Samsung Continuum: Two Displays Aren't Better Than One
At a Glance
The attractive and speedy Samsung Continuum’s secondary ticker display can be useful, but it isn’t for everyone.
When we first heard about the Samsung Continuum ($200 with a two-year contract from Verizon), we were skeptical but intrigued. Does a full-touch smartphone need a secondary "ticker" display? Ultimately we found the ticker display more useful than annoying, but occasionally be a pain to use.
The Continuum is a bit narrower and longer than its Galaxy siblings, measuring 4.9 by 2.3 by 0.5 inches. It weighs just 4.4 ounces, yet feels solid in hand. It reflects the Samsung design aesthetic with a piano-black finish, rounded edges, and a subtly patterned battery cover. Despite feeling a bit plasticky and being fingerprint-prone, the Continuum is quite attractive. On the face of the phone are Android softkeys for Menu, Home, Back, and Search, but they are awkwardly situated between the main display and the ticker display. The top of the phone accommodates a power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right spine is a volume rocker and a micro-USB port, and on the back you'll find a 5-megapixel camera and flash.
The Continuum's main attraction, of course, is its dual displays: a 3.4-inch Super AMOLED display, and a small secondary display (also Super AMOLED) below it. The main display is a bit smaller than we're used to seeing on Galaxy phones, but the Super AMOLED technology is fantastic. Colors burst from the screen, and animations appear lively and smooth. Though colors verge on being oversaturated, the effect is hardly unpleasant. The display does quite well in bright outdoor light, too, despite the glossy hardware's susceptibility to glare.
The smaller, narrower screen makes typing extremely frustrating. The keyboard feels very cramped, and we made more mistakes typing on the Continuum than on other Galaxy phones we've used. You can switch to Swype (a gesture-based keyboard), but even that was somewhat excruciating to use.
You can customize the 1.8-inch ticker display to stream real-time updates from various social networks and information from news, sports, entertainment, and weather feeds. It will also display notifications for new messages, e-mail, or missed calls. The Continuum's bottom and sides are touch-sensitive, so you can activate the ticker display just by picking up the phone. The point of the ticker display is to keep you tuned in to what's happening on your phone without having to wake it up.
The ticker display strikes us as being gimmicky, unnecessary, and distracting. The touch sensors worked quite well, however, and we slowly got used to the feature. You can scroll through your various feeds by flicking the display side-to-side, but interface's responsiveness varied, lagging a bit when transitioning from Twitter to the weather feed, for instance. Also, while trying to swipe, we sometimes accidentally clicked a notification, opening the app associated with it--an incredibly annoying development.
To get the most out of the ticker display, you have to be very selective about what shows up on it. If you sync your Twitter account to it and follow a lot of people, you'll quickly grow sick of seeing your friends' updates. Be sure to subscribe only to feeds that you actually care about, or you'll be flooded with useless information. We had no trouble programming our feeds via the Settings menu.
We liked being able to control the music player from the ticker display. The ticker switches over to show basic audio controls (back, play/pause, forward) whenever music is playing.
Unfortunately, the ticker display's APIs have not been opened to third-party developers, so you can program only a handful of apps or feeds to show up.
TouchWiz 3.0 Interface
Like other members of the Galaxy family, the Continuum runs Android 2.1 (Éclair), with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 user interface running over it. When the Continuum launched in New York City last month, PCWorld asked Samsung when an update to Froyo might occur. A company executive said that because the Continuum was so new and had additional hardware (the ticker), Android 2.2 (and subsequent updates) would probably be slow to get to it.
Overall, TouchWiz is a fun and attractive take on Android, but it isn't for everyone because it is so overdone that the result doesn't even look or feel like an Android phone. Also, we found that the skin sometimes interfered with the Continuum's speediness.
Despite the obvious fact that this is a Google Android phone, the Continuum's search function defaults to the Bing search engine. Worse, you can't change the default settings. To use Google search, you have to go to Google.com in the Web browser, and then search from there.
The Continuum's 1GHz processor will keep it running smoothly, even when you're juggling several tasks at once. Instead of using Google Maps, the phone relies on Bing Maps--a slower and clunkier option. You can download and install most of the stock Google applications, however. Both screens on the Continuum were very responsive, though they felt a bit cramped--especially when we typed messages on the on-screen keyboard (whether using Swype or the stock Android keyboard). Games like Angry Birds ran without a hitch.
We used the FTC-endorsed Ookla Speedtest app to test the Continuum's upload and download speeds over Verizon's 3G network in San Francisco. The Continuum achieved an average download speed of 577 kbps and an average upload speed of 463 kbps. Those results are significantly slower than the ones we saw for the Motorola Droid Pro, also on Verizon: It averaged download speeds of 1340 kbps and upload speeds of 1061 kbps). All such speeds will of course vary depending on where you're located.
Call quality was generally quite good over the Continuum. Voices sounded clear and natural with ample volume. Our contacts reported very good audio quality at their end, with little to no background noise, even when we spoke while standing on a busy street corner.
Camera and Multimedia
The 5-megapixel camera on the Continuum offers some basic image options to fiddle around with, although they didn't seem to affect image quality much. Outdoor shots came out surprisingly dark, while pictures taken indoors had overly saturated colors. Photos taken in darker settings looked slightly washed out by the camera flash. Video captured on the phone tended to lag slightly, but overall came out well, with good sound and minimal motion blur.
Video playback had some digital artifacts but was clear enough that we could watch without a problem. Music playback is excellent, with crisp audio.
The Bottom Line
If you like to be in the loop with your news feeds and social networks nonstop, you may find the ticker display useful. Once we pared down our feeds, we did--and we loved being able to control our music via the display. But if you're not big on social networks, you'll probably just find the ticker display annoying. Meanwhile, the main display is too cramped to let you comfortably type long messages, so if you plan on doing a lot of texting or e-mailing from your phone, the Continuum is not for you. Either way, we recommend trying it out before purchasing it.
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