Sunday, 24 April 2011
Google Android Smartphone review: Samsung I9000 Galaxy S
It doesn't seem nearly three years since I had my first 'smartphone' - the Samsung SGH-i600, which I reviewed on my blog in May 2008, but with the advances in technology (and a fairly good data plan from Three, where I get free internet when I top up) I have been finding its limitations somewhat frustrating. It reached the stage where I was using my phone and iPod Touch in concert, making the most of installable full-graphic applications like Audioboo and Twitter using the WMWifiRouter software on my phone to create a wi-fi hotspot from my cellular data connection. But then, to add a photo to a Foursquare or Audioboo posting, I had to use my phone as a web server and copy the photo over to upload it... what a faff!
All this time, I was very well acquainted with the Windows Mobile platform (having had a number of iPaqs before the i600) and I was getting to know how Apple devices worked (having ventured first into the world of the mac mini, and then to the iPod Touch) but I'd never played with a Google Android device. I can't remember what it was that sent me to the Amazon page where the Samsung Galaxy S was on special offer, but for some reason I'd reached the stage where I wanted to combine phone and touch-screen device, and it seemed to be at a price I could justify spending my savings on.
i600, iPod Touch and Galaxy S side by side
How does the Galaxy S compare with the i600?
Well, it doesn't have a hardware keyboard. And I have to say I do miss it, but save for the HTC Desire Z (which was a lot more expensive and has a slightly smaller screen), there really aren't that many decent Android phones that have real keyboards, and I am now getting very used to the excellent Swype way to enter text, so I'm almost up to speed.
The Galaxy S does, however, as well as having an FM radio, have a decent browser, a built-in internet hotspot, Google calendar and email sync - in fact, almost every feature that I've had to scrape around the internet looking for on the i600 (which, for example, only has one decent Twitter app - the excellent PockeTwit) is either pre-installed or freely available on the Android Market place. And the screen is much, much bigger. And the phone is much, much quicker.
It also has a still camera that can take quite nice pictures, and it can record 720p video - maybe one of the reasons the Flip HD will soon no longer be in production. If there's a downside it's that there's no flash (although there's not one on the i600, either).
Oh, and it makes phone calls. With all the software I'd jammed onto the i600, it would struggle to load the applet that actually answers the phone, and it struggled with my bluetooth headset, dropping audio out and losing connections. I don't spend a lot of time talking on the phone (in fact I think I've spent more time voice chatting on Skype!) but it definitely helps to be able to make and receive phone calls. And not pocket dial myself out of credit (one of the drawbacks of a physical keyboards!)
How does the Galaxy S compare with the iPod Touch?
I'm lucky enough to have a 64GB 3rd Gen iPod Touch - as I understand this is a peer of the iPhone 3GS, which was well-received as a much faster, slicker experience of what became the iOS operating system. There are a number of similarities in the combination of applications available; they way one interacts with the likes of Twitter, Skype, Foursquare and Angry Birds(!) are very similar with Apple and Google devices, but I would definitely suggest that the iPod Touch is faster and more reactive. In fact, it is probably the only thing that bothers me about this fairly modern Android phone - it's simply not as quick as an Apple.
Were one to put an iPhone 4 and a Galaxy S side by side (a fair comparison? I think both phones are fairly similar in age..) I think the iPhone would win hands down, since both offer decent cameras (although the Samsung one doesn't have a flash), GPS, accelerometers, high definition screens...
...until you want to do something interesting and useful. I can, for example, gain access to files on my home network storage device from the Galaxy S, using Astro File Manager; I can install a SIP Voice over IP phone on it (using the CSipSimple app and SipGate VoIP service) - in fact, I've had some amazing hints and tips from existing Android users (including my brother-in-law Rob) to do some amazing things with it.
Well, until the battery runs out, anyway! I think that's pretty much the only other downside of a device like this - with all these cool things going on (including a wireless and GPS connection, and a bright screen) battery life can be somewhat limited. But at least the Galaxy S's battery can be taken out and swapped with an inexpensive spare on the Galaxy S - no need to run for a dock or a mains charger!
I will still keep my iPod Touch, though, since it's got a lot of music on it, and I'm still not settled on the best way to download podcasts on the Galaxy S (iTunes is still the definitive system for iPods, although I have to wait until I get home to sync it). I have heard good things about Doggcatcher, but it's quite expensive. Something to continue researching...
For me, though, the biggest surprise was when I paired the Galaxy S with my small bluetooth keyboard (the WKB-1500). It worked, just as one would expect, but with the bonus of a mouse pointer so that I don't have to reach over and touch 'OK' buttons - although I do struggle a bit to make the on-screen keyboard disappear, and I need to get round to fashioning a makeshift stand for the phone. This does, however, turn the phone into a 'micro laptop' - how cool is that?
Samsung Galaxy S with bluetooth keyboard (and mouse)
All in all, I'm very happy with this new Android gem. Once again, I think there will be plenty more things I can and will do with it - for the time being, though, I think I've got a phone I'll probably not need to replace for a few years. Would I recommend it? If you're not attracted by the Apple reality distortion field, I think there's definitely an Android phone for you - although the phones which are really worth their while are still quite expensive.
Posted by james at April 24, 2011 6:42 PM
You've had a make-over? Nice. Anyway. Interesting to read this. My Nexus One is starting to look (but not behave) a bit tired these days and one always has an eye on the next handset. VOIP: I have Skype and Nimbuz installed on mine. And I was interested to hear you say the Android Audioboo application isn't as slick as the iPhone one. But it's interesting. Thanks again.
Posted by: Brennig at May 11, 2011 5:56 AM