Review: Samsung Galaxy S Android Smartphone

Guest Post: Albert is a developer, gadget geek, and all-round nice guy. He‘s passionate about Android, and writes for ZADroid, a new blog that covers Android in South Africa. However, anything shiny and sufficiently technologically advanced puts a smile on his face. Above and beyond that, Albert loves the web and the technologies that drive it, good design, and original ideas.

Samsung South Africa was nice enough to send their current flagship Android phone, the Galaxy S, to ZADroid so that we could spend some quality time with it.
I used the phone as my primary device for the whole review period, just as I‘ve been using my Hero for the past year or so, with one exception. Over  at ZADroid we keep our review units unrooted, running the stock firmware. That being said, this phone went where I did, whether it was to work, going out for a beer, or climbing a mountain (yes, it sat in my pocket at 1600m or so above sea level).
There are quite a few variants of the Samsung Galaxy S out there, but in South Africa, our specific model is the GT-I9000. Some of the highlights are a 1GHz processor, massive internal storage space, and an amazing Super AMOLED display.

Physical Features
The first thing I noticed when I picked the Galaxy S up is how light it is (weighing in at just 119g), and yet it feels solid and well built, even though it looks plasticky at first glance. It‘s also surprisingly thin, being just under 10mm deep. The front is your standard glass facade, with a metal rim of an oxidized-silver colour running around the outer edge. The front also features a large physical “œhome“ button flanked by two capacitive buttons (“œmenu“ and “œback“). I‘m not crazy about capacitive buttons, as they promote unintentional presses, but the position of the buttons on the Galaxy S minimized this irritation. The “œhome“ button is nice and clicky, and the raised ridges make it easy to find by touch alone. The omission of a “œsearch“ button is frustrating, as is an input method to move the cursor around on the screen. I thought the “œhome“ button may double as a touch-pad or at least a D-pad, but this, unfortunately, wasn‘t the case.
Around the sides, a volume rocker is on the left (which works well), and the power/lock button is on the right. The position of the power button was strange at first, but as I got used to it, it just felt right. I‘m not too fond of the position of the micro-USB port on the top of the device. Also found on the top is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
The back of the device is made up of a shiny plastic with a nice dotted-pattern effect that can only be seen from certain angles, and a raised chin at the bottom, which has a nice ergonomic effect. A case for the phone might be a good idea, though, as this plastic back seems quite scratch prone.
As for the overall design of the device“¦it‘s pretty, but it looks too much like it‘s trying to imitate a previous generation of a certain fruit-adorned device. Apart from that (and the fact that it is quite the fingerprint magnet), overall I was pretty impressed with the overall look, feel, and build quality of the device.
The Galaxy S sports a 4“³ (or 100mm) Super AMOLED capacitive touch screen, which is protected by a special crack and scratch resistant glass, known as Gorilla Glass. Colours are bright and vivid, and at a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, images and text are crisp and sharp. I did notice, though, that the display on our review unit has a slight blue-green tint, which is most evident on content with a white background. That being said, I love the display. It‘s probably one of the best out there at the moment.
Sensors and Such
The internet was awash with people complaining about the GPS performance of the Galaxy S range, but in my experience it worked well. Satellite locks were quick, and accuracy was surprisingly high. Another thing that seems to be difficult to get right for phone manufacturers are proximity sensors, but the Galaxy S has it down pat. Lastly, the ambient light sensor works better than expected, as the brightness adjustment was smooth and gradual, making it virtually unnoticeable.
Bluetooth worked well, for both copying files to and from the device, as well as pairing with my car for hands-free calling, and streaming of music.
I couldn‘t test the FM Radio, as I didn‘t receive a headset with my review unit (and you need to plug it in to act as the antenna).
Performance & Battery Life
With the Galaxy S, Samsung decided not to go the “œSnapdragon“ route, as it features an in-house developed system-on-a-chip housing a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 based processor known as “œHummingbird“ (that was jointly developed with Intrinsity), and a separate graphics processing unit, a PowerVR SGX 540, which supports OpenGL ES 2.0. The Galaxy S has 512 MB of dedicated RAM, and when it comes to storage space, it blows most other phones out of the water with its 8GB (or 16GB ““ depending on the model) internal SD Card, allowing for expansion of an additional 32GB by using an external MicroSD card.
The phone is quite snappy, and quick to boot up, and I never experienced any lag when moving between menus and screens. Applications loaded up in no time at all, and those that support OpenGL whizzed along beautifully, thanks to the separate GPU. There were one or two times, when I had quite a few applications open in the background, that I noticed a second or two of slowdown, but that‘s to be expected.
Battery life is amazing. I‘ve gotten so used to plugging in all my gadgets every night, that the battery of the Galaxy S was a welcome breath of fresh air. The lithium-ion battery is quite large, at 1500 mAh, and a full charge would last me almost two days with regular use. I‘m sure that, with tweaks and conservative use, you could push this to 3 days.
Actual phone calls were acceptable. I never experienced a single dropped call, but sound quality was questionable at times. On more than one occasion, the person on the other end of the line had trouble hearing me, either because my voice was too soft, or because of distant echos. This didn‘t happen often enough to be a deal breaker, though.
3G/HSDPA performance is top notch, and I was getting speeds well in excess of 4Mbps, consistently, with switchovers to EDGE or GPRS happening rarely, if at all.
The Galaxy S is blessed with not one, but two cameras. A regular, 5.0 megapixel camera at the back, and a front-facing VGA camera for video calling. The main camera features autofocus, and delivers pictures of 2592×1944 pixels at its highest resolution.
Samsung phones have always had amazing cameras, and this one performs well, especially with enough light. Colour reproduction is good, and the pictures are sharp. Taking pictures in low light produces better than expected results, but as with all phone cameras, noticeable noise is introduced in sub-optimal lighting conditions.
I didn‘t get to test the video-calling capabilities of the phone, as initiating a video call through the standard dialer to another Samsung phone with (alleged) video calling capabilities failed repeatedly, and Fring also refused to play nice. I‘m sure it‘ll work just fine once software appears that can actually make use of it.
Our review unit was still sporting Android 2.1, but South Africans should get an update to 2.2 before the end of the year (some lucky Europeans have already received their update).
I‘m not a big fan of manufacturer “œskins“, but the TouchWiz 3.0 UI that lives on this phone is one of the more acceptable examples out there. Above the standard Android features, you can arrange homescreens quite easily, it adds a few custom widgets, a modified app drawer with vertical scrolling, and other nice touches like settings toggles in the notification drawer and a built-in task manager.
Even with all of these nice little tweaks, the UI still feels like a bit of an afterthought. The widgets aren‘t the prettiest I‘ve ever seen, and the vertical-scrolling app drawer doesn‘t quite do it for me. I do like the colour scheme of the interface, though, as the dark greys and blues work quite well.
Samsung also provides a few pre-installed applications (that you can‘t remove, unfortunately). Among these is Aldiko, Layar, and the standard customized email, calendar and notes fare. They‘re nice, but it‘s a bit of a bummer that you can‘t outright replace them with alternatives. One of these pre-installed applications that is a welcome addition is an alternative keyboard, called Swype. If you‘ve ever used it before, you‘ll know that “œswyping“ is an awesome way to type, greatly improving the speed and accuracy of text input.
All in all it feels like the software could use a bit more polish, but it never interfered with my day-to-day use of the phone.
Samsung‘s desktop management suite, Kies, is another story all together. It‘s large, unwieldy, slow, and buggy. Luckily the phone doesn‘t depend on it. Avoid installing this monster.
For all its little niggles, I really liked the Samsung Galaxy S. If I had to buy a phone right now, at this very moment, it would probably be one of my top three choices. To be perfectly honest, though, I‘d get a case for it, root it, and install one of the custom 2.2 vanilla Android ROMs out there on it first chance I got. The hardware is in a class of its own, but as it stands, the software still needs some work. Hopefully the 2.2 update will provide the polish that is needed.
Build Quality: 4.5/5
Performance and Responsiveness: 4/5
Aesthetics: 3.5/5
Display: 4/5
Score: 4/5