Review: The Samsung Captivate Glide For AT&T

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Short Version

Keyboard-loving Android fans historically haven’t had much luck with AT&T’s lineup — a quick look at their wares reveals only a handful of options, none of which are terribly impressive. The Captivate Glide is AT&T’s most recent attempt at marrying a full QWERTY keyboard and a competitive spec sheet, but will it find an audience outside of hardcore messagers? Read on to find out.

Features:

  • 4″ Super AMOLED display running at 800×480
  • 1GHz Dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor
  • 8-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread with TouchWiz UI
  • MSRP: $149.99 with 2-year contract, available November 20

Pros:

  • The Glide feels incredibly responsive
  • Great battery life
  • Samsung’s Super AMOLED display still looks good

Cons:

  • The keyboard is irritatingly flat
  • Build quality seems rather chintzy
  • The rear-mounted speaker is iffy at best

Full Review

Hardware

One of the first things you notice when you pick up the Captivate Glide is how light it is. It’s not the thinnest phone you’ll ever see, but even with a four-row QWERTY keyboard in tow, the Glide feels comparable in weight to an iPhone 4S. It’s lack of heft is due in large part to its plastic body, and while it definitely helps keep the ounces off, it doesn’t do much to give the device a sturdy feel.

Take the Glide’s rear, for example. Much like on the Focus S, Samsung has fitted the battery cover with a nice grippy textured finish. Pop that bad boy off though (be careful!), and you’ll be looking at an incredibly flimsy piece of plastic. My jaw would clench whenever I had to remove or install the thing, as I was afraid I would accidentally damage it.

When the Glide is closed it feels solid enough, but that soon changes when you slide the keyboard open. The slide mechanism leaps into action with little provocation, and there’s a little bit of play between the screen and keyboard halves. It’s a fairly minor gripe, but a more solid slide could have gone a long way in making the hardware feel more robust.

Sadly, while that same keyboard is one of the Glide’s big selling points, it’s far from perfect. The four-row layout is reasonably spacious, but it isn’t helped by the fact that the keys are almost completely flat. It’s especially rough for people who are accustomed to using the tips of their fingers or their nails on a keyboard, because there’s a tendency to graze the metal grid that separates the keys instead. There were also more than a few occasions where my nail would dig into the plastic of the key but miss the actual button underneath.

What’s more, the four standard Android buttons make appear on either side of the keyboard. It seems like a thoughtful addition for a while, until your thumb inevitably glances off of the Home button instead of the Alt or Shift keys. After using it for a few days though, I slowly found myself using the flats of my thumbs with more success. Keyboard fans considering the Glide really need to go to a store and play with one, because it’s going to be a “love-it-or-hate-it” experience.

Like with the original Captivate, Samsung and AT&T have bucked the trend of including a microSD card in the box, but this time users only have 8GB of internal storage to play with. Some customers won’t mind, but those of you looking to load up your media library may want to get those memory cards ready.

In spite of all the Glide’s physical quirks, Samsung’s now-classic Super AMOLED display still looks great. I won’t go into too much detail here since nearly everyone has seen one of them in action by now, but new smartphone owners can expect crisp, vibrant colors on the Glide’s 4-inch display.

Software

Users of Samsung’s Galaxy S II line will find themselves with at home with the Glide, as they both run the same version of Samsung’s custom TouchWiz UI. I’m generally not a fan of the custom UIs some companies feel obligated to throw on their Android devices, but I think TouchWiz is far and away the least offensive of the bunch. It’s brightly colored, it’s user-friendly, and adds quite a bit of novel functionality to the mix without completely obscuring its Android underpinnings.

As is usually the case, AT&T has seen fit to load up the Glide with a bit of their standard bloatware. This time around, the culprits include AT&T Family Map, AT&T Code Scanner, Live TV, myAT&T, Qik Lite, YP, and Asphalt 6. Fortunately a few of them can be uninstalled outright, while the rest of them can be thrown into a folder in the app drawer and forgotten.

Samsung’s own apps and services make an appearance on the Glide, with most of them performing as well as could be expected. AllShare did an admirable job of accessing every episode of This American Life on my desktop, though unfortunately the app isn’t able to stream content in the background. Samsung’s Social Hub seeks to aggregate your social media and email accounts into one location for easy access. While I’m sure it would be a great solution for some, Social Hub doesn’t play nice with Google Voice accounts so much of its appeal is lost on me.

Strangely, Samsung’s preloaded Media Hub app refuses to start up without a microSD card installed. Since the Glide doesn’t come with one, people who are truly itching to use it will have to drop a few bucks for one.

Performance

The Glide’s physical feel may be lackluster, but that’s certainly not the case when it comes to performance. There was virtually zero lag while scrolling through apps and navigating menus, and the Glide was always very responsive. Sure, it’s not the same kind of powerhouse as the Droid RAZR or the HTC Rezound, but there’s more than enough oomph under the Glide’s hood to deliver a smooth ride. Even my usual test videos (a few episodes of Doctor Who and The League) ran like butter on the device.

After being disappointed by some other Tegra 2-powered devices, the Glide’s battery life was a pleasant surprise. After a normal day of texting, answering emails, web browsing, and streaming music from Rdio, the Glide managed to hang in there for around 11 hours. Your mileage may vary from mine, but I don’t foresee too many problems for people who spend the better part of their day away from power outlets. Control freaks can also keep an eye on Samsung’s preloaded task manager widget to kill apps as soon as possible, if they happen to be really hard up for juice.

As far as taking photos are concerned, the Glide is no slouch. Given the small sensor fitted inside, the Glide faces the same problem that plagues nearly all phone cameras: solid results can be had when there’s light out, but iffy shots are abound when it gets dim. Still, the Glide is capable of capturing some solid shots while keeping shutter lag to a minimum, even if the colors seemed a bit muted at times. Video recording on the other hand left a little to be desired: there’s no way to force the Glide to focus on a subject, so you’re left waiting for the autofocus to catch up to you.

Sadly, audio was a bit of a toss-up. Phone call quality was usually very good, although there was a tendency to for the audio to become slightly muffled at times. The rear-facing speaker leaves much to be desired though — the volume could be cranked up to a respectable level, but music and calls routed through it sounded hollow and distant. In fact, the speaker actually seemed incapable of playing parts of certain songs, which was puzzling to say the least.

Conclusion

The Captivate Glide is a textbook example of a mixed bag: the body skews a bit toward the chintzy side of things, but the power of its internals make for an almost consistently smooth Android experience. Avid keyboard fans who don’t mind the Glide’s flat layout would be hard-pressed to find anything better in AT&T’s portfolio, but again that isn’t saying much considering the competition. If you’re not a physical QWERTY devotee though, you’re probably better off spending the extra $50 for the flagship Galaxy S II with its better screen, faster processor, and slimmer frame.