Samsung Galaxy S Review

Thanks to Shaun at PDA247 for another great review. Click here to buy the Samsung Galaxy S from Clove.

PART ONE

Samsung Galaxy S review: part one


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Price: £452.38

Highlights-

* 4 inch AMOLED Touchscreen

* Adroid 2.1 OS

* 8GB of on board memory + 8GB MicroSD card

* MicroSDHC expansionsot supporting cards up to 32GB in size

* WiFi and Bluetooth

* GPS

* 5 MP Camera

Competitor showdown-

Competitor Comparison

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The Samsung Wave obviously faired very well in my recent review and I ended up heaping much praise on the general build quality, screen and excellent battery life. The Bada OS is new and so I can forgive it some teething problems, but it does need a few tweaks to make it a true player in this ever demanding market.

The Samsung Galaxy S is an Android powered smartphone with a large 4” Super AMOLED screen and a 1GHz processor so you would expect it to stand up to the competition well. Here are my first impressions-

In the box


There isn’t much in the subtly styled box apart from a USB cable, AC adapter and in-ear headphones, but the headphones are of good quality which is a rarity and this is just about all you need to get started. The instruction manual is detailed and runs to a full 130 pages which is another rarity. Samsung is, after all, mainly in the consumer mobile business so I guess it makes sense to ensure that new users can learn their first smartphone quickly to save on support calls.

First Impressions

Looking at the Galaxy for the first time screams ‘iPhone’ to me. The silver edging, large centre button at the bottom and entire construction is almost identical. However, picking it up is a different matter because it is very light indeed. At only 118 grams it feels as if the battery is not inserted and defies its overall size. Strangely this can lead you to believe that it is not well constructed, but it most certainly is. There are no creaks and there is a solid feel to the unit, but I have to say that the plastic backing feels a little cheap and it would be nice to see metal used.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is in the right place, at the top, and the microUSB is in the wrong place, at the top. Samsung tends to put the USB ports on the top edge so that it is impossible to use a cradle or charge it the right way up. Go figure…

The left-hand side houses the volume keys which verge on being too small and the same applies to the power on/off key on the right. However, they do work well once you have spent some time with them and are almost perfectly placed for natural usage. At the bottom are three buttons; the main selection key in the centre looks like a navigation key, but it is merely used for selection. The menu and return keys either side are touch sensitive rather than full buttons and have a lovely feel to them. There is the merest hint of haptic feedback and I found myself playing with them like a child for far too long. Some neat tricks are included such as when you hold the menu key a search box will appear. Holding the centre key brings up shortcuts to settings, messaging and other useful apps. I need to do some testing on this, but it seems to automatically bring up your most used apps.

The screen is, as expected, awesome and the 4” of real estate (hate that phrase) makes all of the difference to photo and video viewing. It is as natural to use as the iPhone, something I had only previously seen on the Wave, and feels and looks just right. I covered the Wave screen in-depth and this is what I said-

“Hands down the best screen I have used on a smartphone. It is highly responsive and looks splendid in all conditions. The colours are incredibly vibrant and the screen content feels as though it is closer to the glass than most other smartphones. The main advantage of this screen is the performance in bright sunlight. I tested it next to the iPhone, which is very good in bright conditions, and it is much, much better. When I saw AMOLED on the specs sheet my heart dropped because they are often unreadable in bright conditions, but the mDNIe technology (whatever that is?) used here really does work. The viewing angles are to the extreme and it is simply wonderful to look at and use. Superb!”

Remember those words and consider that this screen is bigger and you see where I am going with it. This is now the best smartphone screen I have used to date.

I need to spend much more time with the Galaxy before I write more, but an hour with it suggests that there are many more surprises awaiting me. A quick look at the photo viewer felt like I was using a very small iPad and Samsung has bundled a huge number of extras. There is a lot included here and this should make for another interesting review. I have high hopes, but as usual time will tell. Expect part two by Tuesday.

PART TWO

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Price: £452.38

It’s time to look at the hardware features of the Galaxy S and see how well it performs in day to day use. With so many features in modern smartphones this can take some time, but I will attempt to look at each section and sum up how well they work rather than concentrating on the specifications.

Camera (8/10)

This is another good effort from Samsung. The 5 Megapixel rating may not wow many people in a market flooded with the things, but it works very well indeed and I managed to capture some extremely good shots with little effort. Examples below-

Taking pictures can be tricky at times due to the onscreen button and the lack of a hardware camera button is disappointing. When you need to take a quick snap you will need to use the screen to get to the camera app first.

Video capture is also very good despite the slightly tinny sound quality. The video below was taken on a windy day and uploaded direct from the Galaxy, and yes it is my son winning the sack race at his school sports day (so proud:)) Bear in mind that this is one YouTube and that will minimise the quality somewhat.

Screen (9/10)

This is a truly great screen and indoors it is exceptional. Outdoors it is excellent except on very sunny days and I had some problems viewing the screen when it was exceptionally bright. Indeed, it was so bright that I could neither view the iPhone 3GS or Galaxy properly and so have to say that Super AMOLED works exceptionally well in 95% of conditions, including bright days, but the brightest days will still pose some problems.

To use the screen feels as natural as the iPhone and all gestures are reacted to perfectly and video playback is remarkably good. With a well encoded film you will be hard pressed to find a better movie experience on a smartphone.

Performance (9/10)

Not a slow down or freeze in sight. Performance is as good as I have seen elsewhere and manages the iPhone trick of sleekly pushing along and making the user soon forget that there is a processor and memory behind it. Despite some severe punishment with multiple apps running it never missed a beat and rightly deserves high marks in this area. Sometimes with Android phones I experience the occasional crash, but so far so good.

Call and Signal Quality (10/10)

The Samsung Wave surprised me with the sound quality during calls and the Galaxy S is arguably even better. Voice quality when next to your ear is rich and clear, but it gets even better when the speakerphone is used. It does not distort and even beats the BlackBerry Bold 9700 which makes it the first smartphone to do so. The loudness is just enough for the most testing of conditions so if you are one of the ever reducing number of smartphone users who actually makes calls this is an ideal choice.

Signal quality is also on the high-end and I managed an HSDPA signal for over half the testing time which is a miracle where I live. 3G signal was almost constant- a joyous moment.

Media (8/10)

Video playback is stunning, even in the YouTube app, and in my opinion is ahead of the current iPhones. The screen of course helps, but the speed at which videos start and the smoothness of the software all work together to produce an experience that is about the best I have seen.

Photo viewing is another surprise and it feels like a mini iPad when you browse through your collection. It doesn’t quite have the pinch out mechanism, but is close and again one of the best I have seen to date.

Music is an anomaly because it sounds great through the supplied headphones, but not good at all through my iPhone set. It is almost as if the player is set for only one type of headphone, but there are a multitude of options for sharing music such as via Bluetooth, AllShare, Google Mail and Messaging. There are also some pre-set effects including Wide, Concert Hall and Externalisation which produce a marked change in the sound. All in all, I am impressed with the music setup on the Galaxy which is easy to use and offers enough scope for those of you who require various playing options.

The external speaker is on a par with the iPhone 3GS and thus is passable for showing friends video and music.

Battery (7/10)

The Galaxy will get you through a day with no problems, but extended use will probably max out at 2 days. I must admit that I was expecting more because of the claimed efficiencies of the screen technology, but so far I am not seeing that. The results are not bad at all when compared to the competition, but with so much other goodness included I guess I was unrealistically hoping for 3-4 days of battery power. Having said all of that, batteries usually need time to bed in so maybe my view will change by the concluding part of the review.

Connectivity / Memory (9/10)

7.2 Mbps HSDPA, Quad-band, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, MicroSD expansion up to 32GB, 8GB onboard and the list goes on. This is fast becoming an area not worth mentioning with the latest crop of high-end smartphones, but Samsung has it all covered here. The really good news is that Wi-Fi connects instantly and, like the Samsung Wave, has the iPhone style reassurance of immediate connectivity when you need it.

Build Quality (8/10)

The plastic frame may lead some to feel that it is not built well, but it surely is. The only reason two points are lost is because of the battery cover which should be made of a more substantial material. The materials used do, however, produce a super light handset that manages to combine strength and lightness in the one package which is rare.

I am almost dreading part 3 which will look at the operating system and included software. There is so much included that it will probably take me a whole day just to write that section. After 3 hours I am still struggling to take screenshots thanks to driver problems, I finally sorted it so I should be able to cover everything.

So far the Galaxy S is looking very impressive indeed and at this stage I would jump on it ahead of the Nexus One, HTC Desire and Sony Ericsson X10. We shall see if my view changes by the end of the review process.

PART THREE

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Price: £452.38

The hardware side of the Galaxy S has been covered in part two and so far the Galaxy S has performed well in almost every area. The camera is quite easy to use, the speed is superb and the build quality is above par. The real heart of the Galaxy S is the software though and there is a lot to cover.

It would be fruitless for me to cover all of the standard Android apps because I have done so many times (take a look at the Android section for multiple Android smartphone reviews) so instead I will concentrate on the apps Samsung has added and the way the standard apps work with the screen technology and TouchWiz 3.

Samsung Kies

Samsung Kies is a Windows application designed to let you control and add all sorts of media to your Galaxy S. Like many add-ons to smartphones, it is remarkably slow. I have a fairly quick PC, but this software could take up to three minutes jut to load up and I eventually gave up using it. It is complete and a great addition, but some serious improvements are needed to make it a joy to use.

Data Input

This is usually a struggle for me on touch screen devices, but there are some options available on the Galaxy which I did not expect. Besides the standard QWERTY keyboard which works surprisingly well on the 4” screen, especially in landscape, there are some handwriting options which work surprisingly badly. They seem to recognise most letters and number, but the process is painfully slow at the best of times. The 3×4 keyboard mimics a number keypad on a standard mobile phone, but I couldn’t get it to predict text; it requires two taps for ‘u’ and multiple taps for numbers. It is all saved by the QWERTY though which is at least as good as the iPhone setup and generally impressed me.

BUT, Swype is installed which is difficult to find at first. Start up a new message and then hold your finger in the main text box while the QWERTY keyboard is displayed. Choose ‘input method’ and then Swype. You input text by moving your finger over letters and after thirty minutes you will wonder how you managed without it. I admit to being a fan of Swype and it is great that Samsung has pre-loaded it onto the Galaxy. It makes a world of difference to mobile data input.

Home screen

The Android home screen is busy at the best of times and there are multiple choices when it comes to backgrounds, widgets and so on. Samsung has taken this a stage further and included some widgets of its own. You can choose from 8 Samsung widgets and 7 Android widgets plus of course folders, shortcuts to apps and a selection of wallpapers. Live wallpapers are included of which you can choose from 12 and a further choice of 7 static wallpapers. It all works speedily and if you like to mess around with your main interface, Android is way ahead at the moment.

The top bar can be pulled down to show your notifications and mine got busy very quickly indeed. You end up with multiple icons showing what’s happening and this takes some time to get used to. However, I can think of no better smartphone system in use at the moment to show you what’s coming into your phone.

YouTube

The YouTube app is impressive indeed and does an excellent job of bringing the online video experience to the Galaxy. The main bonus is the screen and the way in which the video are displayed. Well encoded files look great and also load much quicker than on most competing handsets. A very capable app.

PIM

The PIM apps are in many ways guide by the quality of data entry, on any phone, and the inclusion of Swype helps a lot. Most of you will know that the Android calendar and contacts are capable apps that integrate well with a variety of services and there is little different here. As each revision of Android passes, the PIM apps gradually improve and I personally think that they have reached the point where they are about as good as they are likely to get. They won’t be ideal for everyone, but they are easy to learn and perform adequately in day to day use.

Entertainment

The music app is good on the eye and easy to navigate, but there are some notable omissions. Album art appears to be completely absent which is a shame because the rest of the interface works perfectly. Potentially this setup gives the iPod app a run for its money and offers all of the features 99% of users will require.

The Photo app is wonderful and almost certainly the best I have seen on any platform. So many sweet touches that make it a pleasure to use. The video viewer is quite plain in comparison, but the output is also the best I have used to date- great, great quality.

Extra apps

Samsung has bundled a lot of extras on to the Galaxy and many are worthy inclusions. They provide a quick start for new users, but I would still advise a long look around the Android Market to see what alternatives are available.

Aldiko eBook

This app looks very much like iBooks on the iPhone and includes a realistic bookshelf which is almost identical. The text view is superb and makes eBook reading a pleasure thanks to the large clear screen. You can choose to ‘Get more books’ from the menu and this will present you with a selection of free books which are available to download straight away. The library is neither comprehensive or of great quality, but I suspect that more commercial offerings will be available in the future.

AllShare

AllShare should be included in every smartphone and works brilliantly once set up. In essence it lets you play content which is saved on laptops and PCs, you can play files from servers and you can use the Galaxy as a remote control. Brilliant.

Daily Briefing

Daily Briefing is a simple app that brings together news, weather, financial information and a schedule into the one app. It is a neat idea, but potentially overlaps other apps. You will either love it or disregard it.

FM Radio

Has a great interface and works better than most standard FM Radio apps, but still suffers some performance issues that seem to be inevitable in this kind of app. Have never used one that works properly to date, but this is likely the best effort so far.

Layer

Layer is a browser that uses the built in camera to display local search results and on the screen dependant on your current location. On a personal level I struggle with the notion of these type of apps and tend to view them as gimmicky, but then again I have had little need of one so far.

Memo

A basic memo app that makes the memos look quite smart, but which displays a list that is unwieldy to scroll through. Better offerings are available in the Android Market.

Mini Diary

Very sweet. You can add new entries that include photos, weather information and a few notes. I am a sucker for good diary apps and this is a good one.

My Files

A basic, but usable file manager that works quite well. Holding your finger on a file offer various functions such as share, delete, move etc. You can also create new folders and even print documents or photos via Bluetooth.

Samsung Apps

Struggling to understand why this is here when Android Market is also present.

Social Hub

A good way to keep your social activity in the one app and potentially displaces multiple apps in the process. It is well laid out and takes some getting used to, but once you understand it this could be your most used app.

ThinkFree Office

A free document viewer that presents standard Office docs in a pleasing manner. You can also edit the documents and a sizeable number of options are included. It may be too basic for some, but is a nice addition nonetheless.

The list of extras continues and I could be here all day if I wanted to cover them all, but you can already see how comprehensive it is. I counted 32 icons in total pre-bundled and of course the choice now available in Android Market could seriously up that number.

It is a hugely impressive and diverse software setup and this offers the feeling of great scope when you first start to play with the Galaxy. When coupled with the above average hardware it is difficult to not feel content after a couple of hours of intensive use.

Android is impressive, we know that, but the fact that manufacturers can add so much is a good and bad thing. You end up with a smartphone that almost flows over with apps and this can be confusing for people who want to just get on with using it. The temptation to play around with what’s there is too much and thus can make the experience feel unnecessarily complex. However, more is more in the smartphone world and I am not going to criticise Samsung for offering more flexibility to the user.

After the Samsung Wave review, I did not expect to review another phone so soon that excels in hardware and software, but this one certainly does. I will conclude this review in a couple of days and sun up my thoughts, but positivity is likely to be the name of the game.

CONCLUSION

The Samsung Galaxy S has proved itself to be a bit of a powerhouse to me over the past week and this leaves me pondering on where the smartphone market is going next. There is so much talk about the iPhone 4, iOS 4 and iPad at the moment and that will lead many to believe that there is no alternative, but there surely is.

The recent releases from HTC and Google (HTC) are great smartphones, but they do have problems in sunlight and less than stellar cameras. These factors along with the ever changing Android OS may perplex some potential users and take away the simplicity the ‘I’ products offer. However, it is not as straightforward as that and Samsung appears to be taking the fight directly to the competition with its latest smartphones. The screens (Super AMOLED) are at the forefront of these phones and are a leap up from what we have seen before. Is the iPhone 4 screen better? Possibly, in some areas, but that does not mean that the Super AMOLED screens are not very, very good in almost all conditions. The size of the screen on the Galaxy is an advantage as well and at 4” makes watching videos and playing games a pleasure.

General performance has been excellent and so is the camera. The absence of a flash may look like a big omission, but I can’t remember the last time I took a photo on a smartphone in poor lighting and the included flash helped at all. Nokia aside, almost none of the other smartphones have great optics in poor lighting so it’s not the end of the world, but it is still a curious decision on the part of Samsung.

Android is growing up nicely and has reached the stage where it could almost become too complex for new users to enjoy their first few days with it. I applaud Samsungs decision to include extra apps, but even I got confused at times and did not know which one to use next. There is little doubt though that Android is on a roll and as each new revision is released, phones like the Galaxy are well placed to embrace the improvements and offer a rounded experience that is not far at all from the iPhone.

To conclude I have to say that the Samsung Galaxy S is a better smartphone that the iPhone 3GS for my needs; it has expandable memory, a better camera, a better screen, better battery, better voice and signal quality and works in all of the places a smartphone should. I can’t say at this time how well it competes against the iPhone 4 until I get my hands on one, but this particular smartphone is way up there on my list and for today at least is at the very top.

Available from Clove for £452.38.

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About Chris Ward

Better known as 'Wardy', digital media is where his interest lies. Responsible for many elements of the Clove website and external advertising activities, Wardy is our interactive media graduate.

Always chilled out, there is never a time when you see 'Wardy' stressed. A keen music follower, he knows his DJ's and how to mix a few tracks together. Always eating, he remains stick thin and is the envy of the rest of us! A very deep character, there are some suprising twists to what Wardy knows and you'll never meet a nicer bloke if you tried!

Comments

  1. clove – few lines on all the apps was very helpful to know about the applications on the phone. thx.

  2. Cool review… Galaxy S is indeed a superb smartphone.
    The pictures that you took with the phone was amazing.
    I love the flexibility that the Android offers, together with great hardwares and app makes Samsung Galaxy S a great smartphone.