Samsung Wave 3
8th Nov 2011 | 12:50
Is Samsung riding the crest of a wave with its latest Bada smartphone?
Overview, design and feel
Samsung has become a dab hand at smartphones, with several operating systems on the go. It's a key player in the Android world, with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2 stealing plaudits all round, and the Nexus looking set to be a really popular buy too.
Samsung also plays ball with Microsoft, and its Omnia 7 has been updated by the Windows Phone 7.5 toting Omnia W. And we haven't even mentioned any of the popular Android tablets on Samsung's plate.
So what's with Bada, then? A third smartphone operating system, this one Samsung's very own, seen here on the Samsung Wave III S8600, seems like a bit of an anomaly in such a crowded market.
Well, Samsung wants to offer choice, and, importantly as far as Bada is concerned, its own software market too as well as a new group messaging service called ChatOn. And Bada itself isn't too shabby thanks to the TouchWiz UX user interface.
But would you opt for an operating system that's in just a few phones when you could go for one that's in lots of handsets from a range of manufacturers? One that you know well with thousands of apps on offer? Yes, we mean Android. Or one that's in just a couple of handsets, all from the same company, but which also has thousands of apps and a great rep? We mean iOS as found in the iPhone 4S, obviously.
Samsung has certainly pulled the stops out on the hardware front, making the Wave III look rather attractive. Where the Wave II from the front end of this year toted a 3.7-inch screen, here we have 4 inches of screen, 480 x 800 pixels and the fantastic, superbly bright and clear Sumer AMOLED technology. The screen's a dream.
Under the screen there's a large Home button, and whenever you tap the screen Dial and End keys light up to its left and right. When the handset is in what Samsung calls 'idle mode', it's showing the home screen but not the lock screen, and the Dial key takes you to the call log.
Atop the screen is a small front-facing VGA camera, while on the back you'll find the main 5 megapixel shooter with an LED flash. Side buttons are minimal. There's a volume rocker / camera zoom button on the left, and power button on the right.
The top is clear, and on the bottom you'll find the micro USB connector and headset slot. We prefer the headset slot to be on the top of the chassis, but we'll forgive Samsung in this case as bottom mounting still lets us minimise pocket snagging. The connectors are far enough apart that they don't obscure each other if you have both in use at once, either.
We love the chassis design. Yes it's big at 125.9 x 64.2 x 9.9 mm, and you'll have trouble reaching all the way across the screen one handed if your digits are small. But the thinness is a real plus point, and the metal unibody casing looks neat and feels solid. One interesting feature is that to get to the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card slot you press a hinge lock and then slide the unibody section upwards rather than removing a backplate.
Internally the specs impress. There's a 1.4GHz processor and 4GB of internal storage, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, 720P video recording. So far, so good, then. But we need to delve deeper.
So, we've established that the Samsung Wave III S8600 runs on Bada. Bada sits underneath TouchWiz, an interface Samsung has been using for quite a while and which retains a lot of familiarity.
If you've used a Samsung handset at all over the last few years, and that includes the Android toting Galaxy S II, then there's a certain familiarity to things. The last thing Samsung wants to do is put you off Bada because of an unfamiliar user interface.
That noted, Bada has moved on since it appeared in the Wave II and we are now on Bada 2.0 meaning there are new twists to be found. One of the new features of Bada 2.0 is support for Near Field Communication, but Samsung has chosen not to implement that in the Wave III.
Still the user interface has had a tweak and it now looks a bit cleaner and sharper with slightly improved icons and a slicker feel. The neat drop down notifications area remains, and this contains shortcuts to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, volume and a screen rotation lock. That latter can come in handy if you are watching movies and don't want to accidentally stray out of wide screen mode.
To get app shortcuts on any home screen you tap and hold an app when on the main menu and then drag it down onto the screen you want it on. The Samsung Wave III has six home screens at the outset, and it is easy to add more as you need them. The plus button at the bottom of the screen is where you add new home screens.
This is the system you use to move apps around within the apps list too – just grab one and drag it to where you want it to be. Bada 2.0 even includes folders into which you can drag apps. This could be really useful if you download lots of apps and like to keep them organised. Putting all your games in one folder might be a good thing for example. You just tap on a folder to name it.
You can drop folders onto a home screen where they open to reveal their contents.
Rather oddly, we made and unmade various folders, and if we'd dropped a folder onto a home screen then unmade it, the folder stayed on the home screen with its apps accessible unless we removed it. This could be a recipe for confusion.
As well as all this app management, the Samsung Wave III offers good old widgets. Tap and hold on any home screen and its app shortcuts all appear with a minus sign by them. Tap that to remove the shortcut. Along the bottom of the screen there's a scrolling array of widgets. To put a widget onto a home screen just tap it.
The bad widget news is that there are just five in that scrolling picker which is rather mean. You can download more from the app store but quite a lot of them are charged for and the number available was far from vast.
We ought to give a nod to the voice recognition technology that's part of Bada 2.0 at this stage.
We tested this with a few commands. 'Text Babs Brown message hello' never resulted in a successful text being created even though Babs Brown was in our contact book. On the other hand, 'note to self make dentist appointment, buy milk, go to cinema' resulted, after a longish wait in success.
Contacts and calling
There's a rather nice little touch right from the off with the Samsung Wave III which is that if you hit the Dial key when on a home screen it takes you directly to the call log and this can show either all or just missed calls.
Add in a fixed bar of four shortcuts that sits along the bottom of each home screen and takes you to the full apps menu, messaging, contacts and the keypad and you'll see that Samsung has not ignored the fact that many of us use our smartphones for messaging of one sort or another.
The keypad is nice and large on this big, four inch screen, and there are separate buttons for voice and video calls, while, between the two, there's a button that takes you straight into SMS creation. Above the dial pad icons take you to in phone contacts, the call log and favourite people.
Smart dialling is supported. Just start tapping and matches to any numbers in your system show up on screen. The problem is that there's only space to display two contacts at a time. A number in brackets top right of the found list shows you the actual number of matches, and you can tap on the two that are visible to see the full list.
As a result of all this we found making voice calls a straightforward exercise. We made a number of calls from home and different places out and about and call quality was good, signal strength fine. We were in London during the testing period though – where signal strength tends to be very good.
Integration of contacts from social networks comes if you configure accounts. You can set up quite a range of third party accounts including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as Google, Yahoo, Exchange ActiveSync for the officebound and Windows Live.
That's nice, though the handset didn't want to incorporate our Twitter contacts, just our Facebook and LinkedIn ones.
You can import contacts from a SIM too, and can enter them by hand, filling in data on the phone the old fashioned way.
As with the Wave II the Social Hub is where you need to go to do all your social media messaging activities. This takes care of a number of accounts – we set up Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but you can also add Gmail, Yahoo, Exchange Active Sync, Windows Live, your own Samsung account and other email accounts too.
There's a handy screen which lets you update multiple social networks at once choosing whichever ones you want to message with a simple tick.
Incoming messages are integrated into a single list so you can see stuff from all your contacts in one timeline. Even text messages can be brought into the mix if you want them present. You can decide what to include in the single timeline easily enough on a settings screen.
As if that were not enough you also get Samsung's new ChatOn services integrated. This is an IM style service that lets you connect with multiple friends at once or just do one-to-one messaging. You can send pictures, video, animations and stuff like calendar data, contacts, audio and location too. You need to log in with your phone number and then you are good to go.
ChatOn is very new and though we registered none of our friends were on yet so we couldn't really try it out. Still, it offers the prospect of free messaging, and will run on other platforms including Android and BlackBerry, so we expect great things.
If this all seems like too much, then there's ordinary SMS too of course. Messages are threaded and look really good on screen.
Oddly auto capitalisation isn't turned on when you first begin but that's easy enough to rectify by hitting the tools icon on the keyboard. You can also opt for predictive text or not as is your preference in this settings area.
You can speak any response to a text by hitting the microphone icon on the keyboard. We found this to be quite accurate in recognising our speech, but not faster than typing out texts.
We have to give some praise to the keyboard. Because of the large screen it is easy to use in both wide and tall formats, and tapping away at great speed was no problem for us. We'd have liked more long press options than just numbers though. To get question marks and other punctuation you have to hit the 123 icon first.
With such a large screen web browsing on the Samsung Wave III ought to be a real treat, and indeed it is. Four inches of real estate and 480 x 800 pixels make for plenty of detail when viewing web pages and you can often read headlines without having to zoom in.
Text reflowing is only partially successful. It only works when you do a double tap for zooming. When you pinch for a closer look text reflowing goes out the window and so at higher zoom levels we found we needed to do a fair bit of scrolling to read web pages.
You can open multiple browser windows and shift between them using a button at the bottom of the screen to get to a nice carousel like display which makes flitting about really fast and effective.
The processor runs at 1.4 GHz and it had no trouble at all rendering web pages we visited quickly and efficiently. On some smartphones we have to wait for our own rather complex TechRadar pages to open, but not here.
We were disappointed with Flash support though. We had trouble getting embedded Flash to run on the Wave II, and the same trouble here. We couldn't find a Flash client in the Samsung app store, so we were left video-less at some web sites.
At least YouTube didn't let us down and watching streaming video in wide format was a treat.
With a 5 megapixel, LED flash assisted main camera capable of shooting 720p video at 30fps the Samsung Wave III might not at first glance appear to be extremely well appointed. Such specifications are widespread these days, and you might ask for more than a VGA camera sitting on the front of the chassis too.
But counting the pixels isn't the only way to evaluate a camera, and we found the Wave III's easy to use and versatile. It has plenty of camera extras such as geo tagging, blink detection, and an anti shake system you might find useful too. There's touch focus too – so you can tap an area of the screen and get the camera to focus on precisely that rather than whatever it thinks it should. Used carefully this can lead to some fun effects.
It is easy to get to the settings. You just tap an arrow at the side of the screen and out pops a small control panel which you can tap at. There's even an option to switch from the main to the front camera here.
Outdoors early on a dull morning the colours in this photo are as washed out as they were in real life. The detailing isn't bad, though
Inside in a fairly dull-lit museum this image is not too bad, and you can zoom into the text with enough quality to read it back
Now that's more like it. Indoors in a well lit café these food shots are colourful and bright.
It's not often moggy sits this still for a photo and this and the following close ups were shot using macro mode – we were only a few inches from the feline fizzog at the time.
The sepia filter turns everything an odd shade of brown
Greyscale produces the expected black and white photo
Negative mode makes our feline friend look a little scary
Using macro mode and the ability to tell the camera where to focus we experimented, er, taking pictures of our leg. Well, it makes the point and you could use the feature in more arty ways.
The video camera is capable of 720p shooting at 30 frames a second – and we'd expect nothing less from a quality smartphone.
You can see from this video that the camera has trouble with light and shade, and even though we are panning quite slowly things aren't silky smooth
So, we tried a couple of experiments holding the phone still and shooting moving footage instead. We got pretty smooth images this time, but notice again how washed out the colours are. This is probably partly due to the dull days on which we were videoing, to be fair.
With such a big screen media has to be a focus of the Samsung Wave III. There's a relatively generous 4GB of internal storage and support for microSD cards, so you really can push the boat out when it comes to video and music storage.
Samsung includes its Music Hub which is basically an online store where you can buy tracks after sampling small sections. It'll suggest similar artists, and includes a playlist manager for both purchased and non purchased tracks, but it is limited if you are not interested in buying songs.
There's a separate music player that can be used for tracks you've copied to microSD card or internal memory. This does a good enough job of managing single tracks and playlists, though it refused to pick up album art stored on a microSD card.
Much more interestingly, the player has DLNA support. You can share tracks from the Samsung Wave III by tapping the AllShare icon at the head of the screen, controlling playback on the Wave III itself. We played tracks to our laptop quite happily in this way.
You can also download tracks over DLNA, though this requires leaving the music player and running the AllShare app, and then connecting to the remote device. Video and photos can be shared in this way too – in both directions.
While you are playing music you get controls on the lock screen, so you don't even have to power up fully to move around between tracks.
There is an FM radio which auto scans as soon as you plug a headset in for the first time, saving you the bother of doing this job manually. You can record simply by tapping a red icon at the top of the screen, and set up favourite stations to flick through at the bottom of the screen. It is all very easy to get to grips with.
When it comes to playing back video we had no trouble with WMA or MP4, and the Super AMOLED wide screen does movies justice with bright sharp colours. It's worth noting at this point that sound quality is good too. Samsung provides some quite good in-ear buds that bring out the bass tones nicely. It is a real treat to get good quality headphones with a handset so thanks for that, Samsung.
Battery life and connectivity
With a 1500mAh battery on board you might expect great things from the Samsung Wave III, but if you are a regular reader of our reviews then again you might not. The Samsung Wave III has a big screen to keep powering on, and this is a drain. The 1.4GHz processor might not be dual core, but it too needs fuel.
The long and the short of it is that you'll probably get about a day from the Samsung Wave III unless you are frugal.
A typical day for us involved powering on at 7am after a full battery charge. A few short phone calls, some email, some social networking, 3G and Wi-Fi based internet access, music playing and a little bit of GPS left us with 54 percent battery life by about 5pm.
We then left the phone untouched till the following morning at 7am, but which time the battery had fallen to 36%. Under a similar regime to the previous day it was at 0% by 10am.
In addition to the connectivity options we mentioned just now there's DLNA streaming and Bluetooth leaving you with, as estate agents like to say 'all mod cons'.
Maps and apps
Currently the Bada app store has about 40,000 apps on offer. That's a far cry from what you get with Android and iOS, but it is on the rise. Moreover, Bada 2.0 includes support for in-app adds. This might encourage more developers to produce software for the platform, as ads are a way of making money out of apps that are distributed for free.
On the Samsung Wave III itself Samsung provides a fair range of apps. We've mentioned many already, but in addition there is the likes of Polaris Office for creating Microsoft Office compatible documents, a neat little memo maker, calendar tool, calculator, and a simple desk clock style interface with is an alternative to the home screen.
There's also a single link that takes you to a good subset of Google apps including Google Maps, gmail and Calendar, which might help build Bada's appeal.
As well as Google Maps there's a built in navigation app of Samsung's. We don't like this as much as Google Maps. It seems slow to download and resolve maps, scrolling around is a little jerky, and while it does offer navigation from point to point and map overlays, including satellite views, it feels clunky and slow to us.
The Samsung Wave III shows progress over the Wave II in many respects. We weren't delighted with how Samsung had moved Bada on for the Wave II, but we think it has taken a bigger step forward this time.
The user interface includes neat tweaks, the app store is growing in size, navigation is now free and you can have Google maps as well as Samsung's own offering, DLNA works easily. Add in nice hardware design, and the Samsung Wave III earns a few smiles from us.
Can it find a place in a world dominated by Android and iOS? We aren't sure, but Samsung is certainly upping the ante.
Samsung Navigation needs work to make it slicker and sleeker - it's nothing that even comes close to rivalling Google Maps or Nokia Drive as yet.
We couldn't get Flash to work on the internet browser either - it seems all we've got to play wiht is Flash lite when it comes to the Bada platform - Samsung is banking on HTML5 here, it seems.
Battery life could be better, as our extended tests proved, and we still, STILL want a bigger app store with more free apps.
Given the Wave series should be seen as a credible alternative to Android, there aren't enough home screen widgets to make it worth the switch - and we're perplexed over why Bada now supports NFC, but the Samsung Wave III doesn't.
The screen is fantastic, thanks to a welcome return to Super AMOLED technology - it's one of the first impressive things you'll notice when picking up the phone.
DLNA is slick and easy to use, and while the app store is small, there are some good free apps including Polaris Office.
Sound output is relatively high quality compared to many phones on the market and Samsung includes a good headsetto boot - and when you've got a user interface as easy to work with as this, we can't complain that the phone doesn't at least feel next-gen.
The Samsung Wave III feels like a quality smartphone in the hand and it has plenty of clever stuff going on. The build is impressive, and we like the big, bright, responsive screen.
We begin to see how Bada could rival the best smartphone ecosystems out there. But to do so it will have to become excellent and win the battle of hearts and minds to take customers away from the current market leaders. It's a tall order, and Samsung has work to do in the UK to make it work. We like watching the progress.