The Samsung Conquer 4G (Sprint) made a name of itself last summer by being Sprint's first budget WiMAX 4G device. And considering the low asking price, what it brought to the table was surprisingly competent. Some might even say impressive. But almost twelve months later, entry-level 4G phones are somewhat commonplace. So does the Conquer still have what it takes? Actually, it does.
The first thing one will notice is its size: it's small. Granted, the 4.57" x 2.38" x 0.46" dimensions are on par with iPhone 4/4S (actually, it's ever so slightly thicker than Apple's handset), but when compared to most 4G Androids today, it's a dwarf among giants. Not only that, but thanks to its all-plastic build, the Conquer is also exceptionally lightweight.
It comes in at just 4.1 ounces, thanks to the aforementioned construction, as well as a relatively small screen and lack of physical keyboard. Does the phone feel cheap then? Far from it; while not rock heavy, the Conquer definitely feels rock solid, and even feels nice to hold, thanks to the textured back.
On the back is where one will find the 3.2 megapixel camera lens and LED flash. Such a low pixel count is hardly impressive these days, but a concession that one must accept with most budget smartphones. The phone's speaker grill is also located nearby. Unfortunately, the audio output is rather poor, and is one of phone's major misses.
The back is removable, and so is the battery. Behind the back is where one will also find the SD card slot. The Conquer comes with a 2GB MicroSD card already loaded, and can support cards that go up to 32GB. Which might be a wise investment, given the paltry amount of internal memory, just 512MB worth of RAM.
Returning to the Conquer's exterior: there's a volume rocker to the left, and dedicated camera shutter button to the right. The latter also activates the camera app once you're inside the phone. The bottom is where one will find the mini USB port for connecting the phone to a PC or AC adapter.
The top has the power button, which both shuts the device on and off, as well as put it to and from asleep, along with the headphone port. Which is the next major red flag for the device. First, because the device is so compact, a very small part of the headphone plug is exposed. The end result is a less than snug fit for any pair of headphones, and will cause them to become loose on a semi-regular basis, at least for anyone who is an active individual.
The placement is also awkward, and this is also where the phone's diminutive size works against it. Because there's not much to hold, it's tricky to both play a game that requires both hands to hold the Conqueror horizontally with headphones attached. Because the port is directly underneath one's palm, something to consider if you rely upon your phone for entertainment while traveling.
Up front is where you'll find the 3.5-inch TFT touchscreen display, with a 320x480 resolution. Again, hardly impressive, especially since almost every smartphone on the market today sports HD. You'll definitely notice pixels, but otherwise, everything looks nice and crisp. Best part is how the screen is easily viewable, even under direct sunlight.
Yet another negative that comes with the Conquer's minute profile is how it makes typing with the on-screen keyboard rather difficult. iPhone users will have no problem, but those who are accustomed to the nice big keys on larger Android handsets will find themselves making plenty of typos early on.
Another thing of note about the front is how the standard set of Android buttons are all physical inputs, which also slightly flares out. Something button mashers will surely enjoy. And near the top is also the 1.3 megapixel front facing camera.
Interface & Apps
Inside you'll find a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, which keeps things moving nice and smooth. The Conquer runs Gingerbread, 2.3.6 to be exact. Sorry no Ice Cream Sandwich support (and don't expect any, ever). Being a low-end device does have its perks, though; because the device is obviously low on theirs list of priorities, Samsung hasn't bothered with the TouchWiz coat of paint.
The end result is a more or less stock Android experience, and a breath of fresh air for fans of Samsung's hardware, but not so much their software. You'll also discover a certain degree of restraint from the carrier as well; there aren't too many apps that you never asked for and which you can't uninstall, like Sprint Zone, Sprint Hotspot, and Sprint Mobile Wallet.
Sprint Zone allows one to manage their account, and also view usage details, plus see when one is available for an upgrade. Sprint Hotspot is, as the name implies, allows one to share the Conquer's 4G signal with other Wi-Fi enabled devices. And Sprint Mobile Wallet is the carrier's own branded NFC payment system. What advantages it offers over the more widely used and accepted Google Wallet has not been made clear.
There's also Sprint ID, which deserves special mention since it's on the home screen app drawer, where it cannot be removed. For those unfamiliar, Sprint's ID Packs are a cluster of applications, wallpaper, ringtones, and other personalizations that are grouped together via themes or categories. Simply put, it acts as a stand-in for a system wide interface overlay that Samsung normally goes for.
It's great in theory, but the reality is a disappointment. The service has been around for more than a year, yet the offerings are both meager and underwhelming. Plus the very notion of being spared the trouble of sifting through Google's app marketplace is not exactly unappealing to most smartphone users. Though certain users, such as the elderly who would indeed find the Play Store overwhelming, ID Packs could come in handy.
Fortunately, one doesn't have to bother with ID Packs if one wishes not to. In the past, establishing a Sprint ID was a necessary step before getting started with a new phone, but not here. As is, one can simply stick with a mostly stock Android experience, with the minor annoyance of an unused icon on the home screen that's never going away.
Otherwise, there's not much to complain about, as it pertains to software. At least the ones that the Conquer is able to run. At this point, most apps found in the marketplace will run on Gingerbread, but given that time and technology always marches forward, specifically at the fast rate in which Android is updated, and especially how Gingerbread honestly is yesterday's news, you will not have access to everything. And that's a problem that will only worsen over time.
When it comes to using the device to actually make phone calls and other forms of communication, the news is good. The Conquer was tested in New York City, where voice quality was more than acceptable for both parties. Audio was clear with no background noise. Not once was a called dropped either, and given the wide coverage that Sprint has across the board, at least when it comes to voice, the same should be expected in most areas.
The only real issue came when trying to use speakerphone. The aforementioned speaker grill on the back just isn't up to the task. The other person sounded muffled and impossible to make out. The device has Bluetooth, so if one wishes not to make calls the traditional way, there is at least one other option that works.
The dialer itself, along with the call log, contacts, and favorites, is all stock Gingerbread. Nothing exciting to report, but nothing obtrusive either. And texting is exactly how it is on most other Gingerbread devices. But again, the small screen will make it a tad bit tricky to type as fast and as fluid as you normally might. This is where one's Swype's skills might be best used, though mistakes will still pop up.
Surfing the web with the stock browser is where the phone's 4G connectivity really shines. Pages load and render lighting fast, to a supremely impressive degree, given the cost and the size of the package. It's hard to say how its WiMAX speeds compare with other Sprint Android devices using the much newer (and superior) LTE standards, but one has to assume that it's not a deal killing difference (at least to most casual users looking to save a few dollars).
But the Gingerbread underpinning is mostly felt by the choice of browsers that the Conquer has, or lack therefore. The stock browser works just fine, but many will no doubt wish to have Chrome, especially since the mobile version is so tightly integrated with the desktop client. But alas, it is not available for the device, which will be a major disappointment to some.
Camera and Video
As previously noted, the Conquer has a 3.2 megapixel camera and, not surprisingly, overall picture plus video performance is underwhelming. While it's a reasonable trade off, given the bargain price of the phone, it still not much consolation when that spontaneous moment arrives that you want to cherish for a lifetime (or simply share with friends on Facebook) ends up being dull and washed out.
Still photos look perfectly decent outdoors, under the bright sun. But indoors is a different story, and if pictures are taken during the day, with plenty of natural lighting to be found, the chances for a not too grainy image are unavoidably high. But during night, picture quality plummets.
What's most unfortunate about this is that the camera itself is quite versatile. Because it's a straightforward Gingerbread camera app, there are a lot of options. Whereas most branded UIs will either obscure or flat out hide options. You have manual exposure adjustment, macro modes, scene modes, a plethora of auto exposure options.
Even the physical button is itself worth noting. Instead of pressing it to take a picture, end of story, one can adjust the focus when pressing it halfway through. Given all of the focus options at your disposal, you're at least given the chance to take a halfway decent snapshot, despite the not so terrific lens the Conquer is saddled with. And once more, it's a major bummer, no matter the price.
Videos are captured in VGA resolution, and the end result is not nearly as sexy as some of the HD capable handsets out there. But if you're looking to capture a moment while on vacation and are not interested in being the next Martin Scorsese, you'll be fine. Also on the plus side is how the image is nice and stable, with an acceptable degree of choppiness. Colors are washed out, but with VGA, you're honestly not going to get better.
Battery Life and Verdict
The battery life is perhaps the phone's one saving grace. After heavy use, which was a combination of making voice calls, surfing the web, watching videos, downloading apps, and taking pictures, the Conquer did a reasonable job of meeting the advertised six hours by a little more than five. Which, given the variety and length of the activities, is impressive.
At the end of the day, what we have is a device for those on a budget, and one that's clearly showing its age in today's marketplace, yet still coming through with some bang for your buck.
Right up front is the Conquer's compact size, and relatively light weight. Which, when coupled with the textured back, results in a device that's simply nice to hold and fits in your pocket with ease.
But inside that teeny tiny package is a speed demon. The 4G surf and download speeds is mighty impressive for a device that's supposed to be for super affordable. Plus the phone as a whole is very snappy, which is nice when compared to other budget devices.
Those expecting to be bombarded with a mountain of bloatware for the carrier can breath a sigh of relief. There are a few apps to be sure, but not nearly as many as one would expect, especially for a device that's relatively inexpensive.
The end result is a more or less stock Android experience. The biggest benefit is the camera app. With some pretty looking, but ultimately obtrusive custom UI getting in the way, you're left with an app that gives you a surprising amount of options, to make those pictures the very best that they can be.
We didn't like
Unfortunately, a cost-conscious handset is going to make concessions. The display takes one of the biggest hits for the team, with a touchscreen that is serviceable, but is also undeniably small. The low resolution prevents users from enjoying HD media, and the small surface space makes typing a bit of a pain.
The audio jack is also awkwardly placed, so trying to listen to headphones while holding the device by both sides horizontally, like when playing a game, is just a pain. Making matters worse is how your headphones will constantly slip out, due to a less than snug connection.
The worst part is how headphones are a necessity. Because the speaker quality on the back of the phone is rather poor. And while we appreciate a mostly stock Android experience, it's yesterday's Android experience. So some of today's hottest apps, such as Google Chrome, will not be accessible.
Despite how feature rich the camera app might be, and the control options that are provided up front, the 3.2 megapixel camera will be the reason why most images, despite your best attempts, will remain washed out and dull.
If you want to pay next to nothing for a 4G smartphone, but want a little something after-all, the Samsung Conquer 4G (Sprint) should be considered. You certainly have other options out there, and they should be considered as well. But it's combination of price, profile, power, and ease of use is a force to be reckoned with.
Just be sure that you know what you'll be getting. So long as you don't mind being locked out of some of today and tomorrow's apps, can handle a less than spiffy display, are able to tolerate less than perfect looking pictures, and figure out a way to hold the phone that will prevent the headphones from slipping out, you'll be fine.