You may have heard that Apple has recently filed a lawsuit against Samsung for designing phones that it believes look too much like the iPhone. This suit listed a number of previous Samsung products, but in our opinion, Apple has never had as strong a case for this claim as it does against the Galaxy Ace. The combination of the 3.5-inch display, the size and shape of the bezel around the screen, the single mechanical button and the stainless steel trim make the Ace seem very familiar.
Brothers from another mother?
But then, we don't think that this is a bad thing for consumers, and whether you agree or not, the Ace is a very sturdy-feeling phone. We like the size of it in our hands, and we like the feel of the mesh-like grip on the charcoal-coloured plastic battery cover. The 3.5-inch screen uses capacitive touchscreen technology and is extremely responsive, though its HVGA (320 x 480) pixel resolution and its LCD panel look a little dull and blocky.
Samsung finds space for a 5-megapixel camera and an LED flash on the back of the Ace, alongside an external speaker grille. There's a headphone socket at the top of this phone, and a microSD card slot on the right-hand side, filled with a 2GB card that can be replaced with a card up to 32GB in capacity.
Samsung employs its TouchWiz UI in its Ace, similar to last year's hugely successful Galaxy S. Unlike the Galaxy S, however, the Ace doesn't suffer from the same performance glitches, and the experience is, for the most part, quite smooth and unobtrusive. TouchWiz includes up to seven home screens for widgets, and Samsung includes a range of widgets to use, though none offer anything new or innovative.
A big plus in favour of the Ace, compared with other phones in this price range, is the inclusion of a Swype keyboard. Samsung has included Swype in a number of its Android releases, and if you haven't used Swype before, you're in for a real treat.
One major disappointment, and it was a complete surprise for us, was that the Ace is incompatible with Adobe Flash, even though it runs on the Android Froyo (2.2) platform. Flash is one of the major points of difference for Android compared with other platforms, and we believe that most people choosing an Android phone would expect to be able to watch videos in the browser. We're guessing that Samsung has left Flash out to preserve performance, but those considering an Ace should keep this is mind.
A 5-megapixel camera sounds like a very generous addition in a mid-tier handset, especially when flash and auto-focus are included. However, these specifications are not indicative of the quality of the photos that this camera takes.
The soft-focus and the flaring of whites gives this photo the appearance of a cheap glamour photo.
One of the best parts of Samsung's Android customisations is the baked-in music player. The player itself looks a lot like the basic Android player, but adds access to a bunch of preset equaliser settings to help you tweak the output for each album that you listen to. It also supports 5.1 surround sound output for when you plug the Ace into your home stereo system.
Those hoping to use their phones as a portable video player would be wise to avoid the Galaxy Ace. The lack of Flash, as we mentioned earlier, will hamper your efforts to watch video online, and we also found it lacking when it came to file recognition of videos stored on its internal (or expandable) memory. Of all of our standard test videos, the Ace only played one: a low-quality MP4 video. While it's possible to download a more robust player from the Market or to spend time converting your videos into compatible MP4 files, it is disappointing that the video options are so few for a handset in this price range.
As we previously described, the general performance across the user experience is very good. The 800MHz processor and dedicated graphics in the Ace deliver smooth, mostly seamless navigation. We did experience a few minor pauses, and noticed infrequent animation stutters, but for the most part, the Ace pulls its weight well.
Comparatively, the Ace outstrips its Samsung stablemate, the Galaxy 551 (another Telstra exclusive), in benchmarks — but like the 551, it falls well behind other handsets in the AU$59 cap contract price range. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc will cost the same on an Optus AU$59 plan, but is in a completely different league, with performance results nearly three times higher across most tests.
Battery life is decent — the upside to the low-resolution screen and the lack of Adobe Flash playback — though we did note some erratic and inaccurate battery level monitoring on the phone. To indicate remaining battery life, the Ace relies on a colour-coded meter (as do most smartphones) but this meter only seems to have three increments: full, half and nearly empty. This means that while it may look like you have most of your battery remaining, you might actually be down to as low as 30% and have no idea.
While we appreciate its iPhone-esque good looks and its smooth user experience, we feel that the Galaxy Ace is more trade-offs and sacrifices than a bargain. Perhaps a better-looking screen would add considerably to its price, and perhaps Flash and high-quality video playback would stunt its performance, but without these elements, you are left with a decent phone for calls messaging and web browsing. While we agree that this would suit most people's needs, we don't think that you should have to pay this much for the functionality included. Whether you choose one of Telstra's expensive plan options or buy it outright for AU$528, the Galaxy Ace doesn't compare with other Telstra handsets at the same price point, like the HTC Desire.
That said, we have seen online stores selling the Ace for considerably cheaper, some as low as AU$320. This is a much more reasonable price for the Ace if you plan to buy it outright.