Technology

Sleek, But Don't Touch: Samsung's Glyde Disappoints


1008_samsung_glyde
Editor's Rating: star rating

Snazzy design and a great keyboard can't overcome a scrolling touchscreen that's unresponsive. Wait for a better challenge to the iPhone

Touchscreen cell phones are everywhere these days. Yet precious few offer the finger-swipe scrolling and dragging of the iPhone's display. Most of these phones merely let you poke an icon rather than scoot around the screen with a flick or drag of a finger.

There are some notable exceptions. One is the Storm (BusinessWeek, 10/8/08), from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

Another is the Samsung Glyde, available through Verizon Wireless for about $80, when purchased online with a two-year contract. The Glyde is a sleek, compact device with several high-end capabilities, including a full-typewriter keyboard that slides out from behind the screen. You can also swipe your finger along the display to move the image up and down, side to side, or even diagonally. No, you can't flick it with the same dexterity as you can an iPhone screen, but even limited swipe-ability makes the Glyde's touchscreen a whole lot more useful—at least in theory. As full-featured and handsome as the device is, I found working with its screen too taxing to make the Glyde a phone I'd strongly recommend.

Native Format Viewing

The Glyde's screen is incredibly fickle. All too often during testing, I found myself poking on an icon three or four times, if not more, just to get my command to register—this despite the fact that I felt a small vibrational feedback in my fingertip, presumably confirming that my pokes had hit their mark. Even after I adjusted the screen settings for maximum touch sensitivity, I had to stub my finger with maddening regularity to get my commands to register.

To its credit, the Glyde lets users connect with the Internet and view Web pages in their native format, rather than in the "optimized" mobile versions that Verizon and other cellular providers feature on most mobile phones. Of course the mobile versions of many Web sites are well-designed for the constraints of a tiny cell-phone screen, with multiple vertical columns of content reconfigured into a single column that's easier to navigate. But way too many sites simply aren't formatted for this mobile rendering, making them difficult or impossible to use. That's where the ability to view a regular HTML Web page is very useful, if not preferable. The full page won't fit the screen, but the Glyde's touch capability lets you drag the image from side to side. Though you can't sweep it back and forth with the same ease as on an iPhone—nor can you zoom in and out on the image—the Glyde offers a refreshing burst of freedom for Web browsing on a cell phone.

Too bad the device has few other redeeming qualities. The Glyde is marred by deficient processing power, glitchy software, or a combination of both. Too often, the reaction time after I pressed buttons and icons was sluggish; the screen occasionally froze for seconds or longer. Once, when I was using the normally sleek VZ Navigator application to steer me from New York to a gathering in Connecticut, the application seized up altogether, forcing me to pull over and pull out the battery to reboot the device. My guess is that an alert for an incoming message from the mobile e-mail application had overwhelmed the phone's processors. Another quibble: Battery life varied from decent to disappointing.

Too Many Frustrations

The assorted shortcomings conspire to taint an otherwise appealing design. Weighing a mere 4.1 ounces, the Glyde is just 4.1 in. long, 2 in. wide, and 0.7 in. thick. Despite the slender proportions, the full keyboard that slides out from behind the screen is far more spacious than those found on QWERTY devices such as RIM's (RIMM) BlackBerry, Motorola's (MOT) Q line, Samsung's BlackJack, and Palm's (PALM) Treo and Centro. Other higher-end features include compatibility with Verizon Wireless' speedier network for mobile Web access, a 2-megapixel camera with flash and zoom, and a slot for MicroSD memory cards, with up to 8GB of capacity to store music and photos.

None of these attributes fully compensates for the Glyde's frustrating touchscreen and other glitches. So if you're a Verizon Wireless customer who desires a full keyboard for texting and e-mail, you might forgo the touchscreen and buy another QWERTY handset, such as LG's enV2 or Palm's Centro. Or if you're intent on a touchscreen and a keyboard, LG's Voyager may be a better option. BusinessWeek Tech & You columnist Stephen Wildstrom is bullish on the Storm. That said, the Glyde demonstrates that the iPhone won't have the touchscreen market cornered forever.

Meyerson is Deputy Technology Editor for BusinessWeek.com.

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