We've been looking forward to this; finally a second manufacturer has released an Android phone in Australia. This is nothing against HTC, mind you, we've loved its take on Google's OS so far, but with competition comes innovation and we want to see the next generation of Android phones storming into mobile phone stores.
OK, hands up who remembers The Three Amigos? This may sound silly but every time we look at the Samsung Galaxy, with its piano black finish and squiggly silver icons on its buttons, we're instantly reminded of the flamboyant, embroidered jackets worn by Mexican mariachis. This isn't to say that the Galaxy is an ugly phone, in fact we like it. Its 3.2-inch screen size and overall footprint give this phone the same feeling as the HTC Magic, which fits perfectly in the hand.
The Galaxy makes use of five external face keys plus a five-way nav pad, in addition to being a full touchscreen. These front facing keys include a context menu key (an essential hardware inclusion for an Android phone) and a home key alongside the standard calling buttons. On the side of the handset, under the volume rocker, Samsung positions a screen lock button, but the Galaxy has to be the slowest phone to "wake up" that we've ever come across. From having the screen in standby it takes a full three seconds of holding down the lock key to gain access to the home screen, which you have to do every time you want to use the phone.
The AMOLED display is a great looking screen, but it isn't the most responsive capacitive touchscreen we've seen lately. Simple gestures, like scrolling between the three home screen spaces or down the list of your installed apps can be jerky, with the screen always feeling like it was a step behind your commands. This shouldn't impair your usage of the touchscreen, but some processes will have you tapping at the screen with increasing frustration.
Far from frustrating is the 5-megapixel camera on the Galaxy; a first for Android phones in Australia. Like the iPhone's camera, the Galaxy features only the basic user settings, it has options to switch the image resolution and to set the flash to auto or off, but the images it's taken so far have been quite pleasing. Colour reproduction leans towards over-saturation but this gives the pics a rich, warm, happy feel. The auto-focus isn't fantastic, but overall this is a decent camera phone.
If you have been looking forward to seeing what direction Samsung would take the open-source Android OS in, prepare to be mildly disappointed. While companies like HTC and Samsung are preparing fully customised releases of Android, Samsung has opted to release as basic a build of Android as is possible. Out of the box, the Galaxy is running Android version 1.5 (Cupcake); however, aside from a splash screen during the boot cycle there is nothing Samsung-like about this phone.
This is a real shame, Android is simply crying out to be customised. While this basic build gives you access to standard calling and messaging apps, plus one of the best web browsers available for phones, it sorely lacks a bevy of tools we're seeing become standard on other smartphones, tools like social networking apps and feature-rich media players.
In fact, media is the big letdown here. The other smartphones in Samsung's Icon range, the Omnia Icon and HD Icon, support a wide range of media file formats including DivX and XviD video files. The Galaxy on the other hand supports only MP4 and 3GP video files and will only play MP3 audio. It does come with 8GB of internal storage and a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, but these features will go to waste with the poor file support unless you're prepared to spend hours making sure your media library is compatible.
In a way, it's a good thing the Galaxy is such a poor media player. As it stands we've struggled to see a full day's use out of the phone's battery, and if we added watching video to our list of common activities we're quite sure this battery would struggle to get past lunch. We've tested the battery with a number of combinations, Wi-Fi on and off, with and without a SIM, and even with very low usage we still had the phone on the charger by bedtime.
If you think you can achieve better battery results because you never use your phone to access the web: think again. The web is absolutely the best part about the Galaxy. The browser is slick and renders pages beautifully, the Gmail client is clean and easy to use, and there is no better way to spend a lunchtime than to scan the Android Market for new apps to play with.
Samsung has designed a decent touchscreen handset complete with some excellent hardware. The camera is good and the 8GB internal storage is very handy. But Samsung has also delivered only the most basic build of Google's excellent operating system, and the gaps in its functionality are apparent. Media playback is a letdown and business people won't choose a phone without Microsoft Exchange support. The beauty of Android is that it is open source, giving manufacturers free reign to customise the OS and add to the user experience. Samsung drops the ball by neglecting the Galaxy in its pre-installed software.