Samsung Continuum: Android with an innovative interface

Samsung's latest Android smartphone offers a great display and a Ticker, but also has a few issues

You have to give credit to the Samsung Continuum. It's got an awesome screen and some successful design innovations. But it looks like the designers, in the process of simplifying the interface, have managed to mess up the e-mail software.

Samsung Continuum
Samsung Continuum

The Continuum is part of Samsung's Galaxy S line of phones: About 5 in. long, 2.25 in. wide and 0.5 in. thick. Its 4.4-ounce weight, as with all Galaxy S phones, makes it feel almost like a plastic demo unit than the real thing. There's a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. It's running a 1GHz processor, packs 2GB of internal memory and comes with an 8GB microSD card pre-installed.

And, like all its sisters, the Continuum's Super AMOLED screen will knock your eyes out. The main display is 3.4 in. with a 480 x 800-pixel resolution, and the images it displays are as sharp and bright as any you'll see.

The screen's upper section shows a big dial clock, the location of which you can set. Below that, on this main home screen, are four application icons: Bing (an interesting choice on a Google-based phone), Email, Corporate (for Exchange-based e-mail), and Browser. So far, so normal.

Along the bottom of this upper screen are icons that are attached to all the Android home screens: Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Applications (which switches to Home when you're looking at your apps). And below those are static buttons for the four standard Android functions: Menu, Home, Back and Search.

The Ticker

But what makes the Continuum different is the Ticker, a secondary screen at the very bottom of the handset, about three lines high. It's an interesting idea that works quite well.

The Ticker which displays a running account of news feeds, new e-mail headers, social network updates, the time and date, and yet another set of icons -- this set with badges -- that show the number of texts, unread e-mails, voice mails or social updates that are waiting for your attention.

Moreover, you don't need to turn on your sleeping phone to see your updates. Touching the lower left and right edges of the phone will display the Ticker, even if the phone is otherwise sleeping.

All of this is well worth applause. It's quite easy (if one knows how to do such things) to slap a fairly standard Android interface onto a fairly standard piece of hardware and be done with it. The Continuum's UI presents genuinely new ideas and is largely successful.

If only the rest of the software were as successful.

OS and e-mail issues

The difficulty starts, I think, with the fact that the Continuum is based in Android 2.1; the current version, Android 2.2, has a bunch of improvements, particularly regarding Exchange support. The phone handles Gmail and other Google services smoothly, but when I tried to use its POP and IMAP support, I found myself in the middle of a disaster.

There is no simple method to tell the Continuum whether an e-mail system is running POP or IMAP. Give it a login, and it will decide on its own -- and I found no way to switch between POP and IMAP afterwards. In fact, the only way to get around this problem that I could find (or to specify SSL encryption) was to intentionally enter my credentials incorrectly during setup; the e-mail software then asked me to pick between POP and IMAP.

Even worse, I could discover no apparent way to delete a POP or IMAP mail service without nuking the phone entirely. Mail accounts do not appear in the Settings > Accounts menu, although Gmail and social networking systems do. There is no place in the Email app to actually manage e-mail accounts.

With those problems, it seems petty to further complain that the e-mail app doesn't allow the management of multiple messages. You have to delete and file messages individually, confirming each action. One can always download a third-party mail app like K-9 Mail, but it's an annoyance.

Bottom line

The Samsung Continuum's hardware, like all Galaxy S phones, is slick. The user interface is innovative in a good way. The screen is bright and displays 720p video files.

But if your e-mail needs go beyond the standard set of Google applications, the older Android OS and problematic e-mail handling makes this a phone to avoid. For $199.99 with a two-year contract plus a data plan, there are better choices.

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.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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