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This is a global GSM phone. It can be used with AT&T’s 1900MHz 3G band, and with T-Mobile USA without 3G.
Variants of the Samsung Galaxy S I9000 have been announced by all four major U.S. carriers and will be released as the Captivate by AT&T, Vibrant by T-Mobile USA, Fascinate by Verizon and Epic 4G by Sprint.
Samsung must have been pretty confident in the GALAXY S’s virtues to designate it for a simultaneous launch in 110 countries. Therefore it’s not surprising that the South Korean manufacturer has a wow factor built-in from the start. The Samsung GALAXY S comes with a huge 4” Super AMOLED display, significantly larger than the only other such screen on the market – the 3.3” one of the Samsung Wave. This gorgeous window to the phone’s soul is hinged to another novelty from Samsung – the 1GHz Hummingbird heart of the device. It is Samsung’s answer to the Snapdragon cores found in the current cream-of-the-crop handsets.
- Samsung GALAXY S handset
- Li-Ion battery 1500mAh
- Headset with microphone
- User manual
- Get to know booklet
- Travel adapter
- microUSB cable
- Screen protector
The Samsung GALAXY S I9000 is a typical rectangular representative of the big touchscreen phone designs these days. The screen is recessed just a tad below the rim of the casing, which protects it from direct contact with hard surfaces when placed face-down. As can be expected from a 4” display, it occupies most of the frontal space, but room is spared above and below it for the earpiece and navigational buttons.
The Samsung Galaxy S is a typical rectangular representative of the big touchscreen phone designs these days
You can compare the Samsung Galaxy S I9000 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
There are three keys right below it – touch home, physical menu and touch back. Long pressing the context menu key fires up the smart search function, so we actually have all four standard Android keys present. The other front elements are above the screen – the earpiece slit, a front facing VGA cam, and the dot sensors for proximity and ambient light. The Samsung branding is visible right above the screen, as well as on the lower section of the battery cover.
The back hosts the 5MP camera lens in the upper left corner, and the speaker grill on the right. Below them is the ubiquitous “with Google” branding, which hints this is a full-featured Android device, with the whole set of Google services preinstalled. The dotted back cover makes one think the phone has measles rather than bring the alleged carbon fiber-esque look, but that’s our take.
On the upper left side is the volume rocker, which is a whole piece with a decent travel click, and on the right is the power/lock key. It is welcome that Samsung has provided a physical lock key to the GALAXY S. You can’t accidentally dial on a capacitive screen in your pocket, but it’s the quick pressing of the lock key before you slip it in, that completely takes the worries out.
Another nice idea from Samsung is the sliding lid over the microUSB port at the top of the Samsung GALAXY S – prevents dirt and lint from clogging the port. The same can be found on the Samsung Wave, and takes another worry out of the equation. The top also houses the 3.5mm audio jack, which can serve as an S-video port for TV-out, if you get the additional cable. It would have been nice to have an HDMI-out port, so sound can travel to your TV as well as picture, but obviously Samsung hasdecided to leave the GALAXY S out of the multimedia battles. The only other element worth noting is the microscopic mic hole at the bottom of the device and that’s all there is on the outside. Pretty simple and streamlined exterior..
Another nice idea from Samsung is the sliding lid over the microUSB port at the top of the Samsung GALAXY S
The handset’s design is not amazingly inventive, but rather practical and comfortable for holding thanks to a hump at the very bottom of its back cover. We wouldn’t actually consider the device too big since it is also very thin with its 0.39” (9.9mm). This commendable achievement is due to the technology behind the 480×800 pixels WVGA Super AMOLED screen. Samsung has disposed of the air layer between the touch sensitive panel and the display, and has placed the touch sensor directly over it – almost like coating, considering it is 0.000040” (0.001 mm) thick. This surely helped to keep matters nice and svelte in the Samsung GALAXY S I9000, despite its powerhouse status. It also sports true black color, wider viewing angles and is very usable in direct sunlight thanks to the lack of air pocket in the Super AMOLED technology. What we didn’t like in this display was how you can easily see almost every single pixel in it. We are not sure if it’s the low ppi count or the particular technology involved, but it surely has a negative effect on image clarity and even usability, as it makes small texts pretty hard to read.
The 480×800 pixels WVGA Super AMOLED screen
The only gripe we have with the design is the plasticky build, unlike the nice aluminum one, found in the Samsung Wave. We would have preferred more upscale materials or accents, but, oh well, as long as the phone is sturdy as it appears, we will sit tight and wait for the Vanity Fair moment to pass.
Moreover, an all-plastic casing around a thin display brings in a welcome reduction in weight. The Samsung GALAXY S I9000 is one of the lightest handsets with a 4” screen money can buy – it weighs what the smaller Wave does with its 4.16 oz (118 g). Compare that to the HTC EVO 4G‘s 6.00 oz (170 g), or even to the same screen size Xperia X10 at 4.76 oz (135 g), and you will catch our drift. Keep ‘em Super AMOLEDs coming, Samsung, humanity will be eternally grateful.
Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay of Android 2.1 on the GALAXY S is there mostly for the better. Android’s notification bar at the top lets you toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ringer and vibration on/off, and we caught ourselves constantly using it for that, instead of the usual options. The omnipresent dock at the screen bottom is populated with four icons. They are labeled Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications, and are docked wherever you navigate in the home or menu screens – done before, but helpful nonetheless. The Applications icon becomes Home when you enter the apps menu, and vice versa – it is the only icon on the dock you can’t replace with shortcuts of your choosing in edit mode.
The Samsung GALAXY S I9000 offers up to seven home screens, which can be populated with widgets, launch icons and folders by tap and hold on an empty space. Unfortunately they don’t act as a carousel, so you have to swipe six times to get from the first to the last home screen, or use the small dots up the screen for that. If you dive into the menus, or enter an application, and keep hitting the back key, you will be returned to the home screen you were at before entering. Pressing the physical home button, on the other hand, always takes you to the default first homescreen.
You don’t even have to type to perform a search from the home screen – Google Voice Search has come a long way. Just tap the mike icon and thanks to the powerful CPU, we were entering our home page a few seconds after we mumbled “PhoneArena” to the phone. Out of the other Android widgets, we can see some added value in the Power control (lets you switch on/off radios and adjust brightness) and Picture frame (populates home screens with pics of your choosing) widgets.
The selection of widgets that can be added to the home screens is similar to the one in the Samsung Wave. Samsung’s widgets are for the most part helpful, though repetitive. The company decided to show us there are many ways to skin a cat – if you want to be always in touch with the weather (AccuWeather clock), the stock market (Y! Finance clock), another timezone (Dual clock), or your busy schedule (the Calendar clock). The more, the merrier, we would say, and leave it at that.
Those can actually be combined into one widget called the Daily Briefing, which populates the current weather, stock quotes, AP breaking news, and your calendar events, on one home screen. Another fairly useful widget is Feeds and Updates – it satiates your thirst for social interaction on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace right from a home screen. We let the phone take us to the Samsung Apps store to download more widgets, but the choice was appalling for the total of two more. Nevertheless we obtained Robert Parker’s wine guide for the sense of superiority it will bring come our usual gourmet dinners in assorted French restaurants.
The Samsung Galaxy S offers up to seven home screens
The selection of widgets can be added to the home screens
We mentioned the Applications icon in the dock that turns to Home when in the applications menu panes – it actually brings up the main menu. It is designed again in pages, like the home screens. Someone obviously got the memo that people were bored with the stock infinite grid layout, and decided that swiping from one screen full of icons to another will bring more joy to the Android experience. We are seeing such arrangements more and more, the last time was in the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 mini.
In edit mode the application shortcuts can be rearranged in the current page, sent to different ones, or to the dock. The actual applications can also be completely disposed of by tapping on the minus sign in the upper right of their icons, instead of uninstalling from settings, neat. All said, navigating TouchWiz 3.0, as we find it in the Samsung GALAXY S I9000, is an incremental improvement over the stock Android experience, tailored well to the huge screen of the device.
Phonebook and Organizer:
Of the other customizations Samsung has made to the default Android interface, the most notable are in the Phonebook and Calendar. Entering the Phone screen defaults to your call log tab. There are also keypad, favorites, and contacts tabs to choose from at the top. Tap Contacts, and you are taken to the respective screen, where history of your communication activities can be accessed with tabs at the top as well – including all calls and messages exchange, as well as social network updates.
Texting and email tools on the Samsung GALAXY S are a bit of a mixed bag. There is Google’s Mail app, which works as advertised, with search, labels and all. There is also the Samsung email client for other general web-based email services like Hotmail or Yahoo, and for your corporate Exchange accounts. The phone’s own email app has the cool features of TouchWiz 3.0, such as the combined inbox, where all your set email accounts pour in their messages, differentiated with color coding.
The Messaging application is pretty powerful when you need to shoot group texts, or attach multimedia and memos for an MMS. TouchWiz uses the default messaging application underneath, which starts showing the symbols counter when there are ten left from the first message, like on other Android phones. It’s smart, but we’d rather have the counter from the start. We downloaded the Road SMS app off Samsung Apps, which shows the road in front of you through the phone’s camera while you are texting, and that one had a counter, so no biggie. Messages get into text balloons for a nice cartoonish conversation much like… the iPhone, but this is, of course, a good thing. There are other similarities in the Samsung GALAXY S I9000 to the iPhone’s apps or interface, which we will mention later.In both the Messaging and Email apps you can use pinch to zoom while reading a message and it enlarges the text and/or pictures inside for easier viewing. Swiping right or left on a conversation thread in the main Messaging screen lets you call, or message the contact, and that feat also works on the contacts in the phonebook.
The on-screen keyboard of the Samsung GALAXY S
Browser and Connectivity:
When it comes to pictures and video, the Samsung GALAXY S I9000 has a decent 5MP shooter that does high definition video to boot. Samsung has taken the unpleasant decision to leave any type of flash out of the phone and we can’t help but think why would you do that on a flagship Android phone with a 4” screen that does 720p video – we need you, LED light. The manufacturer’s design choices reconfirmed for us that the camera capabilities haven’t been its top priority with the GALAXY S, as it is also lacking a dedicated shutter key. Taking pics is instead executed by tapping directly on the virtual shutter button. It’s fine, once you get the gist of it. Otherwise the camera interface is the same found on the recent Samsung high-end devices, and offers an abundance of preset modes. The closest thing to the missing macro mode, however, is a setting to snap text close ups.
All in all, videos are on par with the other high def phone cameras out there and the mike turned out very sensitive, capturing clear sound for the video playback.
Samsung Galaxy S sample video 2 at 1280×720 pixels resolution.
The multimedia files get organized in the Gallery, which offers some 3D effects, batch view by date/time, and grid view. It automatically indexes the pictures and video on the card and in the phone. The gallery syncs with Picasa upon launch, assigning different icons to the pics depending on their source. The Picasa images are just thumbs and you have to download them for a full view. Images can be rotated and cropped right in the gallery, uploaded on Google’s Picasa, or sent via email, MMS or Bluetooth. The Samsung AllShare function is also here, if you happen to have a DLNA capable TV to watch the pics or videos from the phone on the big screen. Videos can also be uploaded straight from the gallery, to Google’s YouTube. And the Samsung GALAXY S I9000 will play whatever you throw at it. We maxed out at 1280×720, also in DivX/Xvid format, and it didn’t lag for a second. It also supports subtitles similar to the Wave.
The Gallery offers some 3D effects, batch view by date/time, and grid view
The music player is pretty darn good
We already mentioned that the Samsung GALAXY S I9000 is not as snappy as we would like considering the 1GHz heartbeat, and the 512MB of memory. This is actually occurring only when it gets hogged down by intensive work in the background, and is probably due to Android having the last six applications used lingering underneath. Messaging is particularly slow to appear on first start, but even Phone sometimes takes a few seconds before it goes beyond the initial black screen. The upgrade to Froyo should speed things up, although we cannot call the phone sluggish by any means. Also, it froze a few times on us, but what phone doesn’t, especially if you put a strain on its multitasking abilities like we do while reviewing.
The Samsung team mumbled something at the CTIA presentation about the graphics processor able to do 90 mil. triangles per second. While this is three times ahead of competition we’ll save judgment on that since raw power is less important than real life performance. Maybe when we get 3D games done specifically for the Samsung’s new Hummingbird instructions, and the Android 2.2 update gets out, we can come back and test the claim. For now it doesn’t seem a lot faster than the best out there. Actually Asphalt 5 appeared on Samsung Apps stating that it is tailored specifically for the GALAXY S. We played, we liked the view, there was absolutely not a hint of lag, so they might be correct about the 3D capabilities of the platform.
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