opportunity to “innovate”, the bar on the right with the alphabet, which is also used to find a certain contact quickly, misses some of the letters. And no, you do not get to see only the letters of the contacts you have. You might have contacts starting with “B” (like Bill, for example), but the letter “B” is missing. Still, as you start using the alphabetical bar, “B” and all the other missing letters are there, it’s just that the phone passes those names faster than the letters that are present on the bar… What?! Did you… did you really manage to follow that? You might have 10 contacts starting with “B”, and only one with “D”, but no – you’ll pass “B” with the speed of light and the phone would stay longer while over the “D”. Yep, it’s a small detail, but as more and more such small details start to appear, one begins to wonder what’s the problem with these guys! Why don’t they make things in a normal and intelligent way? Why is the “Next” key always on the left side, and the “Cancel” one on the right? It simply doesn’t make any sense. Still, you will be able to get used to that last one, since it’s a widely used concept in bada.
Anyways, on to one of the most widely used features of any phone – the calendar. You can synchronize the calendar with Facebook and Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync, which is great. Switching between day, week and month view is also easy, as is adding an appointment. We wanted to try how fast we can add an appointment on the Samsung Wave S8500. So we placed the Calendar widget on the homescreen (which acts like a simple shortcut), started the calendar from there, then quickly chose the desired date from month view with a double-tap. That opened the appointment creation screen, and the event was automatically scheduled to begin at 9:00. We changed the start time to 16:00 and went on to save the appointment. Oh, no you don’t! We got a message telling us that we can’t save an appointment with an end time that’s earlier than its start time. Oh, excuse us, we didn’t know it was our job to adjust that manually! Listen, if we’ve only entered our start time and want to save the appointment, then that means that end time doesn’t matter to us. We just want a reminder about something that begins at a certain time, and we want to add it quickly… You know, Samsung’s bada OS is not particularly smart when it comes to some pretty simple everyday stuff.
Other organizing tools that you’ll find in the Samsung Wave S8500 are Task, Memo, Voice recorder and Mini diary apps. Nothing out of the ordinary there, they work fine.
Messaging and Connectivity:
We already told you about our little gripes we had with the email app. Still, we like Samsung’s Ultimate Inbox feature, which lets you see all your emails in a single place. It’s really nice that emails from your different inboxes are designated with different colors, which lets you easily distinguish them.
The Messages app that takes care of your short texts or multimedia messages can be viewed in either Conversation, or Folder view. The first one is great, because it displays your correspondences in threaded view, while the second one’s layout is very similar to the email app’s interface.
On the whole, we are pretty satisfied with the messaging experience and options on the first bada handset, the Samsung Wave S8500. Moreover, the manufacturer has done a pretty good job with the on-screen QWERTY keyboards. Although the screen is not very big, at 3.3 inches, the portrait keyboard is pretty well-made, as it takes advantage of all the available space. The same goes for the landscape one, which is very comfortable to type with. We also believe we made so few mistakes while typing because of the decent amount of space between the keys.
The built-in Dolfin 2.0 browser gets the job done. It loads pages very fast, it scrolls and zooms smoothly and without any noticeable lag. So, the technology is there, but how it has been implemented is another story. While scrolling, you’ll notice that the page kind of snaps at certain positions and this can really get you out of your mind. The bad news is that this kind of “snapping” is seen almost everywhere in the OS, making things feel unnatural and even irritating at times. At least double tap and pinch-to-zoom work (almost) flawlessly.See the browser in action in our video review!
The browser also seems to compress images too much, in order to get that impressive loading times. In this case, we believe the makers of the app have gone a little too far. We absolutely wouldn’t mind having to wait for a few more seconds, if that was the price to be paid for the ability to enjoy the full beauty of the web. Plus, the Super AMOLED screen is great for viewing images, but its over-saturation is a bit awkward for the web browsing experience.
The built-in Dolfin 2.0 browser gets the job done.
Dolfin 2.0 supports Flash Lite content. You can play YouTube videos, but their playback starts to lag as you zoom in. The content is also only usable to an extent, because the Flash elements simply disappear and present you with the Flash logo in case you zoom in too much. Not cool at all. Don’t get us wrong – it’s a decent browser, but one that we would expect to see in a mid-end offering.
Dolfin 2.0 supports Flash Lite content
The most important thing in this section is of course bada’s application store, Samsung Apps. We really like that app. It has very nice interface, which lets browse apps by Featured, Top or Category. Once you choose an app, it shows you the necessary information and a few screenshot, which can be viewed in full screen. Really nice stuff, but unfortunately the content is very scarce at the moment. There were only about 50-60 apps available, but we hope that number will increase fairly quickly.
That’s why it’s important to know what software the Samsung Wave S8500 ships with. You’ll find Facebook and Twitter apps, which will let you use the services, but not in the way you’d imagine. They are a bit sluggish when loading new content, but that’s not the biggest issue here. We wanted to view some pics of our friends on Facebook and found that the phone resizes them. They are so small that you can hardly see what’s on there at times. And you can’t zoom, sorry. You can always use the full Facebook site though.
Unfortunately, the YouTube icon in the main menu only leads to the mobile site. You can play the videos with the phone’s player, but the compression is too much, so the quality is somewhat poor. Innovation, Samsung? It really makes you wonder, especially since the iPhone had a great YouTube app on launch date some three years ago.
Now we would like to say a few words about the gaming abilities of the Samsung Wave S8500 and bada OS as a whole. The Wave comes with Asphalt 5 – the same game that is available for the iPhone. It’s a heavy game, and it runs on the Wave. But the performance is quite poor. Definitely disappointing considering the phone’s 1GHz Snapdragon chipset. And even more disappointing considering that the game runs noticeably better on the iPhone’s 412Mhz processor (present in the 2G and 3G versions). We shouldn’t be too harsh on Samsung though. At least, not yet, as these are bada’s first days and we hope the manufacturer will do its best to improve the platform quickly.
The Samsung Wave S8500 uses the Samsung LBS Navigation app powered by Route 66. It’s a decent application with lots of settings and nice interface with pinch-to-zoom capabilities taking advantage of the multitouch screen, but it’s rather clumsy, as it takes quite a lot of time to download maps. What really took us by surprise though was our inability to get ourselves localized. Even with A-GPS turned on, our location could not get pinpointed after quite some time. We hope that’s a flaw present in our unit/location only.
The 5MP camera (not breathtaking nowadays) of the Samsung Wave S8500 has autofocus and an LED flash. It is also able to record 720p HD videos. The camera interface is pretty straightforward, with simple black and white buttons. It may lack the eye candy, but is very easy to use. It works very fast as well.
The camera interface of Samsung Wave S8500
Both indoor and outdoor shots made with our unit are passable, with good detail levels. Colors are somewhat washed out though. We are by no means blown away by what we saw, once we took the images made with the Samsung Wave S8500 and opened them in a computer. We were happy to find that the LED flash is doing a great job at illuminating darker places.
The HD video we captured however was nothing short of great, with high frame rate of 29.97 fps and very good detail and overall quality. With such a performance, the Samsung Wave S8500 can easily replace your pocket camcorder. In addition to the video sample from the Wave, we have also included a video sample made with the Flip Mino HD so you can compare them.
When you have a Super AMOLED screen, you’d want to take full advantage of it. Samsung knows that and here we have the Wave with its ability to playback HD video files in various formats like H.264, DivX and Xvid. The Samsung Wave S8500 plays everything flawlessly. And boy the Super AMOLED screen is just fantastic for watching movies!
The music player allows you to filter by different criteria very easily, thanks to the bar at the upper end. Turning the handset horizontally will display a nice interface with some more eye candy for you. The user experience is great, because of the perfectly smooth performance. Sound quality through the boxed earphones is just brilliant. It should not be described, it should be heard.
The loudspeaker has enough loudness, but does not surprise on the quality front. It’s still very usable though.
The music player of Samsung Wave S8500
Performance and Conclusion:
Using the Samsung Wave S8500 to place and receive phone calls is a terrific experience! Voices are almost crystal clear, while the loudness hits just the sweet spot. And this goes for both ends of the line. If we have to rate the phone quality of the Wave, we would give it a 9.5/10. Great job, indeed.
According to the manufacturer, the Samsung Wave S8500′s 1500mAh Li-Ion battery is capable of delivering up to 15 hours of talk time in 2G, and 25 days of stand-by. Not bad, Samsung, not bad at all.
Samsung’s first bada phone is a remarkable achievement, in terms of design and technology. It looks great and feels awesome in the hand. The 3.3-inch screen is incredibly bright and vivid, with some pretty nice detail to it. Although not as spectacular in the photo department, the 5MP camera shoots awesome 720p video, and when you throw the Wave’s prowess at playing back high-resolution video in various formats, we really have a true multimedia powerhouse at our hands. Finally, the Samsung Wave S8500 is super fast, making everything happen almost instantaneously.
Now for the bad. The bada operating system is far from being perfect right now. It does make things work really smooth, but still has quite a few kinks to get worked out. Most importantly, the small annoying details in the interface that kind of hamper the overall user experience. The other deal breaker here might be the very poor application catalog in Samsung Apps right now. With under 100 apps that you can choose from right now, bada is miles away from Android, and light years away from iPhone OS, in terms of diversity, quality and entertainment options. That said, it appears that the Android-based Samsung Galaxy S for example is a much more delicious piece of technology right now, with the 50,000 apps available in Android Market. However, we don’t see why Samsung wouldn’t continue to invest in its operating system, because obviously it does have the guts to compete with the big boys out there on the market. Moreover, this will provide more competition, thus more innovation and more options for the end user.
So let us summarize all this in just a few words: the Samsung Wave S8500 is an incredibly appealing smartphone, with an operating system that still has a lot of room for improvement. And we mean all that in the big way.
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