REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S — Android 2.1 on Optus

Optus’ one month exclusive on Samsung’s latest high-end Android handset the Galaxy S is almost over. We had just enough time to review one.

The Samsung Galaxy S is a curvaceous and slender Android-based handset that was launched late June with exclusivity to Optus for a month starting July 1.

It feels wider in the hand than its Android brother the HTC Legend (currently on Vodafone) – which we’ve also recently reviewed – but this is because the 122.5 x 64.2 x 9.99 mm dimensions have to accommodate the 4″ WVGA AMOLED touch-screen display which has a resolution of 800×480. This is the same resolution as the HTC Desire – currently available only through Telstra – but with a slightly bigger physical screen size – the Desire has a 3.7″ screen.

The dark all-over black colouring of the Galaxy’s exterior evokes the thought of ink and the finish is the same sheen on the Samsung N220 netbook.

There are three physical buttons for menu home/enter and back/return functions. Two are capacitive buttons that lightly vibrate when touched. The middle one is slightly inner-beveled. Other Android-based phones have differing numbers of buttons – sometimes a 4-button configuration which gives more operations for navigation or sometimes less.

There is a horizontal rounded lip on the back lower section of the handset which does help with grip. It gives a good indicator of which way is up – other wise the phone would be a bit too symmetrical.

With its rounded corners the Galaxy S looks very similar to the iPhone 3GS or 3G. But the Galaxy S design has a sleeker flow to it and the footprint of screen to frame gives the frame a tiny ratio. At 124 grams it is one of the lightest high-end Android handsets out there on the market. For example the HTC Legend weighs 126 g the Nexus One 130g and the HTC Desire 135g. The iPhone 4 weighs 137g.

It has a sliding USB port cover rather than the annoying “wedge the finger nail in the gap to pop the cover out” that some other handsets have and it doesn’t require the battery to be removed to change sim cards. The USB port at the top of the phone is handy if you want to to keep using the phone while it is jacked in and not have a cable connected with an awkward twist.

Another nice touch is the the internal external SD card is spring-loaded but I can see this design causing issues if any parts come loose.

The Samsung Galaxy S runs on the Android 2.1 (Eclair) firmware and Samsung representatives have not responded to the question when an over the air (OTA) update to 2.2 can be expected in Australia. South Korea will receive its OTA update in August if that is any indication for Australia Samsung users.

There are 7 home screens which is a lot of space to fill up factoring in the large screen space. The bright candy-like icons resemble the iPhone’s interface.

The Galaxy S has a ARM Cortex A8 1GHz processor which is believed to be similar to the model used in the iPhone 4. It comes with 512MB RAM and 16GB of internal memory. 2GB of that is used for program space and the reminder is for storage – with up to 32GB of expandable memory.

GSM/EDGE bands supported by the phone are in the the 850/900/1800/1900MHz ranges. The 900/1900/2100 3G bands are supported and networks supported are HSPDA 7.2/HSUPA 5.76. Lastly the handset can be used as a hotspot for up to five 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connections.

The camera is rated at 5 megapixels and has digital zoom auto focus a focus range of 120 cm and various basic photo effects but no flash.

The camera includes a several shot modes including single shot self shot action shot smile shot continuous panorama beauty vintage action shot and cartoon. The forward facing camera has a resolution of 480 x 640 and a focus range of 22cm. The handset also does 720p high definition (HD) video recording at 30 frames per second and has HD playback and TV out.

Other features include:

  • Borders’ eReader application: Through a Samsung partnership with Borders
  • Samsung Dive: A location wipe and remote lock application if the phone is lost or stolen
  • Daily Briefing: Samsung’s application that aggregates stock market information weather schedule and news to one display that takes up a whole home screen
  • All share: Wirelessly connect to a Samsung TV to display videos and images on the TV. Samsung notes that games can also be displayed on the TV with the handset being used as a controller.

The phone chugged when there was a lot of notifications on the task bar. This could be due to the Task manager and Quick Settings apps that are hooked into the notification bar. It performed better and chugged less when the Daily Briefing application was removed from the home screen.

After a search on the xda-developers forums it looked like the having-many-applications-open-cause-lag issue may have to do with the partitioning of the internal flash memory. Methods of converting the SD partitions to ext3 are reported to have great results. Got Root?

Wi-Fi dropped out when in use but on occasion the connection could be reset by going into the settings and turning Wi-Fi on and off. However this method didn’t work all the time and we had to reboot the phone once to turn on the Wi-Fi back on.

Other smart phones in use on the same network did not have that problem. Two consumer release Galaxy S handsets also had the same problem and it is a known issue with the community.

So it seemed that whenever intensive activity was tried over Wi-Fi – downloading games or conducting a speed test – the phone would drop out. Ultimately attempts at Wi-Fi speedtests proved futile on two different Galaxy Handsets and three different 802.11n router setups. Games and bigger applications would download on 3G but the default setting had to be overridden to allow it.

It took four to five hours for the battery to recharge via USB to 100 percent. Half of the battery was drained after half a day of intense use – backing up data a factory reset and then reloading data.

On an average usage day – a couple of phone calls email use Twitter and a few photo snapshots – the battery lasted a good two days. However intense email use over a few hours will take a toll on the battery. The phone lasted a week when 3G was turned off and just Wi-Fi was used.

When side by side screen comparisons were done with other Android based handsets from different manufacturers the Samsung display was crisper brighter and had greater contrast and the screen was easy to view in full daylight.

The camera worked great nothing unusual performance wise but playing with all the different modes was fun.

The switch between video and camera mode was easier than with other handsets. Mode switch was one button press which was in plain sight on the camera interface and the button was large and easy to reach with the thumb. The face to face video call with another Galaxy S worked fine but there was a lag of about one second.

The speaker phone quality during calls was high. For example I tested it during a conference call interview and all parties involved were crystal clear at both ends.

Samsung Dive – which shows the location of the handset – displayed a “This service is not available in your country” error message overlaid on top of the location map when accessed. However the map was still viewable and the location was accurate down to several metres.

The Samung Apps store has 6 applications available for free with more being added. Some are quite entertaining – like the racing game Aphalt 5 – and others are novel like the RoadSms app. It uses the camera and displays the environment ahead under a transparent keyboard for texting while walking – I got a kick out of using it.

The pre-installed application Swype is worthy of a mention – it allows the user an entirely different way to input text.

For example run a thumb along the keyboard in a continuous motion to input text rather than the “press key left finger press key” input method. It made texting faster and I found it more accurate than using the old method. Swype is not currently available for all on the Android market place and is only available on a few partnered handsets.

The review handset had a lot of pre-installed applications and games but it turned out a fair size of the apps and games were just links to the Optus website. The Optus application store is pointless – no worthwhile applications available and the community-based reviews were almost non-existent. The Optus application to monitor a users’ account crashed the first time I tried to use it.

Final thoughts
Overall I enjoyed using this phone and all the bugs mentioned can be ironed out in future firmware updates for basic users and/or modding for advanced users.

All of the iPhone comparisons out there on the internet – and in this article – are purely superficial. Sure it has the same processor as the iPhone 4 but the operating system other hardware features and the xda community blow those comparisons out of the water.

Samsung has an open source hub which includes open source documentation for the Galaxy S. This is a step in the right direction for Samsung. xda-developers are at hard work to optimise the the current platform and a push for Cyanogen Mod 6 to be ported has already begun.