Make no mistake, the DROID Charge is a cool phone. It looks cool. Its boot screen looks cool. Hell, even the camera has been carefully crafted to look like some sort of crazy piece of future-tech.
In the past week, I've had three separate people ask me what phone it was (something that I never experienced with my Nexus One or the HTC Inspire), and then proceed in some way to compliment its appearance or the vividness of its display. Unfortunately, this just goes to show that the Charge is a classic case of "don't judge a book by its cover." Why?
Where to begin? 3G connection issues, a plasticky build, slow display wake, a buggy and sluggish UI overlay, tons of sponsored bloatware, and an outdated version of Android (FYI: Froyo will be turning 1 year old pretty soon). Taken together, these flaws should make any reasonable person think twice about taking a 2-year plunge with the $300 Charge.
What Verizon and Samsung have done is built a phone (out of plastic) with the aesthetic qualities of a fine Italian sports car, and then proceeded to stuff an old, angry 800-pound bloatware/software overlay gorilla in the trunk, and weld it shut. The result? It's unpredictable, annoying, slows the phone down, and there's not much you can do about it - except try and ignore it. Which, I might add, is nearly impossible.
Don't get me wrong, the Charge is certainly usable - but I don't understand why anyone would want to use it over, say, the HTC Thunderbolt (aside from, perhaps, battery life or the display). The Thunderbolt is cheaper. It's made from better materials. You might actually like HTC's Sense UI overlay. And it comes from a manufacturer that has generally been good about providing timely updates to the Android OS. The Charge, well, it... doesn't.
At A Glance
The Charge's spec sheet isn't going to turn a lot of heads - the LTE radio and big Super AMOLED Plus display are definitely the major selling points here:
- 4.3" WVGA SAMOLED Plus (800x480)
- 1GHz Hummingbird processor
- Android 2.2 Froyo with TouchWiz 3.0 overlay
- 512MB RAM / 512MB ROM
- 2GB Internal Storage (about 1.2GB usable)
- 32GB Micro SDHC card included
- 4G LTE connectivity
- 8MP rear camera w/ LED flash
- 1.3MP front camera w/ secondary microphone
- 1600mAh battery
Now, if you don't feel like reading the full review (can't blame you on that one), here's the quick positive/negative rundown on the Charge:
- The 4.3" Super AMOLED Plus display is extremely bright and vivid, and performs exceptionally well in sunlight compared to other display techs.
- Verizon's 4G LTE is fast. I experienced anywhere from 10-20Mbps down in a variety of locations, with consistent sub-100ms pings.
- Battery life: it doesn't suck (I'm looking at you, Thunderbolt). Expect a full day's use without worry.
- It is one good-looking phone. The Charge wasn't just designed, it was styled - like a stealth fighter by Gucci.
- It comes with a big fat 32GB Micro SDHC card.
The Not So Good:
- TouchWiz 3.0 is slow, buggy, and in no way improves the user experience. With TouchWiz 4.0 coming on the Galaxy S II (and being exceptionally fast), one can hope the Charge will get the bump to TW4 when it receives Android 2.3.
- If you live in a 3G-only coverage area, the Charge has a tendency to drop your data connection for no apparent reason - and you have to reboot to re-acquire it. I almost threw it out the window several times because of this problem.
- Waking the display to the lock screen takes well over a second. This sounds like a very trivial thing, but trust me, it will annoy you.
- The amount of Verizon bloatware is truly staggering (there are 17 Verizon-installed applications - many of which simply send you to preview videos or download pages). Please Verizon, start making some of this stuff removable.
- The display and battery cover/frame will get scratched to hell (easily) if you don't use a skin.
- $300. Really?
In A Sentence: The Samsung DROID Charge is a bit like a Fascinate on steroids - it has a bigger, better display and a 4G LTE radio - yet still manages to shoot itself in the foot with buggy software and an astronomical price tag.
You Should Buy It If: The Thunderbolt's abysmal battery life and LG's relative newcomer-status (the Revolution will be coming in a little under a week) have you on the fence about a Verizon 4G device, but you still need/want a 4G phone right now. And price isn't much of an object for you.
If you're craving yet more details about how the DROID Charge stacks up, read on for the full review (we'll start with the good stuff)!
Fast, fast, fast. There's no other way to describe Verizon's 4G LTE network (well, I guess you could say it's splendiferous - because it is).
Verizon advertises a range of 8-13Mbps down for its LTE network. With present network load conditions, this estimate is pretty conservative. 10Mbps was the lowest speed I achieved while on 4G, and the Charge topped 19Mbps in ideal signal conditions. But that's not all LTE is good for, no no. Say goodbye to latency, folks: Verizon's 4G consistently clocked in at 60-90ms in ping tests, which is staggeringly quick for a mobile data network (by comparison, AT&T's 3G, at best, pings around 175ms, and often gets up to 300ms higher).
Say what you will about Verizon's 4G speeds being artificially inflated by the low number of 4G subscribers on the network - even if those performance figures were halved, Verizon would still be eating the competition for breakfast. It seems safe to say at this point that everyone else will be playing catch-up with Big Red's network once again.
SAMOLED Plus - Because More Letters Is Better
Crassness aside, the Charge's display is truly awesome. The DROID Charge is the first Samsung device that will debut in the US with this, the latest iteration of Samsung's AMOLED display technology, and it doesn't disappoint. When I spent a little time with the upcoming Galaxy S II handset at CTIA, which also sports an SAMOLED Plus screen, I couldn't believe the contrast and brightness it was capable of. The Charge is no different.
The display performs exceptionally well in sunlight - I never managed to get to a point where I was unable to make out what was going on on the screen, and I live in sunny Los Angeles, CA. If anything, this makes me consider the Galaxy S II even more for my next phone purchase, and it's definitely the Charge's saving grace, along with its 4G radio.
Viewing angles, contrast, brightness, and color reproduction are all fantastic - there's no getting around that. The only drawback to the Charge's display (visually) is the resolution, which like most Android phones is WVGA (800x480). The point is a minor one, but with qHD displays pushing the resolution standard up to 960x540 on most flagship phones this summer, it seems worth noting that the Charge and Galaxy S II will probably be the last high-end WVGA handsets we'll see.
There is one more thing about the Charge's display - it does not seem to have Corning Gorilla Glass. My review unit has battle scars already - and I have no idea how I scratched it. This is a serious concern if you don't use screen protectors. And if you do use them, the Charge's capacitive-touch display already takes considerable pressure to recognize touch actions (more than I'm used to, for sure).
After using the Charge for a little over a week now, I can say I'm neither impressed nor disappointed by the Charge's battery life. It's good - not great, but it sure blows the competition (*cough* Thunderbolt *cough*) out of the water in this arena. In 3G-only mode, you can expect a full day's use without much worry, unless you're watching a lot of videos or constantly playing games. If that's the case, the Charge and its eye-meltingly bright display are more than happy to eat through your battery like no one's business.
If you live on the edge of a 4G coverage area, switching between 3G and 4G relatively often will probably have a similar battery-devouring effect - fortunately, you can force the Charge into CDMA-only mode through the settings menu.
Interestingly, the Charge is set by default to reduce the brightness of the screen when lots of white pixels are displayed (eg, during web browsing) in order to save battery life. This seems like a very sensible feature, and I don't know why other manufacturers haven't picked up on the idea.
The Charge, then, clearly succeeds in an arena where its HTC competitor has (arguably quite badly) failed.
Here's where things start to go downhill. The DROID Charge, like all of Samsung's phones, it seems, is made out of plastique. Sure, it keeps the phone's weight down, but I don't see any other advantage to Samsung's choice of materials aside from, maybe, minor savings on manufacturing costs.
I can already feel the phone's power button getting arthritic from my constant poking (it sort of "sticks" after a while), and this only lends itself to the oft-reached conclusion that metal alloy-framed phones are just better. Here's a list of other small considerations regarding the Charge's fit and finish:
- The battery cover feels cheap and flimsy, gets scratched up easily, and picks up tons of finger-smudges
- Plugging into the headphone jack requires way too much force
- The volume up button sits parallel to the power button, often resulting in accidental presses of both
- HDMI port cover feels like you're going to break it every time you snap it open
In summary: don't expect a phone built any better than a Galaxy S - because the Charge isn't. And if you do decide to get it: buy a skin. Seriously.
TouchWiz blows. Sorry, Samsung - I can't think of a single reason anyone would want this polished turd of an overlay. It adds nothing to the user experience, unless you really want your Android phone's UI to look just similar enough to an iPhone to raise the eyebrows of Apple's lawyers.
TouchWiz 3.0 has many exciting features - like hardware accelerated menus! And two lock-screen styles. Are you excited yet?
Samsung's many TouchWiz widgets are great for one thing, and one only: slowing down your phone. Homescreen scrolling, out of the box, is embarrassingly slow - and it's all because of these nightmarish widgets. Samsung's apps, like MediaHub, are equally unimpressive in their performance.
One other fun aspect of Samsung's software is the hilariously long time it takes to wake the Charge's display. I counted over a full second. This leads to constant second-guessing and double-taps when you hit the power button, resulting in what we in the business call "nerdrage."
Also, bloatware. 17 Verizon-installed apps. I'd list them, but frankly who cares what they are? You can't take them off, and half of them aren't even apps - they're just shortcuts to preview videos or VCAST download links (relatedly, the VCAST app store is the single worst piece of software ever spawned by humanity).
VZW Navigator was my favorite - upon launching, the app needed to download a bunch of data for its maps and what not. Alright, fair enough. Then (yes, after downloading all the map data), it asked for an update from the Market (which did not automatically show up when you hit the "My Apps" list). Then, after launching the updated version, it had to download all of the map data again. This whole process took 2-3 minutes, enough for the average user to give up, never touch VZW Navigator again, and just use Google Navigation. Word to the wise, Verizon: when people use navigation apps, they typically need directions right now. Also, VZW Navigator really wants you to know that if you're connected to Wi-Fi, it'll load Google maps-sourced 3D buildings in major cities, and populates your notification bar with an icon indicating it's waiting for Wi-Fi for that purpose, even when VZW Navigator has been exited. Presumably the last part of that annoyance is a bug.
Finally, the Charge still runs Android 2.2 - and unlike the Thunderbolt, or even the standard Galaxy S, we have no idea if or when Gingerbread (Android 2.3) is coming. How much better could this phone have been if Samsung worked to get it running G-bread out of the box? I'm going to guess "a lot."
I live in an area that does not have Verizon 4G LTE coverage. Still, I have very strong Verizon 3G coverage (-75dbM on average), and get 3G speeds about as quick as CDMA can provide (1.5Mbps down).
The Charge doesn't like 3G. In fact, it dislikes it so much that it randomly decides to drop its 3G data connection, and refuses to take it back. Please note, I'm not saying it's going into 1x (2G) mode - it loses all data connectivity whatsoever. I tried everything to fix it. I switched it to CDMA-only mode in the settings. I tried using the phone's data connection toggle. I tried switching it into Airplane mode and then back out of it. I wiped the phone. Nothing worked - I still have to reboot the Charge about 2-4 times per day to get my data connection back. There's no rhyme or reason to the dropping, either, it is seemingly completely random.
This is such a huge (probably radio firmware) glitch that I cannot understand how Samsung or Verizon didn't notice it during testing. It was probably my single biggest gripe about the phone, and it still frustrates me to no end.
Notably, this did not seem to happen when I was in 4G coverage areas.
I've made several calls on the Charge, and I have the same complaint I've read in two other reviews: you cannot hear the other person easily because of the Charge's super-narrow speaker bar. It has to be lined up with your ear just right to make it really work properly. Also, people on the other end generally had difficulty hearing me as well. I didn't drop any of my calls, of course, thanks to Verizon. But as a phone, the Charge is pretty mediocre, possibly even below average.
The DROID Charge's 8MP rear-facing camera has been lauded by most reviewers, and my feelings are pretty much the same, so I'll let the images do the talking. These photos are unaltered except for resizing. Video was taken in 720p mode.
The DROID Charge has a few things going for it; namely, a great screen, a great network, and a pretty good rear-facing camera. Unfortunately, the Charge also has a lot of things working against it - TouchWiz, an old version of Android, buggy software, bloatware, connectivity issues, plastic, and most importantly: an absolutely absurd $300 price tag. For $100, I'd say the Charge was a decent phone. But at a flagship price, it gets judged like a flagship device, and that's a standard the Charge, frankly, doesn't live up to.