A Wave in 96 hours

The Samsung Wave runs the new Samsung Bada operating
system and features a bright, clear screen.

The approach to the Wave mobile phone was made from the point of view of a complete novice and without the aid of a user manual. The focus was on ease of use and the ability to use it out of the box with minimal instruction.

While much of the information is accurate, some of it will be clouded by personal ignorance of the nuances involved in operating a new phone and operating system without consulting a user manual – which is often how many new owners will get to know their phone.
Samsung have been extremely brave in creating the Wave as they have also released a new operating system, Bada, to complement it. The version on the phone is their first commercial application of the OS and predictably has its shortcomings – more from the viewpoint of user customisation rather than ability.
I will cover the OS in more detail later, but one thing is worth noting at this point. Applications used most often tend to crowd together at the top of the list of apps, putting those you use most in one convenient place.
The combination of metal case with plastic top and base and the large screen make for an undeniably sexy appearance which certainly draws attention when you put it down. On a number of occasions I found the attention of the people I was chatting to straying toward the phone, rather than staying with me.
In hand the Wave fits comfortably, providing a good compromise between screen size and an ability to snug into the palm of your hand. The metal cover does raise the concern of long-term wear. Other metal cellphones have displayed distinctly higher levels of wear than their plastic counterparts which could work against the Wave in the long term.
Press the lock button on the side of the phone and the screen comes to life in glorious bright, sharp, contrasty colour. The chosen wallpaper becomes a puzzle board with raised pieces displaying the number of messages and missed calls which is a neat touch to the interface.
Like other touchscreen phone manufacturers, Samsung have opted for a not-quite full-size screen. The screen has a black border on all sides which does detract slightly from the design but the screen itself is clear and sharp with a great clarity level which goes quite some way to showing off their use of AMOLED technology.
The phone housing has just the most-needed buttons, a volume control on the left, a lock and a camera shutter button on the right and three buttons on the face for making and cancelling calls and accessing the menus.
Wave makes use of Samsung’s proprietary Bada operating system. In a world of Apple OS and Android operating systems competing with the likes of WinMo, Symbian and the Blackberry system, it seems a bit unnecessary to introduce yet another system to market.
Considering that Samsung already has both Android and WinMo handsets the introduction of Bada seems frivolous, especially as it seems to ape much of what is already available, effectively bringing not only added complexity to the market, but also adding to the confusion already experienced by cellular customers.
Consider also that Samsung has another phone, similar to the Wave, which is the pinnacle of their current line-up – the Galaxy S – which makes use of Android rather than Bada.
In use Bada is slick, sharing much in common with other touchscreen operating systems. This makes it quick to pick up and use by anyone who has experience with a modern touchscreen interface. A quick thumb across the screen and you can change between the various screens of applications. There are also widgets which can be placed on any of five desktops – similar to that found on the Linux operating system.
Like the other manufacturers, there is a Samsung app store from which users can purchase a variety of applications and games and access free software. Some of the software, like Need for Speed Shift fall into what I would consider the premium category but are available free. This clearly indicates that Samsung is taking their new operating system seriously and is working hard to attract customers.
The games make good use of the accelerometer built into the phone and the racing games are experienced by tilting the phone as though using a steering wheel. Graphics are also excellent which points to a serious set of hardware components under the skin. On occasion there is a slight hiccup when the processing demands full attention on the game, but this is hardly intrusive.
Some obvious omissions still exist amongst the apps. Word processing and spreadsheets as well as pdf files appear to fall into the unsupported section at this time. As development continues these gaps will most likely be filled, but the continued dearth is likely to make the phone unattractive to serious business users in the short term.
Applications on the phone tested include an excellent voice recorder, an FM radio with a record function, a music player – all of the audio functions appear excellent in audio reproduction, navigation software, a large button calculator an applications for accessing Facebook, Youtube, an Instant Messaging application and a Twitter client.
While these work well, there are a number of shortcomings. The Facebook application does not appear to support more than one account – as is the case with the Twitter client. Another niggle is that the Social hub application which brings the e-mail, sms, Twitter and Facebook content into a single application is located amongst the application list while there is also a standalone Messages client that sits with the Keypad and Contacts applications at the base of the phone. It would be far more helpful if the Social Hub were to replace the Messages application, allowing users the opportunity to access all of their messaging applications from the “desktop” rather than having to access the applications list each time.
There is also a distinction made between applications and widgets. The applications are contained within an applications menu accessed by pressing the central button on the base of the handset – and are all full-blown programmes. Widgets are accessed from the onscreen widget button at the top of a desktop screen – and include such things as multiple clocks, network information, a calendar, a list of most-visited sites and a “daily briefing” which provides weather, news and finance information.
Niggles with the widgets include an inability to display full-screen with one widget per desktop – this is also because the default Call/Contacts/Messages buttons cannot be removed or minimised from the desktop view. The widgets don’t appear to offer a minimise/maximise function so widgets like the Feeds & Update screen seem crowded and uncomfortable to use. This is just a perception as it does not impact directly on functionality, but it is a shame not to make use of all the available space on the large touchscreen.
In use
The real test of a mobile phone does not have a great deal to do with its appearance, the applications available and how many different tricks it can do. The test that really matters is what the phone is like when making and receiving calls.
Considering the attention to detail that appears to have been put into the audio quality of such things as the FM radio, voice recorder and music player, it comes as no surprise that the Wave makes an excellent job of telephone calls. Audio quality is clear and, even in areas of known limited reception, makes a good stab at maintaining fidelity and call quality. In areas that I personally know to provide low quality signal the Wave provided a superior experience.
The camera also appears an excellent unit with good detail in the images taken. Colours are vibrant and the touchscreen is put to good use with selective focussing possible simply by touching the screen at the desired focus point. Even relatively low light images look good and the flash is strong, perhaps a bit too strong as it shows a tendency to over-expose images – although it does work intelligently with the chosen focus point, over- or under-exposing the fore- or background to ensure more correct exposure of the required focus point.
I did find the predictive text system on the keypad very intrusive. I reached the point where I simply chose to give up trying to get the words I wanted as it was just too much work. The option to turn it off is not immediately apparent and I would prefer it being off by default. Once off though, the onscreen typing experience is far superior.
Personal notes
There are a number of issues that I have with the Wave, personal things I would prefer were implemented – or customisable – to allow the phone to work the way I want it to.
  1. There are both hard and on-screen buttons for making and cancelling calls. The onscreen versions seem to require hard pressing to make them register the user input – this is especially true of the call receive button. It is much easier to use the hardware button, negating the need for an onscreen version.
  1. The afore-mentioned sms/e-mail/twitter messages I would like to have all in one place rather than having to access different applications and menus to get that info.
  1. For first-time users the wi-fi function can be a bit obtuse. After inputting the network id it is not obvious where to input the key (in the case of WEP encryption). Only by trial-and-error and a lot of luck is this successfully done.
  1. Being able to minimise the three default icons on the screen to access the entire screen when viewing applications.
  1. The ability to maximise widgets and to put application shortcuts on the home screen instead of having to access all applications via that menu.
  1. Individual close program buttons that can be accessed when the application is open rather than having to close them via the program manager.
  1. A minimise option that allows me to minimise an application to a screen without having to go back into the menu to “open” it again.
Things I really liked about the Wave
  1. Call and other audio quality is very good.
  1. Bright, clear and very crisp display.
  1. The phone fits the hand nicely.
  1. Software operation is smooth and easily accomplished single-handedly.
  1. Battery life seems good – despite being toyed with fairly constantly it needed only one recharge – and it was used with wi-fi access as well as the calling, messaging, internet and gaming over the four days.
There is a great deal of like about the Wave, it works well as a phone, it offers a great deal more than just the phone functionality and it looks and feels good in use. In terms of customisability it certainly can be improved, but this is a personal perspective that does not significantly impact on the practical operation of the unit.
The camera works well and is a decent option instead of carrying an additional compact camera – the option of video (which wasn’t tested) is also welcome and if the video quality is near that of stills it will prove popular amongst users.
I am not sold on the idea of a new operating system for mobile phones and would prefer an Android/Bada option in terms of operating system rather than being locked into just the one choice.
It is clear that while an early iteration of the system, a great deal of thought and work has gone into the development of the Samsung Wave. If the company maintains pace with future updates to the system, ensuring that customer requirements are met and that future versions of the software improve customisation and interaction, the Wave has a promising future.
A bigger business focus would make it more attractive as an option for users like myself – perhaps the option of a business or social user in terms of initial setup of the phone could strike a good balance for the majority of consumers.
I like the Wave, it is lightweight, relatively easy to use without absorbing the details of a user manual and performs its function as a cellphone very well.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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