Samsung has had a phenomenal year in phones, aided almost entirely by its spectacular flagship Google Android phones, the Galaxy S II and the Galaxy Nexus. But Samsung is a huge company, and it sells many more phones, to cater for every price bracket. Down at the other end of the scale, we’ve got the Samsung Galaxy Y which aims for the budget market. With its 3.2inch 240mm x 320mm screen and 820MHz processor, it isn’t going to set any benchmark records. But it still runs the very same operating system as the Galaxy S II, Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread, and many of the same apps – though not all.
More often than not, manufacturers such as Samsung tend to make a good stab at the hardware and tarnish Android itself with unnecessary software modifications, but it’s actually the other way around for the Galaxy Y. Despite the epic scale, the specs and design of this phone are what make it so disappointing. You may have noticed that Samsung and Apple have been caught up in a war of patents and IP infringement of late, looking at the Galaxy Y, it seems like Apple has a point. It looks very much like an iPhone 3G. A huge, plastic bezel covers most of the front face of the screen, punctuated by a physical home button just below. It’s bound by a plastic silver trim on the sides too. The only difference is that at it’s a tad smaller than Apple’s classic, and it has a diamond-ridged grey back cover.
It’s not that there’s anything functionally wrong with the Galaxy Y, as everything is in the right place. There’s a volume rocker on the side, 3.5mm audio on the top with a micro USB slot covered by a hinge and a microSD card slot but it would be fair to call it bland. That mundane experience translates to the poor two megapixel camera minus flash, and the disappointing TFT-LCD screen. Viewing angles are shallow, colour reproduction is poor and it’s not very sharp: in fact, some apps don’t even support the 240 x 320 resolution that the Galaxy Y offers. By contrast, the Orange San Francisco II offers a superb, sharp 480 x 800 screen for the same price, while the excellent Huawei Blaze now costs around £60 on Pay As You G and packs a superior screen and build too. Both of these rivals also run Gingerbread.
Samsung’s Touchwiz overlay on top of Android has always been colourfully inoffensive, and very little has changed here. You get the same basic home screen with a dock for four apps, and Samsung’s clever modifications such as toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS and Mute in the Android pull down notification tray, plus a Social Hub that draws in all your friends’ tweets and Facebook musings. It’s easy to use, and the screen size ceases to be much of an issue for typing if you switch to the superb Swype finger tracing keyboard, which comes pre-installed. What’s odd though is that Samsung has actually dropped support for apps it included in its previous budget model, the even cheaper Galaxy Europa. The Galaxy Europa included an excellent DLNA media streaming app, AllShare, but it’s conspicuous by its absence here.
We’re also slightly embarrassed to see Samsung sticking with its guns on its Samsung Apps store, which is so devoid of anything worth your time it’s become a bit of a joke. Still, the Android Market is ready and waiting for your credit card details whenever you want. And that’s the crux of the problem: so long as your phone runs Android, it’ll always be good enough. With a 3G connection and so many apps to hand, it can’t fail to be but when your rivals give you more power, apps and extras for less money, there’s an issue. Samsung will try and get round that with a bigger marketing budget, but don’t be fooled – in this case, you really can expect more for less.
It’s true that most people interested in this phone won’t be fussed that a newer version of Android is out in the wild, but even so, it’s hard to recommend this phone. It’s cheap but rivals offer so much more for the price.