Saturday, January 29, 2011

Goodbye Blackberry 8530, hello Samsung Intercept (both Virgin Mobile USA)

Got the phone switching bug again, and this time I am going to try to see if I can live with an Android phone. According to Virgin Mobile, they will be upgrading their Samsung Intercept to 2.2 froyo sometime in Spring, since I am completely new to Android I am not too worried about it yet. And no, I am not interested in a jailbreak.

The dots are used for the unlock pattern, which after very little time becomes instinctive, much easier than having to remember a password. 

The new phone is slightly longer and narrower than my Blackberry 8530. The back cover is as flimsy. 

The Samsung Intercept is of course thicker since it has a slide-out keyboard. 

I haven't measured them, but the new keyboard feels at least twice as wide as the one in the Blackberry. The only problem is that due to the USB port being on the top of the phone, and I am a lefty, it is really damn hard for me to type if I am charging the phone. I imagine right handed people have the same kind of trouble with a slider phone that has the USB plug in the bottom of the phone. I didn't clean the screen of the Samsung on purpose to demonstrate how it is as horrible as the iPhone when it comes to attracting smudges. 

This is one of those stupid things that somehow aren't standard in every damn cell phone: a tiny mirror under the lens, designed to help people take self portraits.
This is a test shot from the Samsung Intercept. I didn't make any effort at controlling the light, all I did was hold it still. The phone ships set to center spot metering, this shot was taken with matrix metering which came out more naturally, the white balance was shockingly better than what my Sony DSC-TX7 was doing in the same light. 
So far so good. I have managed to freeze mine once, Ivette's has run trouble free since activation. Both phones took about 5-10 minutes to complete activation since we are already Virgin Mobile customers. It took maybe another 20 minutes per phone to turn on the calendar and address book sync with Gmail, which so far has worked perfectly. Most of the apps I tried (and I lost a bet by doing this, since dev_null insisted there was no way in hell I would install less than 10 apps, I ended up installing 11!) work pretty much the same as their iPhone and Blackberry counterparts. Scanning QR codes is A LOT nicer than my experience so far with the Blackberry. Barcode Scanner + Google Shopper is a killer combo.

Battery sucks, which is to be expected since I had every bell and whistle turned on. I have extra batteries on order already, and we got a car charger today which should give us more flexibility if we insist on keeping things like WiFi and GPS enabled all the time.


  • Can't remove the microSD unless I unmount it through a menu. This was never needed in the Blackberry.
  • Almost impossible to eject the microSD unless you have fingernails or really really tiny fingers. 
  • No home or return keys in the slide-out keyboard. 
  • The instructions booklet doesn't have an icon dictionary. I eventually figured out most of these, but still, pain in the ass.
  • Very hard to pull down the notifications drawer if you have fat fingers. 
  • Every fucking time I am typing something with the slide-out keyboard I'll hit the volume button at least once. I don't know if I am grabbing the damn thing wrong, but I do it every damn time.
  • I managed to freeze it once, and I was worried that the only hard reset available would wipe the thing clean. The fix? Remove the battery and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. I found a lot of people online bitching about this. 
Those are all quirks, not show-stoppers. 
Really dumb design issues:
  • Why is there a touch pad controller in this phone? This is a touch screen, the whole UI can be controlled by touch, do I really need a touch pad like on the Blackberry 8530? 
It is a really interesting gadget. Ivette actually forced me to get her one, since she was claiming that I went batshit with my birthday gifts for this year. I don't get it, all I got was a 24" monitor and a dual monitor stand, this phone and an ExpressCard HDTV tuner for my laptop. I don't see the excess at all... But still, she made me get her one to replace her LG Rumor Touch (a phone I despise). She was "meh" about the Intercept for a few minutes, but it sort of clicked on her and now she seems to be enjoying it a lot. 

Phone calls work as expected for most cell phones in this area. The call quality was at least as good as the Blackberry, and superior to any call I managed to make with the first two generations of the iPhone. 

The GPS seems to be more responsive than on the Blackberry. This is purely subjective, it could be many things but as far as perception goes, it seemed to work better in the Android phone. The turn-by-turn navigation instructions were hilariously wrong, which kept us entertained for most of the afternoon. The GPS has no trouble finding where you are at, but the routing algorithms for the Google application seemed to have a really hard time dealing with downtown Herndon, VA. 

The WiFi was painless to setup for both open and protected hot spots. The device had no trouble recognizing known hot spots or jumping on unprotected ones. Surfing the web on 3G around the Dulles International Airport is painful, but at least the screen is much bigger than in the Blackberry. 

Both SMS and instant message clients seemed to be working fine, but I am really really pissed off at AOL because the setting for allowing Google Talk is centralized, which means that if I disable Google Talk from within the Android AIM client, it shuts it down from my desktop too. Dumbasses.

The Facebook worked more or less the same as the Blackberry, the Twitter client did not feel like it was detecting the switch to landscape as well as other apps. 99% of what I tried understood that I was using the phone in landscape mode. The two biggest misses were the Twitter client and the camera. If you trigger the camera from Facebook, it insists on working in landscape mode. If you open the camera app by itself, it has no trouble switching from portrait to landscape automatically. 

In terms of physical construction, the slider design makes the phone feel a bit less sturdy than an iPhone or a Blackberry. It has rubber covers for the USB plug and the microSD slot, which is appreciated. The phone doesn't feel much bigger when I carry it in my pocket. And that damn screen is a horrible smudge magnet. 

On top of the 11 freebies I installed, I also tried a paid app, Beautiful Widgets, which was $2 and paid for through Google Checkout. The purchase process was painless, probably because I had Google Checkout up to date before I attempted the purchase. Once installed, the app knows if it has dependencies and sends you to the right download. I also appreciate how after it installs a dependency the requesting app is updated of its status and knows that the dependency has been satisfied without for example, forcing you to reboot the device. 

And now that I mention reboots, it seems like the Intercept reboots much faster than the Blackberry, which holds my record as the slowest booting phone I have ever seen in my life. 

Samsung Intercept Android Phone | Virgin Mobile