Monday, December 19, 2011

Samsung Wave 3 (GT-S8600) Review

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.
Samsung wave iii in-hand front
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.
Samsung wave iii in-hand front 2
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.
Samsung wave iii in-hand back
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.
Samsung wave iii in-hand top
Samsung wave iii in-hand bottom
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.
Samsung wave iii in-hand left
Samsung wave iii in-hand right
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.


Samsung wave iii in-hand battery

Interface

Samsung wave iii pr image 1
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.
Samsung wave iii notification area
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.
Samsung wave iii put apps on home screen
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.
Samsung wave iii folder on home screen
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.
Samsung wave iii widgets and removing home screen apps
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.
Samsung wave iii widgets in app store
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.


Samsung wave iii voice control testing

Contacts and calling:

Samsung wave iii pr image 2
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.
Samsung wave iii call log
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.
Samsung wave iii dial pad
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.
Samsung wave iii smart dialler
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.
Samsung wave iii add account
That's nice, though the handset didn't want to incorporate our Twitter contacts, just our Facebook and LinkedIn ones.
Samsung wave iii facebook sync option
You can import contacts from a SIM too, and can enter them by hand, filling in data on the phone the old fashioned way.






Samsung wave iii add contact by hand


Messaging:

Samsung wave iii pr image 3
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.
Samsung wave iii add social hub account
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.
Samsung wave iii status updates
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.
Samsung wave iii social hub settings
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.
Samsung wave iii chat on
If this all seems like too much, then there's ordinary SMS too of course. Messages are threaded and look really good on screen.
Samsung wave iii threaded sms
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.
Samsung wave iii keyboard tools
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.
Samsung wave iii speech to sms
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.





Samsung wave iii keyboard landscape

Internet:

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.
Samsung wave iii web page full screen tall
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.
Samsung wave iii text reflow on double tap
test reflow on pinch to zoom
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.
Samsung wave iii multiple browser windows
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.
Samsung wave iii no flash support
At least YouTube didn't let us down and watching streaming video in wide format was a treat.



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