Apparently Windows Phone 7 isn’t the only OS that can help us “get in, and out and back to life.” Samsung has tweaked Android by adding a secondary ticker display to its new Continuum phone that displays everything from the current weather and e-mail and IM alerts to RSS feeds and social networking updates. We just went hands-on with this Verizon Wireless handset, which will go on sale Nov. 11 for $199, and came away psyched about its time-saving convenience but a little torn about the necessary trade-offs.
Here are our first impressions.
Next to the Samsung Fascinate, the Continuum is narrower, because the display has a different aspect ratio. You get a 3.4-inch primary Super AMOLED screen, while the ticker measures 1.8-inches. The Fascinate has a larger 4-inch screen, which many will prefer (especially for typing), so it all comes down to how much you value the ticker. Also keep in mind that the menu buttons occupy the space between the two screens, which will take some getting used to.
You can activate the ticker just by gripping the bottom of the phone, without firing up the main display. This saves time, because you don’t have to unlock anything (which beats Windows Phone 7), and it also saves battery life because you don’t have to activate the full display.
The ticker provides what Samsung calls “zero click” access to news, weather, and social networking updates (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace), as well as e-mail, IM, and text messaging. You can even use this area for media playback, and we like that a little thumbnail of the album art appears to the left. You just swipe between ticker displays as you would home screens. Samsung says all of these updates are pushed out automatically. We also like how easy it is to add RSS feeds; you get popular brands pre-loaded like CNN, Reuters, and Fox Sports loaded by default. For now, tickers are limited to Samsung’s own apps, but supporting third-party developers is a possibility down the road.
If you’re in the middle of watching a video or enjoying a game of Angry Birds, you’ll see the incoming phone call in the ticker window, so it won’t interrupt the action. The ticker also has the potential to make users better multitaskers. For example, you could be checking your e-mail or Twitter updates while waiting for a web site to load in the top window.
For better or for worse, this phone is Bing-ified. That means Bing is the default search and maps provider, and you can’t change it. Samsung claims Fascinate owners (who have to deal with the same restrictions) haven’t complained, but we still wish users had a choice to use Google.
The Continuum will launch with Android 2.1, which is a little annoying given that Google is expected to unveil Android 2.3 very soon. You also won’t get support for Samsung Media Hub at launch, so you’ll have to wait a bit until you can download movies and TV shows to watch on the go.
With the exception of the ticker, the Continuum is very much like every other Galaxy S phone. It sports a 1-GHz Hummingbird processor, 8GB of memory (upgradeable to 32GB), a 5-MP camera with HD video recording, and an optional Swype keyboard. You also get a 3G mobile hotspot app.
At first I thought the Continuum was just a gimmick, but now that I’ve seen the ticker in action it’s kind of stealthy cool. Will it be compelling enough to lure shoppers away from Verizon’s Droid family or the larger 4-inch Fascinate? That remains to be seen, but the ticker certainly does more than Android’s pull-down notification window (which could use a makeover). It will be up to consumers to decide if the Continuum’s time-saving convenience is worth sacrificing precious screen real estate.
Here’s our full video hands-on with the device:
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.