galaxy round review 19 640x426When it was announced, the Samsung Galaxy Round has sparked a lot of interest and curiosity since it is Samsung’s first phone that comes with a slightly curved display. Interestingly, although the underlying AMOLED display is somewhat “flexible”, the phone itself is curved. There was a lot of preconceptions (if not misconceptions) about what a “curved” phone should look like, or whether it should exist at all.

Some said that it should “roll completely” (what’s the point of a stick-phone if it occupies the same volume?), while others didn’t see any value in a curve design, calling it a “gimmick”… well, if  “design” variations was a gimmick, maybe we should all wear the same shoes. After all, they all protect our feet, and that’s all we want right? Of course not… Let’s look at the Galaxy round as we would with any other phone: how does it feel? What does it do for you? How good is it in the real world? By the end of this review, you will have the answer to all these questions.

Galaxy Round Specifications

  • 5.95 x 3.13 x 0.31 inches, 154g
  • 32GB + microSD (64 max)
  • Snapdragon 800, 3GB RAM
  • Android 4.3
  • 2800 mAh battery
  • 5.7” AMOLED display (1920×1080), 386ppi

As you can see, the specifications are “high-end” and very close to what you could get from the Galaxy Note 3, which is one of the best large-display smartphones available today. Design aside, the smaller 2800mAh battery and the absence of a stylus are the most glaring differences with its Note 3 cousin. Other than that, everything is nearly the same.

Context

Before we dive into the full review, let me tell you what I do with my phones – that’s the kind of details that shed new light on the whole review. I hope that by knowing where I come from, you can picture what your own usage of the phone would be. I mainly use my smartphones to keep up with email (exchange), social networks and browse the web. I don’t really play much or watch movies on my phones. However, I’ll happily listen to music while I’m in a long flight. I tend to use less than 20 apps on a regular basis, and I try to keep my phone as clean as possible.

Industrial Design

galaxy round review 10 640x426It’s fair to say that the Samsung Galaxy Round is first and foremost a Samsung Galaxy phone with a slightly different take on design. While it is routinely compared to the LG Flex, it’s interesting to note that both phones have a completely opposite use of the screen curvature. The Galaxy Round has been designed to make a relatively large phone fit with a greater comfort in small hands, thanks to the gentle curve.

"DESIGN GOAL: MAKE A LARGE PHONE FEEL BETTER IN THE HAND. THAT ONE IS A HIT"  

While in Seoul, Korea, I noticed that it is extremely common to see people with big phones, and since the network is excellent and that there are WiFi access point everywhere, people do use them quite a bit. Also, because many users take the train and other means of public transportation, the one hand usage isn’t as big of a deal as when you’re driving (you should probably not use the phone while driving…).

Much has been said about the Galaxy Round, especially in regards to its “flexible” screen. First of all, let’s clarify this: the phone is NOT flexible. It was designed to be “curved” and although the underlying AMOLED display has some flexibility property, the product does not. Since the Round was a product designed for the Korean market I’m not sure that Samsung paid a particular attention to how the “flexibility talk” would be interpreted in the west and some of it was misunderstood. Morality: every single Samsung product release should be treated as a “global communications” matter.

OK, so how does it feel?

galaxy round review 16 640x426 First let’s address the width of the phone: it is about the same as the Galaxy Note 3’s, so overall this remains a large and relatively wide phone. The main difference to me is that when holding the Note 3, most of the pressure is on either side of the phone. On the Galaxy Round, the curved back help relieve some of that.

Stylus and camera performance aside, I prefer the ergonomics of the Galaxy Round when holding it in my hand. The second question that one may have is: how does it feel in the (pants) pocket? I was a bit worried about this, but it turns out that if I put it in my pocket with the curvature is a good fit against my thigh, so it feels a little better than the Galaxy Note 3. It works equally well in the back pocket, although I think that the LG Flex is a better back pocket phone because you can sit on it.

All around look

galaxy round review 21 640x426

The Galaxy Round uses a very standard Samsung layout: at the top, you can find a noise-cancelling microphone, an infra-red emitter and the 3.5mm audio connector. On the right side, the Power button is the only protruding feature and at the bottom, there’s another noise-cancelling microphone near the USB 3.0 connector.

Finally, on the left side, there’s the Volume control. Just below the screen there’s a big “home” button that is typical to Samsung phones. The front is fairly clean with the ear speaker location being a bit busy with the chrome speaker grill and the Samsung logo, along with the various sensors, webcams and LED indicator. In the back, this phone gets the same faux-leather treatment as the Galaxy Note

Display (Very good+)

galaxy round review 08 640x426As usual, Samsung is using a beautiful AMOLED screen. This one has a diagonal of 5.7” and provides an excellent image quality and color rendering (if you like very saturated colors). AMOLED displays tend to have an excellent contrast and black-levels (blacks are really blacks and not gray) because each pixel illuminates itself.

"SURPRISE: TEXT TYPING FEELS BETTER WITH THE CURVED SCREEN"   LCDs on the other hand cannot match this because the light source and pixels are separated, so black happens by trying to prevent light form going through. Since it’s not easy, black pixels are often “dark gray”. The curvature of the display is not really visually noticeable.

However from “tactile” point of view, the curvature is most noticeable while swiping from left to right. It feels pretty good, and I like it very much. It is a more agreeable when typing on the keyboard, even though the distance from thumb to screen varies only by a tiny amount when compared to a flat display. I can’t say that it improves my typing performance or something like that, but it does feel better.

Galaxy Round Camera (Very good+)

galaxy round photo tiles 640x364From a camera perspective, the Galaxy Round is very close to what I can get with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I have uploaded some photos to Flickr in case you want to see the full-size pictures. Some have been taken in relatively difficult or extremely difficult lighting situations. That should give you a good spectrum of what to expect.

The Galaxy Round takes sharp pictures in normal day light, and so do most high-end phones. Those pictures look good even on a 30” monitor, and you can use them for a number of things, including prints. In very low-light situations, the photos are no longer fit for print because there is a lot of post-processing going on, but they are perfectly usable for web purposes like Facebook or Twitter The settings actually make the night time images a little brighter than what your eyes can see (provided that there is some light…) and all you need to do is to make sure that the camera and subjects don’t move too much because the shutter speed will be as low as possible.

At this particular “low-light game” high-end Nokia phones and the LG G2 remain the best handsets out there, but the Galaxy family is able to mount a good defense and stand its ground.

Software

galaxy round review 31 640x360 Out of the box, my Galaxy Round was loaded with Android 4.3, and came with the usual Touchwiz user interface and a selection of apps that Samsung likes to preload on the device. Samsung provides its own set of apps to address popular needs like a voice recorder, TV guide, S Health (works better with the health accessories) S-Translator, S-Voice (voice commands) and Story Album (robotized story-telling based on your photo album).

I like the TV Guide and S-Translator a lot, and the latter is particularly useful when traveling in Asian countries. On the surface, it looks like Google Translate, but there are small details that make it more convenient to use, thanks to the split screen and dual “Speak” buttons. You need to sign into a Samsung account to use it (why?), and that’s the only downside to this otherwise very cool app.

My unit had a number of Korean apps as well, but the important part here is to keep in mind that it is up to the wireless carrier to choose which apps will be embedded or not, so my unit may not be representative of the one you may get your hands-on. In general, I wouldn’t mind much if I could uninstall apps, but some of them are locked in. The other alternative is to “disable” them in Settings>General>Applications Manager. galaxy round review 29 640x360 There is one new thing that Samsung has added to the round, and it is the notifications reveal when the phone is slightly tilted on its side. If you have the phone on a table, you can press the side to lift it slightly and after a moment, the display will turn on and show the latest notifications.

It’s kind of cool, but it takes a while to show up, and I’m guessing that this is because the software only relies on the motion sensor, and isn’t sure if the tilt happens because the user wants to see notifications, or if the move is just moving. So it most likely wait and look for other types of motion and if none happens, it determines that this is indeed an intentional tilt. Phew.

"THE TILT NOTIFICATION REVEAL IS A GOOD IDEA BUT IT NEEDS MORE WORK"  

I would recommend Samsung to use a combination of tilt motion AND screen-pressure to detect if the user wants to tilt the phone on purpose. The downside is that it may require to turn some display hardware ON. The final solution is to add yet one more sensor, but of course, this is never the first option. Morality: good idea, but it’s not quite practical yet.

Entertainment (excellent)

In terms of entertainment capabilities, the Galaxy Round is excellent: thanks to its Snapdragon 800 hardware platform, it can easily play movies (including some 4K movies) and can play music using a fraction of its resources. The big screen makes it pretty appealing to watch movies on, and in portrait more, the curvature isn’t noticeable (I was wondering when I first opened the box…!) If the curve was to be more accentuated, I’m curious to see what impact it would have when watching movies or playing games. galaxy round review 30 640x360 Video games are fast – that’s not surprising since the Snapdragon 800’s Adreno 330 graphics processor is one of the fastest option available to handset makers — that is until someone uses the NVIDIA K1 chip in a phone. We’ll see by this summer, most likely. In the meantime, I was able to run Riptide GP 2 at a solid 60 FPS, which is very nice.

The loudspeaker in the back sounds very good. It’s not as nice as having two speakers in the front in the sense that you can tell the sound is mainly coming from one side of the phone, but overall, it is enjoyable, and I had to charge my Note 3 and compare side by side to notice that the Note 3 has a slightly louder sound but the Galaxy Round’s audio seems to have a little bit more body.

It’s well within range, so for practical purposes I would say that both are very comparable and I suspect that the difference is mainly due to the different orientation of the speakers: the Round fires sound towards the back while the Note 3 does it on the side.

Galaxy Round System Performance (excellent)

The same performance evoked in the “Entertainment” section comes to life in the benchmarks. Since this is a more recent device, Samsung has had time to improve the overall scores, and it’s not surprising to see numbers that are up there.

Of course, there’s always the shadow of past “optimizations” – if not cheating – (many companies look for an edge) but it’s been pretty much proven that Snapdragon 800 is a top performer, and that you should not actually buy a phone based on benchmark numbers.They are a good general indicator of the performance of the phone, but what matters is really the perceived performance and how it makes your life better.

galaxy round benchmarks antutu4

galaxy round benchmarks geekbench multi

galaxy round benchmarks geekbench single

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galaxy round benchmarks 3dmark

 

Speaking of perceived performance, I felt that the Samsung Galaxy Round was very nice to use. I used to complain about the relative lag of the TouchWiz user interface when compared to the stock Android UI that I get in my Google Edition phones. However, important progress has been made in that particular area, and we are very (very!) far from the Galaxy Note 1 days where the responsiveness was in question. Overall, the Galaxy Round feels just as fast as its cousin the Galaxy Note 3, and sits high up there in terms of perceived performance.

Galaxy Round Battery Life (very good)

galaxy round review 24 640x426With a 2800mAh battery, the Samsung Galaxy Round won’t topple the Galaxy Note 3, which remains the Samsung phone with the biggest batter capacity. Since the Round is curved, Samsung couldn’t use a big flat battery in it – it is simple physics, although being able to “shape” batteries will be critical in the future.

The Round still fares pretty well in the battery tests: Playing 60mn of streaming video on Google Play took out 12% of the batter life, which is a theoretical 8.3 hrs of online movies. If you pre-download a 1080p movie, only 9% of the battery will be used, which is like 11hrs of local HD movies (convenient for in-flight usage). Fortunately, there’s 32GB of internal storage because 5hrs of full-HD movie occipes about 25GB or so… I’ve run Riptide GP for 60mn and 22% of the battery was consumed during that time.

That’s about 4.5hrs of high-end video games, and at 60FPS the phone has rendered 216,000 frames, or 448 billion pixels (60 frames per second for 3600 seconds at 2,073,600 pixels per frame – assuming that the actual rendering is not done in 720p then up-scaled). Not bad! galaxy round review 06 640x426 Note that the Korean version of the phone comes with an extra battery, and this is very typical for high-end phones over there. However, in the rest of the world, this may –or may not- be the case, so do some homework in case you expect that to happen. Test conditions:  the battery test was done without a SIM card in the unit (it’s a Korean phone), with WiFi ON, Bluetooth OFF, and the display was set at 150 LUX on a white image.

Conclusion (Excellent)

galaxy round review 01 640x426If you make abstraction of the stylus, the Samsung Galaxy Round is just as worthy as a Galaxy Note 3, and for my personal use, it is slightly better since I don’t really use the stylus. The Round is one of the top large-display Android phone, which is unfortunately not available in the U.S right now.

"WITH ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, I WOULD CHOOSE THIS DESIGN OVER THE GALAXY NOTE 3"  

The main feature of the phone – the curvature – is a matter of personal preferences but I find that it goes add some comfort in the handling of the phone. That’s is really up to you to decide if you like the design or not, but I recommend holding one before forming a final opinion. I’m really curious to see how this will going to evolve. As you may have understood by now, the main goal of the curved design is to bring a little extra comfort through slightly different ergonomics – that’s it.

The difference with a flat phone is not “earth-shattering”, but with all else was being equal, I would opt for this design if I had to choose between the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Round. That said, not all is equal and the Note 3′s superior battery capacity remains a very strong feature. It’s not easy to innovate with form-factors, and some companies have been happily using “tweaks” of the same design for years, so I don’t feel like we should stone people who try things because it doesn’t look “innovative enough”.

There is no harm in trying something new and although people like to see “revolutionary” steps, the truth is that electronics is one of the most “evolutionary” sector. What’s wonderful about it is the steady pace at which things move and small incremental improvements compound nicely over the years.

Overall product rating: 9/10

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