Those who purchase a Samsung Wave in Australia will probably buy it on a AU$29 per month plan, and there's no doubt in our minds that it's a bargain for the quality of phone they'll receive. By its looks, the Wave shares much of the same design as all the phones in Samsung's Icon range, with a large touchscreen front and centre, and a smattering of mechanical keys below. Between the high-quality display and the brushed-finish metal chassis, the Wave feels like a truly premium quality phone.
The display is one of Samsung's new Super AMOLED screens; a long, thin 3.3 inches diagonally, which is a brilliant display to look at. The screen is also among the most responsive touchscreens we've seen in recent times, making use of capacitive touch technology. Most of the Wave's menu navigation uses familiar on-screen gestures (swiping, scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, etc) and the Wave handles all of these effortlessly thanks to a 1GHz processor under the hood.
On the back of the Wave you'll find a 5-megapixel camera and an LED flash, and on the top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone socket and a micro USB charging port. Every part of the Wave feels deliberate and considered, and apart from placing the microSD card slot under the battery, we agree with every element of Samsung's approach.
In what can only be considered a brave move, Samsung has invested heavily in creating an entirely new operating system. While the Korean tech juggernaut will continue to design phones that use systems developed by Microsoft, Google and Nokia, Bada will be the company's in-house system. This, in itself, isn't extraordinary. Many other competing manufacturers use proprietary systems for their lower-end products, but the difference with Bada is that it's a fully-fledged smartphone system.
Those familiar with the Google Android system will see the similarities immediately. Both Bada and Android are based on Linux, but they share more than just digital DNA. Samsung has given Bada a very similar layout to the thin layer it skinned Android with on the Galaxy S. Bada has six user customisable home screens to play with; a pull-down notifications panel, where messages and missed calls can be viewed; and applications are displayed in a menu window, laid out in pages of colourful apps on a black background — you know, like that other phone everyone keeps talking about.
The Bada notifications curtain is similar to Android's.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
Samsung, though, has taken the opportunity to improve on the system in a few nifty ways. For example, you can adjust the order of apps in the menu to show the most used apps first, placing all your favourite apps on the first page of the menu. Also, when the music player is active, a CD icon is displayed on the phone's lock screen, making it possible to switch tracks or albums without unlocking the phone and launching the media player.
One of the key advantages to Samsung developing its own OS (apart from the sweet kickbacks it'll get from app sales) is that the company gets full control over the interoperability between hardware and software, and the results speak for themselves. Bada runs like a dream on the Wave; menu navigation is silky smooth, with little to no lag experienced in any section of the phone. All of the core Samsung software features run quickly and multitasking is lightning fast, making use of a similar "saved states" multitasking you see on the Android with the addition of a task killer function built-in.
An appy place?
The new Samsung Apps storefront is your one-stop shop for new tricks and toys for Bada and, according to Samsung, it already has several hundred apps available (though we couldn't find any appealing ones). Samsung pre-installs more of the important apps, like Facebook, Twitter and a cross-platform IM client, so you needn't worry too much about the availability of core apps on the store.
What is available is a strange mixture of gaming and utilities and in a variety of different languages — French features heavily. Pricing also varies wildly, from AU$2 apps to games as much as AU$16 based on our brief observations. Searching the store is as easy and as difficult as we've found with all the other major app stores; you can browse by genre and search by title or publisher, and each app links to other apps that other customers bought. This simplistic navigation is mostly fine, especially for a storefront with only a few hundred titles to browse.
Exciting Freekick looks great but is dull to play.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
One area that has caught our attention is the quality of games on the Wave. Samsung has preloaded our review unit with titles from major mobile games devs Gameloft and Glu, among others, and the results are stunning. Gameloft's Ashphalt 5 racing sim is as fast moving as it is colourful, and other titles like "Exciting Freekick" also look fantastic, though this soccer sim is pretty dull to play.
Tech for teens
Though the handset design screams "classy business professional", Samsung actually hopes the Wave finds an audience among teenagers. As such, teen-friendly features are the Wave's most prominent features; social networking, the camera and multimedia playback. The video and music players are a part of the phone's strongest features, with excellent media file recognition and clean, simple interfaces. Videos look fantastic on the Super AMOLED screen, and you can save a bunch of files on the included 8GB microSD memory card.
Social networking is a mixed bag though, on the one hand there's a great range of services you can connect to, like Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Yahoo, Gmail and Gtalk, but accessing these different services, and the different functions within these services, isn't as easy as it could be. You use an app called "Social Hub" to sign in to all of your different accounts, and Social Hub will keep you posted if you have updates across any of your networks, but you need to open a different app to interact with your networks, like the messaging or IM app. If you respond to an IM, then decide to update your Facebook, you'll have to close IM, switch tasks, then relaunch IM after to continue the conversation. This method is slow and tedious and a true social hub would do everything from within the same window.
The 5MP camera is elevated by photo-editing tools on the Wave.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
We also found the on-screen keyboard to be lacking in polish of those we see on phones such as the iPhone and devices running Google's Android platform. On-screen virtual keyboards can be difficult to use, and definitely need the assistance of solid predictive text and auto-correction features to overcome our clumsy fingers. The Wave has predictive text but we found it switched off by default, and there's no auto-correction or auto-punctuation features that we could find. This is an oversight by Samsung when considering the heavy messaging habits of the targeted youth market for this handset.
At AU$29 per month, the Samsung Wave lives in a space usually populated with plastic handsets and terrible touchscreens, and stands out as being completely the opposite. The hardware is absolutely top notch, the metal chassis feels great and the Super AMOLED screen stands head and shoulders above phones almost twice the price. The Bada operating system definitely needs a few refinements, but is still better than the vast majority of proprietary systems used by LG, Sony Ericsson and Samsung on previous products.
As with most phone decisions, it really comes down to how you want to use your phone. If mobile gaming is one of your highest priorities then you should take a look at a cheap Android phone because it's really hard to say whether the top games developers will consider Bada for their upcoming titles any time soon. But if you want a solid phone experience with email and a dash of social networking, then the Wave is worth a look. You definitely won't find any other phones built this well for the money.