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What’s the Point of a 4G LTE Smartphone When It Doesn’t Keep Up With You?

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According to Verizon Wireless, Droid does–it allows you to surf the web in all of its full glory with Adobe Flash support, download files and videos at blazing fast 4G LTE speeds, and contain the full power of Android. Given those premises, the Droid Charge, which I had reviewed, sounds like a true winner. However, the question in this post-PC era shouldn’t be about specs–on paper, the Droid Charge sounds like a great device with 1 GHz Hummingbird CPU, Android 2.2, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, 4G LTE network support, simultaneous voice and data use, and 32 GB of memory on a micro SDHC card–it should be about if the Droid Charge can keep up with your fast 4G-enriched lifestyle. After having spent some more time with the device since my initial review, the answer is a mixed one as the Droid Charge excels in some areas but leaves a lot to be desired in others, especially since the device feels like it is capable of so much more.

4G LTE is fast, there’s no denying it, and technically, so is Samsung’s own single-core 1 GHz processor, which was found in the carrier’s Samsung Galaxy S flagship Android phones released last year. However, as I’ve noted in my review, for whatever reason, the 1 GHz processor did not keep up with the Droid Charge, and I’m not sure if it’s the more limited RAM, the extensive domination over the Android user experience by the company’s proprietary TouchWiz UI, or the fact that my expectations have changed for what 4G LTE speeds should be like, both online and on a device.

In use, the browser is fast and download speeds were impressive. Navigating the phone, rather than the Internet, was a different story and constant, noticeable lags left me wondering what’s really going on. These pauses–literal pauses on the device when I am waiting for it to do what I have asked it to, like swipe over to the next home screen when I flick my finger with a gesture–left me wanting to give the device another more obscene gesture by raising a finger as it just freezes for a few seconds, and then does its thing. The issue is apparent both when I had just cleared out the memory through a restart and when the device has been running for a while, and it happens throughout the device, from launching an application to swiping to the next home screen to launching the applications drawer, which is the worst of them all. For some reason, TouchWiz thinks that it really needs to re-load the applications drawer with apps every so often, and I am left with sometimes 30-60 seconds of waiting for my apps to reload.

That’s not say that the Thunderbolt, however, isn’t without fault. On the Thunderbolt, HTC’s Sense UI is with its own problems. When I flick through to the Calendar widget, it wants to refresh itself, and the same happens with the Contacts widget as it tries to download the latest social network updates. I can be left with a not-so-updated status update message from my BFF when all I want to do is make a quick call. HTC Sense crashes constantly as well, but in spite of all that, the UI remains fast without the lags. And although the Droid Charge’s TouchWiz UI doesn’t pop up with a crash alert box, I find that the widgets are trying to reload and re-draw itself every so often much like what happens when HTC Sense crashes. On the homescreen, sometimes there’s a 5-second delay as some of the Samsung-made widgets, including those for the Daily Briefing app and the integrated clock and weather widget, are re-drawing themselves.

Another issue on the Droid Charge may be its more limited amount of ROM and RAM on the device than the Thunderbolt, creating the issues of lag. True, as Apple had mentioned, that specs may not matter, but there should be enough memory on the device to run things speedily. In terms of ROM, there’s less than 1 GB of ROM when the device is fresh, and that quickly dwindles as you install applications, even if the applications are installed to a memory card under Android 2.2. That issue wasn’t present on the HTC Thunderbolt, and the Thunderbolt ships with just under 2 GB ROM. Additionally, RAM on the Droid Charge clocks in at a paltry 328 MB. Despite shipping with a task manager, power users are going to find that the Charge’s RAM quickly fills up fast, especially with TouchWiz dominating the Android experience.

The limited RAM translates to pauses when you’re using the device. Hitting the home button to take you back to the home screen from the task manager nets you a 2-second delay sometimes, and that simply is not acceptable.

These initial two 4G LTE smartphones have left me wanting more from my devices. Verizon’s network clearly delivers, and it’d be great to get devices that can keep up with the network and my use. As a consumer, and a demanding tech user and writer, I shouldn’t have to make the unsavory compromise of a 3G phone like the Fascinate or Droid Incredible 2 that works, or a 4G LTE device that crashes but gives me blazing fast Internet speeds. To be fair, though, the Droid Charge has yet to still be unleashed to the masses, and hopefully Samsung and Verizon can fix TouchWiz with a firmware update before the device will be officially launched for mass purchase.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

18 Comments

  1. Nbg2

    05/09/2011 at 7:12 pm

    @chuong I seem to remember a post I saw quite some time ago, before the Charge had a name, that said that Touchwiz can be disabled on the Charge, and the native Android UI put into action, instead. Is that correct? Have you tried it? The article seemed to imply that one can toggle between the UIs.

    • Chuong Nguyen

      05/09/2011 at 7:24 pm

      That article was published with outside sources. From my experience with the Droid Charge, I haven’t found a way to disable TouchWiz. I’ve seen guides online for disabling TouchWiz on other Galaxy S variants, like the Epic 4G on Sprint, and have tried to replicate the process on the Charge without success. I’ll keep you updated if I find a way to toggle TW.

      • Nbg2

        05/09/2011 at 8:32 pm

        @chuong – one other thought. Several people have suggested that you can just substitute a UI launcher like Launcher Pro or ADW Launcher. I’m not sure if that will speed up the UI or actually make it even slower, since I am not familiar with what it does to launch the alternate UI (does it launch instead of or on top of TW?) Do you know?

  2. Muddy B00ts

    05/09/2011 at 7:20 pm

    All skins suck. Period. Touchwiz wins the award for being the worst piece of garbage ever to be installed on a phone. Best solution is to root and install an aosp (Android Open Source Project) Rom. A really great solution for everybody else is to just install Launcher Pro Plus, (in the market) blazing fast launcher and incredibly useful widgets.

  3. Nbg2

    05/09/2011 at 8:13 pm

    @Chuong – I found an Epic TW UI toggle at http://www.droidforums.net/forum/samsung-fascinate/80380-how-disable-touchwiz.html Please let me know if this is what you tried. In the meantime, I will keep trying to find the original post that I saw on the subject.

  4. Anonymous

    05/11/2011 at 3:05 pm

    Why does Verizon’s update state it will give the Thunderbolt better 3G connectivity and all I really want is my 4G LTE!

  5. anabolic steroids blog

    05/12/2011 at 12:31 pm

    it def needs a speed boost

  6. Guest

    05/13/2011 at 8:52 pm

    I am thinking of returning my HTC Thunderbolt to get Charge. The battery life is just not acceptable. Am surprised by the the small difference in the two battery capacity and Samsung could get 3hrs more it.
    Is the Samsung screen or chip more energy efficient?
     

  7. John Smith

    06/06/2011 at 5:32 am

    Is 4G LTE that much faster than 3G or even 4G?http://4gltephones.blogspot.com  

  8. Jon Twork

    06/14/2012 at 7:43 am

    Real Question:
    What is the point of 4G if I only have 5Gb of throughput/month?
    I got my 4G data card and was over my limit for the month in 6 days.
    My Droid X was slower than slow on the same tower system. Would not do much at all. 700Mhz has its problems. Mostly overloading by Verizon and too low of throughput for my continued use for work stuff on the road. It is depressing.
    I guess it is all about Smartphones and Buckets, now.
    How big is your bucket?

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