October 26, 2014

Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE Review

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Samsung has been on a huge roll as of late, and they’re looking to continue that with the Galaxy Victory 4G LTE. The Victory is available at a Sprint store near you for the low price of $99.99 (after $50 mail-in rebate) for new and upgrading customers. While it does boast some decent specs, my two weeks with this device were admittedly not the best. The device as a whole is solid and would certainly satisfy anyone looking for Android on a budget. But several minor grievances that I had with the Victory 4G LTE weakened my outlook on it. I’ll jump into those momentarily, but first let’s take a quick gander at what’s under the hood:

  • 4-inch, 480 x 800 WVGA display
  • 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 processor
  • Android 4.0.4 with Samsung’s TouchWiz
  • 5MP rear camera with LED flash
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • NFC
  • 2,100mAh battery
  • 4GB memory, microSD card slot

Now that we know what we’re dealing with, there are a few positives and negatives that will ultimately make or break this device for some people. If you’re as picky as I am, the negatives might completely destroy any hope you had for liking the Victory 4G LTE. But for the average consumer that might not be as bothered by them, the positives make for a pretty nice Android phone at a low price.

The Good

  • Camera performs admirably
  • TouchWiz is useful without affecting performance very much
  • Screen is very nice, as expected from a Samsung device
  • Future-proofed with LTE
  • Camera button (yes, I love camera buttons. Sue me.)

The Bad

  • Device is a bit thick
  • Build quality gives off a cheap plastic feel that may not appeal to many
  • Call quality has room for improvement
  • Samsung’s keyboard + small display = frustrated Justin

The Ugly

  • The capacitive keys are the biggest blemish on this device. More on those later.

Hardware

Samsung has more or less been known for making smartphones that have a plastic feel to them. This is evident in the Galaxy S3, which has sold millions of units all over the world. Obviously this means that Sammy is doing something right, but the Victory 4G LTE is definitely not going to appeal to as many users as the GS3 does. The device fits very well in the hand, although it is a tad small for my taste. I was actually surprised to see that Samsung had moved the power/lock button from the right side to the top, as that’s always been somewhat of a staple of theirs.

As mentioned, it is on the thicker side. I’m not entirely sure why, as it holds the same 2,100mAh battery found in the crazy thin GS3. The thickness won’t bother most, but if you’re looking for the slimmest device out there, you’re in the wrong place. Obviously this makes the Victory a bit more hefty, but the weight isn’t very cumbersome. While it is a mid-range device, the Victory 4G LTE doesn’t feel cheap. The added weight (of which I still cannot determine the purpose) actually gives the device a sort of solid feel, almost as if to reassure the user that they’re actually holding a device and not just a featherweight piece of plastic. Or maybe that’s just my imagination running wild. Of course, this is all personal preference in the end. If you know what you’re looking for in a device, and plastic isn’t your thing, it’s safe to say the the Victory isn’t your soulphone.

DISPLAY

Samsung has always been known for making killer displays, but the Victory isn’t necessarily being marketed as a device with a Super-duper AMOLED Plus Extreme 78,000 display. It’s rocking a simple, 4-inch WVGA display that performed very well and exceeded my expectations. It’s obviously not a competitor to the GS3 or HTC One X+, but it should get the job done for most users. That being said, the screen size is going to be a bit more dependent on the individual. Coming from larger displays (Galaxy Nexus and a GS3), it took some adjusting to be able to use the Victory. But after some time and general use of the phone, I was fairly comfortable with it. That is, until I tried to type something on Samsung’s keyboard. But more on that later.

Camera(s)

The Victory boasts a 5MP rear camera with an LED flash, and I’m not very surprised with the results. It’s not a very souped-up camera, but what did you expect from a mid-range device? I experienced no major issues with the camera, and it produced great photos nearly every time.

I’ve always been a fan of the work that Samsung does with cameras, and this is no exception. The fact that Samsung threw in a camera button (for kicks and giggles, perhaps?) makes it all the more sweeter. The 1.3MP front-facing camera produced decent photos, and will probably satisfy the average, self-portrait-taking user.

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The Capacitive Keys (dun dun dunnn)

Yes, they get their own heading. They’re that terrible. Samsung took a strange route with the three capacitive buttons on the Victory (Menu, Home, and Back). The buttons themselves are outlined in a chrome finish, and set on the gray plastic of the bottom of the device, they’re not very easy to spot. Upon first glance, they looked like hardware buttons, and I actually tried to physically press them down several times before realizing that they weren’t moving. After using the device for a few weeks, I can honestly say that I wish that they were hardware buttons, or that Samsung had not put the chrome outline on them. They look so much like physical buttons that it literally made me sad every time I had to press one of them, only to discover that they’re just shiny, capacitive joy thieves.

So, we have capacitive keys that look like hardware keys. I suppose can live with that. But as I set up the device and made my usual rounds through the settings, I noticed that the keys didn’t vibrate when I pressed them. After looking into the Sounds section, I found nothing related to haptic feedback. Puzzled, I looked through the other sections, but came up with nada. Apparently Samsung did not think that users might like to have haptic feedback on capacitive buttons at all. It’s not like Android devices have had that option for years or anything. Just go with your gut, Sammy.

Sure, users can set the keys to make a sound when pressed, but this also means that every screen press makes the same sound. How many users want to be that person in the elevator? The fact that haptic feedback was not included baffles me. Not even giving users the option to enable or disable vibration with capacitive keys makes no sense to me at all. This is one of those minor grievances I mentioned at the beginning of the review, that may irritate some and not affect others at all. It all comes down to informed choices and personal preference.

Performance

I haven’t been disappointed with the Victory’s performance, which isn’t really surprising given the 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor. Quadrant scores lingered around 4200, putting it amidst some of the best devices of today. From day-to-day usage, I noticed little to no lag, and everything flowed very smoothly. Video playback gave me no issues, and I was even able to play some Dead Trigger (although it wasn’t particularly fun on such a  small display) without any problems.The only complaint I might have would be with the recognition speed of Samsung’s keyboard, but that probably doesn’t have as much to do with the processor as it does with my fast typing and Samsung’s irritating keyboard.

As I mentioned in my review of the Photon Q, Sprint’s 4G LTE network is still in its infancy. At the moment, there’s no coverage in my area (Birmingham, AL), so I was stuck on 3G. As much as it pains me to see Sprint releasing so many LTE devices, they’re building a lineup that won’t just become useless when they finally get a strong LTE footprint. If you’re in an area that’s lucky enough to have Sprint LTE coverage, you have nothing to worry about. But if you’re not, or if you’re in an area that’s not likely to get such coverage, the “4G LTE” part of the Victory’s name probably isn’t your biggest concern anyway.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Victory has been more or less great, at least in my few weeks with it. The 2,100mAh battery serves its purpose, and I made it through a day of heavy usage before the device had to be charged. Some users might be looking for a battery that lasts days (looking at you, Razr Maxx), but I’d say the average user just wants to be able to make it through a day without worrying about a low battery warning. The Victory will most likely do that for you, unless you’re a power user that eats 1,500mAh batteries for breakfast.

Software

The Victory 4G LTE comes with Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box, which seems to be what most of the OEMs are launching mid-range devices with nowadays. Samsung hasn’t even hinted at a Jelly Bean update, and I’m not holding my breath for one. The average consumer probably won’t even notice the difference, and a mid-range handset not getting an update isn’t a huge surprise in today’s market.

TouchWiz: the Do’s and Don’ts

Beyond all the usual ICS goodies, Samsung has thrown TouchWiz into the mix, in an attempt to give users the best experience possible. TouchWiz, like pretty much every other manufacturer UI, is a love-or-hate kind of thing. It actually does pack some pretty useful apps and services, like S-Voice, Memo, a native file manager, and Samsung’s Media Hub. So if you’re a content junkie that likes talking to your phone and taking notes, you’ve come to the right OEM (insert sarcastic thumbs-up here)!

NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE PERFECT

While all those apps are great, not every part of TouchWiz is productive. Samsung’s virtual keyboard is hindered by the small 4-inch display, and typing on it is nearly impossible, at least for me. After just a few tweets with the keyboard, I jumped into the Play Store and installed SwiftKey X. The problem with Samsung’s keyboard is not that it’s not responsive or that predictive text doesn’t work very well. The issue lies with the keys themselves, which are much too small for my taste. But if you’ve got smaller hands or enjoy typing on a small keyboard, you’ll have nothing to worry about. I also noticed that Samsung neglected to include haptic feedback on their keyboard, just like they did with the capacitive buttons (I’m sensing a pattern here). This was a nuisance, and again baffled me. But of course, a quick download of your favorite third-party  is all that’s needed to rectify this.

The TW launcher is actually somewhat nice, despite a few little things that bother me. The biggest of these pitfalls lies within the folder functionality of the launcher. In stock ICS, one simply has to drag an application over another to create a folder. In TouchWiz, dragging an application over another only moves the latter out of its spot. To create a folder, the user has to either long press the homescreen and add a folder manually, or long-press an application from the app drawer, and drag it to the far left of the dock. As if that wasn’t irksome enough for someone coming from stock Android, the folders are visually unappealing, and reminiscent something one might see in Froyo.

Another rather bothersome aspect of TouchWiz on the Victory appeared in the form of a Wi-Fi bug. At random, WiFi will be turned on without the user’s knowledge. I adjusted every setting, but this still happened to me countless times. The weird part is that it never connected to a network. The Wi-Fi would turn on and scan for networks by itself, but wouldn’t actually connect to any, even networks I had connected to before. There’s no clear reason for Wi-Fi to turn on and then not be of use, but hopefully Samsung will patch it up with an update. Of course, I suppose it’s better than constantly being notified that you’re not connected to Wi-Fi (I’m looking at you, Incredible 4G LTE).

As mentioned, the Victory comes with the standard set of Samsung applications, none of which can be uninstalled. Also taking up room are Sprint Hotspot, Sprint iD, and Sprint Zone. As far as carrier bloatware goes, the Victory certainly isn’t the worst, and the average user probably won’t open most of the apps anyway.

Final Thoughts

While it does have some major issues to be worked out, the Victory 4G LTE won’t disappoint the typical consumer. It’s a budget device, so it’s naturally not going to blow anyone away. Samsung’s keyboard on a small display like this is cumbersome, but that’s easily fixed with SwiftKey or some other third-party keyboard. The TW launcher doesn’t play very nice with folders, but one could simply install Apex or Nova, and problem solved. The point I’m making is that most of the cons of the Victory come with software, and nearly all of them can be fixed.

My fingers are crossed for a Samsung update that fixes the capacitive buttons, but they’re probably not as big of a deal for others as they are for a picky user like myself. Bottom line, the Victory will be a great device for a family member that’s new to Android, which is probably the market that Samsung and Sprint are appealing to in the first place. For a hundred bucks, it’ll get the job done.