Verizon claims one of the best non-smartphones and mostly succeeds. (October 17th, 2009)
The Samsung Rogue is evidence of the lines blurring between smartphones and conventional ("feature") phones, with an OLED touchscreen, ample hardware and a focus on messaging. But with a price tag very much in the ballpark of true smartphones like the iPhone and higher-end BlackBerries, is the Rogue a viable contender or the product of overengineering?
Product Manufacturer: Samsung
Price: $200 (two-year contract, Verizon)
- Brilliant AMOLED screen.
- Good keyboard and ergonomic grip.
- Capable software pack; surprisingly good browser.
- Camera app better than usual on these phones.
- Expensive for a non-smartphone.
- Unconventional keyboard layout.
- Slight wiggle when keyboard is extended.
- Relatively thick.
hardware and design
The Rogue is perhaps the largest form-factor phone we've reviewed in recent months. Samsung has made good use of the phone's size and centers it on just two but very important elements: a touchscreen and a large, backlit keypad. The 3.1-inch, 480x800 resolution screen is an AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) display and easily one of the brightest we've reviewed as of late, with rich colors; about its only drawback is, as with the Zune HD and other OLED devices, a tendency to wash out in bright daylight. The touch sensitivity on the screen is well-calibrated, but we found the continued haptic (vibration) feedback during scrolling to be more annoying than helpful. The keypad is in a quasi-QWERTY layout and we quickly got comfortable with its design for e-mail or text messages, though the placement of the directional keys means you may make a few accidental presses at first.
The back of the phone has a relatively upscale, carbon fiber look to it and houses the 3-megapixel camera and flash. Just below the camera is the battery faceplate and removable battery. The left side of the phone features the volume controls and charging port while the right has the microSD slot, a standard sized 3.5mm headphone jack and some phone controls. The slide-out keyboard pops open and closed easily and the keyboard seems quite sturdy. Like many sliding devices, there is some side-to-side flexibility when the keyboard is extended, but nothing severe.
As such, there's little to object to with the Rogue's hardware; it feels comfortable in the hand, if somewhat thick, and has all the expansion you'd expect of most modern devices.
software and apps
The Rogue, like many newer Samsung phones, hinges on Samsung's custom TouchWiz interface. The particular version implemented on the Rogue is well designed and easy to navigate with widgets on the home screen and very clearly defined icons once you dig deeper. The software does seem to hesitate slightly when opening or closing menus, but it's not particularly sluggish. Like any other modern Verizon phone, this features a bevy of the carrier's in-house media applications for V CAST as well as the (regrettably subscription-only) VZ Navigator software for driving directions. A built-in media player serves its purpose well enough, though it's clearly simpler than on some newer devices.
Its stock browser loads web content quickly and easily. We found browsing to be relatively accurate for a non-smartphone browser and the integration of social media apps to be seamless, even if they're not quite on the level of full third-party apps you'd expect on more advanced platforms. YouTube videos were watchable and loaded quickly but there was certainly additional artifacting from the phone's approach to decompression; the quality just isn't as clean as on devices with hardware video processing and reveals the weaker processing power underneath.
Like many of the phones we've reviewed lately the camera on the Rogue offers a number of useful advanced settings that were relatively easy to access. That said, the camera is not the focus here and isn't so good as to replace a dedicated point-and-shoot unit. Our preference for camera phones still lies in high-powered examples like the Nokia N95.
call quality and usability
Given the sheer number of frills on the Rogue, it's easy to overlook the most important aspect: the ability to send and receive quality phone calls. The Rogue has surprisingly excellent call quality with no noticeable echoes or static. The phone is easy to hold when talking, and the shortcuts the phone offers to contacts, Bluetooth, and other features during calls are useful.
Battery life on the Rogue is strong. Besides holding up well during a day of active use, we left the phone sit for days at a time between testing during our review and the phone kept its charge for longer than we expected. We also appreciate a rare insistence in feature phones for using a USB connection both for data transfer and for power; even today, many non-smartphones either use proprietary connectors or only allow one function or the other.
We won't go as far as to pronounce the Rogue a smartphone killer. At its price, it's very easy to opt for the BlackBerry Storm2 (imminent as of this writing) or an HTC device like the Imagio or Touch Pro2. The Rogue may fade into the background further still if you're not attached to a particular carrier, as it then opens the door to the iPhone or any one of several Android phones on the market, including the very similarly shaped and featured Samsung Moment on Sprint. If apps are your focus, turn elsewhere.
However, as a contender in the quasi-smartphone arena, it's delightfully capable and may actually be more appealing for those who want a simpler experience. Those who most value the hardware -- a large slide-out keyboard, a very high-resolution and colorful touchscreen with a good interface, and good call quality -- the Rogue is a great fit. Its bundled software is appealing, too. Just be aware of your alternatives before you commit.