Last year, Metro PCS rolled out its own LTE network before the number one carrier, Verizon Wireless, could launch its own. Now Metro PCS has done it again by unveiling the first Android smart phone to surf those 4G waves, the Samsung Indulge. This 3.5-inch QWERTY slider runs Android 2.2 and is on sale now for a contract-free $399. Paired with Metro PCS' affordable 4G data plans, the fifth largest carrier is once again ahead of the curve. Then again, both the device and the network have some flaws that might keep buyers from indulging.
The face of the Indulge has two chrome-colored flourishes, a perforated earpiece grate and a thin bar accentuating the Android hardware buttons. Overall, though, the plastic shell of this 5.4-ounce, 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.6-inch handset feels a little cheap. On the plus side, the Indulge's keyboard slides up and down with a firm, clean snap. Across the bottom of the Indulge are chunky physical Android buttons--Menu, Home, Back, and Search. Home and Back are on a single rocker.
A chrome accent rings around the Indulge, which has a volume rocker on the left, a headphone jack and power button up top, and a covered microUSB port and dedicated camera button on the right. The back cover houses the lens for the 3-megapixel camera and a speaker; underneath the cover resides a 1500mAh battery, SIM card slot (under the battery), and a microSD Card slot. A 4GB card is included, and the Indulge supports cards up to 32GB.
Click to enlarge
As it's not a Galaxy S phone, the Indulge doesn't have a vibrant Super AMOLED display. Though it's bright, the 3.5-inch screen has a low resolution of 480 x 320 pixels; it appears somewhat muddy next to an Epic 4G. We also found the viewing angles to be limited. A high-quality YouTube trailer for the movie Thor looked great during close-ups, but background details got lost in the murky resolution. A digital copy of Iron Man 2 comes pre-installed on the Indulge and, though the low-resolution made fast-moving scenes hard to follow, the film looked much clearer than any other video we sampled on the device.
Click to enlarge
First, the good news: The Indulge's keys are large, and they offer decent tactile feedback and a dedicated number row. In addition, the auto-activated backlight is bright and evenly lit. Now, the bad: The function key is unusually placed at the top left, the space bar is awkwardly flanked by the letters B and N on the bottom row, and the period button, normally on the right, is on the far left. The commonly used @ and .com require function combos; they don't get dedicated keys. The layout is just awkward, so it will take some getting used to.
Click to enlarge
Want to touch type? You'll find three options: one from Samsung, the Android stock keyboard, and Swype, which works by dragging your finger from letter to letter. The Samsung option had the most attractive user interface, kept a consistent layout across portrait and landscape modes, and offered easy-to-use auto-complete.
The Indulge runs Android 2.2 and has the same set of skin customizations as on other Samsung smart phones. The notification area features one-touch on/off controls for silencing the ringer and toggling on/off Wi-Fi, BlueTooth, GPS, and Airplane mode. The home screen comes with seven customizable windows and a set of icons along the bottom for accessing Applications, Contacts, Messaging, and Phone.
Metro PCS Apps
Click to enlarge
Metro PCS pre-loads the Samsung Galaxy Indulge with a ton of branded apps. MetroWEB is the standard Android browser branded by Metro PCS. Metro411 is a local business search app, Metro BACKUP stores contacts for $1 a month, and MetroPCS Easy WiFi displays nearby public wireless hotspots. The @Metro App Store contains a list of Metro PCS-specific apps, such as Boingo Mobile Wi-Fi for accessing Boingo public networks, Cellufun Social for social gaming, and Flirtomatic and MocoSpace for mobile dating.
Other pre-installed apps include IM & Social, a universal IM client that integrates AIM, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger accounts. But wait, there's more: The Indulge also includes AllShare for sharing music, photos, and video over Wi-Fi to DLNA-emabled devices, Write & Go for note-taking, a virtual debit card service called VCpay, Nuance Voice Commands for making calls or sending texts with your voice, and ThinkFree Office for viewing and editing Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files.
Last but not least is MetroStudio, a video and audio hub that lets Metro PCS customers with the $60 plan (more on that later) stream video and download music and ringtones. For $5 a month, users can download five audio tracks from a number of genres including classical, new age, oldies, and rap (an additional $5 a month gets you five ring tones). Video On Demand includes stream-ready show clips and episodes from BET, NBC, SyFy Channel, Telemundo, USA Network, and more. The service offered surprisingly timely content, such as last week's episode of The Office. Video quality wasn't great on the 480 x 320 display, though: The Sabre staff's facial expressions were blurry and the lack of visual detail in clothing was noticeable.
Specs and Performance
The Samsung Galaxy Indulge packs a fairly standard hardware configuration--a 1-GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 processor and 512MB RAM. It scored a middle-of-the-field 12.6 on Linpack, a benchmark for CPU processing power. That score was better than the Epic 4G, which notched 7.9. However, the $99 HTC Inspire 4G for AT&T scored 37.58, triple the score of the Indulge.
|Samsung Indulge||Samsung Epic 4G||HTC Inspire 4G|
Owing to its lower resolution, the Indulge scored fairly high in graphics benchmarks. It sped through Fps2D, a 2D graphics benchmark, at 89 frames per second. That's much better than the Epic 4G's score of 55 fps, and it beats the HTC Inspire's score of 58 fps. The Motorola Atrix 4G, which has a higher resolution 940 x 640-pixel display, but uses Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor, comes close with a score of 74fps.
|Samsung Indulge||Samsung Epic 4G||HTC Inspire 4G||Motorola Atrix 4G|
The Indulge performed equally as well on the An3DBench benchmark (which measures 3D graphics rendering), notching 9,908. That's leaps and bounds above the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G (6,209), the T-Mobile G2 (5,933), and the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 inside the Motorola Atrix 4G (6,305). Again, though, the Indulge benefits from a low-res display in these tests.
|Samsung Indulge||MyTouch 4G||T-Mobile G-2||Motorola Atrix 4G|
4G Performance, Web, and 4G Availability
Click to enlargeMetro PCS has been rolling out LTE to its 14 markets since last September, and is now available in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and San Francisco. The carrier is still working on Tampa's LTE network and has no set finish date.
When it worked well, the Indulge was able to reel in impressive maximum download and upload speeds of 4.7 Mbps and 3.8 Mbps, respectively, using the Speedtest.net app. Generally, though, speeds were slower: The Indulge averaged 2.16 down and 0.35 Mbps up.
By comparison, the Epic 4G, which uses Sprint's WiMax network, averaged download and upload speeds of 2.9 and 1.13 Mbps, respectively. The HTC Evo Shift 4G, another Sprint WiMax phone, also averaged much higher rates: 5.6 Mbps down and 0.93 MBps up. Still, the Indulge was much better than the HTC Inspire 4G, an AT&T phone on the carrier's HSPA+ network. That device limped through tests with 0.9 Mbps downloads and 135 Kbps uploads.
The Indulge loaded full web pages much faster than phones with 3G connections. For example, the New York Times, CNN.com, and Laptopmag.com loaded in 8, 8, and 13 seconds, respectively, compared to 15, 19, and 26 seconds on the Motorola Droid X. Compared to the Epic 4G, the gaps were smaller, but the Indulge still won out: The Epic took 12, 16, and 25 seconds to load those pages. The Indulge was also slightly faster than the Epic 4G when it came to loading the web-enabled Slacker application (10 vs. 12 seconds).
Metro PCS isn't offering the Indulge with a mobile hotspot feature. That's in part due to the price of its data plan (more on that below) and the company's demographic, which Metro PCS says isn't interested in this feature.
No 3G Data
Metro PCS never built a 3G network, so the Indulge drops to the carrier's CDMA 1XRTT network when out of 4G range. When this happened, it took more than 1.5 minutes to load NYTimes.com. It took anywhere from a minute to more than four minutes for the 4G signal to come back when we popped back into 4G range. We saw more reliable performance in Brooklyn, though. Even in the middle of a building, we still managed two bars of 4G coverage, which was enough to nab an average of 3.1 Mbps downloads and 2.2 uploads.
The Samsung Galaxy Indulge's 3.2-MP camera takes 2,048 x 1,536-pixel still shots and 720 x 480 video at 30 fps. Shots of the Battery Park ice skating rink offered crystal clarity and spot-on lighting. The same goes for video; lighting was even and bright and playback was free of artifacts or glitches. On the downside, the microphone picked up a lot of wind noise.
Click to enlarge
The built-in speaker provided plenty of kick: Dialogue in Iron Man 2 was audible, if a little tinny, and background noise and special effects were sharp and loud.
Click to enlarge
Calls and Battery Life
The Indulge's 1,500-mAh battery is rated for 3 hours of talk time and 300 hours of standby time. With four bars of service, the Indulge lasted just 3 hours and 25 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (web surfing via 4G). That's less than any other 4G-enabled phone we've tested; the HTC Inspire 4G for AT&T lasted 4:48 and the HTC Evo Shift 4G lasted almost 7 hours.
Voice calls over the Indulge were clear, with just a touch of noise in the background. Calls were free of artifacts when we whispered or spoke through the noise on a crowded street. Skype is also pre-loaded; over Wi-Fi, calls were clear and lag was minimal.
As Metro PCs is a prepaid carrier, you don't have to sign up for a two-year contract. This means two things: The phone itself isn't subsidized, which is why the Indulge costs $399, but Metro PCS' monthly plans are much less expensive than those offered by the major carriers.
Metro PCS offers two LTE monthly smart phone plans, one for $50 and another for $60. Both include unlimited local and nationwide calls, text messages, e-mail, YouTube video, and web browsing through MetroWEB, but the $50 plan does not include MetroStudio's Video on Demand feature, and it caps data usage at 1GB for streaming services like Pandora, Slackr and Skype. The $60 plan adds unlimited use of MetroStudio Video-on-Demand and unlimited data for other tasks.
Click to enlarge
By comparison, AT&T charges $69.99 a month for unlimited calls, $20 for unlimited text messages, and at least $15 a month for 200MB of data ($25 for 2GB and $45 for 4GB of HSPA+ data); that's a total of at least $105 a month. The equivalent plan on Sprint (unlimited calls, text, 4G data) cost $109.98 a month. T-Mobile charges $99 a month, and, Verizon, which has no 4G-enabled handset as of now, charges $69.99 for unlimited voice minutes, $20 for 5000 texts, and $30 for unlimited 3G data, for a total of $120 a month.
When you add everything up, the Indulge will end up costing you $1,840 over two years; that's about $900 less than the Evo Shift 4G ($2,789) and $800 less than the AT&T HTC Inspire 4G ($2,619).
For those who want 4G service but hate being locked into an expensive two-year contract, the $399 Samsung Indulge on MetroPCS' network is worth a look: Not only do you get next-gen data speeds, you're paying a lot less than you would with the major carriers over two years. Unfortunately, you'll have to put up with a low-resolution display and short battery life. And, when you're not in range of MetroPCS' 4G network, you'll get 2G data speeds. So is the Indulge worth it? Yes, but only if you're willing to live with some trade-offs.