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Droid Charge is pricey, but its 4G flies

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Columnist / May 19, 2011

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Upon hearing that Verizon Wireless had dialed up a $300 price tag for its newest smartphone, my first thought was, “Sorry, wrong number.’’ Why pay so much for a two-year contract phone, when you can get a good Verizon iPhone 4 for $100 less?

But that was before I’d actually tried the new Droid Charge phone, built for Verizon Wireless by South Korea’s Samsung Corp. It’s the second phone designed to work with Verizon’s remarkable 4G LTE wireless data network, and a major step up from the company’s first entry, the disappointing Thunderbolt by HTC Corp. of Taiwan. The Thunderbolt weighed in at $250, and the Charge is at least $50 better.

But what about that $199 iPhone 4? Actually, the iPhone’s price jumps to $299 if you get it with 32 gigabytes of memory. The Droid Charge, which runs Google Inc.’s Android operating system, offers the same; but it adds some features the iPhone doesn’t match, like a superb display screen and, of course, the blazing speed of 4G downloads.

Despite its name, the iPhone 4 still relies on 3G technology for data downloads. You can expect 1.5 million to 4 million bits per second, depending on which version of 3G technology is operating in your area. Verizon’s 4G network is far faster, and no device I’ve tried makes better use of it than the Droid Charge. With the industry-standard speed testing software from Ookla.net, I saw speeds of nearly 17 megabits per second, which is actually a bit faster than my home Internet service.

Of course, Verizon Wireless 4G users may have reason to question the network’s reliability. Late last month, the high-speed network went down in several US cities for over a day, a rare blot on Verizon’s reputation for excellent service. Still, when it’s running, no rival service can touch it. And at least for now, Verizon Wireless offers an unlimited 4G data plan —all the downloading you can stand for $29.99 a month.

You can also share the 4G with your friends. A built-in mobile hotspot feature lets up to 10 nearby laptop or smartphone users connect to the Charge via secure Wi-Fi. Rival 4G provider Sprint charges $29.99 a month for this feature, but Verizon lets Droid Charge users run the mobile hotspot service for free, at least for now. The company says it may eventually start charging, but hasn’t set a price yet.

Another elite feature of the Charge is its radiant display screen. There’s plenty to like about the iPhone’s razor-sharp screen, but it’s based on traditional LED technology. Like many Samsung smartphones, the Droid Charge has a screen that uses organic light-emitting diode technology, or OLED. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but I love the look of OLED screens, which to my eyes deliver richer, deeper colors than LEDs.

OLED screens also illuminate themselves, so there’s no need for a battery-draining backlight. This might help explain another of the Droid Charge’s best features, its respectable battery life. I’ve tried two other 4G phones, both from HTC: the Verizon Thunderbolt and the Sprint EVO 4G. They’re battery hogs. The Charge does considerably better, partly because it packs an extra-large battery with more power than those in the Thunderbolt or the EVO.

I downloaded a silly “X-Men’’ movie from Media Hub — a movie rental and purchase service included with the phone — and ran the flick twice. After 3 1/2 hours of video, the phone’s battery was still at over 50 percent power. Plenty left for phone calling and Web surfing.

Later, I ran about 40 minutes of YouTube videos downloaded through the 4G connection. That got the battery down to about 23 percent power, a reminder that actively using the 4G service puts an extra drain on the device. In any case, this is pretty strong battery performance, suggesting that the Charge will easily handle the daily demands of most users.

In all, the Droid Charge is a decent deal at $299.99, and attractive at $249.99, which is what you’ll pay if you buy the phone online through Amazon.com. Still not a great price, but definitely a great phone.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

Droid Charge Android
smartphone
Available exclusively through Verizon Wireless.
$299.99 with a two-year service contract; $249.99 with a contract at Amazon.com
Pricey, but packed with features. A brilliant OLED display screen, 32 gigabytes of memory, exceedingly fast 4G data performance, and very good battery life for a 4G phone.