When Samsung announced the Wave, and with that the bada platform, the questions running in our minds were, does the world need another mobile OS? As it is, Palm has already been sold and after years of success in the business world, the makers of BlackBerry, RIM are still finding it tremendously difficult to make any headway in the non-business consumer market. Android and iPhone are the current top picks when it comes to smartphones, and whatever Samsung are going to bring to the table with the bada OS, it had better be stupendously good.
Read on to find out, if the Samsung Wave and bada is worth your attention and more importantly, you hard earned cash.
Overall design, feel and built-quality
We’ll start off with the overall design, feel and built-quality of the device. Unlike it’s Android stablemate, the Galaxy S, the Wave has a primarily metal shell with a brushed finish making it feel decidedly more premium. The built-quality is top notch, the Wave with its metal body, feels very solid and robust. It’s compact design feeling nicely weighted giving you the sense that it can roll with the punches but not too heavy that you think you have a brick on your pocket.
But if you compare it with another metal bodied device we have on hand — the HTC Legend — we have to say the the unibody Legend feels more well-built with the single billet aluminium giving more tactile pleasure. But that’s not to say that the Wave is not good, it is a good quality phone. It is one of the better built smartphones out there but it’s just that the unibody Legend is that much better and sexier, we feel.
At 118mm tall, 56mm wide and a smidgen under 11mm thick, the Wave can be considered as a a svelte device when compared to it’s contemporaries. In terms of height it feels nice and in terms of thickness, its thinner than most devices with only the Galaxy S and the iPhone 4 being thinner at 9.9mm and 9.3mm respectively. But it is in terms of width that we have a problem with the Wave. With a 3.3in Super AMOLED screen as it’s main interface, the Wave is not as wide as the other smartphones with bigger screens. That means brawny dudes with big hands will find holding the Wave bit of an issue. Its just not wide enough. It’s not that it feels uncomfortable, it’s just that we’d like it to be slightly wider. This is a similar problem we have with the HTC Legend which incidentally has roughly the same size screen and the same width (3.2in and 56.3mm wide if you’re being picky).
In terms of design, we’ll tell you straight, we’re not a fan of the Wave’s mishmash of sleek lines and diamond-shaped theme. We like the sleek lines and curves, it makes the Wave comfortable to hold and operate but the diamond-shaped main button and camera opening doesn’t gel well with the look. It’s probably a minor thing but a well-designed phone would be one of the main reason you’d want to go out and get one. If based on design merits alone, we would give the Wave a second thought. In this respect the Galaxy S appears to be the better looker.
It is in the design that we also find a mixed bag of likes and dislikes, we like that similar to the Galaxy S, the Wave has protective slide cover for its micro USB port and we also like that the sleep button is located on the right side of the device rather than the top. It’s a very logical place to put the sleep button, as you don’t have to re-orientate your hand to put the device to sleep. We’re wondering why this hasn’t caught on. We like it very much.
We also like that the buttons feel good and go in deep enough that its reassuring. Other than that, there’s the usual volume rocker on the left side and a dedicated camera button on the right. We don’t like that the USB port is on top of the device rather than at the bottom. This would make using the device will it’s charged a bit of hassle with the charging cable being a nuisance.
Our biggest dislike about the design of the Samsung Wave is the diamond-shaped home button. First, a little bit about what this button can do. Unlike the many Android devices out there, you can use the Wave’s home button to switch it on from sleep mode (just like you would on an iPhone). The Galaxy S can do the same thing but none of the HTC Android devices can. We know that it’s something minor but it is such a convenience to be able to just jab on the home button to quickly switch on the device. It’s a real plus that.
But the problem with the button is where the home buttons on the iPhone and Galaxy S are recessed, the one on the Wave is protruding out, and this is somewhat of its fatal flaw. The protruding home button makes it very easy to accidentally switch on the phone. We find in numerous occasions, the Wave was making phone calls or deleting text messages by itself whilst being in our pockets. This happens too often for us to dismiss it as accidental. It is, to us, really a design flaw. If you’re getting a Wave, make sure that you put it to sleep first before you put it in your pocket.
In a nutshell, the display is awesome. We can’t fault the 3.3in 800×480 pixel Super AMOLED on the Samsung Wave. It is just simply a joy to look at, images and icons turn up super-sharp, colours bright and crisp and the contrast is amazing. It is truly a stunning display compared to anything we’ve ever used. Videos look great too, the refresh rate is fast and rendering is smooth making video footages and images stay sharp.
When browsing, the rendering of text is very good too making reading lengthy articles online very easy on the eyes.
Its so much better than the 3GS screen that we’re used as you can see in the pictures. The viewing angle on the Wave is wider, the blacks are blacker and we can barely make out the pixels in the icons.
Many are saying that AMOLED screens are a bane to use under direct sunlight, well we beg to differ, our comparison with the LCD on the iPhone 3GS and the Super AMOLED on the Wave reveals that the difference in visibility is very minimal. Both displays under bright sunlight look a little washed out but are still very usable. We don’t see what the big fuss is about, we didn’t have any issues with using the Super AMOLED under bright sunlight.
The screen on the Wave is capacitive and touch recognition is good. Where we tap, the device registered the input accurately, again, there’s no complaints here. If there’s anything, we’d probably like the display to be bigger but this is not really an issue. In day-to-day use we find that the 3.3in screen is adequate, but bigger is always better.
Internals and user interface
Processor wise, the Wave packs amongst one of the best out there. Its 1GHz S5PC110A01 processor runs the same ARM Cortex A8 core as the iPhone 4 and iPad, and is the same processor that is powering the Samsung Galaxy S. The S5PC110A01 is backed by a powerful SGX540 GPU capable of processing 90 MPolys/sec which we think is amongst the fastest graphics processors installed in a smartphone (vs. iPhone 3GS/iPhone 4: 28 MPolys/sec vs. Snapdragon-only: 22 MPolys/sec), there’s also 512MB RAM to keep things running smoothly.
The Wave comes with 2GB of internal storage and as you’d expect, there’s a MicroSD expansion slot that takes up to 32GB cards for a total storage potential of 34GB.
In terms of hardware, the Wave delivers a potent mix of performance and usability. The bada OS runs on Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 and we have no complaints in its execution. The TouchWiz 3.0 is the same skin used on the Galaxy S and is very intuitive and easy to use. Like we’ve said in our earlier Galaxy S review, it combines all the good aspects of both the iPhone and Android OS interface with some useful enhancements added in, more on this later.
Graphics-wise, transitions between screens are slick and you can call up apps in a jiff. bada also supports multiple apps running in the background and try as we might, we never had any issues with lag when using the device. The Wave hardware performance can definitely keep up with whatever you can throw at it.
We wish we can say the same about the bada OS. The bada for us threw a mix bag of plus and minuses. In some aspects it is good but in most we find that it is still lagging behind Android and iPhone.
We start of with the usability of the OS. Out of the box the Wave is easy enough to use. Like the iPhone and Android, you can create multiple homescreens but the weird thing is unlike the iPhone and Android you CAN’T add apps onto the homescreens, only widgets. This is just one of the many odd omisions of the bada OS. It is at times, tremendously flexible and user customisable but why some things you think would be an obvious inclusion is left out of the OS is perplexing to us.
Moving on. If you’ve used the iPhone or an Android device before, you’ll find that navigating around the bada OS on the Wave brings a very familiar feel. If you’ve used the Galaxy S before then it’s almost the same thanks to the TouchWiz 3.0 UI.
We like that you can delete homescreens quick by putting the phone in landscape mode. Another great feature is the ability to quickly toggle wireless functions and look at notifications via the top bar pull down ala Android, this is a really nifty feature that we used alot.
The menu, as you can see, looks very iPhone-ish. It comes with yet odd feature called the adaptive menu order where the phone tracks how you use your apps and rearrange the icons to put the most used apps at the most top positions. In theory, this sounds good but in practice, it left us confused and always looking for apps. Thankfully, you can switch this off in the settings menu.
In terms connectivity with emails and social media apps, the Wave has got you covered with support for Exchange, GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and anything else in between. There’s also support for social media integration with the contacts in your phonebook. Setup for this however is excruciating but once you do get it up and running, you’ll be able to see Twitter and Facebook status updates of your friends in the contact details. This is a nice feature but its not unique to the Wave and on other platforms, it is admittedly much easier to get the social media sync up and running.
Typing on the Wave’s keyboard needs some getting use to. Although the keyboard layout is roughly similar to the iPhone’s, the size of the individual letters are much smaller on the Wave and we find ourselves tapping the wrong letters often. It’s not the fault of the screen though as we note that the display does a sterling job in registering our taps and is very accurate too.
Another issue with the Wave’s keyboard is when you’re typing, the multitouch is for some reason disabled. So even when you do eventually get use to the Wave’s keyboard, your fast typing will be hampered by the fact that the OS will only register one tap at a time. Bummer.
We do however like how cut and paste is executed on the Wave. Similar to the Android and iPhone method, you tap and hold to select a word but that’s where the similarity ends. On the Wave, the word select cursor is larger making it much easier to use. Moving from the Wave to the iPhone, we find that we’re missing the large cursor more and more.
Naturally, a large amount of time spent using the Wave will be for web browsing and this is where the OS suffers the most. The web browsing experience on the Wave is just appalling. Credit where credit is due, when pages load up, they load up fast and they do look good but the usability of the browser is very bad. There’s pinch to zoom and everything but non-mobile sites are rendered very poorly. bada supports Flash and so does the native web browser but the execution is choppy and is best avoided.
No matter, Flash on mobile device is not something we’re too concerned about. What we are concerned about is that at the moment you’re stuck with bada’s native browser. To make matters worse, there’s no other alternative browser that you can download to use with bada at the moment. We can excuse the OS for the poor browser but not having alternatives it a real downer for us.
Speaking of downloading apps, this is where bada has a lot of catching up to do. As of July 2010, Samsung announced that there’s about 300 apps in store with 70% of them being free. By the end of 2010 Samsung hopes to have over 7,000 apps available. In comparison, iPhone has over 225,000 apps as of June 2010 and there’s about 85,000 apps currently available in the Android market.
Yes, the bada platform is new and it will need time to populate its app store, and so long as the number of apps are increasing at a steady pace, its not really an issue. At least most of the must have apps are available or can be accessed via the web browser, so although integration is not as slick at what you’d see on the Android and iPhone devices, you can still get your social media thing done on the Wave.
There’s a Facebook and Twitter app too so you know the essentials are there. For YouTube, there’s something that looks like an app but is more like a bookmark; you tap the icon and it will open up the web browser and bring you straight to YouTube. Yeah, it is a bit rough around the edges but it works.
The Wave works as a MiFi as well allowing up to three devices to be connected simultaneously. This is an invaluable feature for us and on the Wave setup was easy as pie. We we’re able to setup a mobile hotspot in no time and once it is up, connectivity is good and stable, provided that your mobile network can keep up.
Media wise, nothing beats Samsung in terms of the number of files that its devices can play right out of the box and the Wave is no different. It supports a plethora of formats including DiVX, MP4, H.264 and Xvid plus a a whole host of other formats. The speaker on the Wave is also one of the devices strong points producing adequately loud, clear and full sound considering that this is after all, just a phone.
The music player, although not as easy to use as the iPod interface on the iPhone, is feature-packed and even comes with a music recognition software. It is however a bit of a hit and miss affair so usefullness of that feature is probably reduced by half.
There’s also an FM tuner built-in. Nothing much to report here. The radio works and is easy enough to use. You can also record whatever that’s being played over the air while you’re listening to the radio and that’s a cool feature to have.
The Wave also allows multiple options for you to share your media via AllShare provided that you have a compatible device. Options include streaming content from the Wave directly to a TV via WiFi, streaming content from the Wave wirelessly to a computer and streaming content that’s from a computer to the Wave itself.
We didn’t get to test this feature completely but we can say that setup is very easy but it does take some time for the file to be sent to the device that will be playing it. This is fine if you’re playing videos and music but it’s not so when you’re viewing pictures because there is a excruciatingly long wait between pictures.
If you’ve been using HTC phones you’ll know that certain gestures will make the phones behave in a certain way. Like if a HTC phone is placed on a desk and its ringing and you pick it up to answer, it will automatically lowers its volume. And if the same phone placed on a desk and is flipped over while it is ringing, it will automatically mute the ringer. These are really cool features and prospective Wave buyers will be happy to note that the same gestures work on the Wave.
The Wave comes with a decent sized battery, a replaceable 1500mAH Li-Ion battery. We got a good one and half day’s use out of a full charge. That’s more than we could get out of the iPhone 3GS and HTC Legend that’s we’re currently using. The Wave is quite efficient in using its battery so much so that it changes to a battery save mode when battery level drops below 10%. In this mode the phone automatically dims down the display and disables WiFi and Bluetooth along with a few other battery draining features in a bit to squeeze as much juice as it can out of the battery.
This is good if you’re on the road and far away from a power source but we don’t like that you can’t do anything to change or customise this mode. Once the Wave is in battery saving mode, you’re pretty much stuck with it. This can be an annoyance for some but we have to admit that it has its plus and minuses.
In terms of making and receiving calls on the Wave, we have no qualms about its performance. Calls on both ends are loud and clear. Antenna reception is good no matter how you held the device. In areas where reception was scrappy, the Wave was able to get a signal even when the iPhone 3GS we had in tow gave up the ghost. As a phone, the Wave works just fine.
The 5MP camera on the Wave is amongst the best we’ve used on a mobile device. The various settings and features alone is amongst the most comprehensive we’ve seen.
Aside from the standard flash (which is adequately bright), there’s auto focus, macro, and face detection as well as a blink to activate feature, something which you don’t even see on most stand-alone cameras.
There’s also a huge amount of shooting options to choose from with 13 scene modes and six different shooting modes which includes smile detection and a very useful and effective sweeping panorama mode.
And then there’s a myriad of manual settings that you can play with including adjustments for the contrast, saturation and sharpness as well as adjustments for ISO from 100 to 800 as well as settings for exposure metering. You can also adjust the size of the image: 5MP/2MP/3.2MP/0.3MP/widescreen 4MP/widescreen 2.4MP.
Having all these features is awesome but for most of the time many Wave users will just simply switch on the camera, point and shoot, so it’s a good thing that we find the camera interface very intuitive to use.
Shooting in various lighting conditions, we find that the 5MP sensor is well optimised, producing pictures with a generous level of detail considering the fact that the camera is a phone. We like that the shutter response and camera start-up time is fast too allowing us to whip the Wave out activate the camera via its dedicated button and snap away in no time.
The Wave performs remarkably well taking normal pictures but it really blew us away with the level of detail produced when we shot in macro mode. As you can see in the sample pictures, the details rival that of a dedicated point and shoot.
Given enough light, any odd camera can capture decent images, a true test of a camera is in how it performs in low lighting conditions. And the Wave impressed us here as well, retaining a good degree of detail whilst keeping the high ISO noise in check.
Suffice to say, the Wave can double up as a point and shoot substitute if you need it to be. The images are indeed that good.
The camera on the Wave also takes videos in 720p and despite being very impressed with the camera’s performance taking pictures, the same can’t be said with its video performance.
We expected more from the Wave’s video recording capabilities but it failed to live up to our expectations producing videos that’s too grainy for HD quality outputs. Considering how good images taken from the Wave turned up, we’re slightly disappointed with its video performance.
If its any consolation, you’ll be happy to note that there’s movie maker software pre-installed in the Wave where you can use the pictures and videos taken from the Wave’s camera and turn them into movies. You can also use the music and sound bytes stored in the device as soundtrack for you homemade movies. Having played around with the software, we have to say its a decent effort. It’s intuitive to use allowing you to churn out a basic montage in a few minutes.
The Wave also has a secondary forward facing camera for video calls. Nothing out of the ordinary here as it works as it should though unlike some other phones with dual cameras, we can’t seem to figure out how to take pictures with the secondary camera on the Wave. We have the same problem on the Galaxy S as well and are incline to think that there’s no such option on a Samsung smartphone.
The odds and ends
As you might have gathered, the Wave produced a mishmash of results in our hands. There are some features that we really liked, there’s no faulting the hardware, the Super AMOLED screen is gorgeous and the camera is top notch (when it comes to taking pictures at least). Taking screenshots of the phone is even as easy as you would do it on the iPhone (just press the home and sleep button simultanously).
But we can’t help but feel being short-changed by the bada platform. In some instances it delivers a polished and thoroughly streamlined user experience but there are more instances that the iPhone and Android OS has it beat.
Like the browser for instance is not up to the standards that we’re used to. It needs a lot of improvement. Then there’s the navigation, first you’ll need to have a memory card installed before you can use it and it runs on a proprietary software and maps instead of the tried tested and favourited Google Maps.
This is a bold move from Samsung and we wouldn’t have any issues with this if it works well but like the built-in web browser, the execution of the bada navigation app is just as bad. Pinch zoom is oddly disabled and finding your location at start-up takes longer than we would like.
Inconsistencies are pepered all over the bada platform. For example, the TouchWiz 3.0 looks polished and easy enough to use but when you open the YouTube app (which we’ve noted earlier that it is not really an app) and wonder why are the thumbnails pixelated. With the high-def Super AMOLED screen you can’t help but notice it even more.
When browsing through the picture viewer, it is even worse with the picture thumbnails being squished and grossly pixelated. Again, it sure doesn’t do the beautiful screen any justice.
Some might consider these as minor nuisances but we’ll tell you that greatness are in the details and Samsung will need to fix every single one of them to be on par with Android and iPhone.
At the end of the day
The question is would we recommend you to get the Samsung Wave? At RM1,799 outright, nothing comes close to what the Wave brings in terms of hardware. And what an awesome piece of kit it is. We can’t stop but singing praises about the Super AMOLED screen and the camera never ceases to impress. When showed pictures taken from the Wave many asked is if did indeed was taken with the phone.
The processor is top notch and the built quality is right up there. But as the hardware impresses, we can’t say the same about the bada platform. Yes, there are a touch of brilliance peppered around the platform but it is just too many inconsistencies for us to truly enjoy it.
The lack of apps is also an issue for us. Yes, the basics are covered but if you’ve already gotten use to the flexibility of Android and the seamless integration of iPhone, opting for bada is more of a step back.
Having said that, the Wave and bada has its strengths and they are indeed good strong points. So if bada isn’t going to win over any Android or iPhone users, whp is Samsung aiming the Wave at?
If you’re moving up from the old dumbphone and are looking at alternatives for the iPhone and Android, then it would be good to take a look at the Wave. Like we said, the hardware is good but the software is so-so, yet for the most part, it’s not a deal breaker, we can live with the bada’s inconsistencies. At the end of the day is gets the job done and at the asking price for the hardware, the Wave will win a lot of owners.
As for the bada platform, it is heading in the right direction, no doubt about that, but it needs to move fast to just catchup. Final word, not a bad first effort from Samsung but we hope they’ll be able to deliver regular updates to polish the platform up. Also, we’re hoping Samsung gets more developers on board to boost the apps count in its app store. With all that in place, we could have here a feasible contender in the smartphone game.