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Exclusive: Samsung Captivate for AT&T preview

Exclusive: Samsung Captivate for AT&T preview
Joanna Stern
Joanna Stern|June 22, 2010 11:25 AM
AT&T may have been accused of crippling its Android phones, but the Samsung Captivate -- one of the US versions of the Galaxy S -- is about to change all of that. Oh sure, the company released the specs last week, but us resourceful folk got some hands-on time with the Super AMOLED-boasting, Android 2.1 phone prior to its unknown stateside launch. The model we got to play with was clearly an early build (it wasn't even branded Samsung or AT&T), but that didn't stop us from putting it through the paces at a local Starbucks. Hit the break for a bulleted breakdown of our impressions and a short hands-on video. Oh, and don't forget to make a pit stop at the gallery below before getting into the good stuff. %Gallery-95992%
  • Hardware: The 4-inch Captivate isn't as large and in charge as the 4.3-inch Droid X or EVO, but in our opinion it's just the right size. While the design isn't all that unique, there's something about the all-screen phone that is pretty striking, and there's no denying that the hardware was very thin and light in hand. The curved bottom lip reminds us of the BlackBerry Storm for some reason, and it too has four touch sensitive buttons. Oh, and for those that were hoping the Captivate looked like the Galaxy S, we can confirm that the two look more like distant cousins than siblings.
  • Screen: The Captivate has the same Super AMOLED display as the Galaxy S, and we'll have to agree with our English counterpart who said "it is one of the finest displays you can hope to lay eyes on." We didn't get to test the display in sunlight, but indoors and outdoors (around dusk) it was seriously bright and crisp. The photos and video below don't really do justice to the quality, but when we watched a video clip colors just popped and looking at the preloaded wallpapers was all sorts of glorious. We found the capacitive touchscreen itself to be mighty responsive.
  • Software: The phone we saw was running Android 2.1 and some version of Samsung's TouchWiz -- we're assuming it's 3.0 like the Galaxy S we saw in London a few days ago. The skin isn't too distracting and actually polishes up Android a bit. There's the ability to decorate the panes with Samsung widgets, one of which includes a funky social networking feed. There's also a helpful settings bar that reveals itself when you slide down the Android window shade. Samsung's also preloaded Swype, which is always a welcome addition. All in all, we're just happy to see AT&T hasn't done much to the OS, or at least as far as we could tell. Sure, there are the usual carrier applications, like AT&T Navigation, Music and Tones, but that's really about it.
  • Camera: For some reason the Captivate doesn't have a dedicated physical camera button or a flash, but its 5-megapixel camera took some decent quality shots from what we could tell in our short time with it. We didn't have any problem focusing and snapping some pics. When we went to shoot some 720p video, there wasn't any lag in capturing, and for whatever it's worth, playing the video on the screen looked crisp and clear.
  • Performance: Here's the part where we hope to the powers that be that Samsung is hard at work or the Captivate we saw was an extremely early model. The phone we demoed was powered by an ARMv7 processor running at 800MHz -- though according to the official press release the phone is planned to have a 1GHz ARMv7 core (a Samsung Hummingbird, to be specific). Regardless, it was quite sluggish when maneuvering through menus, launching apps and trying to back track to the homescreen -- it was nowhere near as snappy as what we've seen in videos from the Galaxy S or as the Droid X we saw last week. The model we saw was confirmed to be a few months old, so our guess is that the final version will be a whole lot snappier than what we saw. Or at least that's what we're really hoping since the rest of the Captivate experience was pretty, well for lack of a better word... captivating.
Updated (6/29): We got to see a closer to final version of the Captivate at Samsung's US launch event. Everything about the phone was virtually the same, except for the performance. Things were definitely snappier and smoother on the newer model, though there was still some lag when opening applications and switching panes. There will be more impressions to come though in our upcoming review.

Editor's Note: Yes, we realize the video quality is less than stellar -- we blame our one handed video work and our broken Flip HD. We're working on both!