A few weeks ago, Samsung was kind enough to send us an Intercept for review. While it may not be of Galaxy S caliber, it’s not intended to be. Rather, it’s more so aimed at the feature phone crowd – those who want something more powerful than a feature phone, but maybe not all the bells and whistles of a high-end smartphone. We spoke (unofficially) with Samsung about what other phones they think people will cross-shop the Intercept to, and they agreed its target is something like the enV Touch.
There are two compelling things about this phone. First, the hardware for mid-level phones has improved tremendously. For example: the G1 – the first Android device (released in 2009) - packed a 528 MHz CPU. The Intercept, by comparison, comes with an 800 MHz CPU – but is a lower-level phone. The second interesting thing is that Android is moving down the spectrum into feature phone territory. However, that’s to be expected, considering that Android is a scalable and free open-source OS with a relatively large app market and tons of after-market support.
After using the phone for a week, I have to say it really is the Android equivalent to the enV Touch; at the end of the day, it strikes me as being the new standard for a feature phone (rather than a low-end smartphone). With that in mind, let’s delve into the review.
The Intercept’s hardware seems crippled when compared to the high-end devices today, but compared to older devices, it’s not bad at all:
- 3.2” 240 x 400 px LCD display
- 4 row slide-out QWERTY keypad
- Android 2.1
- Samsung S3C6410 ARM 11 CPU @ 800 MHz
- 512 MB ROM, 256 MB RAM
- 3.2 MP Camera (with video)
- 802.11g, Bluetooth (2.1), headphone jack
- 2 GB microSD card in the box, support for up to 32 GB
- EV-DO rev. 0 (slower than EV-DO rev. A)
The screen certainly won’t blow any minds with its mediocre resolution – nor will the lack of 802.11n and EV-DO rev. A. However, the real-life testing and usage of the phone seems to suggest that the shortcomings exist only on paper.
Benchmarks & Comparisons
As I said above, the phone is aimed at users shopping for feature phones – but as this is really the first Android feature phone (and the only one I have in my hot little hands), I’m going to compare it to the EVO.
SpeedTest: Average of 3 tests. First number is download speed, second number is upload speed. In Kbps.
3G – Small borough, about 15 minutes between 2 mid-size cities. Rural area.
WiFi – 802.11n (backwards compatible with 802.11 a/b/g), running a 15 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload cable connection. Tested within 10 feet of router.
Linpack – Phone is rebooted and allowed to run untouched for 5 minutes (so all apps can start up and update). Test run 10 times in a row, and all 10 scores are averaged.
All tests – Phones are running stock wallpapers, with no abnormal apps being used at the same time. Sync/update settings are similar on both phones, to the extent possible. All tests are run with the phones side-by-side, but not simultaneously (to prevent one phone from claiming available bandwidth). If an email, text, or call was received during a test, the result was not counted. No Advanced Task Killer (ATK) was used before or between testing.
|SpeedTest: 3G – Location 1||272/140||324/433|
Rather unsettlingly, the Speedtest app crashed on the Intercept four times during our benchmarks. Air Control repeatedly crashed as well throughout the week (at its worst point, four times in three hours), and the browser crashed once after about 20 minutes of browsing while charging. Even worse, the phone just completely lost all data connections (WiFi and/or 3G) three times through the week (twice on the first night, and once a week later). The problem seems to occur during extended use sessions, as the phone gets quite warm. This seems to be an isolated incident though, as Googling the problem garners no similar results.
As a result of the crashes, we could only run one SpeedTest with WiFi, which is the result posted (rather than an average). Take the posted result with a grain of salt – based on earlier unofficial tests, this number seems higher than normal.
Also notable: I ran unrecorded speed tests in one of the cities, and was very surprised by the speed achieved on EVDO rev 0 – the speeds kept par with the EVO’s rev A, hitting over 1 Mbps download. Very impressive.
I can’t quite explain why there is a discrepancy between the 3G test scores above and the informal tests I ran off-the-record. I’m certainly no wireless technician, so I can only provide my best guess, which would simply be that the way rev 0 works compared to rev A is less efficient with lower signal strength (I have 1-2 bars at home, although I have no reception issues). Still, that’s speculative – the point stands that rev 0 is capable of much higher speeds than I anticipated, and for the vast majority of users, it should be plenty fast enough in most places.
It’s hard not to feel that the Intercept is slightly underpowered, whether because of the hardware itself or because of Android. Overall, it’s enough to run Android smoothly most of the time, but there are occasional jitters and hiccups. Most apps and actions take a second to register - a somewhat annoying trait, but not unreasonable for a phone aimed at the average (the enV-T has similar issues).
Not much to say on this. It seems to me – at least, where I live and where I’ve been – that carriers’ networks have come pretty far. I don’t think I was out of service once, and call quality seemed to be good.
Screen & Buttons
The screen is bright, and while it’s not high-res, it doesn’t come across as low-res either (although there were a few rare cases where text was slightly blurry). For what it’s worth, it’s better in person than you’d think it would be on paper. The capacitive buttons seem a bit picky - you have to hit them a little low in order for them to register – and the backlight on the buttons shut off too quickly for my taste (very quickly – just a few seconds). Also, I don’t really see the need for the trackpad, but I assume some people still prefer them for some tasks. It was something of a pain to use – it didn’t seem to consistently register properly, but that may be because I’m not accustomed to using one. I made an effort a half-dozen times through the week to switch to using it more, but gave up every time.
The keyboard is nicely spaced considering the size, and easy to type on. This seems like an oxymoron, but the keys are both soft (borderline squishy) and firm at the same time (they feel squishy, but they’re firm in terms of depressing them). The covering on the keys feels like soft, papery plastic. Compared to the enV-T’s hard plastic keys, it came across as feeling cheapish, but not unreliable in any way.
The camera took surprisingly good pictures, supporting the argument that there’s more to the camera quality equation than sheer megapixels. However, there’s a huge delay between the press of the button and the the picture being taken – somewhere between 1 and 2 seconds. I saw a butterfly slowly flapping its wings on a bench, and tried to snap a shot of them wide open. Between the butterflies varying pace and the huge delay on the camera, the best I managed was two shots of them about 1/3 of the way open:
The other problem with the camera was color consistency – as the above examples show. However, this doesn’t count against the Intercept, as the problem is pretty standard on phone cameras, and is a relatively easy fix in most image editing software.
Obviously, Android has really started to hit its stride. Full access to the Market, and the community support that has already cropped up are a few of the reasons we love Android in the first place, and it’s no different for this phone. As mentioned above, the OS runs acceptably well on the Intercept, but has the occasional stutter or pause, and most actions take a second to complete.
Sprint apps generally suck (although, to be fair, every carrier bundles in crapware with their devices). Still, compared to the EVO, it’s nice that this phone comes less bloated from the store. Sprint’s own Navigation app is left out in favor of Google’s. There are fewer Sprint widgets plastered on the home screens by default as well (i.e. Sprint TV).
Samsung seems to have kept Android pretty stock, and that’s more or less fine by me. Sure, Eclair’s stock UI isn’t great – in fact, it’s downright mediocre – but at least there’s a market full of custom themes available for Android.
How It Comes Together
I have to admit that after using the EVO for a little over month, I was dubious of switching to the Intercept. However, after about a day of using it, I came away pretty impressed – keeping in mind I’m comparing it to the enV Touch. To anyone cross-shopping to the enV Touch or similar devices, I’d say this certainly wouldn’t be a bad option – the screen isn’t as high res as the enV-T’s, but the Intercept’s screen is much more of a joy to touch (it’s capacitive, rather than resistive).
|Full QWERTY Keyboard||Comparartively lower-res screen|
|Bright screen||Keyboard keys feel papery|
|Free from most vendors||Trackpad – sucks, and useless|
|Good build quality||Capacitive touch buttons are picky|
|Android||No official word on Android updates|
|Very minimal bloatware||Still a bit slow (could improve with FroYo)|
The takeaway: if you’re looking for a midrange phone, the Intercept is certainly worth a look. It isn’t going to blow any minds, but it isn’t meant to. Android alone is a far better OS than the proprietary ones used by most phone manufacturers, and it has a huge base of existing apps and an awesome Android community. Factor in that the Intercept can be had for free from many vendors, and it's a winner among the middle class of phones.