Samsung Continuum First Impressions

| November 9, 2010

Last night, Samsung announced its latest device in the Galaxy S line of Android phones, the Samsung Continuum. Set to launch November 11 on Verizon Wireless, the $200 handset (with $100 mail-in rebate) is practically the same as the Fascinate, another Android phone on Big Red. But there's one really key distinction — dual screens. On the Continuum, there's a small secondary 1.8" "ticker" display set underneath a primary 3.4" screen.

They call it a "ticker" since it's reminiscent of the ticker feed that you see below a TV newscast like on CNN. The main program/interview/analysis is going on in the main area, and there's a line of news headlines that juts across the bottom of the screen. Sammy believes consumers want a similar method for notifications, and are willing to sacrifice some screen real estate (of the main display) to get it.

So, are two displays better than one? Well, after having had a chance to play with the Samsung Continuum, I have to say that I have mixed feeling about this.

When I saw the Ticker, I thought it was really cool at first. There's something about having instant access to notifications that's terrifically practical and super appealing, and it was pretty responsive and swift. (Maybe a little too swift. Sometimes, I launched the weather or RSS app accidentally while swiping through the little screen.) But overall, it worked pretty well. And it was handy, having music controls available without unlocking the device, in addition to text messages and other notifications.

After the demo, however, I was left with a strange feeling, as though something didn't sit ?quite right with me. It was the thought of having my personal messages on display. The grip sensor that activates the ticker is located at the lower sides — and that happens to be exactly where most people would naturally hold a phone. ?

I can just see it now — my mother handing me my cell, and accidentally seeing a saucy text. No thanks.

Now it's worth noting that users can shut off this particular feature or set the lock screen, to add a layer of protection from wandering eyes. (There are settings that allow you to turn on or deactivate specific features. Or if the lock screen is activated, then the small display only shows the ?weather, time and date.) But here's the thing: Wouldn't that defeat the whole purpose of the Ticker? To put my important notifications instantly in my view?

So this seems like a flaw in logic for me, at least with this current incarnation. Perhaps in the future, when mainstream smartphones have grip sensors that identify the owner via palm or finger prints, I'll find the feature more appealing. (Yes, I know the technology exists, but we aren't even close to seeing that become prevalent yet in mobile phones.) Then again, perhaps there are other settings that make this a non issue. We'll know once we have the actual device in the house.

Some other first impressions:

  • 1 GHz A8 cortex Hummingbird processor has the phone feeling swift, with decent speeds and page fluidity.
  • Feel/Form factor: The phone is a bit tall and narrow, but the curves are well-placed, making it feel pretty good in the hand. And it's a lightweight device, which ought to thrill people who don't want to schlep around a hefty phone. Thing is, in order to accomplish this feather-like weight, they went with a plastic that feels — well, plasticky. People who enjoy the fabrication of HTC or Motorola devices, take note: This may come off as kind of cheap-feeling. ?In truth, it felt a bit like a toy in my hands.
  • The two displays: The primary 3.4" ?Super AMOLED display rendered beautifully, with the deep colors and eye-popping detail you'd expect from a SAMOLED screen. Of course, it's not a 4" inch behemoth, like other Galaxy S phones, but it didn't feel tiny. It did seem a bit crowded, though, especially with the Ticker on. Usually, the Android soft keys (home, menu, etc…) are at the bottom. With this, it's sandwiched between the Ticker and main screen. When everything's lit up, I found that I had to hunt for it a bit. So visually, it offered a kind of cluttered experience.
  • External microSD card slot: Not buried under the battery? I don't have much to say about this except for one word: SPECTACULAR. (Why isn't everyone doing this?)
  • Android 2.1: While many of the latest Android phones are enjoying 2.2/Froyo (and excitement builds for Gingerbread), it seems Samsung may want to get a move on with the updates for its Galaxy S phones. Of course, they know that, and even made a point of stating that updates are coming soon (emphasizing that last word). But when it comes to the Continuum, which also comes with Android 2.1, the new hardware may complicate things. We could wind up seeing 2.2 arrive later for this Galaxy S than for the others, so "soon" may wind up being relative.
  • Ticker SDK not available for developers — yet: As for the use of the Ticker for third-party app developers or even advertisers, Samsung is "exploring that," but there is no SDK or ad pipeline for that yet. But the mere thought of that seems to excite them, so I'd guess that they're working on this pretty hard.
  • No Google default search engine: To this, I say, "Bing?! Really?" Yes, I've heard about deals with Microsoft, etc, and I'm not knocking this search engine. But even so, there's something not right about an Android phone that isn't fully integrated with Google search, IMO.
  • Camera: Repeat after me — Megapixels are not a gauge of a camera's image quality. Yes, newer phones are increasingly featuring 8MP cams. But unless you're planning on snapping pics for poster–size printing, the Continuum's 5MP is forgivable. What matters more are facets like sensor, shutter speed and UI. We'll have to see how the this camera measures up when we get test units. For now, what I dig is the LED flash, hardware camera button and the HD (720p) vid capture. What I don't like: Lack of front-facing camera. Come on now — vid chat is all the rage. This seems like a huge omission, no?
  • Battery: This one's more of a question than an expressed opinion, but I wonder what the battery life will be like with this. It has Super AMOLED, which is energy efficient. And if people take to the Ticker, finding that they don't have to activate wake the full phone all the time, then it could actually save some power, right? But much will depend on power management here. It's also possible that always-on grip sensors and an additional display results in a big hit in battery life. We'll have to wait and see.

In general, I liked this phone, but didn't love it. It's more spec'ed out than an intermediate smartphone, but there are some pretty big omissions here that knock it out of the running as an advanced device. So I'm guessing that opinions on the Continuum will hinge on its most prominent feature: the Ticker. People will either love it and wonder how they ever got along without it, or consider it a gimmick that isn't worth the sacrifice of the main screen size.

When PhoneDog gets its review unit, we'll let you know which side of this fence we fall on. Me, personally, I'm leaning toward the latter for now.

In the meantime, check out Adriana's hands on with the Samsung Continuum

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