We always said Google’s Android mobile phone operating system had great potential and it would only be a matter of time before the perfect hardware would come along to make it truly shine. Well, with it sporting a large AMOLED screen, a slim candybar form factor, 5-megapixel camera with flash and autofocus, 3.5mm headphone jack, and 8GB of onboard storage as well as a memory card slot, the Samsung i7500 Galaxy certainly looks like it could just be that handset.
Coming off the back of reviewing the highly stylised Palm Pre, first impressions of the Galaxy are a little underwhelming. While its design is certainly classy – unlike many of the more toy-like Android handsets we’ve previously seen – it just feels a little too boxy and lacks a truly cohesive design. The mass of buttons on the front and various other flaps, buttons, and holes round the sides also make it look a little cluttered. Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re not averse to taking substance over style but for those of you who like your accessories to make an impact this might be one to avoid.
Another disappointment is build quality. While many have reported that the screen is made of super tough and scratch-resistant glass, it is in fact just a very hard plastic. Now, it’s certainly going to be more scratch-resistant than soft plastic screens but still nowhere near the level of a glass screen. The back is also fairly flimsy glossy black plastic so will scratch very easily. Samsung does, however, include a basic soft pouch that is nice and slim, fits the phone snugly, and has a smooth finish so is easy to get in and out of pockets.
In contrast, the buttons on the front all have a nice brushed finish and are large (or in the case of the little one on the right, sufficiently raised) so easy to hit and they have a nice positive break to them so you know when you’ve pressed them.
While they are easy to reach, the buttons themselves aren’t without fault. While we think dropping the trackball of all other Android handsets and replacing it with a D-pad makes sense, we wish Samsung had thought about dropping some of the other extra buttons as well. In particular, we don’t see the need for a separate home button (the little one) as well as ones for back and call end/power. The side-mounted lock button also seems superfluous and is certainly very frustrating – this phone seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to locking and unlocking it (to the point of many a swear word passing my lips in exasperation). We much prefer the simplified layout of the T-Mobile Pulse with its combined lock/power button on the side and home/back button on the front.
At 12mm thick, the Galaxy is on the slim side for a phone of its calibre and its width of 56mm is quite narrow too. Combined with fairly straight sides, this makes it easy to grip securely (unlike the iPhone’s slippery curved sides), which somewhat makes up for the unwieldiness that results from a significant height of 115mm. The key, though, is handling this phone never requires you to stretch awkwardly, as the important buttons all fall within easy reach, so it’s easy to use one-handed. It’s also a little lighter than many large touchscreen smartphones at just 116g.
Next to the lock button is the shutter button for the seriously impressive camera. While there are better dedicated camera phones this must be a rival for the best smartphone camera. Results are sharp, detailed and properly exposed while the flash does a good job of lighting up indoor shots (though range is very limited) and the phone’s GPS even provides geo-tagging. Video is also perfectly acceptable for quick clips. The only major problem is the picture viewer opening up after every shot, making shot to shot time quite slow.
One of the things people are making a big fuss over with this device is its AMOLED screen and we can totally see why. Colours are incredibly vivid – almost overly so, it’s super sharp, and has incredible viewing angles. The only major downside is the touch-sensing, which despite using capacitive technology (normally considered much more sensitive tham the resistive type), feels unresponsive, requiring a bit of pressure to work. This not only mares the general usability of the phone but makes typing, in particular, difficult. In fact the keyboard is downright awful as Samsung has seen fit to put upper case letter and numeric/symbol selection in a menu, adding pointless extra steps to everyday typing. The lack of multi-touch also leads to lots of mistyped letters if you go too fast and it means you miss the zooming gestures we’re so accustomed to using in web browsers, picture viewers, and Google Maps.
Another boo boo on Samsung’s part is the headphone socket. The company’s done a ‘bit of an iPhone’, in that it’s slightly raised the edge round the whole socket, preventing you from fitting bulkier headphone jacks. It shouldn’t obstruct all headphones but those with beefy plastic ends like my Teufel AC 9050 PHs simply won’t fit. By default it also plays a jingle every time you plug in and unplug headphones. It’s utterly infuriating but you can at least turn it off. It’s a shame about the headphone socket design, but if your headphones’ connector does fit (and they’re a good set of cans), then music sounds great from the Galaxy, and with all that storage available it makes for a decent all-round media player.
Next to the headphone socket sits the micro-USB data and charging socket while sliding the back off reveals the battery, SIM slot, and the all important microSD slot. The battery is a 1500mAh unit that gave us around two days of heavy usage. This is average to good for such a phone and means you could just about avoid having to charge your phone every night.
Unlike the extra spit and polish applied to the OS on the HTC Hero and T-Mobile Pulse, the Galaxy uses a completely standard installation of Android. This has its advantages as it’s familiar and also seems a little faster to use, but it’s definitely not as pretty.
On the homescreen, you can horizontally slide between three desktops upon which you can place widgets (mini apps) as well as shortcuts to apps, webpages, bookmarks, and contacts. You get the usual Android choice of widgets – analogue clock, music player, photo viewer, calendar, and Google search box – while those apps you don’t load onto the homescreen are stored in the slide-up menu at the bottom. You also get the usual slide-down notification bar at the top that keeps you up-to-date with downloads, emails and calendar events.
Google Mail, Google Maps, YouTube, GoogleTalk, and Calendar all come preinstalled, of course, and they work as well as you might expect. Likewise, the web browser is superb, rendering full web pages properly and quickly, though it does occasionally get image sizes a bit off when zooming in and out and judders a little when scrolling through highly graphical pages. Other POP3 and IMAP email accounts can also be set up, though sadly the accounts don’t merge into a single mail folder like on the Palm Pre.
Nevertheless, with the Android app market on hand to give you access to thousands of useful apps and fun games you’ll seldom be wanting for functionality.
Call quality was good though it seemed that adjusting the volume mid-call made the phone hang-up. We are in a bad signal area, so it could have been dropping the call for that reason and just been a coincidence.
The Samsung Galaxy should have been a class-leading Android handset with its good quality camera, superb-looking screen, and masses of storage. However, a misguided collection of physical buttons, a poor keyboard implementation, and the lack of multi-touch result in a frustrating user experience.
Score in detail
|Operating System||Android OS|
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||3.2in|
|Talk Time (Minute)||370m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||340hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||8GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||5 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||No Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||Yes|
Processor and Internal Specs
|CPU||528MHz ARM 11|
|App Store||Android Market|