Hands on: Samsung's Infuse 4G smartphone is a lightweight heavyweight

This new Android phone offers a large, bright display and great performance.

For most tech gadgets, the rule is immutable: big equals heavy. If you get a big cell phone -- a Droid X, for instance, or an HTC Evo -- you're going to know that it's in your pocket.

So it was something of a surprise to pick up the new Samsung Infuse 4G.

Samsung Infuse 4G
Samsung Infuse 4G

At 5.2 in. x 2.8 in., it's a quarter-inch bigger than the Droid X in both dimensions (though at 0.35 in., it's roughly as thick). The Infuse, which started shipping May 15, weighs only 4.9 oz., compared to the Droid X's 5.6 oz. That's 12% percent lighter -- and you'll notice the difference immediately.

In addition, the Infuse's screen is bigger: 5.50 in. to the Droid X's 5.25 in. And that bigger screen uses Super AMOLED technology, so it's extremely sharp and bright, with rich colors.

The rest of the hardware is on the high end of standard. The Infuse has a 1.2GHz processor. There are two cameras: one 8-megapixel unit on the back that can capture 720p HD and one 1.2-megapixel unit facing the user.

The power button is on the right, a volume rocker on the left, a headphone jack on top, and a microUSB jack on the bottom. (This last is a little unusual; most phones put it along the left edge.) There is no HDMI output. The menu buttons along the bottom are backlit capacitive and are brighter than most.

Samsung's phones sometimes feel flimsy because they're so light. Not so much with the Infuse. The feeling of solidness is helped by a highly textured back cover, which might be necessary to keep a phone this size from popping out of your hand.

Fast 4G performance

If you're looking for fast performance, the good news is that the Infuse is a 4G phone using HSPA+ technology. The bad news is that it's on AT&T, which has well-known network limitations. (Read the Infuse's fine print, and you'll discover that full speed is available only in limited areas.)

My speed tests were performed in New York City, where AT&T has had bandwidth issues for a long time. I was able to reach 8 Mbit/sec download speed once; my speeds tended to range between 3 Mbit/sec and 6 Mbit/sec. That's significantly faster than 3G speeds, but far behind the 16 Mbit/sec I can get with Verizon's LTE network. These speeds will presumably get faster as AT&T continues to improve its network.

Tethering does not appear to be an option, nor is operating the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

The Infuse comes loaded with Android 2.2 (Froyo). As with other smartphones, it comes with the customary bloatware, which in this case is pretty unobtrusive: a media hub app for downloading movies, a Yellow Pages app, an AT&T navigation app, an app that wirelessly shares videos on your phone with other devices and a special custom version of Angry Birds.

You can choose from among no fewer than three virtual keyboards: the Android standard, Samsung's keyboard (which offer predictive text and some layout differences) and Swype.

There's a nice interface touch in the Infuse's Contacts database. You can swipe right to call a contact and swipe left to text it. It's clever and convenient.

When you do call, the phone sounds fine. I didn't have a chance to use the phone for more than a few hours, but judging from my experience, the battery will likely last you a full day and a little more if you don't go crazy with apps.

Bottom line

In short, the Infuse is a lightweight only in the physical sense. On Verizon, this would be a killer phone. On AT&T, it's merely very, very good.

Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon