Samsung Infuse 4G
5th Jan 2012 | 15:53
The Infuse 4G is a huge phone, but is it a huge success?
Overview, design and feel
The Samsung Infuse 4G feels a bit like a phone with an identity crisis. It costs the same as the Epic 4G Touch, but is excluded from the Galaxy line. It's got a 4G right in the name, but it doesn't boast 4G speeds.
And at 4.5" it's also large enough to feel almost like a tablet - albeit one rocking the stale Froyo Android OS. But is it a good phone?
The first thing anyone will notice about the Samsung Infuse is its gargantuan 4.5" Super AMOLED display. Samsung is no stranger to large displays; its flagship Galaxy S2 rocks a 4.3" screen, and the Samsung Galaxy Note is actually, legitimately, a tablet-phone crossover poised to launch stateside in early 2012.
But no matter how its predecessors feel, the Samsung Infuse's large screen and small borders make it feel bigger than it actually is.
Those with small thumbs might want to look elsewhere, or else risk having to hold the phone in two hands. For others, the extra screen real estate will feel comfortable.
This is at least in part due to the phone's thickness and weight - at only 131g (less than .30 pounds) and 8.8mm at its thickest the Samsung Infuse is thinner and just about as light as the Samsung Epic 4G Touch.
The frame chassis feels a bit cheap, with slippery angular plastic. It has a grippy back, which also serves as, quite possibly, the world's thinnest battery cover, and can easily be pulled off. This gives you easy access to the battery, SIM, and the interchangeable microSD - which is hidden (not to mention upside down) beneath the SIM card.
You don't have to remove the SIM card, just the 1760mAh battery, to access the microSD - if you can find it. You'll likely want to replace it as the onboard microSD it comes with is an inadequate 2GB. The internal memory sits at 16GB, but it's easy to imagine filling if you want to watch a few movies on that posh screen.
There's also the usual features - a 3.5mm headphone slot on top, speakerphone on the back, Micro-USB on the bottom. That Micro-USB doubles as a high-definition video output as well, but you'll need to use an (included) optical dongle.
We'd have loved to see a notification light somewhere on the Infuse, but besides that and a cheapish feel, build quality is just good enough to be adequate. The Infuse 4G can be yours for $199 with a two-year contract from AT&T.
The Infuse comes packed with 2.2.1 Froyo, which wasn't even the most recent version of Froyo when the phone released. While we fully hope to see Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich make its way to the Infuse one day, we're not sure if it'll ever come.
At 512MBs of RAM and only a single-core processor, the Infuse 4G isn't showcasing the most impressive specs. Even still, with the 1.2GHz processor, it's snappy and quick in everyday tasks. Either way, it's a travesty that Gingerbread is still absent.
As for now, the current version of Froyo - though unexciting - is sufficient. After all, the 2.2.2 and 2.2.3 update mostly fixed small glitches the Infuse isn't plagued with.
There are several slightly different interface features in the Infuse, mostly stemming from the version of Samsung's Touchwiz that's on the Infuse (it's slightly newer than the Samsung Galaxy S, but not as new as the S2). The first of differences you'll notice is a new lock screen that (thankfully) only makes you swipe about 3/4s of the gargantuan screen to unlock.
New screens now come touting a semi-opaque "Press and hold this page to add content," which is the easiest way to add widgets and shortcuts to blank screens.
Besides a few other negligible changes, not much has been changed to make the OS more suited to the larger screen. The Infuse still utilizes four icons to a row and doesn't allow you to reshape widgets with the flexibility of the Galaxy Note.
In addition, there are times when the large screen makes big enough boxes just, well, bigger. Landscape typing into Facebook's username and password, for instance, only shows one enormous text box at a time. This ends up making certain graphic elements on the Infuse needlessly large.
Unfortunately, The Infuse 4G only offers six seen-before live wallpapers. We'd have loved to see a couple new offerings to show off the gorgeous Super AMOLED screen (plus, we're just kind of tired of the old ones).
Like the Galaxy Note, you can pinch to show an overview of home screen cards, which is a neat trick, but not more efficient than simply swiping from side to side.
Contacts and calling
Call it envy, but much of the UI looks just a bit outdated now that we've seen the beautiful Ice Cream Sandwich interface. This is especially apparent in the Contacts app, where the huge font and black and blue color pallet looks nearly archaic.
As usual, contacts are synced with Google in the cloud. You can import contacts from a SIM as well as a your social networks - if you configure them. There are a number of networks to integrate with, including Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace (for some reason).
Names are presented alphabetically, and Contacts pictures sit on the left. At the top, there are four tabs: Contacts, Groups, History, and Activities.
The keypad is big, taking up about half of the screen. Hitting the menu button from the keypad will allow you to add special characters (like a 3 second pause, or a "wait"), as well as adjust speed dial settings or send a message.
Smart dialing is supported, whether you're tapping in the numbers or the name on the astronomically huge keyboard. Yet only one name can be displayed at a time, and you'll have to press a button to display a pop up box with the others, and at that point it's not much easier than just keying in a few more numbers.
You can quickly thumb between the keypad and the activity logs (which show you the times of calls, as well as texts), but bafflingly, accessing a specific text from those Logs isn't possible - so why bother showing them in the first place?
Despite a few weird quirks, actually making calls is all that we'd hoped. We made calls in three states and experienced fine signal strength, though we did have a bit of voice echoing in Seattle, Washington.
This occurred only when we were the ones who made the call, which leads us to believe it was a fault on the part of the carrier.
Email has two stock apps included on the Infuse. The first is Samsung's Mail app, which serves for any email addresses you might have, from Exchange to POP3/IMAP. Simply enter the email address and the password and, depending on account type, the phone will guide you through a simple setup wizard.
The second app is the Gmail app, which - if you're using Gmail - looks slightly different but serves the exact same purpose as Samsung's Mail app, but is limited only to Gmail accounts. Samsung's Mail app has a few snazzy options, but push Gmail doesn't work on this app like it does in the official app.
Social media is well integrated into the Samsung Infuse 4G, especially in widgets. But here things get a bit redundant. There are two include Twitter widgets, a Facebook widget, and a Social Updates widget - all of which do similar things.
Holding your finger on any of these (like you're prone to do when scrolling through long lists on a big phone) will lift the widget, making them less beneficial for long reads than their free (included) app counterparts.
ChatOn, Samsung's answer to iMessage and Blackberry Messenger isn't bundled - but can easily be downloaded from the Marketplace.
For all your friends who aren't using a Samsung phone, there are always SMS texts. This is the same texting we've grown accustomed to on Froyo, but it all feels slightly different on a 4.5" screen.
You can switch between QWERTY keyboard, a 3x4 Keyboard (which, for all intents and purposes, is T9), and two different handwriting boxes. Each are easily selectable from the tools icon, where you can also turn on predictive text, auto-capitalization, and a league of other settings.
You can also speak to text by hitting the microphone button on the keyboard. We found it to be almost as good as the iPhone 4S's dictation, but it still wasn't quite accurate or fast enough to use for everyday texting.
Our biggest gripe with the messaging app was that predictive text selections pop up under the text field, which means both the text thread and the field you're typing in are constantly bouncing up and down in a jittery, unpleasant manner. This made typing long messages feel clunky, no matter how admirably the keyboard performed.
The Samsung Infuse 4G has 4G right in the name, but it's more of an AT&T misnomer than actual 4G phone (or worse, part of the propaganda machine).
AT&T has no true 4G, not yet anyway, and we weren't able to clock more than 3Mbps bandwidth speed anywhere but San Francisco, where we were able to hit 9.6Mbps down and .67Mbps upload - once. Suffice it to say, that's not great for what's being touted as AT&T's first unit with HSPA+ Category 14 speeds.
It's faster than most other US 3G speeds, and certainly nothing to squawk at, but not nearly as fast as we've seen on Verizon's LTE or even T-Mobile's own HSPA+ network.
The browser is the same we've seen on other Froyo devices. Like Chrome, typing a single word into the address bar will perform a Google search, and gestures feel as natural as ever - whether you're pinching to zoom out or two-finger tapping to zoom in.
Like the Messages app, there's also a speak-to-text feature, but the microphone icon's located in a different spot - up near the address bar. It's the same spot the bookmark feature is located, though the bookmark feature disappears the second you tap the address bar.
Resolutions top out at 800 x 480, which is the same as most new Samsung Phones. However on the big screen, it can feel a tad bit low while surfing certain sites. Fonts specifically didn't look quite as crisp, and sometimes sites felt a bit cramped.
Every once in a while, sites will "crack" when you scroll from side to side, displaying a line of text cracked in half, displaying at different heights. But fortunately, this problem wasn't frequent and didn't persist. Any issues we had were easily fixed by quitting and relaunching the app.
The Samsung Infuse has an LED flash and an 8MP camera, which looks similar - if not identical - to the one found on the Galaxy S II. It's no real surprise as the camera-flash combination on the back looks awfully similar to that found on the S II as well.
The camera performed admirably in low-light tests, and Auto focus works well, even with some macro shots. It was a bit inconsistent, sometimes focusing on things as close an inch, other times fumbling with the focus at over two inches away.
Fortunately, settings allow you to change the focus mode from Auto focus, to Macro, to Face detection - each of which works best for their intended purposes. What you won't find in Settings, however, is the ability to take photos with the physical buttons.
That's because they're already delegated to their own tasks. Pressing the volume buttons up or down digitally zooms the camera, and pressing the power button on top locks both the volume buttons and touchscreen buttons, to prevent you from ruining a shot with the slip of a thumb.
While lots of phones come touting great looking 8MP sensors with LED flash, less ditch the crappy front-facing VGA camera for video chats. The Samsung Infuse 4G delightfully changes things up with a 1.3MP front-facing camera, which looks clearer, if a tad less warm, than VGAs.
The camera app also comes with a slew of virtual goodies, including settings for composite and panorama shots, as well as guidelines, and a slider for exposure value. Suffice it to say, the Infuse 4G's powerful camera was one of our favorite features of all.
Video is almost as impressive, topping out at 720p and auto focusing without the need to tap on the screen.
Not surprisingly, the video doesn't look too hot in low-light, but you can turn the LED flash on in a few taps.
You can also choose a variety of resolutions to shoot at, ranging from 176x144 to 1280x720. We preferred pressing an easy to access button, which optimized the recording mode for MMS, making it easy as pie to create simple bite-sized videos for our friends.
Onscreen buttons are mostly the same as the camera's; you can still adjust the exposure levels, and add guidelines, but there are a few different tricks available in video mode. Where you would find a focus mode in the Camera app, you'll find a timer and white balance level in the video app.
There are also four effects to choose from, which allow you to shoot normally, or in Negative, Black and white, or Sepia.
Besides lowlight quality, our one complaint with the video app is that there are almost too many options (if you can call that a valid complaint). Those trying to preserve room on thier phone may not know if they should change the video resolution or the video quality, and accessing these panes takes some digging.
Call us old fashioned, but no matter how big and bright its display, we've never been quick to watch videos on our phones. The Infuse 4G is just capable enough to change that.
It's huge, bright, comes with 16GB onboard memory and an expandable microSD, and has a great battery - most (if not all) of our concerns about phone viewing were nullified.
But if you still don't want to watch videos on your phone, you can always use the Infuse's dongle for video-out. We found this to be pretty much worthless, as you have to have the dongle connected, and the phone plugged in to a wall outlet. By the time you might actually use it, you'll probably have lost the dongle or the living room won't have an outlet available.
But the Infuse isn't just great for videos, it also great for music. The Infuse has a fairly snazzy music player, which looks a little better than most Android players, and allows for vertical and horizontal orientation.
The volume is plenty loud, though since the speaker is on the back, you'll probably want to flip the phone face down before blasting your heavy metal.
The gallery app is pretty neat, boasting an accelerometer-based tilting mechanism and the ability to pinch in and out of stacks of photos and videos. Strangely, the back button doesn't work while watching videos through the app, so you'll have to resort to the onscreen button to exit videos.
The Infuse 4G also comes with the Samsung Media Hub, an on-the-go media store that's packed with shows, music, and movies. Perhaps best of all, you can get a free $25 Media Hub credit just for purchasing the Infuse 4G which should entice wary spenders.
Battery life and connectivity
The Infuse 4G has a 3.7-volt, lithium ion, 1750mAh battery. At 8 hours talk time, it's slightly worse than the Galaxy S2 and a handful of other Android phones with smaller screens and 1800mAh batteries.
Even so, we were pleasantly surprised with the phone's battery performance (not to mention the favorable standby time). After all, that's a big screen to light, and it'll still outlive any LTE phone on the market (provided that LTE is turned on).
Adding media is as easy as popping out the hidden micro SD or connecting the phone to a PC. But if fidgeting with hardware isn't your style, you can also use the phone's included AllShare which is Samsung's free software which will allow you to wirelessly access files from your computer - provided you don't have a Mac.
In order to tether the Infuse 4G, you'll need to sign on for an additional tethering (or mobile hotspot) plan and travel deep within Settings to access it. The Samsung Infuse 4G supports 802.11.n, Bluetooth, GPS and the usual wireless standards.
Maps and apps
All the usual Google location apps are included, from Google Latitude to Maps, and they load quickly and accurately. AT&T includes a few of it's own as well, including the AT&T Navigation app and the yellow pages app, YPmobile.
Among the standard slew of media apps, Samsung also bundles the Infuse with a QR Code scanner and a Family Map app - which is similar to the already included Google Latitude but will add an additional $10 a month to your plan.
There's also a Live TV shortcut, placed conveniently on your home screen, though tapping it will just bring you to the Marketplace to download AT&T's U-verse app.
Finally, for feather fans, there's also an exclusive version of Angry Birds available only on the Infuse 4G. It's largely the same old Angry Birds enthusiasts have come to know and love, but this time it has more golden eggs and secrets.
The main problem with the Samsung Infuse is that AT&T refuses to let it live up to its true potential. We're dreaming of Ice Cream Sandwich on the Infuse's gorgeous 4.5" screen but without a firm Gingerbread release date, there's just no point in holding our breath. For all intents and purposes, its just another neglected Android phone in dire need of an update.
The build quality left a little to be desired and the flimsy battery cover feels like a break waiting to happen.
If you're a fan of Samsung phones, it's hard not to notice that for the same price, on the same network, you can invest in the Galaxy line. You'll likely receive updates on a more regular basis and have a phone with a few more goodies.
Most of AT&T's bundled software just feels like bloatware, that will surely sucker some users into adding expensive subscriptions to their already expensive plans.
We're not too fond of AT&T's liberal use of the term "4G," either. Is the Infuse actually 4G? Even with the Cat 14 speeds, we think it feels more like a cog in the AT&T propaganda machine than a next generation internet speed.
If you don't care about timely updates and all this talk about Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwiches just sounds like a toothache, there's a lot to love here, too. The display is clearly the Samsung Infuse's killer feature, and even with the lower sharpness we loved the size and clarity.
Despite whatever extra battery the Infuse 4G sucks up lighting that display, we were equally impressed with its battery life. We could easily make it through an entire day using our Infuse moderately with a few phone calls.
Photographers will also love the camera, and switching focus modes and other onboard settings made a surprisingly large difference in the quality of our photos.
From the moment Samsung opted to throw a 4.5" screen on the Infuse 4G, it was destined to be a niche phone. If you've got huge hands or just feel cramped on your normal-sized phone, the Infuse's size won't disappoint. But that's also the first dividing line - we handed the phone off to multiple people who said it was way too large for them.
Ultimately, it's just doesn't have fast enough bandwidth or the build quality required to swing us from our Galaxy preferences. But if you're a huge fan of huge phones, the Samsung Infuse 4G is clearly a winner, and we're certainly not complaining about having another size to choose from.