Verizon may be proud of its LTE network, but it’s not the first carrier to offer an LTE-enabled smart phone. Brace yourself, because the winner of that race is Metro PCS. Today the fifth largest carrier in the country announced the Samsung Galaxy Indulge, a 3.5-inch Android smart phone with big features for a pre-paid carrier, features like a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 1-GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird CPU, and, last but not least, an LTE radio for access to the carrier’s own 4G network.
The Indulge, featuring Android 2.2, will be on shelves later this week (Thursday or Friday according to Metro PCS) and will cost $399.99. Metro PCS paid us a visit just yesterday and left one of its brand new handsets with us. Want to see how fast it surfs the LTE waves? Read on for our hands-on thoughts, a few speed tests, and a gallery.
Before we gas into the speed section, here are a few thoughts on the look, feel, and guts of the Indulge.
Desgin of the Samsung Indulge
First, the plastic around the chassis is a little hollow, making it seem a bit fragile. Similarly, the hard-skin buttons along the bottom felt chintzy to one of our co-workers, and in a time when many phones (the Epic 4G, HTC Inspire 4G, Samsung Nexus S) are opting for touch Android buttons, hardware buttons are starting to feel old-fashioned.
Second, though the Samsung Galaxy Indulge is a Samsung phone, it’s not a Samsung Galaxy S phone. Why? Because there’s no AMOLED screen here. In fact, the Indulge rocks a display that’s pretty standard for Android phones. The 3.5-inch, 800 x 480 screen looks really washed due to extremely low contrast, particularly in comparison to other Samsung phones (Correction: It’s a 480 x 320-pixel display.) On the upside, the touch response felt prompt and accurate. In addition to run-of-the-mill trim, there’s also little fanfare around the phone’s edges. A volume rocker’s on the left side, a slightly recessed headphone jack sits top-left with a screen/power button on the top-right, and along the right edge is a microUSB port followed by a camera button. Round back is a 3-MP camera sans flash and a speaker with a 3.7-volt lithium ion battery that covers the included 4GB SD card (the phone can support up to 32GB).
And in case you’re wondering, the keyboard’s decent. It’s got flat keys that were almost flush with the deck of the pad area and is divided into four rows with a dedicated line of numbers at the top There’s both a .com and an @ key but you’ll have to use the red ‘FN’ button to use them. Four direction pad buttons are off to the right, and the space bar is awkwardly placed just left of center on the bottom row. Also, there are no Android hardware buttons on the keyboard. So far, the Samsung Epic 4G’s keyboard feels more comfortable for typing, but that’s not wholly fair since that phone has more room for a larger keyboard thanks to its 4-inch display. For lovers of soft keyboards, Swype is at the ready.
Update: We’re especially impressed with the keyboard’s back-light. It’s bright, evenly-lit, and illuminates every key.
Metro PCS has been rolling out its LTE network since last September, and, as it stands now, the service is available in 13 of 14 of its metropolitan markets. So, inhabitants of the following places are in luck: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Tampa, number 14, is on the way.
We tested the Indulge here at our midtown Manhattan office and sure enough, it notched some pretty impressive download and upload speeds. We’re talking quick-paced speedy downloads of 4.7 Mbps and uploads of 3.8 Mbps. To provide you an example of how fast that is, the Droid X running on Verizon’s 3G EVDO Rev. A network in the same location sped in at 1.64 Mbps for the download and .48 Mbps for the uplink. On the other hand, the Indulge didn’t dent the speeds of the HTC Evo Shift 4G, which lasered in at 6.7 Mbps downloads when we reviewed it last month, nor did it serve dust to Verizon’s own New York LTE network where the carrier expects to provide download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and we’ve seen speeds as high as 18 Mbps.
Still, more speed is good, as evidenced by web page download times. Loading full HTML pages like the New York Times, CNN.com, and Laptopmag.com on the LTE-enabled Indulge were much faster than on the Droid X. The averages were respectively 8, 8, and 13 seconds as opposed to a twice-as-long 15, 19,and 26 seconds.
When compared to the Samsung Epic 4G, which coasts along Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network, the gaps were smaller, but the Indulge, Metro PCS, and LTE still won out: The NYT’s site, CNN.com, and Laptopmag.com each loaded in 8, 8, and 13 seconds on the Indulge while the same pages needed 12, 16, 25 seconds to load on the Epic 4G.
The Samsung Indulge won’t work as a mobile hotspot for now and there’s no LTE roaming just yet, so outside of the 4G blanket, subscribers will feel the cold of MetroPCS’s CDMA 1xrtt 3G coverage (but is that really so bad?). To help make LTE radio access all the sweeter, the Indulge includes MetroStudio, a hub from Metro PCS that includes stream-ready TV shows, and movies in addition to purchasable music and ringtones. We stumbled across a recent episode of “The Office” inside MetroStudio and watched 10 minutes of stutter-free, buffer-less Steve Carrell high-larity. Those 4 Gs might really pay off if this service offers entertaining, relevant content. In addition to productions from channels like Bravo ToGo, CNBC, Syfy, and USA today, we also spotted “The Monique Show” in the library, so “relevant and entertaining” may be up in the air until further notice.
Value and Final Thoughts (For Now)
In case you don’t know how small carriers operate, Metro PCS lets users pay for service month-to-month. Smart phones are unsubsidized and monthly plans are relatively cheap compared to the Big Four.
Metro PCS offers two data plans for its 4G-enabled smart phones. One, for $50 dollars a month, includes unlimited talk, text, and data and caps special data services like VOIP calling or media streaming services at 1GB a month. The other plan costs $60/month and comes with unlimited everything, including bandwidth-heavy data services like streaming music or video. With low prices like that, Metro PCS is hoping eager subscribers will be more than anxious to indulge the Samsung Galaxy Indulge’s $399 price tag. We say, for the freedom of a no-contract cellular service and the generous speed burst of LTE, $399 might not be a bad fence to climb. But we’ll know for sure after our full review.