Let's dive in and take a look at what the Wave is all about -- and what it's not.
Samsung Wave S8500 review
HardwareThe instant you see and touch the Wave, you know you're dealing with a premium device. It feels solid and dense in the hand (size and weight match the iPhone 4), and both materials and fit and finish are top-notch. The front is made of glass with subtly concave top and bottom edges, covering a 3.3-inch 800 x 480 pixel Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen which looks absolutely gorgeous and remains visible in direct sunlight. The sides and back (including the battery door) are made of gray anodized aluminum with 2 diamond shaped cutouts for the 5 megapixel autofocus camera and LED flash. The top and bottom are capped in glossy black plastic, with a matte black surface surrounding the micro-USB connector (behind a sliding door), 3.5mm headphone jack and a surprisingly loud speaker at the top. There's a volume / zoom rocker on the left edge, and a lock key and a 2-stage camera button on the right edge of the phone. At the bottom of the display, there's a jewel-like diamond shaped home key, flanked by a call / log button on the left and a hangup / back / power button on the right. All the controls provide pleasant tactile feedback. Overall, there's a certain formality and elegance to the design that's quite appealing, yet we're hesitant to call the Wave anything more than attractive.
Samsung is no stranger to putting nice cameras in its high-end devices, and the Wave is no exception. It features a 5 megapixel autofocus camera with macro, single LED flash, and support for 720p video recording. While these specs are relatively pedestrian nowadays, the resulting pictures and videos are well above average. Shots contain sufficient detail and exhibit accurate color balance and exposure. Low-light performance is surprisingly good, and noise is kept under control. Video recording is silky smooth (30fps sustained), with few compression artifacts and great audio. There's both touch-to-focus and a dedicated 2-stage camera button, but the autofocus is not available when recording video. The interface is easy to use and similar to what Samsung offers on its point-and-shoot cameras. There's a plethora of settings, including panorama and smile detection modes, as well as manual controls such as ISO and white balance. The icing on the cake is a full suite of tools to edit, tag and upload your pictures and videos to popular sites like Flickr and YouTube. The combination of a decent sensor and optics, dedicated controls, an intuitive interface, and a variety of settings make the Wave an excellent phone for taking pictures or recording video.
Samsung Wave camera samples
SoftwareThe first thing we noticed about Bada is that it's pleasantly fast, no doubt thanks to the sensitive capacitive touchscreen, speedy processor and heaps of RAM. It also never crashed on us, only popping an occasional cryptic error message. The second thing we noticed about Bada is that it's extremely familiar, mostly because the TouchWiz 3.0 interface is almost identical on the Wave and the Galaxy S, despite the different underlying OSs. If you've ever used another phone with TouchWiz or even an Android device, you'll feel right at home. There are multiple home screens with widgets (but no shortcuts), an editable app tray which scrolls sideways, and a notification bar. Multitasking is included: holding the home key brings up a task manager (a la Symbian). Most Bada apps support long presses and feature a menu softkey similar to the menu hardkey in Android. Speaking of which, the Wave ships with a veritable cornucopia of bundled apps, most of them decent. There's also full Java support, plus the Samsung Apps app store, which strangely contained zero apps -- possibly because it's not technically launched in the US.
The WebKit-based Dolphin web browser is one of the best we've used on a feature phone; it was able to render the Engadget site without drama (something some smartphones still struggle with). Scrolling is snappy and pinch-to-zoom works as advertised.