Samsung's Android portfolio is growing exponentially; with every major smartphone announcement, the company tacks on an extra half a dozen or more budget models with slight variations in form and features. The Galaxy 551 fits this mould in that it follows the announcement of the original Galaxy S, but we'd struggle to call this handset a budget model. Even six months on from its original release date, the 551 is listed in Telstra's price range for AU$480 outright or for AU$5 per month on a AU$59 cap plan.
The pitch here is reasonably simple. The Galaxy 551 offers most of the features of the Galaxy S, but in a smaller, somewhat cheaper package. The screen has been reduced to a 3.2-inch WQVGA resolution, though it maintains the capacitive touch technology of the flagship model. The lower pixel count is immediately obvious, and the screen looks a little dull even at the highest brightness setting, but overall it is adequate for the task at hand.
Unlike most of the Galaxy range, the 551 slides open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard beneath the screen. This does require the handset to be 50 per cent thicker than most modern smartphones, at 15.2mm deep, but messaging friends won't give this fact a second thought after using the excellently designed keyboard. The shape of the keys are perfect for texting using two thumbs, with a slight rise in each key helping to define it from the keys beside it. The 551's keyboard doesn't have a dedicated number row, though the large ALT key makes for easy numeric input. The only complaint we have about this excellent keypad is that Samsung has forgotten to include a Search key — a necessary element for using the built-in Android keyboard shortcuts.
The 551 is constructed out of cheap, glossy plastic and looks and feels like a prepaid smartphone. That said, we've found this handset to be sturdy in use, with good response from the navigation keys and a solid feel to the slider mechanism.
In keeping its Android range uniformed, Samsung includes its TouchWiz user experience on the 551 as it does for the Galaxy S. TouchWiz is a user experience overlay and adapts Android with a few unique UI tweaks. The home screen layout features seven user customisable panes where the user can install app shortcuts and widgets. Samsung includes its own widgets alongside the standard Android collection, with a social-networking widget for Facebook and Twitter, and a dual-clock for calculating time differences when you're travelling.
The user experience is reasonably responsive on this handset, though it certainly doesn't feel as slick as it would on a more powerful handset. Menu navigation is mostly fluid, though there is some animation jitter apparent across the entire system. Database processing can also be a touch laggy, adding a pause to common tasks like opening your address book or a busy Gmail account.
We tend to be fairly lenient when reviewing the camera component in budget-priced smartphones, but for just under AU$500 we expected better from the 551. Below are two examples of the photographs we took with this phone, which show the problems we experienced across the board with this camera. Colours look washed out and without auto-focus it was very difficult to take a sharp pic.
The Galaxy 551 runs on Android version 2.2, which adds a few nifty extras to the standard smartphone experience. You get the basics like a rich email and web browsing experience with Android, plus you also have access to full turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps and the ability to share your 3G internet data with your laptop or tablet using the phone's Wi-Fi hotspot feature.
The 551 connects to the web using the Telstra Next G network, plus can make use of local networks using Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n. This should cover most common household Wi-Fi set-ups. There's also Bluetooth installed for connecting to headsets and in-car speakerphones.
As we noted above, the Galaxy 551 mostly delivers a decent user experience, with most tasks executing with only minimal lag or visible dips in performance. It does a decent job of playing some of our favourite Android games, too. (Though we still feel you should be able to expect more for your money in regards to hardware.) For AU$480, Samsung gives basically the same hardware you'll find in the LG Optimus Me, though this LG Android costs less than half of what the 551 does.
We also encountered some instability in the phone's software, with our review unit spontaneously rebooting on more than one occasion. There was no similarity in the circumstances surrounding these reboots, but we patiently endured the phone restarting on three or four occasions over our two weeks with the 551.
Between Samsung and Telstra, someone has set the price of the Galaxy 551 way too high. Whether you choose to pay AU$480 outright or AU$59 per month, the Galaxy 551 just isn't worth it. The keyboard is excellent and Android 2.2 does offer loads of great features, but this describes so many other handsets too, many of them for much cheaper too. For this sort of money we want a sharper screen, a better camera and a slick user experience. Unless you can find the Galaxy 551 for sale at a third of this price, we suggest you take a look at some of the other phones on offer.