REVIEW: AT&T’s Big and Bold Samsung Infuse 4G

We can debate what qualifies as a true 4G phone, but there’s no arguing the $199 Samsung Infuse 4G for ATT’s network offers the largest display of any phone the carrier sells directly. The 4.5-inch Google Android handset uses Samsung’s latest screen technology, which certainly makes for a large device; perhaps too large for some. But this handful of a handset uses a thin design, fast mobile broadband radio and a speedier single-core processor than what competing devices offer. I’ve been using a review unit of the Samsung Infuse 4G on ATT’s network for the past two weeks to see if there’s room in the collective pocket for this new smartphone.

Hardware and Design

As soon as you see the Infuse 4G, you can’t help but notice the sheer size of the display, which takes up nearly the entire front of the phone. A small top and bottom bezel holds the front-facing camera, ambient light sensors, speaker and the four standard Android buttons, which are touch-sensitive on this device. Although the display uses a typical 800×480 resolution, the screen doesn’t appear pixelated at all; fonts and icons are smooth. Even at the lowest brightness, colors appear to pop from the screen due to Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus display. All activities are more vivid and brighter than on any other handset I’ve used yet. The beautiful screen may be too big for some, but I find it pleasing, thanks to larger text and more room on the software keyboard. The screen can appear washed-out in direct sunlight, but is still very usable.

My first-look video offers a glance at the Infuse’s hardware and design.

Overall it’s clean and minimal, good for a large handset as too many buttons or controls would simply make the phone appear larger. Volume buttons are on the left while the power / wake button is on the right. A 3.5 millimeter headphone jack sits on top, next to a microphone , while the bottom has a second microphone and micro USB port. The back houses a speaker for hands-free calls and the 8 megapixel camera sensor with LED flash.

Although the phone has a big footprint — you can see comparisons to other devices in our image gallery below — it’s thin at 8.99 millimeters. Had the phone been thicker, it would feel too much like a brick. But the Infuse 4G actually feels comfortable to hold for such a large-screened device. I occasionally found it tricky, but not impossible, to use the phone in one hand, and at 5′ 5″ and 125 pounds, I have relatively small hands.

Much of the phone is plastic, but the device feels solidly made. The lack of metal helps keep the feel of the big smartphone lighter than it looks, and the removable back cover is just a thin plastic piece. Taking the cover off reveals a generous 1750 mAh battery, SIM card slot and place for a microSD expansion card. You must remove the battery to remove or replace a memory card, which is inconvenient. With the larger-than-average battery, I had no problems getting through a full day of typical use, with power to spare.

Software and Performance

The handset runs on Android 2.2, which isn’t the latest version of Google’s mobile software, but few phones are yet shipping with Android 2.3. Samsung’s customized TouchWiz interface hides the bland stock look of Android in a pleasing way. A choice of three software keyboards are included: the standard Android keyboard, Samung’s own custom keyboard, and Swype. A handful of ATT-branded applications are pre-installed, along with a few from Samsung. Specifically, Samsung’s AllShare app (used for media streaming), Media Hub for video rentals and purchases, and custom Task Manager app are pre-loaded on the device. The Infuse has access to the Android Market, and can also install software from outside the Market; a first for ATT, which has blocked such “sideloaded” apps in the past.

TouchWiz offers up to seven home screens, and the program launcher is similar to that on Apple iOS devices. Samsung’s browser is fairly standard, but offers a useful brightness setting within the application. The browser experience is on par with any other Android handset at this price and in terms of speed, I found it to perform a slightly better than on the Nexus One handset I bought last January. For the benchmark-minded, the Infuse 4G scored 5082 ms using SunSpider (where smaller numbers are better) as compared to 5487 ms on my Nexus One. That’s likely due in part to the Infuse’s slightly faster single-core CPU, which clocks in at 1.2 GHz. The Infuse 4G will generally be slower when compared to a dual-core handset, but only those who have used a dual-core smartphone would know the difference. The processor keeps Android moving at a fast pace when compared to other single-core handsets on the market.

Marketed as a 4G handset, the phone radio has outpaced ATT’s network. The carrier is in the process of upgrading to HSPA+ as a stopgap to its planned LTE network rollout. That means the radio in the phone can handle downloads up to 21 Mbps, yet most of the network can’t deliver such speeds. However, as the carrier expands its network, the Infuse 4G is future-proofed to a degree, as it’s ready for the faster network speeds. My speed tests topped out at 3.2 Mbps downloads and 1.2 Mbps uploads, which is much slower than what ATT’s competitors offer. Speeds of course, will vary by coverage areas and other factors, and I don’t live in or near an ATT coverage area that’s been upgraded, so you may see faster mobile broadband speeds.

Samsung’s camera sensor impressed me, especially when paired with software that improves video recording. The camera tops out at 720p image capture, but features an auto-focus function when taking videos. Don’t expect the focus adjustment to be instant, but it works well and is quick enough to be useful. Regular camera images looked better than video; crisper and cleaner. The front-facing camera inspires a common complaint: Manufacturers aren’t angling the sensor, so you have to tilt the device to stay centered on a video chat. Samsung has an opportunity for improvement here, but if you’re not into video chatting, this shouldn’t prevent you from considering the Infuse 4G.

Call quality was solid, both in normal use and through the speakerphone, and I didn’t experience any dropped calls. ATT’s network has always been solid in the rural area I live in, so this doesn’t surprise me.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for large-screened phone that’s still pocketable, the Infuse 4G is a must-see. The screen looks fantastic, possibly the best I’ve seen yet on a handset, even as other phones such as the Atrix 4G offer a higher resolution. But the size may put some folks off, and no review can tell you if the handset is too big for you. This is the kind of handset you have to hold and use before buying. Current smartphone owners using handsets with a 1-GHz processor won’t see much of a speed boost, but those that haven’t purchased a handset in the last year or so ought to be impressed. With the beautiful display, more room on the software keyboards and the ability to gain faster mobile broadband as ATT beefs up its HSPA+ coverage, the Infuse 4G has much to offer those looking for a big Android smartphone.

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