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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: Samsung Galaxy S

The Phone
Samsung has been on a hot streak of releasing great phones recently. I think Samsung is dominating the middle to upper phone segment in terms of price/quality, that Nokia used to have a stranglehold on. For this review, I will jump straight up to the top of Samsung's smartphone ladder to their newest high-end offering: The Samsung Galaxy S.
It is running on the Android platform, which seems to be the new direction of Samsung. This is actually a very good choice, since that is the only mobile OS that can compete with Apple's juggernaut iPhone. It may not be running on the latest Android 2.2 yet, but the version it has is still a suitable competitor. With the recent troubles the iPhone 4 has been having, this might be a great time for Androids, such as offered by Samsung, to steal some thunder.
But first, the phone has to be good. So how does the Galaxy S fare overall?  Find out in this comprehensive review.

Let's start by taking a look at the hardware out of the box:

The packaging of the Galaxy S is pretty much a duplicate of the iPhone box but enlarged for the bigger Galaxy S to fit in, it has similar size, similar shape, and similar presentation when you open it. Hey, if people like it, why not copy it right?
Inside the box you will find:
- The Phone
- The mini-box of papers (manuals)
- The Headset
- The battery
- The charger
- The USB cable
Not a lot of extras, just stuck to the basics (which is what most of us want anyway)

Here are the Specs of the phone, in direct comparison with the iPhone 4:

FeatureiPhone 4Galaxy S (I9000)
OSiOS 4.0Android v2.1 and TouchWiz 3.0 UI
Display3.5″ Retina Display (Capacitive)960×640 / 326 ppi
Multi touch
4.0″ Super AMOLED (Capacitive)16M colors, 480×800
Camera5MP camera,LED Flash
HD video recording 720p (@30fps)
FaceTime video calling over WiFi
5MP with autofocus720p video at 30fps
EDGE / 3GHSDPA, 7.2 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 MbpsHSDPA, 7.2 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps
Internet BrowserMobile SafariAndroid default
MessagingSMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, Push EmailSMS(threaded view), MMS, Email,Push Mail, IM, RSS
FMnone built-inStereo FM radio with RDS
ProcessorApple A4, 1GHzARM Cortex A8 1GHz processor
BatteryunknownLi-Ion 1500 mAh
ColoursBlack / WhiteBlack / Grey
ConnectivityBluetooth 2.1 AD2PWiFi b/g/nBluetooth v3.0 with A2DPWi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Memory16GB / 32GB internal512MB RAM,8GB/16GB internal storage
Weight137 gms
118 gms
  • Accelerometer
  • Digital Compass
  • Gyro Axis
  • Proximity Sensor
  • App Store via iTunes
  • Noice cancelation Mic
  • MicroSIM only
  • Scrach resistant front / back glass
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Proximity sensor
  • Accelerometer
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Flash Lite v3.1
  • Image / Video editor
  • Swype text input
  • Android Market

For a phone with a large 4" screen, the Galaxy S is very light and easy to handle (or keep in your pocket). This was achieved by using high grade plastic materials, according to Samsung. The drawback is that the phone does not feel as elite, as say: an iPhone, because there is the "plasticy" feel to it. Several times, I thought that I might damage or crack its back and sides due to my paranoia on it's plastic material, but fortunately it held strong. Still, a perception is a perception. On the plus side, it has a "chromish" bezel surrounding the plastic.

It has the usual hardware buttons with volume/zoom found on the left, while on the top it has the headset jack (standard 3.5mm) and the USB slot, which can be closed for protection. The right side has the power button. On the back you have the camera, and the lid (which is actually the entire back) that opens up to reveal the battery and Micro sd slots. Removing the back slot feels awkward, and led to most of my worries that I will crack something.

In terms of size, here's how the Samsung phone (left/bottom) looks compared to the popular Apple iPhone 3GS (right/top):

Due to it's much larger screen, the phone is definitely bigger but not by much. It doesn't feel like that much of a burden either, due to the aforementioned materials used. In fact it even feels lighter than the iPhone.

On the front of the phone, you can only find the screen and 3 buttons. The 3 buttons are for: Menu, Home, and Return. This is a departure from the usual Android flagship phones we see from Google/HTC, that have standard 4 front buttons, including: Search.
As for the Screen, it is one of the best talking points of the Galaxy S. The 4" super AMOLED display is just gorgeous. Looks better than the iPhone 3GS, and even better than the Nexus One screen. It may be inferior to the iPhone 4's resolution, but it wins in viewing size.

User Interface and Software

As mentioned, the Galaxy S uses Android 2.1. Meaning it offers the same quality OS and applications that you find throughout the Android family, which is quite substantial. In fact Android is the fastest growing Mobile OS this year, and in my opinion, the only one that can unseat Apple's dominance.
Aside from the Android OS, Samsung adds on their own TouchWiz UI. To be honest, this is a futile effort, since it does nothing significant to add on the already great Android experience. What would have been better is it if it came updated with the latest Android 2.2 firmware, which Samsung promises to be available as an upgrade in the very near future. Overall the User interface is what you would expect on a high-end Android phone, fast and easy to use. The applications are also standard fare for Android, with the usual internet browser, contacts, Google apps (mail, gallery, calendar, etc.), and the same Media player (which you'll probably replace from the Android market in the 1st week). 
Bottom line to save you some time: The Galaxy is just more of the same Android experience. Android OS is good. It is a viable replacement for the iPhone. Don't be afraid to try it. 

So let's focus on the software side that is unique to the Samsung Galaxy S.

The Galaxy S has some special Apps built-in that aren't found in the stock Android build (like the Nexus One). First off, it has a special "Samsung Apps" section. But again to be honest, there is nothing too special here that can't be easily replaced in the Android Market.
Well, at least it has the amazing racing game "Asphalt 5" already included, so it's not that bad. It also has the RoadSMS app, which people seem to like, that allows you to see the road via your camera when you text while driving. But if you ask me, texting while driving is a DANGEROUS idea, and illegal in some places.

You can also find a special Aldiko Book reader App that isn't found in the usual Android OS phones.
It is probably included to compete with Apple's iBooks added in iOS4. But as I mentioned before, it is a painful experience to use iBooks on an iPhone, and it's also that way here. Really no point to it, and I suggest that you're better off using a dedicated eBook reader or an iPad, which offers much superior reading experiences.

The Galaxy S also has a good file sharing capability, via an App called "AllShare" that is built-in. Pictured here on the left, the phone allows you to stream files to and from your PC/TV and Phone.
In practice, this works well, although i would recommend faster connections.
This is another offering not found as a default in Android phones, and if you ask me, a very good unique addition from Samsung.

Last in the list of relevant additions by Samsung to the Android OS, is the Thinkfree office suite. It allows the opening and editing of Microsoft office files via your Galaxy S. It also allows wireless file sharing.
I have not been able to use this application, honestly I already have more than enough mobile office apps. But I am glad that Samsung offers this out of the box, since it is an essential feature to have, which saves you the time and money of having to get an Office app from the Android market.

On a special note, even though the Media player of the Galaxy is the usual Android player, I find that the videos are something to marvel at, again due to the terrific screen onboard.
Quality of videos seem to be better, even with the built-in YouTube application being the same across all Androids.
If you encode your movies correctly before saving it onto the phone, I can imagine some great results in mobile cinema viewing on the Galaxy S. From my experience, the video is rendered fluidly with the fast 1GHz processor, and it has DIVX capability as is usual with Samsung smartphones. Combine those features with a built-in memory of up to 16GB plus more storage from a microSD slot, and you can really rack up the viewing time on this gadget.

Camera Quality

The Camera of the Galaxy S is a standard 5 megapixel shooter with HD video recording at 720p 30fps.
Although the specs might seem standard to higher end smartphone cameras nowadays, the Galaxy S seems to perform better in actual than on paper:
- Color saturation seems to be higher (therefore more vivid shots)
- The touch-focus and auto-focus speeds are good, resulting in better point-and-shoot quality
- The camera settings are robust, with a lot more options than the stock Android 2.1 camera. In fact it even has more options than the latest Android 2.2 camera on the Nexus One!
- The digital zoom goes up to 4x, rather than the usual 2x found in many cameras, like the Nexus One. Regardless, digital zoom is crappy by nature anyway, and we should always avoid using it when possible.

Although it has some strengths going for it, the Galaxy S camera has one big caveat: There is absolutely NO Flash present. We'll look at that shortly.

Speaking of the Nexus One, it has a similarly specced camera to the Galaxy, so I decided to take some comparison shots to test out the Galaxy S camera quality. Below are side by side comparisons with the Nexus shots on the left, and the Galaxy shots on the right. Both cameras are at their default settings, which is already set to highest quality shots. The focus point is also set to default at the center, even though both cameras support "touch to focus" capability.
We can see from the example below that the Galaxy S shot on the right has a better quality and brightness by default.

Next is an example comparing instant shots, point-and-shoot, without much time or effort in setting up or choosing the best focus for the shot. 
The Galaxy camera is better or just faster at focusing and color definition. In the picture below, the Nexus one shot (left) had a washed out orange color when I did a quick point and shoot. In the same method, the Galaxy shot (right) was able to capture the vivid orange background. I was eventually able to achieve a similar picture from the Nexus one, with the orange color becoming vivid, but it took me some more time and focusing effort for it to register the colors depth. 

Looking at low brightness shots and darker colors, the Galaxy picture (right) seems to provide more pop and vibrance even at default exposure settings for both.

Speaking of dark shots..... As I said, the Samsung Galaxy S does NOT have any flash hardware whatsoever....that is a big drawback. So when we compare the Nexus One photo to the left below, it was taken with the flash on auto, giving us a brighter (although light-washed) picture. While on the right side, the Galaxy photo looks crisper, but it's just too dark to suit my tastes. Don't even bother using it to take pictures in dark enclosures. It might be better though at dark outdoor shots, since a Flash only has a short effective range, it won't matter on distance shots, while the Galaxy S camera seems to have better exposure.

In Summary, you can expect decent shots from the Galaxy S. Don't expect it to replace your dedicated digital camera, but in the arena of Smartphones, it is highly competitive (except in dark close-up situations).

Battery Life
You would think that with a screen like the one on the Galaxy S, it would be an energy drain. Well, it's not the best in terms of battery life, but on a full charge, the Galaxy S performs as well as an iPhone or Nexus One. It can get 1-2 days of substantial usage, before needing a charge. That may be because of it's capable 1500mAH battery, which offsets the juice consumed by it's powerful screen display.

The Galaxy S has the standard connectivity options with WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, and 3G/Edge/GPRS from your network. If you connect the packaged headset, you can also get Radio signal.

The Galaxy S is said to be the successor of the Omnia's throne as top echelon on the Samsung mobile offering. Some even say that the Galaxy S is the best choice to get, when choosing a smartphone.
That might be accurate. If a media-powerhouse Phone is your preference, the Galaxy S is the most complete solution available now. For me, it may not be the "best" choice per se, but it certainly is the safest. It has the highest specs available from an unlocked Android phone.
It might not have a significant advantage in features over the  iPhone, but it does offer everything you might look for in a high-end smartphone, and it comes in a very competitive price. I can't imagine anyone regretting their purchase of the Galaxy S, even with the presence of an iPhone 4 in the market.

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