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Samsung Wave review

Jonathan Morris
July 28, 2010

Samsung is betting a lot of money on making its new bada operating system work, but do we really need another mobile OS?

Samsung launched its new bada platform at the end of 2009, along with a significant (as in over a million dollars) competition to get developers to start producing apps for the new devices. The Wave is the first, and as yet, only phone to use the new bada platform, and it does mean you’re buying into something with a very uncertain future.

Now, even if the worst happens and bada doesn’t take off, the phone is still based on the TouchWiz user interface that has existed for some time. However, with the money being spent to get developers on board, it does have a fighting chance. Already some big name developers like Gameloft have produced games and there are a growing number of apps and widgets – including BBC iPlayer.

It isn’t a completely brand-new operating system that will take ages to get used to either. In fact, it has many similarities to other operating systems. There is the Android-like homescreen panels and a pull down notification box, to iPhone-style menu with sliding pages. Hold down the central button and there’s even a task manager that you’d expect to see on a Symbian phone. It seems that Samsung has spent some time checking out the competition!

But even before you’ve pressed a single button, you’ll already have been blown away by the screen. The Super AM-OLED display is incredibly bright, meaning it’s one of the first OLED screens that can be viewed in bright sunlight. With 800×480 pixels, the pixels-per-inch (PPI) may not be as high as the iPhone 4, but you’re still going to be hard pushed to see the individual pixels.

Instead you’ll see incredibly smooth text and gorgeous imagery, from still images to video. OLED screens have no backlight, so in the dark you’re presented with vivid colours and a contrast ratio to die for. One day, this screen technology will become cheap enough to be used in large screen televisions and it’s going to be stunning. For now, you’ll just be glad to have it on your phone.

The phone also has a 1GHz application processor, which means it’s as fast as the screen is beautiful. Moving around the menus is as slick as an iPhone or HTC Desire, and applications run fast with amazing 3D graphics on the bundled game, Asphalt, and the other games that can be downloaded from Samsung’s own app store.

Perfectly content

Although the range of applications may still be relatively thin on the ground, and far behind the likes of WebOS, Symbian, Android and iPhone, the Wave has most things covered on the phone itself.

The email client will work with a range of existing email providers, such as Google Mail, and the ‘Social Hub’ app will hook you up to your Facebook and Twitter accounts to synchronise your contacts with the phonebook. There are plenty of widgets too, although a lot of them are little more than links to web pages or news feeds.

The phone also has an innovative log that doesn’t just show missed calls, but keeps a chronological list of all recent activity. Although you can filter it to just show calls, you can also see incoming messages, emails, Tweets and Facebook updates by name. To work well, you need to use an email account that isn’t swamped with too many messages or spam.

With such a good screen, you’ll probably be wanting to use the various multimedia functions on the phone, from the 5-megapixel camera to the music and video player that can really take full advantage of the display.

The camera is excellent too. Although the camera is just 5-megapixels, it takes clear photos and has the benefit of an LED flash – a feature that has been omitted from many Samsung phones in recent months. With the brightness of the display, you won’t have any problems lining up a shot in the sun, or enjoying the end results.

The bright colours make every photo look incredible, if a little unnatural, although when you transfer them to a computer you’ll be relieved to know that the colours are far more lifelike. This is perhaps the only real problem with OLED screens, where everything is overly saturated.

The video features benefit from that fast processor, from recording in 1280×720 (HD) mode to playing back videos in a multitude of different file formats, including DivX. It’s a shame that the internal speaker is very tinny, although for the sake of those around you, the 3.5mm jack should be used with headphones that can match the quality of the video.

The web browser operates quickly and has support for multi-touch (which works in other applications too) but we noticed some issues with the rendering of certain websites. Fortunately, the bada OS can be upgraded like any other phone firmware, so hopefully these niggles will be addressed as time goes on. The same goes for the navigation app that stands in for the likes of Google Maps, which is yet to be produced for the bada platform. It looks rather amateurish, and the phone could really do with supporting Google Maps. At the current time, Google is only offering access via the web based Maps, which means you’re very restricted in what you can do on the move.

bada bing, or bada ka-boom?

I can’t say with certainty that bada will be a huge success and it’s not going to be an easy task for Samsung to steal marketshare from the more established competition, but the Wave is an excellent phone in its own right. Samsung has the Galaxy S which has the same screen and runs Android, but it’s a lot bigger and the camera doesn’t have a flash. The Wave is thin, light and offers a good user experience, giving bada the best chance to get off the ground.

Verdict

Investing in a new operating system is a gamble, but you won’t be left with something useless whatever the eventual outcome. Samsung needed a good phone to showcase Bada OS and the Wave is it. It’s a great looking phone, with an awesome Super AM-OLED screen that can be viewed in bright daylight with amazing clarity. There’s a fast processor, great camera and decent multimedia functions – let down by a rather poor internal speaker and a lack of core apps like Google Maps. The app store is still rather devoid of choice, but it is growing all the time.

Ratings (out of 5)

Performance: 4
Features: 4
Usability: 4

Overall: 4


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