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Samsung Indulge

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Samsung Indulge
We have to hand it to MetroPCS. The contract-free carrier is gripping the 4G bull by the horns and making the 4G-capable Samsung Galaxy Indulge its first lasso at the smartphone rodeo.

The Indulge, an off-shoot of Samsung’s respectable line of glossy black plastic smartphones, has Android 2.2, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard in addition to a Swype-enabled virtual keyboard. There’s good voice quality, and a satisfying set of features.

However, the specs pale in comparison to its more-premium Galaxy S cousins, like the Samsung Epic 4G. The Indulge lacks the brilliant Super AMOLED screen of other upmarket Galaxy handsets, its camera isn’t as good, and several TouchWiz features are absent, like the social and media hubs and the mobile hot spot. Battery life is disappointing, as well.

Despite those setbacks, it’s still poised to be the carrier’s best phone yet, especially if you don’t mind frequently juicing up your phone.

The Indulge costs $399 without a contract, a high figure at first glance, but one that doesn’t lock you into a two-year contract. MetroPCS is offering two plans: the unlimited rate plan (talk, text, Web) with 1GB data costs $50 per month, and the $60 monthly plan gets you unlimited talk, text, Web, and data, not to mention 4G speeds for both.

Editors’ note: Portions of the User interface and Features sections were taken from our reviews of the other Samsung Galaxy S models, since the devices share a common UI and similar core features.

Like most of its Galaxy S brethren, the Samsung Galaxy Indulge has a smooth, glossy black design with rounded corners. At 5.2 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, it’s slightly shorter than the slide-out Epic, but matches that handset in depth. The weight feels right at 5.4 ounces, which also lends it a feeling of durability, and the smooth body helps the phone feel natural in the hand and on the ear. Since it’s completely constructed of shiny black plastic with no soft-touch material on the back, it comes across as slick. Even so, the plasticky look and feel never interfered with usability.

Looks-wise, the 4G-enabled Samsung Galaxy Indulge didn’t fall too far from the Galaxy S tree.

Specs-wise, the Indulge comes from the branch of the Galaxy tree that is decidedly more modest. The capacitive touch-screen display, for example, is a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen with HVGA resolution (800×480 pixels). Although it’s a step down from the brilliant Super AMOLED screen found in most other Galaxy smartphones, the Indulge still produces a crisp, bright image.

The screen itself is as smooth and responsive as any other Galaxy phone, for which we can thank the speedy Android 2.2 operating system and the 1GHz Hummingbird processor. Its accelerometer is equally snappy, rotating the interface from portrait to landscape view in less than a second. The standard Android onscreen keyboard is there for flying fingers, but so is Swype, software that lets you trace letters to create words. If that shoe doesn’t fit, you can switch between the two virtual keyboards. Like all phones running Froyo, the Indulge supports pinch to zoom.

Below the display are physical buttons for the menu, home screen, back button, and Google search. The buttons are comfortable and fast-acting; they depress with a satisfying, audible click. On the right spine you’ll find the camera shutter and a Micro-USB charging port; the volume rocker is on the other side. Up top are the 3.5mm headset jack and the power button. You’ll find the 3.2-megapixel camera on the back, and nestled beneath the back cover is the microSD card slot. It can hold up to 32GB of extra storage.

There’s more hardware to be had on the Indulge: a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with four rows, one row less than on the even more spacious Epic 4G. The backlit keys feel fairly flat, but they’re spaced out and easy to press, with the right amount of resistance. We did have some minor complaints on behalf of those with smaller hands, however. The function button was often awkward to reach in the top left of the keyboard, and the width of the keyboard itself might be a stretch at times. Still, typing was fast and comfortable and most hands should adapt.

User interface
Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 interface for the Galaxy S series is familiar by now; the Indulge runs a “light” version of it that’s missing some features, like the mobile hot spot and Samsung’s Media Hub. At the top is a pull-down notification bar with one-touch controls for toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, vibrate mode, and airplane mode on and off. There are seven home screens (you can whittle them down to fewer), which, like HTC’s Sense interface, you can see in a consolidated view by pinching your fingers together on any home screen.

In addition to the slide-out QWERTY keyboard is a virtual keyboard with Swype.

Four persistent shortcuts appear on the bottom of each screen; they open the dialer, the address book, the messaging inbox, and the application launcher. You’ll see those shortcuts, too, from within the application tray.

Speaking of which, icons in the app tray are square-shaped and strikingly colorful against the black background. Unlike some other manufacturer-customized Android skins, you swipe horizontally rather than vertically to move through multiple pages of apps. In addition to the TouchWiz look, feel, and widgets, you can also tweak the Indulge by changing the wallpaper to a static or animated image, and you can always add your own choice of widgets and application shortcuts.

Whether you like the TouchWiz look and feel is a matter of preference, and indeed, your faithful CNET mobile team is sometimes at odds about its favorite Android experience. One concern with any extra interface is that the additional layers of software may delay the Android update process, like we’ve seen time and again in this Galaxy series and in others. As always, Samsung and MetroPCS say they’ll work with Google and with each other to hasten future OS updates on the Indulge. That said, there’s no guarantee. You can read more on TouchWiz 3.0 in this review.

The Samung Indulge is a CDMA phone, and the second handset in MetroPCS’ lineup to take on 4G in addition to 3G. It’s also the carrier’s first 4G LTE smartphone, a nod to user demand and to blowback from the Samsung Craft. Despite the Craft’s history-making debut as the networks–and the world’s–first 4G feature phone, its lack of smartphone pedigree and features underwhelmed many. Never fear, the Indulge packs plenty of punch, even if it doesn’t reach the highest heights of its even more premium cohort.

Although the phone runs Froyo, MetroPCS says it should be upgradable in the future.

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