Samsung introduced a handful of Galaxy S smartphones this summer, and all of them are impressive. The problem is, however, that most of them are so similar that they can be hard to distinguish. Case in point: the Samsung Captivate, available from AT&T. On its own, the Captivate is an attractive smartphone that packs in plenty of functionality. But it doesn't quite offer enough features to stand out from its Galaxy S siblings.
Price and Availability
The Samsung Captivate is available from AT&T for $199.99 when you sign a new two-year service contract. That price is the same as what T-Mobile charges for the Samsung Vibrant, what Sprint is charging for the HTC EVO 4G, what Verizon is charging for the Motorola Droid X, and what AT&T is charging for a 16GB iPhone 4.
The Captivate is very similar in appearance to the Samsung Vibrant, its Galaxy S sibling that's available from T-Mobile. Like the Vibrant, the Captivate is an all-touch-screen phone -- no hardware keyboard here -- which gives it a thin and sleek profile. Where the Vibrant's corners are curved, the Captivate features a slightly more squared-off design, but the two phones are similar in size. The Captivate measures 4.2 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by .4 inches thick, just slightly bigger than an iPhone 4 on all counts.
Like all of Samsung's Galaxy S phones, the Captivate features a Super AMOLED touch screen, which is simply gorgeous. Colors pop off the screen, and, with its 800 by 480 resolution, everything from images to text looks crisp and clear. The touch screen is nicely responsive, too.
The display measures 4-inches diagonally, noticeably larger than the 3.5-inch screen found on the Apple iPhone , but smaller than the mammoth 4.3-inch displays found on the Droid X and the HTC EVO 4G. The screen felt very roomy when using the phone, though, as I never had any trouble viewing Web pages or typing with the on-screen keyboard.
The overall design of the phone is very appealing; like the Vibrant, I think the Captivate is one of the best-looking Android phones I've seen. And where the Vibrant features a plasticky casing on the back of the phone, the Captivate's casing feels much sturdier.
The Captivate's call quality wasn't quite as impressive as its design. In my test calls made over AT&T's network, I noticed a fair amount of static and distortion. Voices sounded loud on both ends of the line, however.
The Samsung Captivate ships with Android 2.1, which is no longer the latest version of the Android OS. Android has since been updated to version 2.2, though, which is already available on newer phones like the Droid 2.
Android has come a long way from its earliest versions, and even though version 2.1 is not the latest version, it does offer refinements that previous versions were lacking. Navigating through the OS's many options has gotten easier, and the Captivate performed well when I was zipping around the phone, checking out its many options. Keep in mind, however, that Android is still a bit geeky enough to overwhelm some newbies. For more details on Android, read my complete review of the mobile OS.
On top of its Android OS, the Captivate, like all of the Galaxy S phones, features Samsung's TouchWiz interface, which has been nicely updated. When I tested it on the Samsung Behold II, I found that TouchWiz didn't mesh well with the Android OS; so many of its features were already offered by Android that it just felt superfluous. But the new version of TouchWiz blends into the Android environment nicely, offering new widgets that are more useful. I particularly liked the "Feeds and Updates" widget, which offers easy access to various social networks.
Adventurous Android users should note that AT&T places some limits on the Captivate's ability to load some Android apps. If you'd like to use the Captivate to sideload or install Android apps that are not yet available in the Android Market (such as a beta app, for example), you're out of luck. AT&T has removed this option from the Captivate, as it has on other Android phones, such as the Motorola Backflip. Casual Android users may not care, but if you're looking to experience the freedom that Android OS offers, keep in mind that AT&T's version of Android is not as free as what other carrier's offer.
The Captivate supports AT&T's high-speed 3G network, as well as wireless Wi-Fi networks. In my tests of the Captivate in and around the Boston area, AT&T's network delivered speedy page loads and downloads.
I also liked the browser on the Samsung Captivate. In the past, Android's browser required you to dig through menus to access simple functions (like the address bar or the back button). That doesn't seem to be the cast on the newer batch of Android phones. Like its Galaxy S siblings, the Captivate features a browser that just makes sense. The address bar is just where you'd expect to find it, and you can use the handy back button below the display to move back through Web pages. The 4-inch screen felt very roomy when I was browsing the Web, too, and I liked that you can pinch and spread the screen to zoom in and out as needed.
What you won't find on the Captivate -- yet -- is full support for Adobe's Flash technology. You'll get this support, which will allow you to view multimedia Web pages as you would on a desktop computer, when the phone is updated to the next version of Android. version 2.2.
Like the Vibrant, Samsung's Captivate features a 5-megapixel camera, which is something of a disappointment overall. For starters, it lacks a flash, which should be standard on a high-end smartphone by now. Picture quality was just so-so. Many of my images were blurry, and colors didn't look as bright as I expected them to.
The Captivate's multimedia features are decent, but they pale in comparison to the offering's you'll find on Samsung's Vibrant, which ships with a full-length copy of the movie "Avatar." While the Captivate doesn't come with that film, you do get the MobiTV application installed, which allows you to view live mobile TV stations right on the phone. I found MobiTV's performance to be very good, when viewed over both AT&T's 3G network, and even better when used over my own Wi-Fi network at home. Video looked very good, and I experienced no stuttering or pixilated images.
Other multimedia features include AT&T Music, AT&T Radio, AT&T Mobile Video, the standard YouTube app, and access to Amazon's MP3 store.
What the Captivate -- like all Android phones -- is missing is the kind of connected eco-system that Apple's iPhone and iTunes offer. iTunes allows you to easily purchase or rent movies for viewing on your phone, offers a simple way to download music, and lets you transfer content easily between your iPhone and your computer. Right now, Android phones offer access to Amazon's MP3 store for purchasing music downloads, but the experience doesn't extend beyond that. That should change later this year when Samsung launches its Media Hub, which will allow users to purchase music and video. The Media Hub will be a definite advantage for Samsung's phone, provided it offers enough content.
With its attractive design, stellar screen, and impressive multimedia offerings, the Samsung Captivate is a top-notch smartphone. But with its so-so call quality and AT&T's policy of limiting access to some Android apps, the Captivate can't quite live up to the high standard already set by its Galaxy S siblings.