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Samsung Galaxy S review

Jonathan Morris
August 13, 2010

Giving the HTC Desire a run for its money is Samsung’s latest top-end Android smartphone. See if you can spot any similarities to the iPhone 3GS?

Samsung must have felt let down when Jonathan Ive designed a new iPhone that looked nothing like the first three. The Galaxy S looks like an oversized 3GS, which is perhaps what Samsung assumed Apple would do. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the design issues with the new iPhone.

Under the hood of this iPhone 3GS clone is an Android phone that is more than capable of attacking the iPhone (antenna problems or no antenna problems) head on, with Android OS 2.1, a 1GHz Application Processor and a Super AM-OLED display that has a resolution that’s not far off the iPhone – even if it doesn’t have a sexy name like ‘Retina Display’.

The phone is also very slim, and almost too thin – making it feel too easy to slip out of your hand, especially when trying to press the power button on the right hand edge.

That screen is gorgeous to look at though and anything else is quickly forgotten. Like the HTC Desire and other AM-OLED equipped handsets from Samsung before this, the colours are a little too vivid and unnatural, but it certainly makes the menus and icons nicer to look at. The accuracy of the colours will also be fine when you upload your pictures to a PC or share them with friends.

The ‘super’ part of the screen technology relates the higher brightness level, compared to other OLED displays. It really does work better too. With the recent spell of sunny weather, using any mobile phone outdoors will put most colour displays to their toughest test.

Unlike the old days of having a simple mono LCD display, which benefited from brighter light, colour screens will always struggle. Some are better than others, but OLED was always one of the first to go.

The colours may be superb in the dark, with all the benefits of no backlight for solid blacks and an amazing contrast ratio, but in the sun you can’t see anything! Samsung has managed to not only increase the brightness for normal use, but offers a further boost for when you use the camera. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated!

In the dark

The camera interface is a delight to use, with touch-to-focus and HD video recording just two of the many features on offer. But, where’s the flash? I’m not talking about the lack of Adobe Flash, but a simple LED flash for the camera. Just because Apple didn’t have one before doesn’t give Samsung any excuses, given their previous experience in making decent cameraphones. In fact, can someone remind Samsung about the handsets they’ve made before with 8 and 12-megapixel cameras, and even Xenon flashes? It’s bizarre that a flagship phone has omitted such a tiny little thing like this, and somewhat ironic when the new iPhone now has one.

Admittedly, not everyone is a big camera user but it is probably the one aspect that will sway towards the similarly specified HTC Desire, although that doesn’t have the Super AM-OLED screen (but HTC will on future devices).

Samsung has also included a replacement homescreen that mimics the TouchWiz user interface on its other models, from the bada OS-based Wave to earlier non-smartphones. Instead of the standard Android applications menu, which slides up and grows as you add more apps, you have panel based menu that allows you to move apps around in an order that suits you. It also allows you to uninstall apps quickly, in a similar fashion to the iPhone.

I liked this approach, as it combines the iPhone menu system with an Android standby screen that can show app shortcuts and widgets – a key feature of Android and the best of both worlds. You also have some additional shortcuts on the pull-down notification panel – to quickly toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and silent/vibrate modes.

The incredibly fast ARM-based processor ensures that all operation is totally fluid, with no lagging anywhere. Even iPhone users won’t be able to fault the UI, and may well prefer it – especially with the ability to multitask without the need for support within the specific application.

The 4-inch screen does make the phone quite big (a stark contrast to, say, the X10 mini family) but it pays off when you come to looking at pictures and video. It also allows you to view web pages without the need for lots of zooming, and hopefully Samsung will offer an update to Android 2.2 before Christmas, adding Adobe Flash 10 support. Samsung is yet to confirm this, so don’t assume it is coming – but we’d be surprised if it didn’t.

Apps are now appearing at an incredible rate on Android Market, and another big plus for the Galaxy S is the battery. As long as you’re not running loads of apps that need constant Internet access or GPS locating, or watching movies with the brightness on max, the Galaxy S can happily run for a couple of days or more.

Although the camera flash would have been very welcome, it’s not enough to stop this phone being top class and one that I thoroughly recommend.

Verdict

Samsung began supporting Android by dipping its toes in the water and playing safe with some fairly basic offerings. Then it came and hit us all with this; an incredibly powerful Android 2.1 device that has all the features you could imagine, with a super bright AM-OLED display that is large enough to offer a great multimedia and web experience. Samsung has also added its TouchWiz UI, which combines the best aspects of Android OS with the iPhone menu system. Good battery life finishes things off nicely, but it’s a crying shame they left out an LED flash for the camera.

Ratings (out of 5)

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Performance: 5
Features: 4
Usability: 5

OVERALL: 5

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