Samsung Infuse 4G review

The Samsung Infuse 4G, with a radio capable of achieving peak rates of 21Mbps, is being marketed as the fastest smartphone currently available from AT&T. It’s the big brother to the Samsung Captivate, and fits just between that device and Samsung’s Galaxy S II when it comes to hardware specs. The Infuse 4G packs a gorgeous and massive 4.5-inch display, a thin and light form factor, and a solid camera. AT&T’s first HSPA+ “4G” phones fell flat when it came to data — neither the HTC Inspire 4G nor the Motorola ATRIX 4G could hold a candle to the 3G download speeds available on the iPhone 4, and we won’t even discuss the upload speeds. Is the Infuse the AT&T 4G smartphone you’ve been waiting for? I’ve been trekking along with it for more than a week and have penned my impressions, so check out the gallery below and then hit the jump for my full review.

Hardware / Display

The very first thing you will, and I did, notice about the Infuse 4G is its huge 4.5-inch 800 x 480-pixel resolution Super AMOLED Plus display. It’s the same screen technology that’s on the DROID Charge from Verizon Wireless, and it’s hard to describe just how beautifully colorful, bright, and sharp it is. We first saw Samsung’s last generation Super AMOLED displays on its Galaxy S devices, and the Super AMOLED Plus improves on that panel in a number of ways. It’s easier to read under direct sunlight, and the blacks are even darker and inkier. Everyone needs to see this screen, even if you’re not on the market for a new phone. But I digress.

Despite having such a large display, the Infuse 4G is shockingly light at about 5 ounces. It’s thin, too, and measures just 0.35-in thick. The touch sensitive buttons for menu, home, return, and search all worked well during my tests. The power and volume buttons are all located within reach and there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone. With a capable camera on board though, I wish Samsung added a camera quick-launch button, too.

Speaking of cameras, the Infuse 4G has two of them: a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter for video chats, and an 8-megapixel camera capable of recording full 720p HD video on the back. There’s also a single-LED flash, something the Captivate lacked. The back of the phone looks sharp and has a textured finish that blends nicely with the imitation metal border that wraps around the whole device. However, the textured back battery panel is flimsy. The HTC Inspire 4G, by contrast, has a rock solid unibody design. While I appreciate the Infuse 4G’s lightness and its aesthetic, it does feel a bit cheap.

Under the hood there’s a 1.2GHz processor, 16GB of storage built in, a 2GB microSD card, support for 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks, a 1,750mAh battery, and more. That’s not a huge jump from the hardware that the Captivate offered, and I wish the phone packed Samsung’s dual-core Orion processor that’s inside the Galaxy S II. All of the aformentioned hardware powers Android 2.2.1 (Froyo), with Samsung’s last generation TouchWiz user interface. Let’s get into that now.

Software

The Infuse 4G runs Google’s previous-generation Android 2.2.1 operating system. That’s not a huge deal, given that just 4% of phones are powered by the newer Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS, but it’s still odd to me that new devices are hitting the market with an outdated version preloaded. Here’s what really gets me though: Samsung’s previous-generation TouchWiz user interface.

I’ve spent time with Samsung’s new TouchWiz 4.0 on the DROID Charge, and I like what the firm has done to improve it compared to earlier versions. The UI feels faster, has several new and fun zooming features, and has an improved widget interface. Unfortunately, Samsung didn’t include that on the Infuse 4G, and I can’t figure out why. TouchWiz 3.0 is too colorful and cartoonish, and the widgets waste too much space. Thankfully the 1.2GHz processor kept everything snappy, though, so it never felt too sluggish. User interfaces are a matter of taste, and I’ve met plenty of people that prefer TouchWiz to competing UIs. For me personally though, it’s not a good fit.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a fan of the black background in the e-mail user interface, and don’t like Samsung’s default keyboard. There’s the option to use Swype on the Infuse 4G, which worked pretty well, and you can switch to the default Android keyboard, too. One software issue in particular that stood out was the sluggishness of the web browser. On multiple occasions it would lock up while I was trying to access a new website or pan around a page. Sometimes it would just stall for a few seconds, and then work properly again, but this is an issue I’ve typically seen with lower-end devices — not 1.2GHz “superphones.”

Last, but not least, the Infuse 4G is the first phone on AT&T to allow for side-loading of third-party applications. That means you can load up an .apk file on the phone, access it via your file manager of choice, and then install it. Before you can start side-loading apps, however, you’ll have to visit Settings > Applications, and check the box next to “Unknown Sources.”

Calling / Data

The data speeds on the Infuse 4G are awful and are just barely better than what I’ve seen on the ATRIX 4G and the Inspire 4G. I averaged 3.07Mbps on the downlink and a pitiful .11Mbps on the uplink. That’s a solid 3G download speed, but overall the throughput is pathetic for anything with a 4G moniker. Verizon’s 4G LTE network consistently offers downlink speeds of 20Mbps with phones like the Samsung DROID Charge; that’s more than six times faster than AT&T’s 4G network. I hope AT&T issues a patch that fixes the speeds, and it’s upsetting the carrier is advertising this as its fastest phone yet — with theoretical 21Mbps peak download speeds — when even 5Mbps seems unachievable and the “3G” iPhone 4 regularly sees faster download speeds.

Calls on the Infuse 4G were decent, but nothing to call home about. I didn’t have a single dropped call during my tests in New York City, but voices did sound a bit watery during a few conversations. The speakerphone volume was more than sufficient. One friend said he could tell I was using a speakerphone but that I sounded “pretty clear.” Overall the call quality of the Infuse 4G sits around average in my book.

Battery Life

I was easily able to get through a full workday with moderate usage on a single charge of the Infuse 4G’s 1,750mAh battery. That’s an improvement over the Captivate, which frequently died on me before 5:00 p.m. Using the phone as my primary device, checking email, surfing the web, and listening to music, drained the battery noticeably faster, but I was also impressed with its standby time. Overall the Infuse 4G’s battery life was among the best I’ve seen on a high-powered Android phone yet. If you’re looking for a bit longer, I’d suggest checking out the ATRIX 4G, which managed to muster through a full workday with heavy usage.

Camera

The Infuse 4G’s 8-megapixel took stellar photos, especially in good lighting conditions. Shots taken around New York City came out clear, and the sky on a sunny day was deep blue. On particularly bright days, I noticed that the sky would bleed a bit into my subjects, and shots came out overexposed altogether. Low light pictures came out OK, but just like the DROID Charge on Verizon, street lights really bled into my images, even with the anti-shake option enabled. I took a few more images while watching the Kentucky Derby in a dark pub, though, and the flash did a good job when I took a picture of my dinner plate.

The Infuse 4G’s camera is capable of recording 720p video, and the results were impressive, but on a par with what the Captivate was capable of shooting, too. I didn’t see much distortion, even while panning around. The camera also continuously auto-focuses, which is a nice touch.

Wrap-up

No, it’s not the 4G phone you’ve been waiting for, but it’s still a solid device. I’m shocked that AT&T can get away with calling this a 4G phone, however, because I have yet to see data speeds that push the boundaries of its network. But if AT&T making good on its “4G” claims and delivering solid data speeds isn’t a necessity for you, the Infuse 4G is worthy of your attention. The screen is incredible, I like the thin form factor, and the solid battery life was definitely appreciated. Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface isn’t for everyone either, but I still highly recommend you consider reserving a spot in your pocket for the Infuse 4G when it launches on May 15th for $199.99.

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