Review: Samsung SCH-U960 (Samsung Rogue)
In the decade I’ve experimented with cell phones, I have never owned a Samsung. One way or another, every time it was time to upgrade, it was Kyocera, LG, or Motorola which had better reception, a better interface, or some other functionality Samsung didn’t. Indeed, my last two phones were the Motorola RAZR v3c, and the Motorola RIZR Z6tv. Back then, my primary focus was reception and battery life. I still want these things, but my level of texting has risen to a point where I needed a keyboard, and virtual keyboards are, by and large, infuriating. Blackberries and their ilk are irredeemably hideous and laughably immense, leaving me with a dilemma for this latest iteration. What to do?
Verizon has experienced a relative wealth of keyboard-encumbered phones recently. LG led with its EnV 3, EnV Touch. Motorola countered with the Rival. Practically every HTC is keyboard equipped, and that left Samsung crying in its beer… until recently. With the introduction of the [Samsung Intensity(http://www.phonearena.com/htmls/Samsung-Intensity-phone-p_3818.html) and the Samsung Rogue, a replacement for the dismal and universally despised Samsung Glyde. For my purposes, the Rogue seemed to offer the largest bang/buck quotient, so I ordered one after a quick in-store demo.
The Samsung Rogue is something of an enigma. It has several firsts for Verizon, including an AMOLED screen to emphasize battery life and screen clarity, and the latest iteration of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. But at the same time, the battery cover is so flimsy–like some kind of stiffened paper–I was afraid of breaking it while attempting to get the latch secured. It’s almost as if Samsung strove to include one flaw for every triumph, and as I’ll explain in the review, there’s an insidious duality that makes me both hate and love this phone.
The AMOLED screen and TouchWiz interface are a winning touchscreen combination, which is actually pretty responsive for a resistive screen. The only real problem here is that dragging a finger across a webpage or menu item is often misinterpreted as a touch due to pressure variations–still, this is much better than LG’s efforts thus far. The main success in this regard is that Verizon has, by and large, left Samsung’s interface untouched, meaning they didn’t just bolt a few touch-sensitive areas onto menus designed for arrow-keys and hot-buttons. This really is the first touchscreen in Verizon’s lineup of non smart-phones that is mostly a pleasurable experience.
Call quality, be it through bluetooth or the actual phone, is crisp and clear, with volume that’s almost too loud on even the lowest setting. But the speakerphone is unusable from almost any distance, which is ironic because the included ringers are ear-shattering. It’s entirely possible the external audio system is too well balanced, because of the vast dB disparity between voice and obvious loudness compression inherent in generated sound. This becomes obvious with the included game demos, which are obnoxiously loud. Coupled with the signal reception, and this phone is at least the equal of my last Motorola. I have no complaints with this aspect of the Rogue.
Browsing necessitates heavy usage of the touch screen, if only thanks to scrolling. I tested the browser on several sites, and even when zoomed out, text was clear and legible. HTML heavy sites rendered closely to what a real browser might produce, and the various toolbars made the whole process easy. Notably, clicking in text areas is actually possible with this phone. Every LG I’ve had the misfortune to use always elicited a steady stream of profanity as they actively resisted acknowledging all but the most exact pixel-perfect activation of a link or text area. There are still some problems with lag in scrolling, or losing pressure and “dropping” the page while scrolling, but these are forgivable.
Sliding open the keyboard presents a very tactile four rows of rubbery and responsive backlit keys. This automatically orients the screen in landscape mode, and confusingly, rotates the wallpaper to match that orientation. This means that any user-supplied wallpaper must be a perfect square of any size, or the image will be centered, leaving black bars on either side when the keyboard is open. There’s no option to change this, either. The included arrow keys, easy switching between case, and function keys make this a very complete keyboard. The only real flaw is the placement of the space bar, which sits in the same row as some of the letter keys, adding a slight but unnecessary learning curve.
The phone is equipped with a motion sensor, but this only works when activated. Thus the phone is always in landscape with the keyboard open, and always in portrait with the keyboard closed, yet the included dice game proves the motion sensor is highly responsive. This helps save battery life, but a user more accustomed to phones that always rotate on changes orientation, will find this confusing. The documentation doesn’t really cover this, so a user might confuse this for a defect in the hardware.
Like most of the new phones, there’s a setting that tells the phone what to do when a user simply starts pressing keys. This can launch a text message, enter a note, or open the contact list. In addition, should a user start typing while reading a text-message, a quick-reply is started; no need to navigate through menus to respond on the Rogue. Messages themselves are threaded by default, color-coded for clarity, and sorted from newest to oldest, but there’s no way to change this sorting.
The TouchWiz II interface is a refreshing departure from Verizon’s normal UI. Unlike past touchscreens on “dumb” phones, this was actually designed from the beginning to encourage tactile use. Menus scroll when flicked, tabs pull when dragged, the contact list accelerates in the direction of a control arrow, the desktop can be filled with touchable widgets, and so on. No arrow is too small to activate, like in the Dare or the EnV Touch. But again, there’s that little nugget of fail lurking below the surface. Verizon couldn’t leave TouchWiz alone, and so several menus are garish columns of bland bars in quite possibly the ugliest user theme ever devised. The music-player too, suffers from ancient ugly-itis, two blows greatly diminish the pleasure factor of such a beautiful device.
The battery performs as advertised. This is important, because these numbers are often inflated. An hour of usage and several texts through the day consumed a single bar from the battery indicator. Long-term longevity may not be as hardy, but for now this wafer-thin power-source can keep up with the undoubtedly strenuous demands of the Rogue. Since the screen is perfectly bright on the second to lowest setting, turning off the aggravating vibrate on touch is about the only other setting that will squeeze more blood from this stone. And before you ask, every touch results in an audio beep, and no, there’s no setting that will disable this aside from muting the phone itself. Bad Samsung!
And now we get to the truly unforgivable offenses. Samsung is still using a proprietary connector while nearly everyone else has switched either to micro or mini USB. Worse, this connector is on the left-hand side! This is fine for charging, but immediately informs us that Samsung has no future plans for this device–it’s a throwaway. There will be no third-party adapters, no attachable speaker sets; this is no future iPod Touch or iPhone killer, as some other reviews have claimed. The Rogue can’t be used as a regular USB drive, either. The only way to get files on and off the device without the proprietary transfer application, is bluetooth OBEX transfer, which is refreshingly functional in this case. But it seems that named folders and a USB cable would have been a much simpler solution to interacting with the phone’s memory.
Finally, while the Rogue is smaller and slightly lighter than the EnV Touch, it’s 1mm thicker. Not much, but this is still a tremendous failure. The upcoming (2010) Motorola Sholes promises to be 25% thinner than the Rogue, while running Android and offering Wifi. The Rogue is obviously late to the game, squeezing tons of features into cheap, older hardware. Like the EnV Touch, it’s an immense, bloated brick that won’t fit in any of the cellphone pockets in my cargo shorts. This alone almost makes me wonder if I should wait for the Nokia Twist.
Yet this is still one of the best phones Verizon offers, and I can easily see using this for another two years while I wait for the smart phones to finally mature. I’m glad I didn’t immediately purchase an Env3 or Env Touch, but only just. This phone had a lot of potential beaten out of it by a series of confusing and avoidable flaws and missing configuration settings. Here’s hoping a firmware update somewhere down the road will alleviate some of the worst offenders.
The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
Good * No menu lag. * Vibrant screen. * Very clear calls. * Good Reception. * Responsive, highly usable keyboard. * Relatively responsive touchscreen. * Mostly accurate full HTML browser. * Average battery-life.
Bad * Flimsy battery cover. * Low volume speaker-phone. * Non-standard data connector. * Can’t use phone as USB storage. * Thick and relatively heavy. Big! * Verizon once again raped the UI.
Ugly * Data connector located on left-hand side. * Can’t disable sounds on touchscreen use.