Samsung Droid Charge Review: The Droid Brand Goes 4G
Interface and Software, Performance and Battery Life
Interface & Software
Like most Samsung phones, the Droid Charge comes with the TouchWiz interface, which has recently been in the news due to a dispute between Samsung and Apple about the interface’s alleged similarities to the iPhone’s own software. Whatever your opinion on that, there’s little denying that the interface is quite a bit different from stock Android, and I’m not sure all of the changes are for the best.
Since we just had a look at the camera quality, let’s talk about the camera interface as an example. Although it’s not bad visually, the interface isn’t particularly intuitive. The button that switches between the camera and video recording modes, for example, seems to have its context reversed – when you’re in camera mode, it shows a camera icon, while in video recording mode it displays a film projector. Why? It’s already evident which mode you’re, so putting the icons in this context (rather than the reverse) is confusing. I also couldn’t get the camera interface to tilt when holding the phone upright, so you’ll have to deal with it being sideways if you take a photo with the camera upright.
Although this is just one example, it shows some of the details that I found annoying. The notifications bar is another case. While it does show icons that make it possible to turn certain features, like WiFi, on or off, it doesn’t display your currently active apps. Why not? For that matter, why does Samsung insist on placing the menu button at the very left of the phone, where most phones have the home button? And why does the gear-like icon in the upper left take me to a homescreen view? Wouldn’t such an icon usually be used to indicate a settings menu?
These complaints are ultimately minor due to the ease with which Android can be customized, but customization should be an option, not a necessity. Hopefully Samsung will at some point address shortcomings such as these, although I’m not hopeful that this will occur.
Performance and Battery Life
The 1 GHz Hummingbird processor in the Samsung Droid Charge is the latest single-core part from Samsung, and also likely to be among the last as dual-core processors leap forward to display their older brethren.
This places the Droid Charge at a definite disadvantage if you’re concerned with “future-proofing,” but it’s also worth noting that this is a Verizon phone and, if you are a Verizon customer, your only dual-core option is the Motorola Droid X2 - which lacks 4G LTE compatability. That should change soon, but at the moment the Droid Charge’s competition is the likes of the HTC Thunderbolt and the LG Revolution.
Both of those phones use the same 1 GHz Snapdragon MSM8655 processor, so while we’ve only benchmarked the Thunderbolt, there shouldn’t be a significant performance gap between them. So how does Samsung’s alternative hold up? Let’s start with Quadrant and Rightware Browsermark, both of which place more emphasis on the phone’s CPU performance.
In these benchmarks it appears that Samsung’s Hummingbird is certainly some distance behind Snapdragon. In fact, the Droid Charge didn’t beat the much older Droid Incredible or Droid X in Quadrant, and it only barely beat those same phones in Rightware Browsermark.
These results are quite disappointing, and were felt in subjective use of the phone. Although generally quick, there was still a hint of sluggishness apparent when moving between homescreen or opening apps. This sluggishness is rarely evident on the Thunderbolt.
While that’s not to say the Charge is slow – it remains one of the fastest phones on Verizon – I do think the gap between the Charge’s Hummingbird and the Snapdragon in the Thunderbolt and Revolution results in a real-world difference that an average user would notice.
Still, the Charge might make up for this on its GPU performance, so let’s see how the device handles Nenamark.
Here we see the Hummingbird SoC come back fighting thanks to its PowerVR SGX 540 GPU, which delivers a whopping 10 extra frames per second compared to the Thunderbolt. That’s a significant difference that was evident while the benchmark was running – it felt more fluid and there were virtually no temporary moments of choppiness.
Of course, the processor isn’t the feature on which the Charge is being marketed. That honor goes to the 4G LTE network support. The Charge was the second phone supporting 4G LTE to come to Verizon, and is at the moment one of only three available with the feature. Let’s look at the network speeds offered.
Note: I recently started receiving a 4G LTE signal here in Portland, so I re-tested the Thunderbolt alongside the Charge, which is why the benchmark result here is slightly different from the one found in the Thunderbolt review.
As you can see, the network performance of the Charge is basically the same as the Thunderbolt, with the exception of the WiFi performance, which was substantially better on the Charge than on the HTC Thunderbolt. 4G LTE remains capable of giving my home FiOS connection a run for its money. Although the Charge doesn’t set itself apart from its 4G LTE peers (which isn’t surprising) it does provide blazing fast network speeds that make web browsing and app downloads pleasurable. There’s really nothing else like it – at least not in North America.
One potential downside of 4G LTE, however, is battery life. Pushing all that data requires a lot of power. The 1600 mAh battery inside the Charge isn’t gigantic, so can it offer the endurance necessary for day-to-day use?
These battery life results are quite respectable, and in line with what you’d generally expect from a smartphone with a 4.3” display. That’s good, because the HTC Thunderbolt in its stock guise was a little less than what you’d expect, thanks to 4G LTE. The Charge seems to have better longevity overall while retaining the fast network speeds, and while it’s still doesn’t qualify as a phone with amazing battery life, it squeezes a fair bit out of the juice available.