Apr 26 AT 7:00 AM Anthony Domanico 15 Comments

Samsung Droid Charge First Impressions

Verizon and Samsung have teamed up to release the Samsung Droid Charge, which will hit retail stores on Thursday, April 28th for $300. You may remember the Droid Charge from our coverage of CES, including Nick Gray’s hands-on of the early build. Then dubbed the unnamed Samsung 4G LTE Smartphone, the Droid Charge was one of a series of three phones Verizon is using to unleash its stupid-fast 4G LTE network. The Droid Charge marks the second of the three LTE phones to be released, with the Thunderbolt being released earlier this month. There have been many concerns regarding battery life on 4G devices, so the biggest question remains whether or not the Droid Charge will be plagued by the same issues that seriously plague the Thunderbolt.

Hardware

The Droid Charge is packing a gorgeous 4.3″ Super AMOLED Plus display which makes the device easy to look at (and pleasing on the eyes), even in broad daylight. The Droid Charge is touting an 8 megapixel camera with a single LED flash on the back of the device, and a 1.3 megapixel front facing camera for video conferencing or self-portraits. The Charge is touting a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and performs on par with the Thunderbolt and current line of pre-dual-core devices.

The volume rocker and microUSB charging port can be found along the left side of the device, while the right side of the device has the power button and HDMI out port. The 3.5 millimeter headset jack is found up top.

Samsung elected to go with the hard keys for menu, home, search, and back on the front of the display. Hard keys vs. capacitive buttons is really a matter of preference; some of you will be happy Samsung decided to go with keys you know when you’ve actually pressed down, while others have grown quite fond of the capacitive buttons found on many of the newer devices. Personally, the Nexus One is still my daily driver, and I have found in my limited time with the Droid Charge that the physical buttons are nice to have and don’t take too much screen space.

One of the most pleasant surprises with the Droid Charge can be found under the hood. Samsung has elected to preload the device with a whopping 32gb micro SD card, a nice gesture on behalf of Samsung, though one that’s desperately needed as the Droid Charge only features 2gbs of internal storage.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the Droid Charge feels to be of the same plasticy-build quality that was often a criticism of the first line of Galaxy S phones. In order get an outsider’s opinion, I asked my wife to hold my Nexus One and then the Droid Charge, and she said that though the Droid Charge felt a bit heavier than the Nexus One, the build quality of the Droid Charge was far inferior. I couldn’t agree more, the Droid Charge simply feels cheaply made; like I’m going to break it through my everyday use.

Software

The Droid Charge is running Android 2.2.1 Froyo, with Samsung’s infamous Touchwiz UI. Touchwiz is a custom skin which overlays the Traditional Android UI, and is the manufacturer’s way of delivering Android in a way that gives them a competitive advantage over their competitors.

Now, I must admit that when it comes to Android, I am strongly biased toward stock “Vanilla” Android, the base flavor of Android that comes straight from Google. When it comes to custom UIs, I’d personally rank Touchwiz just slightly above MOTOBLUR, which I hate, and well below HTC’s Sense, which is “okay.”

Touchwiz UI just feels a bit too iPhone-y for my taste, a point which Apple may agree with considering they recently filed a lawsuit against Samsung for similar reasons. Touchwiz’s one redeeming factor for me is the lockscreen, which presents itself as a jigsaw puzzle that has one free piece you must drag to the hole to unlock your phone. But that’s not what I like about it, where this lockscreen concept is really useful is when you have an unread text message or missed call. The lockscreen will provide a puzzle piece for your texts or callss (or both) in addition to the standard unlock piece, and you can drag that particular puzzle piece to launch directly to your messaging or phone applications.

The lockscreen is right about where I lose interest with Touchwiz, as the rest of the UI feels a bit like overkill, such as the keyboard automatically inserting words as you’re typing, which is really frustrating if many of the words you use aren’t recognized as the first most likely one.

Software can make or break a device, and though the fact that the Droid Charge has Touchwiz isn’t enough to get me to steer you clear of the device, it certainly doesn’t make me want to rush out and tell you to drop what you’re doing right now and head over to Verizon to pick one up. It’s okay, but not good/great, and I look forward to the day when most Android phones are launched with stock Android.

Battery Life

I’ve only had the device for a few hours at this point, so it’s a bit too early to tell how well the battery is going to perform. I’ll have the device for a few more days, and will post my experience with battery life at the end of my time with the Droid Charge.  Look for a post by Friday.

That being said, I’ve been using the device off and on for 2 hours now, and the battery is already down to about 70%. I’m hoping this is more the exception than the rule, but that amount of battery use would put the Droid Charge just about on par with the Thunderbolt, signaling some rough times ahead for battery life on Verizon’s data hungry networks.

Final Thoughts

The Droid Charge will be available from Verizon Wireless on Thursday, April 28th, for the whopping 2-year contract price of $299.99. With that hefty pricetag and lack of a real differentiating factor other than the gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus screen, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this device over the $50 cheaper HTC Thunderbolt if you’re in the market for a 4G-LTE device. Or just hold out for the dual-core Droid Bionic, set to drop in a month or two.

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Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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