Review: Samsung Captivate on at&t

Samsung Captivate on at&t

Despite the news that RIM was going to finally launch a new touch screen slider phone “any day now,” which did finally launch as the BlackBerry Torch 9800, I decided to give an Android phone a serious look.

After looking at the various options that at&t offers, I decided to give the Samsung Galaxy S-based Captivate (details: Samsung, at&t) a try. I ordered three new phones–one for me, one for my wife, and one for my Dad–at the start of August, and by the 6th, we had our phones in hand.

Right off the bat, I’ll have to admit that I went into this with extremely high expectations. I know, big mistake. To be honest, after dealing with BlackBerry phones for the last two-plus years, I was excited at the prospect of finally getting on a modern platform that didn’t involve using that crappy iPhone OS.

On the surface, it sounds really promising: a fancy 4-inch Super AMOLED display; lightweight at 4.5 ounces; 5MP camera; 512MB of RAM and 16GB internal SDHC; Samsung’s 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 Hummingbird CPU. With these specs, there’s a whole lot of potential to build something really incredible.

My first disappointment was the “Email” app that ships with Android 2.1 on this phone. Apparently, I’m not alone, so much so that folks have forked the code and released their changes called K-9. However, K-9 still has its warts: I can’t figure out how to copy-and-paste text from an email message, without “replying” to it and copying from the quoted text area, then discarding the reply. Perhaps I’ll “fix” this and submit a patch.

Next, the lack of out-of-the-box wi-fi tethering was disappointing. I went and rooted my Captivate and then installed Android Wi-Fi Tether on it. Having a free, open source “solution” is a great thing, but certainly not for the average, non-technical consumer.

The Calendar app. isn’t too bad, but I sadly discovered a shortcoming in it: there’s no way to duplicate an event. I’m not talking about creating a recurring event, but taking an event and duplicating it. Suppose you have an event, like a doctor’s appointment. You go to your appointment, and at the end, you schedule your follow-up appointment. It’d be really convenient to be able to just copy your current appointment, and paste it on the new date and maybe adjust the time. Can’t do that with the stock Calendar app on the Captivate. You have to just add a new event and enter in all the data. Annoying, to say the least.

Battery life also seems disappointing. The specs claim over 300 hours (over 12 days) of standby time, and over 5 hours of talk time. Given the amount of email and Twitter and Facebook I get, even at an hour interval for refreshes and K-9 mail set up to do IMAP “push,” my battery seems to last around 4 hours before needing a charge. I suspect the 3G data use of the cellular radio uses more juice than voice “talk” time … and the notion of “standby” time is a bit misleading, since when the phone is doing background data tasks, it’s really not “in standby” as its actively using the radio.

Another huge problem is the fact that GPS on the Captivate appears to be totally broken. The TeleNav GPS navigation application is pretty much unusable, with it not being able to track your location properly, which causes it to constantly reroute as it tries to figure out where you are. Supposedly there’s a workaround, where you can manually reconfigure the phone to use Google’s Location Server, which I’ll try soon, but again, this is just poor out-of-the-box experience and “fixing it yourself” isn’t really a satisfactory solution for a non-technical consumer.

On one hand, I wonder if I should have bothered making the switch from BlackBerry to Android, yet. Despite my complaints with RIM and BlackBerry products, the few things they could do, they did reasonably well. But, I’m tired of waiting for RIM to catch up. Maybe the next generation of touch-plus-slider devices following the Torch 9800 could be an option, but for now, I’m going to stick it out with the Captivate, hoping that Android 2.2 brings some fixes, along with community-developed Android functionality closes the gap between “sucks badly” and “usable on a day-to-day basis.”


  1. I’m going to be buying the sister phone, the Samsung Epic 4g on Sprint when it comes out in early September.

    Your comments seem to be on target with what else I’ve read about the GPS. Sounds like they are aware of the GPS problem but taking their sweet time fixing it.

    The wifi tether is not android’s fault, it’s at&T. The tethering app fully supports 3g and 4g tether, but the carrier’s lock it down so they can charge you. Are you saying AT&T fully ‘approves’ the use of wifi tethering on blackberry for no extra chug?

    I hear you on the calendar, but my expectations are so friggen low coming from the palm pre where its an utter embarassement sitting at the doctors office and trying to navigate to a date 6 months out and it takes minutes where it used to take seconds on Palm OS.

    I’ve never heard of any modern android phone that gets good battery life. May pre sucks pretty bad too. But at least, unlike the iphone, you can carry a spare with you. I don’t think its the OS, its the ability to multi-task that sucks the battery. I’m still debating if maybe apples limited multitask took the right approach.

    Even the new blackberry which starts to catchup to android, now joins the ranks of crappy battery life until some kind of breakthrough battery tech is invented.

    My Pre can make it through a 8 to 6 day with limited use. however if I’ve got a long lunch to play with it, that can chew 10 to 20% right there, especially if there is alot of video.

    Pre’s email sucks so bad, that anything is an improvement. There is no alternative email available.

    Personally, the the iphone was available on sprint, I think I’d go that route. Although not perfect, I do like my ipad.

  2. Captivate:
    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had these issues. Do all three units have this problem? I only ask as I have one and recently had a second to issue to one of my users. In both cases we haven’t had these sorts of issues.

    I will admit upfront though I have been a non-RIM smartphone user for years. The battery life on the RIM devices is amazing until, and I much stress until, they started to emulate devices with the success of iPhone/Android. I recently purchased a Torch for a user and while they like it better than their Blackberry Bold they complained about the battery life as well. Prior to receiving the Captivate I had a Nexus One, I would get about 8-10 hours of battery in “normal” use. Normal being defined as:
    – Checking for email every 30 minutes on two accounts
    – Facebook/Twitter update checks (not sure how often it checks for that)
    – Text messaging (approx 10-15 per time period)

    With the Captivate I had about the same until I purchased an App called Tasker Pro.

    That has helped me much…just make sure you don’t make the mistake I did. I disabled my data services (3G) to allow voice only at night and to turn it back off in the morning. However I set the time later than I happened to be awake and saw it didn’t really save any power so I killed the task and deleted the wake up.
    I spent the entire day unable to get anything to work except on Wi-Fi. Then the light went on and a recreate the task to turn 3G service back on, then remove it :)

    • When you say “checking for email” … how many emails do you receive per hour? It’s not unusual for me to get 60-70 emails in an hour during the day, and those usually trickle in over the course of the hour (i.e., 3-5 every 5 minutes), and I usually reply to 5 per hour.

      Of course, I realize that I’m not “the average user” and I’m probably beyond “the typical power-user” – I’m probably in that 1% of users who really pushes their technology.

      The other two handsets have much better battery life, but my Dad only uses it as a phone – no email, hardly any text messages, etc. – and my wife gets a lot less email than I do.

      I guess I’m used to not getting the kind of battery life that most people get – I usually have to go through a 30 minute charge cycle every 4 hours or so.

      • Between 5am until 10am, when I get into the office, I can get anywhere from 150-400 emails. outside of that window is really hit or miss until the early evening.

        The bigger question is are you checking mail via push or at set intervals?
        Because most of the work day is spent within reach of my laptop I have my phone checking for mail every 30 minutes. I charge my phone once a day when I arrive in the office and unplug it when the full charge notification pops up.

  3. Phone SUCKS! says

    Holy crap I am pissed. Wife bought it because the iphone4 was out of stock. Come to find out Nursing Central will not work on the captivate because it is not from the Android Market!! So thats $160 dollars down the drain. Nothing I can do about it.. Called At&t and they were WORTHLESS! Passed the buck to Samsung. Oh yeah and crashed the operating system trying to root the piece of shit. Taking it back tomorrow ;)

  4. Phonesucks, you gotta be kidding me.

    What is Nursing Central and your beef should be with them. Whether an app is in the market or not is up to the publisher (unlike Apple who plays god and gatekeeper) nothing to do with AT&T, Samsung or Google.

    If an App isn’t in the market for the captivate, it wouldn’t be there for any other android phone either.

    And to be pissed that you essentially broke your EULA and rooted your phone (which their are scores of said video on Galaxy S’s on youtube everyday) and somehow that’s Samsung or AT&T’s fault?

    Would you blame GM if you bought a car, used it in a smash up derby and the radiator busted???

  5. Phone SUCKS! says

    You realize that this is suppose to be a open source type of platform (linux) and they are trying to monopolize the app market by locking you in to “Android Store” only apps. WTF is that? My background by the way is computer related by the way. I build professional web sites for a living. Yes I literally survive on the salary of a web master so its safe to say I am decent with overall computer knowledge. This phone is gay and so is the iphone just because its made by Apple, which is another “lets try to monopolize whenever we can” company.

    Its also funny that you say that my beef is with the makers of Nursing Central!!! AT&T blamed it on Samsung by the way.. They told me to call them and ask them about it.. If you have any knowledge in computers you will stay away from this.

    Oh yeah and I already took that crap back and got my money back for it. Hopefully Samsung is enjoying the returned phones from people like myself trying to free the phone from its STRANGLEHOLD. Enjoy your shit phone

    • The whole “locking you into the Android Marketplace” is simply to prevent the non-technical, casual consumer from clicking on some malicious link and accidentally installing malware – at least if it’s in the Marketplace, bad software can be removed and prevented from being installed by users.

      Anyone who has half a clue is going to root their Android phone and sideload the apps that they need. It takes only a few minutes to root the Captivate (two phone reboots take the most of that time).

      While I’m not entirely thrilled with the Captivate for many of the reasons I already mentioned, it’s still better than the iPhone from an openness standpoint, and the Galaxy S and Galaxy S Pro family of handsets are still probably the best Android-based devices available right now.

      • Eric-Dillan Smith says

        I’m sorry, but what you said about locking you into the Android Marketplace is simple not true. ATT does this because they don’t ant people installing free apps for things that they can charge for. No other carrier prevents the side-loading of apps. ATT can control what they allow people to view on the android marketplace.

        But then, we should expect that from them.

  6. Phonesucks, so what phone did you go back to or buy instead??

    You do realize both Google and Samsung are ‘for profit’ companies. Something it sounds like you are against. Their legal responsibility is to ‘maximize their shareholder wealth position’ not save the world and dying dolphins.

    If you don’t want or like their products, than just don’t buy it. That’s how free enterprise works.

  7. Dossy, what’s a galaxy s pro?

    • Here’s some info on the Galaxy S Pro – hate the fact that Sprint will likely get it first. It might be enough to *finally* get me to switch back to Sprint after a 6 year hiatus.

      Seriously, the Galaxy S Pro is the phone I really wanted but I settled on the Galaxy S in the meantime. The only thing I wish they’d do is add a dual LED flash to the rear-facing camera. We’ll see what eventually does come out.

  8. For the folks who are complaining about being locked into the android marketplace.
    That is an AT&T decision, not a samsung idea. Every android phone do day on that carrier have that.
    I don’t defend that position but I think it’s a good idea. For people who what to leave the protection it supposedly provide you can root the phone. it’s assumed you would be technical enough to deal with problems that may arise. My phone isn’t rooted as I have no need at the moment. My previous phone was a nexus one and I find myself missing the mobile wap aspect of the device.
    I too wish I was getting the pro version but that is life. I am, however getting my hands on the dell streak 7 inch android device from my vendor and very much hope that samsung does come out with the rumored tablet this holiday.

  9. Dossy, the pro, isn’t called the pro anymore. This is the upcoming sprint epic 4g and it’s going to be what I’m getting. It’s basically the same as your phone except for thekeyboard, flsh and front facing camera

  10. great phone. easy to use, practical. much better than my old unlocked htc phones. processor is much faster, i love using them. the gps and email are great for my business and my partner loves his for the speaker phone he’s always on that thing. our new unlocked mobile phones have a great web browser, we can check out stocks in less than one click!! my wife and daughter love theirs for the faceboook, games and apps! also got our cell phone unlock codes and blackberry unlock codes for free! got our last couple captivates at 2 thumbs way up

  11. we have two Samsung Captivates, one that readily upgraded to Gingerbread 2.3 and is now toast and out of warranty, the other cannot be recognized by a Windows 7 PC to upgrade. Both have continuing problems with receiving MMS messages, other weird things that are unexplainable… like dropped calls, turning itself off, re-arranging items on it’s own, and after the upgrade, now locked in Landscape (horizontal) mode. Tried every fix recommended on 4 forums after 5 days of searching and talking with AT&T support along with Samsung support. At least they are repairing the one under warranty and sending it back, but in the meantime, we’ll be using different phones. I guess it’s back to Motorola, forgot why I left them in the first place.

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