Samsung Wave 2 £279

10th Feb 2011 | 16:45

Samsung Wave 2

The Samsung Wave II comes with a new hardware overhaul

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The Samsung Wave II is not a huge leap forward from its predecessor. The good and bad points of the earlier handset remain. We'd like Bada to succeed, but Samsung needs to work harder if that's to happen.

Like:

Long battery life; Great build; Smashing screen; Good text entry; Nice web browser;

Dislike:

Understocked app store; Not enough widgets; Poor navigation software ; No smart dialling; Poor linking of Twitter and Facebook contacts;

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Overview

The Samsung Wave II follows up an earlier device of the same name, the original Samsung Wave. The first Wave launched a new operating system on the world, Bada, and we saw it again in the Wave 723.

Sitting underneath a familiar TouchWiz user interface, Bada gives Samsung the opportunity to have its own app store.

Samsung is clearly hedging its bets, because it's also very friendly with Android as we've seen in handsets like the Galaxy S and the Google-branded Nexus S, and with Windows Phone 7 as we've seen in the Omnia 7.

Our colleagues at T3.com grabbed some Samsung Wave 2 video footage which you can watch below.

There's plenty going on in terms of specifications in the Wave II. Headlining things along with a very slightly revised version of Bada is the Super Clear LCD 3.7-inch screen.

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These aside we've got a 1GHz processor, Wi-Fi, HSDPA, GPS and five-megapixel camera with 720p video recording. These features give the Wave II what it takes to be classed as a smartphone, but they don't up the ante on what we had in the original Wave.

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One area where the Wave II beats the original in terms of base specs is its 2GB of internal storage (as opposed to 1GB). This can be increased with a microSD card as well.

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Physically this is one large handset. That 3.7-inch screen plus three under-screen buttons need a fair amount of chassis, and at 123.9 x 59.8 x 11.8mm this isn't a phone you'll slip into a skinny pocket with ease. Nor, if you're blessed with dainty hands, will you be able to reach right across the screen for one-handed prodding.

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But moving on to build quality, and it's a pleasant experience, with a lot that's familiar from the original Wave. The slightly curved button panel with its eyebrow-like call and end icons remains, though the central button has changed from being a diamond to an idiosyncratic asymmetrical lozenge shape.

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The side button arrangement also reminds us of the original Wave with a very familiar volume rocker on the left edge and camera and lock buttons on the right.

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The top edge, with its 3.5mm headset jack and covered micro-USB port, is also unchanged from the original Wave, as are the diamond shaped camera and LED light window on the back.

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There's a metal backplate, which always helps with solidity, and there's absolutely no give or creaking in the chassis at all. In short the Wave II is almost identical to the original Wave, but a mite larger thanks to that screen.

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We liked the design of the original Wave and like it here too. The Wave II is minimalist, sleek and strong in the looks department. Of course that counts for nothing if it doesn't do a superb job as a smartphone.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Interface

Samsung Wave II review: Interface

With Bada underneath and TouchWiz on top, there's a fair amount of familiarity about how things work with the Wave II even if you've not come across the OS before.

There is, for example, a drop-down notifications area as you'd expect to see with an Android handset, and this gives you quick access to incoming emails and messages as well as profile, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings and other bits and pieces, which we'll come to later.

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There are plenty of Home screens you can fill with widgets. You start out with three Home screens, but adding more is simple. Tap the Widget button at the top of any screen, then turn the screen so it's in landscape mode and you can use the + and – buttons to add up to 10 Home screens or remove any you don't want.

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Widgets are drawn from a pair of icon rows at the bottom of the screen.

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The array of widgets isn't huge, and this is one area in which Bada falls over. Yes, you can download more widgets from the Samsung store, but there aren't a huge number available and many are charged for. Also there's no category for widgets. You have to use the word as a search term.

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Each Home screen has three icons hardwired to its bottom edge. One of these takes you to contacts, one to messages and the other to the phone dialler. Given the ease of access to the dialler, we aren't sure why you need those hard Call and End buttons.

The apps menu is very familiar. Hit the central hard button and up it pops, with apps arranged on screens that you scroll through horizontally. There are three screens to start with. New apps are added to the end and unfortunately you can't alter the order.

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One of the stars of the Bada show is its unlock system. This is unaltered from the original Wave, and it's super. The lock screen shows the date and time, and you make a horizontal sweep anywhere to unlock it - this is mirrored on the Samsung Galaxy S too.

However if you've unread messages and you want to go straight to them, just drag the notification jigsaw piece into its slot and hey presto, you're taken straight to the messages. Easy and smart – we love it.

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To counteract this goodness, the slight tweak of Bada that is version 1.2 still doesn't allow app shortcuts to be placed on Home screens. We've one word for this: unforgiveable.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Contacts and calling

Samsung Wave II review: Contacts and calling

No smartphone can really carry the moniker these days without paying adequate homage to social networking, and for most of us that means Twitter and Facebook. The Wave II handles these with aplomb, as well as MySpace, and it can bring in contacts over Exchange ActiveSync.

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Once you've signed into your accounts, you can simply pull in all your contacts in one fell swoop.

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Sounds great, but there are some irritations. When it comes to linking, the Wave II makes no attempt to take an educated guess at who you might want to link with whom. If you've a lot of contacts, you need to be prepared to spend quite a bit of time connecting.

But achieve that and you can see Twitter and Facebook updates in one place, as well as SMS and voice contacts, and seeing Facebook pictures all of which is rather nice.

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When it comes to manually dialling contacts, the dialpad is very well thought through. It is large and you've no chance of hitting the wrong numbers.

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We complained that the original Wave lacked smart dialling and sadly Samsung has not sorted that out with Bada 1.2. You can start to dial a number and the phone will make a matching selection from the contacts book, but it still won't use the letters to let you dial a person by name. Basic omission, Samsung.

And there's only room to show one match. You can tap the screen to see more matches, but with these multiple taps being required you aren't saved a lot of time.

With a front-facing VGA camera, you can make video calls should you want to do so, and when in a call – of either voice or video nature – we found calls were clear both for us and the caller. The Wave II seemed to maintain signal strength well too, so we've no complaints on that front.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Messaging

Samsung Wave II review: Messaging

We rather liked what Samsung did with messaging on the original Wave, and the positive work is repeated here. We expect a quality smartphone to manage SMS and a multitude of email accounts without any bother.

And that's what we get here, all wrapped up under the title 'Social Hub', an area of the handset that also brings together Facebook and Twitter – though it only offers links into apps for those, which is pretty tedious.

That's how things were in the original Wave and – you'll be getting a theme by now – it hasn't changed here.

Still, both the Twitter and Facebook clients are OK with both offering a fair range of options. We just wish they loaded quicker and that Facebook moved between its tabbed Home, Profile and Friends areas more speedily too.

We like how you just have to hit the Compose icon at the head of the Social Hub screen to start tapping away into whatever email or social media account you want to – or to start writing a text.

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Adding email accounts is pretty easy with just name and password needed much of the time.

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There's an email widget you can use on one of the Home screens to give you quick notifications of incoming messages.

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A tap on this widget opens up the message window, so you can see what's come in, read messages and compose replies.

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For all types of messaging, including SMS, there's a new text input system called T9 Trace. Rather than tapping at individual letters you glide a finger over the letters you want.

Yes, we know, it sounds just like Swype. It works just like Swype, too. And it really is fast and efficient. That it works so well is in no small part down to the Samsung Wave II GT-S8530's impressive screen. Its responsiveness is exemplary, the resolution is high at 480 x 800 and it's a good size at 3.7 inches.

Something good seems to have happened when it comes to accurate text entry. We weren't delighted with the original Wave's auto correct, but it's improved here, and we found that suggestions offered on its ticker tape in both tall and wide modes are improved.

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Internet

Samsung Wave II review: Internet

We've waited long enough to make detailed comment on the screen, so here goes. The 3.7-inch screen ought to be able to cope well with web pages, the 480 x 800 pixels offering plenty of detail.

And indeed that's how things are.

The Super Clear TFT screen helps web content – and anything else, actually – really stand out. In fairly gloomy indoor conditions the sharpness and clarity of the screen is stunning. Take it outside and things aren't quite as wonderful, but it is still easy to see the screen.

Viewing angles are good too, so it's really easy to thrust the phone at someone saying 'look at this' and have them able to see it without having to jiggle about.

The Bada web browser is easy to use. When entering web addresses, the keyboard offers you '.com' and '/' buttons on the main QWERTY keyboard, which speeds things up a bit.

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Pages initially display fullscreen, but you can do a quick double tap to zoom in. Text reflows as a result, so you can read pages without horizontal scrolling, but zoom level isn't wonderful. Text is rather poorly formed and if you've bad eyesight you may find it difficult to read.

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If you want bigger text you can pinch to zoom, but you lose the reflow.

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There's a button at the bottom of the screen that lets you quickly get to your most visited web pages, which often means you don't have to bother with bookmarking your absolute favourites. These are presented as thumbnails for easy access.

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Web pages load and format pretty quickly, and we really like the little Google search box that sits on the top row of the screen. Features like these make it easy to duck and dive at some speed.

Flash video support is not what it could be. Our litmus test – the BBC News website - failed to play its video for us - Flash video is supposed to be supported, so it's difficult to see why this wouldn't work.

There is a YouTube app on board, though, and you can watch video quite happily through this. We encountered a bit of buffering annoyance, but playback itself was smooth.

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We're disappointed about the Flash issues, but as a web user's smartphone the Samsung Wave II does get a lot right.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Camera

Samsung Wave II review: Camera

The five-megapixel camera is not short of shooting options, with a range of scene modes that could grace a mid-range digital camera. There are Landscape, Sports, Portrait, Night, Party/indoor, Beach/snow, Dawn, Fireworks, Sunset, Fall colour, Text, Candlelight and Against light modes.

Testing these we found some worked better than others. Shooting a few photos in a café, the difference between using normal mode and party mode were invisible to the naked eye, for example. But you can't fault Samsung for trying.

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There's nothing so boring as Sepia or Negative mode, but there are Smile shot, Beauty, Continuous, Panorama and Vintage modes to fiddle with, too.

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Click here for full-res version

OUTDOORS:Light capture was pretty good on this dull day and there's none of the blurred images or iffy detail that we see with some phone cameras

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Click here for full-res version

DETAIL:Phone cameras often struggle with this photo. It is in a relatively dark corner, reflects a lot of light and contains a lot of detail. This is a better effort than we've seen from many

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VIGNETTING:One of the many filters is Vintage mode. It's quite effective

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FLASH:Taking photos indoors with the flash was a more rewarding experience than it often is. There's a fair amount of detail in this photo, and the low light levels were dealt with well

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PANORAMA MODE:This stitches four photos together into a single shot that comes out 4131 pixels wide and 919 pixels tall. You tell the camera what direction you are going to move in, and it then takes its photos automatically in sequence as you move the camera along.

The automatic stitching is pretty good, though in the sample panorama you can see that the far right of the image is a little blurred. You need to move the camera fairly slowly for the automatic shooting system to work properly, and we rushed a bit with what was the last photo in our sequence

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Video

Samsung Wave II review: Video

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The Samsung Wave II GT-S8530 captures video to 720p. This is not unusual these days, but just as with stills what is here is better than the average. The camera did fall foul of some of the jerkiness that we have seen in rivals, but nowhere near as badly.

Bearing in mind the low light levels when we took this photo, it is a pretty good effort.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Media

Samsung Wave II review: Media

The Samsung Wave II makes a good fist of media playback. The built-in speaker is quite loud, and a relatively good headset is included with round in-ear buds delivers fair quality sound – though bass tones are on the fuzzy side.

As far as music is concerned, the side-mounted volume rocker works when the handset is in lock mode. When you are using the handset the notification area offers quick playback controls.

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And even when the handset is locked, you can tap a small sliver CD icon to get playback controls.

With the music player on, twist the handset into wide mode and there's a nifty carousel that looks rather good even if you don't have any album art on tap.

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There's an equaliser and a set of effect controls so you can fiddle a bit with how different types of music sound.

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An FM radio autoscans the first time it is used and then delivers its channel list via a soft menu button. While station names are provided on the main radio page, they are just listed by frequency, and not name, elsewhere. You have to add station names manually.

That'll take a while, but it will make finding what you want easier in the long run.

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You can record direct from the radio simply by choosing a menu option, which will come in handy for those that don't like actually paying for songs they hear.

Video

Video playback was suitably impressive with large playback controls that pop off the screen really quickly, coming back when you tap the screen. That makes controlling things very intuitive.

The Super LCD screen was pretty gosh-darn good when it comes to viewing video, with some decent contrast ratios and slick, fluid motion.

However, it wasn't quite up there with the awesome power of the Super AMOLED screen on the first Wave. The trade-off for the slight loss is better performance in sunlight - so it's up to you which is the most important.

And also in that vein: we love that you can fiddle with the screen brightness from within the video app. Getting that right makes all the difference. When it comes to formats, the Samsung Wave II copes with DivX, Xvid and MP4 files.

The Mosaic Search, which we liked so much in the original Wave, is back for a second helping. It creates points at regular intervals within any video, so you can get quickly to any section.

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Battery life

Samsung Wave II review: Battery life

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We weren't expecting great things from the Samsung Wave II's battery. It packs a 1500mAh cell, which is top end, but the battery has a lot to do. It has to keep that 3.7-inch 800 x 480 pixel screen going for a start, and it has to power the 1GHz processor that's at the heart of things.

But we were really impressed. After one six-hour stint of fairly punishing media playback, Wi-Fi, web use and HSDPA bashing, a full battery had only lost one of its five bars in the monitor. It started to fall more quickly after that, but life was still pretty good.

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We reckon that Bada has something to do with this and that it has been tightly put together to minimise battery drain. Whatever the reason, this ought to be a two day smartphone for many users, and that's not something we say very often.

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We temper that with the fact that if you are a heavy music listener, 3G data, Wi-Fi or GPS basher, you should realistically still be thinking in terms of daily charges.

Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Maps and apps

Samsung Wave II review: Maps and apps

There's GPS on board, so the possibility of navigation is not out of the question. But this is not an Android phone and there's no Google Maps app. You can use Google Maps, but via the website - or download the lower-end application from Big G.

Samsung provides its own Navigation application, but it's not good, to be honest.

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Simply from the point of view of finding somewhere and looking around a map, the mapping quality is poor. To do any routing you have to buy a license and for the United Kingdom and Ireland maps that comes in at €4.99 for 31 days or €19.99 for a year. Could work out expensive, that, and Google Maps offers the service free.

There are a fair few apps that bulk the Samsung Wave II out: a reasonably nice calendaring tool, memo maker, tasks manager, calculator and a mini diary in which you can make jottings (though it is very childlike in its design).

But Samsung wants you to use its app store. This is where we think it has missed a trick. There just aren't that many apps to choose from – 347 in the Entertainment category, 234 in Health and Life, 87 in Productivity. Compare these numbers with iPhone and Android apps and it is snickerworthy.

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And they are pricey too. We noticed that the Sims 3 costs £4.50, and you have to pay £1 each for themes, often more for widgets. There's a Sudoku widget for £1.25, when you can get a barrel full of Sudoku apps for free on Android.

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Hands-on gallery

Samsung Wave II review: Hands-on gallery

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Official gallery

Samsung Wave II review: Official gallery

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Samsung Wave II GT-S8530: Verdict

Samsung Wave II review: Verdict

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The Samsung Wave II builds on what was quite a strong early pedigree. We liked the physical design of the original Samsung Wave, the responsive touchscreen and the clever ideas behind Bada.

But there were some crucial points we didn't like, and frankly we don't think Bada has moved on far enough in its 1.2 incarnation to keep us really interested.

We liked

The handset design is lovely. Samsung has barely changed the physical design of the original Wave, though the Wave II is larger to accommodate its bigger screen. It feels like quality in the hands.

The screen is sharp, bright, clear and responsive to the finger. It is up there with the very best of the competition in this respect.

Battery life is good and we can see some people sneaking past the two day marker if they are averagely careful users.

T9 Tracer is a nice Swype-style text input system that really works well, and the error correction in text entry is efficient, too.

We disliked

Bada 2.1 just doesn't offer that many improvements over its predecessor. There are things we really wanted to see in the Wave II that are not here. Why can't we put app links on a Home screen? Why can't we change the order of apps in the main apps list? Why isn't there smart dialling? Why doesn't the handset try to guess which Twitter and Facebook contacts we might want to link together?

The app store has grown in terms of sheer number of apps available, but it is still not a patch on Android or iPhone. And the number of free apps is woefully small. If you want apps, one of those two other platforms is a better choice.

We really aren't happy about the idea of paying for navigation when it is available for free so readily elsewhere, and the poor map design in comparison to Google Maps adds insult to injury.

Samsung hasn't upped the ante much by offering a vastly improved set of specifications in comparison with the original Wave. Admittedly, though, the original Wave did have a lot of goodies built in.

Verdict

The general specifications of the Wave II don't advance things a lot further than the original Samsung Wave. And generally the things we really liked and disliked about that handset remain the same here.

Considering that we've found the Wave II online SIM free for £319 and the original Wave from the same seller for the same price that's probably not such a big point. The larger screen (from 3.3 inches to 3.7 inches) and increased internal memory (from 1GB to 2GB) are the main upgrades and both are welcome.

Still, we'd have liked to see Samsung push the boat out with the Wave II. Perhaps they are concentrating their efforts on growing the app store. We hope so.

Bada smartphone touchscreen
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