It’s been almost 20 days of my off-and-on relationship with the Samsung Captivate, AT&T’s shiny new high-end Android device. Alas, the tug of war for my heart between the iPhone 4 and the Captivate has come to a draw. The fact that things ended as close as they did is, I think, a testament to Samsung’s impressive work with the Galaxy S line.
I’ll admit that my Captivate trial period might not have met some purist’s expectations. I still had days where I spent most of my time on my iPhone 4 by necessity. Nevertheless, I was able to come to some conclusions about Samsung’s latest and greatest.
Let me preface the following comments by saying that these are not so much technical observations as they are the kinds of impressions a user arrives at after a period of time with a device. These are the kinds of things people say about their phone in passing, after they’ve developed a love/hate relationship with their particular beast of burden and handy companion, the smartphone.
– It’s no secret that Samsung sought to copy the iPhone UI with the Galaxy S line. In fact, if you’ve held the Vibrant, T-Mobile’s version of the Captivate, you know that Samsung comes pretty darn close to an exact replica of the iPhone 3GS form factor. The homescreen, app icons and the like have a similar look and feel to the iPhone’s. The Captivate is easy to navigate, with a few learned twists (the home and menu buttons on the Captivate still confuse me a little) and yet there’s something different about the Captivate. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that what Android offers is “possibility.” Android just feels more open-ended.
I have to say that I’ve come to a place where I’m almost bored with Apple’s UI. I’d liken the “Apple experience” to decorating your entire home with decor exclusively from IKEA. While everything is rather slick and aesthetically pleasing, it’s also mass-produced and just like millions of other living rooms in the world. After a while it just fails to have that personality that makes a place special. Apple is what it is, which serves a lot of people quite well, but I’m not sure iLovers will ever be treated to anything beyond those little app icons, with their rounded corners and their friendly little pictographs.
– While Apple’s phones are beautiful, they are beautiful in the absence of a protective case. By now everyone knows that the iPhone 4 needs a case. Sure, the antenna is a big reason to put something over all that aesthetically pleasing goodness, but there’s yet another reason, which is: Gorilla Glass is just as fragile, scratchable and breakable as the vase that got broken on that one episode of the Brady Bunch. So yeah, the iPhone 4 is beautiful, but it’s just not durable. I didn’t get that feeling from the Captivate. The Captivate felt sturdy, scratch-resistant and while a case might serve it well, I didn’t feel like I was walking on egg shells if I went without one.
– Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that I upgraded to the iPhone 4 from my 3GS was for the better camera. While I’ve been disappointed with some aspects of the iPhone 4’s camera (the white balance in low light is for the birds), overall I’ve been impressed with what the iPhone 4 can do in the imaging department, especially with the help of all those truly outstanding photo apps in the App Store. Samsung surprised me by leaving out a flash with the Captivate, but the image quality was still impressive. Nevertheless, the small number of capable photography apps in the Android Market was a huge deal-breaker for me with the Captivate, which is really not a comment on Samsung at all.
– I learned some interesting things while exploring the Android Market with the Captivate. Specifically, I think I learned that true net neutrality on the wireless side of broadband is never going to happen. That said, given spectrum and bandwidth limitations, and some of the technologies coming down the pike, I’m willing to entertain the idea that we might all be better off with a little regulation. AT&T’s blocking of certain tethering and hot spot apps (which are available to VZW users) is proof enough for me that we’re nowhere near net neutrality in the wireless industry. Also, the fact that AT&T blocks side-loading of third-party apps from anywhere but the Android Market makes a jailbroken iPhone 4 look all the more attractive.
– Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen is a true accomplishment. While the iPhone 4’s Retina display is perhaps more detailed, the colors on the Captivate simply cannot be beat. So I guess this one is a matter of opinion and preference. To be honest, I’d take the incredible colors on the Captivate’s 4-inch screen, as opposed to the smooth edges on the iPhone 4’s 3.75-inch screen.
– Google integration of all its innovative (and free) products with the Android operating system is one of the most promising things going in the world of cross-platform software and services. As it stands, I use Picasa, Blogger, Google Docs, Gmail and Google Voice. Being able to access all of those simply by signing into my Google account when I set up the Captivate was a thing to behold.
– The iPhone’s lack of Swype is a deficiency that I have a hard time forgiving.
– How Samsung could have screwed up content management the way that it did with the clunky desktop software is beyond me. I don’t even know what to say about this. What’s worse is the documentation in the AT&T box makes scant mention of the software. When you’re going up against iTunes, why in the world would you flake on content management?
It’s not too much of a stretch for me to say that my next phone will be an Android. Then again, Apple could come along and surprise the heck out of everyone and start bringing down walls left and right. Nevertheless, the fact that Samsung has come as far as it has on the back of Android speaks volumes as to what the company is capable of as it smooths the rough edges on its smartphone game. All the iPhone killer talk can finally be put to rest. As far as I’m concerned, the Galaxy S line is the first real iPhone competitor the industry has seen. While the Droid X and Evo 4G are definitely standouts, they’re aimed at slightly different audiences. The ubiquitous distribution of the Galaxy S line across all carriers, its ease of use, compact size and brilliant display put these devices in head-on competition with the Apple’s iconic device.
My three main sticking points with the Captivate are minor and as follows: no flash on camera; lack of photography apps at the Android Market; poor content management system. If it weren’t for those three things, I’d have happily turned over the keys to my iPhone 4 for the Captivate. So much for iPhone-killers. Let the games begin.