Back in November, Samsung held a Bada Developer Day to herald the launch of Bada 2.0. This followed on from the 2010 Samsung Bada developer day they held. During the event, Samsung provided Wave 3 devices to developers.
I spent some time with the Wave II following the previous event; it was a competent low-end smartphone, notable for the relatively basic operating system packed into phenomenal Samsung hardware: an amazing screen, great industrial design, excellent camera and stupendous battery life.
The Wave S3 is a similar form factor, with the notable exception of the huge screen. It’s reasonably thin, with a brushed metal back, and in a change from the previous model the back panel slides to reveal the battery, rather than being a detachable panel.
During the Developer Day presentations we were told how Bada 2.0 is a significant step forward over Bada 1.0, and first impressions suggest it is a bit better. But it’s still lacking attention to detail, maturity and friendliness that marks other mobile platforms. Here’s a detailed breakdown.
On startup, the device asks you what type of SIM you have: O2 PostPay, O2 PrePay, Tesco. Does this make any sense to anyone, when we’re trained to think in terms of “pay monthly” or “pay as you go”?
You’re then asked to set the language – which is fortunate, since it’s defaulted to French. So I selected English. (There’s an option for “Automatic”, I’m curious to know what that does!) In fairness to Samsung, the devices we were given were not even on the market at the time, and were clearly intended for the French market (judging by the European power supply and the French text on the packaging).
I selected English, and then was prompted to set my timezone. I clicked in the Search box, and despite saying I wanted English, I was shown a French AZERTY keyboard layout. Furthermore, as I typed the first few characters of “London”, the predictive text showed me options such as “l’on”, so the phone was clearly still thinking in French.
Another bug that shows up in the predictive text: if you type “l”, some text, delete some text, and type “ondon”, it treats it as two separate words (despite the lack of spacing or punctuation), and you end up with “lbidon” on screen.
Date and time: the date internationalisation is a little weird: 04/Nov./2011: have you ever seen Nov punctuated anywhere else?
The final step of setup is the request to sign up for a Samsung account. It’s a nice idea, but it would be better if WiFi is set up first. There’s no guarantee your operator data configuration texts will have arrived before. Indeed, when you go through the process it prompts you “Use packet data must be enabled to access data service. Change settings?” Why not say “you must use a mobile data connection” – what does packet data mean to the consumer? If you say no, you get a network error – why does it even try to talk to the network, and not just say “do this later”?
If you do enter the Samsung account setup, there’s a notorious problem from the previous Wave devices: text areas being obscured by the keyboard.
Once setup is complete, it boots into the home screen, but a dialog pops up right away telling you how to “Edit idle pages”. The problem is that without having used the device, this dialog means nothing. What are idle pages? What are icons?
The same thing happens if you go into the “Menu” section: a popup “Add idle shortcut”, and it feels like the descriptive text is truncated: “Drag and drop icon to the bottom tray to add shortcut to idle” …. to idle what? To idle screen? Do they mean “launcher” instead of idle screen, or menu bar?
The screen timeout is really aggressive: probably because it’s so big.
Wifi setup was straightforward, though the device was still showing an AZERTY keyboard. Clicking “FR” changes it to “EN”. The keyboard is good, haptic feedback is nice.
Within 24 hours of starting to use the device, I successfully crashed the Wave, causing it to reboot. I was closing apps in the task manager at the time.
One interesting feature: you can carry on using the device whilst in USB mode. But only the microSD, not internal storage. Unfortunately that means moving all my screenshots from internal to microSD before I can get them off the phone. In fairness, the move process was painless, and worked.
The Wave 3 has three hardware buttons on the front (aside from the volume rocker and the power switch). I have yet to figure out precisely why it has these three. The middle one acts as a power on, the others seem to be back or menu but don’t act consistently.
To illustrate the Wave3 experience, let’s take a look at some screenshots.
There are precisely two fonts to choose from on the Wave3. That’s twice as many as on the iPhone, but when the choice is between the Samsung font and a Comic Sans imitation, that’s about twice as many choices as you really want or need.
Get used to waiting. Even on a fast wifi connection, I saw “Waiting” very frequently. My guess is this is a combination of Samsung’s servers all being based out of Korea, poor capacity planning, and poor attention to network performance. Either way, it’s a frustrating user experience.
It’s not nice that the network was not available, especially as I am on a wifi connection that’s working (so actually the problem is the resource is not available, the network is fine). What’s worse is the 0xff01 error number. Users don’t want to see that.
Some aspects of the Wave are really nice, for example downloading apps have a “ripple” effect as though water was being poured into a glass. It’s a neat, human touch and I wish the whole platform was as polished as this one detail.
There are occasional reminders that this is a feature phone, not a smart phone. For example, you cannot queue up mails for sending. If one mail is in the process of being sent, you have to wait for it to complete before you can send another.
The browser in the Wave3 is not bad (mostly because it’s on a huge screen), but it struggles to keep up sometimes. When scrolling, you will often see display glitches like this “checkerboarding”. In fairness to Samsung, many mobile platforms suffer from similar issues.
Cool, Samsung are giving away apps! What happens if I click on the banner? I get a prompt that says exactly the same thing as the banner. What happens if I click on OK? I get a details page that never loads. ARGH! SO FRUSTRATING!
Maybe there’s an update for the Samsung App Store app that will make the experience better. Yes, there is. Whilst downloading it I’m treated to some curious pictograms, including the iPhone 4 “you’re holding it wrong”, and the “high five app update!”. I wait patiently for my Samsung Apps cup to fill up, and then eagerly click on it to see the new hotness. And I’m greeted by the double whammy of the app failing to launch, and the grammatically disastrous “Cannot launch . Invalid application” error.
At least the app store upgrade fixed all the minor snags, right? Right? Well, the “network not available” error has been upgraded to 0xff03. And the app store now displays an animated ticker instead of “Waiting”. The promo banners (this time “app of the year”) still has a pop-up dialog saying exactly the same thing. It now leads to an empty list of promotional products, rather than the never-loading page we had with the free apps.
There’s a built-in task manager that lets you kill open apps. You’ll need to use it as some apps will hang, and others don’t like launching multiple times (see the next entry). Frustratingly, not all Bada apps behave well, so you get warned that “Unsaved data may be lost” if you click “End all applications”. You won’t be told which apps aren’t going to exit cleanly.
I used the Wave3 for three months, including travel and conferences, to get an idea of how it works. At the end of that time, I could not be happier to get rid of the phone, as the inconsistencies in the UI and the frequent failures were driving me crazy.
There were some positives to the device:
- The screen is amazing.
- The keyboard with haptic feedback is pretty good.
- The camera is not bad at all for a feature phone.
- The ability to tether other devices to this phone is really useful, and does not require contract changes. I wish this worked as well on the iPhone.
- Broken and unpolished UI.
- Lack of apps.
- the phone hangs and crashes for no reason.
For this device, the negatives definitely outweighed the positives.
Samsung are clearly making progress, and they are tying Bada into a whole ecosystem of services (music, movies, home hub with TV, app stores). But Bada is a woefully unpolished platform, and lacks attention to detail. It’s simply not acceptable to push out software like this in a world where there are very slick and refined alternatives.