Samsung Wave 723 review

The Samsung Wave 723 (GT-S7230E) is Samsung’s latest Bada phone. If you remember, that’s their own mobile phone software platform. Launched at MWC 2010 on the Samsung Wave, the company has always said it is committed to the platform. It is perhaps unfortunate that since rolling out the first Bada handset it has managed to launch a number of Android handsets at most price points, leaving us questioning their commitment to Bada, or in fact where it sits within their portfolio.

The Samsung Wave 723 is an entry-level device and as such comes in at an affordable price on contract. The entry-level status is reflected to some extent in the hardware you are supplied, as we’ll see, but it still offers a degree of smartphone connectivity that, until recently, wasn’t always available on cheaper handsets.

It is compact, measuring 109.5 x 53.9 x 11.8mm and weighing 100g. The design is far enough removed from both the first Wave handset we saw and the Galaxy line of Android handsets to set this phone apart. However, it is still a touchscreen device, offering up a 3.2-inch capacitive TFT display with a resolution of 400 x 240, low by modern standards.

The brushed metal backplate is a nice touch, sporting Samsung’s signature double cut-out for the good quality external speaker and a squared opening for the camera lens. The camera is supported by an LED flash and gets a dedicated button on the side of the device.

Elsewhere you’ll find the sliding flap that covers the Micro-USB charge port, another Samsung feature you’ll find on other phones, along with the 3.5mm headphone jack. One of the additional extras bundled in the box is a leather flip cover that will protect the screen. You simply remove the bottom section of the casing and swap it for the one with the cover attached to make use of it.

Around the front and there are three control keys across the bottom of the screen. These offer you calling controls, whilst the centre button takes care of the main menu. Pressing the “end call” button returns to the homescreen, whilst pressing the call button will bring up your call list if you are on the home screen, so you can see who you’ve been in contact with or resume a message conversation. In the hand the Samsung Wave 723 feels solid enough, the handset being free from rattles and creaks as you use it.

Power the phone on and you are greeted by Bada, which is relatively fast to get itself going from the off. If you’ve use a Samsung handset before, you’ll recognise elements of the TouchWiz interface – the icons used here and the way the phone works is similar to its Galaxy range of devices and you’ll find that a similar grid-style menu packed with familiar icons awaits you.

You don’t get the same connected experience that Android will give you and Bada makes you work a little harder to get your phone set-up and running. There is the option of signing in to a number of accounts and from here you can then add contacts to your contacts book, although Google isn’t an option at this point. You can sign into your Google account, but this then establishes your email account, rather than giving you full access to your contacts and calendar.

If you use an Exchange server this is less of a problem as there is provision in place to supply info into all the relevant sections. Once you have signed into your Facebook account you’ll find that Facebook is an account option across the device. This means you can sync your Facebook friends to your contacts, you can sync your calendar and send messages, as well as being able to post photos to your Facebook albums.

Addressing social networking conerns is an app called Social Hub, which will let you send messages through to your linked accounts. Opting to send a message/update through the Social Hub takes you to the relevant application, so there is a single point of entry for a number of different services (or you can simply go to the app concerned.

Pressing and holding the central menu button brings up a multi-tasker of sorts, allowing to switch to other “open” applications, or shut them down. Closing an application happens fairly easily, often just exiting using the “end call” button will close that application down. There is also an “end all” option, but this also shuts down all the homepage widgets, leaving you with a blank page. These widgets will also insist they are closed if you connect the phone to a PC to sync it, as mounting the handset only works when it is  “idle” and unfortunately this includes the widget processes.

Customising the homescreen is easy, you simply tap the widget button and this allows you to select those widgets you want. The selection isn’t amazingly exciting, but does give you the normal range of clock, calendar and Google shortcuts. Those who are socially minded might be more interested in the “Buddies now” that lets you add your contacts to a sort of carousel arrangement and the “Feeds and Updates” that gives you glimpse at your connected social networks and lets you post an update. We’ve seen both on other platforms and they are standard Samsung fare. You can’t add application shortcuts or contacts to your homepages for instant access, but you can allocate contacts as “favourite” to make your vast list of acquaintances more manageable.

Elsewhere you are presented with everything you’d expect to find in this sort of "lite" smartphone – a folder-type file manager lets you browse your phone memory or memory card to find files (90MB of internal memory is offered, up to 16GB can be added via microSD). You have the trio of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube preinstalled and ready to fill your time, while the IM section lets you get in touch via a Palringo client (for which you’ll need a separate account) or Yahoo!

Navigation comes in the form of Samsung LBS, powered by Route 66, which feels a little alien when you are used to using Google Maps. The Samsung Maps option will let you search of locations easily enough and then set up navigation, although we found the GPS rather slow to detect our position. It also repeatedly asked us “synchronise the license” (or some such intrusive triviality), which, like the constant offering of disclaimers in applications menus, makes Bada feel a little alien as a consumer OS.

Another little quirk we found was that Google Maps was actually pre-installed, but hiding in the “Games” folder (which when opened reveals itself as “Games and More”. You can’t move it out of here, so it’s just another oddity you’ll have to live with. Again we found that getting anything from the GPS was a struggle, but we prefer the Google solution to Samsung’s. 

Music and video players offer up entertainment and given the small internal memory you will most likely be adding content via microSD card. Connecting the phone to your PC will offer up the option of mounting the SD card to directly add content, with Samsung’s preferred software option being their poor Kies desktop application. We found it easier to add content to the card then insert the card into the phone, but its location under the battery means it isn't hot-swappable.

The hard plastic headset supplied will do nothing for the quality of your music and is easily and cheaply bettered with a set of third-party headphones. We like the fact that you still get music controls from the lock screen, a CD appearing at the top of the screen which can be pulled down to offer up basic controls. Bluetooth is offered if you'd like to go wireless. Like a number of recent Samsung launches, it is Bluetooth 3.0, so promises faster data transfer if you happen to have another Bluetooth 3.0 device.

There are various audio controls that can be accessed in the music player menu, along with a music recognition tool that will listen to music and then give you the option to buy it or save it to a wish list. The buying option takes you through to Samsung’s own store and in our tests we found the many of the tracks we sampled weren’t available to buy.

On the video front the low resolution screen doesn’t make the Wave 723 particularly adept as a playback device and on a large number of videos we tested we got an “unsupported resolution” error returned. It does offer pseudo surround sound option to widen the sound stage to make your movie soundtrack more engaging. A YouTube icon offers up access to the mobile site rather than a dedicated app, but in practise it works well enough.

The camera offers 5-megapixel snaps with a selection of tweaks on offer. It offers autofocus so you’ll be able to get sharper pictures than some budget rivals and the LED “flash” will make it possible to get something out of a dark scene, although it won’t ever rival a real camera. The results in good light are about average and will give you shots acceptable for sharing or posting on Facebook, which can be done quickly through the menu option on each image.

The video capture is especially poor, reflecting the mobile-only resolutions offered by devices of yesteryear. As such you’ll get a maximum resolution of 320 x 240, a long way behind average standards these days. You are offered uploading options so you can then directly upload your video to YouTube, however once you get the video onto a computer screen you’ll find there is very little to look at in terms of detail.

The phone is generally responsive enough and navigating around the Bada OS doesn’t throw up too many problems. The phone will switch from portrait to landscape swiftly, which is a godsend when it comes to text entry. The keyboard is easy enough to master, but in portrait we found the on-screen keyboard was just too small to use effectively. Samsung have by default add an audio response to the keyboard which plays a noise as you touch the keys. Unfortunately it can't keep up with the speed of text entry so eventually causes hiccups in typing - muting the phone makes text entry much smoother, but we couldn't find the option to turn it off in the settings.

Switch to landscape and things get easier, with just about enough space to use two thumbs and with practise we found we could rattle out messages with some speed. Predictive/corrections appear between the keyboard and the text entry box, offering up likely suggestions. A drop down arrow lets you see more, and this is a system-wide approach, so when you come to entering email addresses for example, you get the same offerings from your address book, with a drop-down arrow for more people.

There are a couple of fancy gestures offered by the Wave 723 - double tapping the central button can be set as a shortcut, opening the application of your choice from a short list and turning the phone face down will silence it.

The browser is capable, but the screen is a little small and the resolution a little low, so you’ll spend a lot of time zooming in and out. It does support multi-touch zooming, so this isn’t too much of a hardship, but if you plan to be spending a lot of time browsing the Internet on your phone then you should probably look for a device with a larger screen.

We found the Wave 723 to be a happy phone on Wi-Fi, with the HSDPA serving up nice fast data access whilst away from a friendly network. In addition, you also get the option of setting the phone up as a mobile Wi-Fi access point, so you can surf on your phone’s data.

That’s not a unique feature as Android devices will also offer this (as long as they have recent versions of Google’s mobile operating system) and Android is probably where the Wave 723 falls down. Dive into the Wave’s application store and you might struggle to find the really big names. By choosing a Bada device you are opting to get into a system that is considerably smaller than Android. Not only that, but there are also plenty of Android devices at competitive prices out there, including from Samsung themselves, so the appeal of the Wave 723 seems a bit limited.

The battery lasted us through a day without issue and we found that the Wave 723 was comfortable to make calls with, the speaker and mic adequate and raising no concerns.

Verdict

There are a few places where the Samsung Wave 723 lets itself down. Although it is a budget handset, and some compromises can be accepted, it’s the strength of the competition that really leaves the Wave struggling for air. It covers most bases and we found that it was a respectable phone to use, displaying better than average build quality for its price, but it isn’t exciting. Bada seems considered in the core offering, but with Android updating and developing quickly, we suspect that Bada will never be able to keep up.

If these things don’t matter to you, then you’ll find that the Samsung Wave 723 works well enough, offering most of the current base level features that you'd expect from a smartphone. However, if you want more, and more in the future, then the likes of the Orange San Francisco or LG Optimus One might be more up your street.