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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Samsung Galaxy S

Lag isn’t the only problem we’ve had, either. The Galaxy S has randomly lost our email inbox in the time we’ve been using it – requiring inputing all our Exchange settings again, and performing a full sync – and the camera app has crashed a couple of times, refusing to load until we power-cycled the phone. Elsewhere, the UI is simply frustrating. New SMS alerts, for instance, aren’t removed from the Android notification bar until you not only view the message in the bubble conversation view, but actually tap the new bubble itself and “open” it on a separate page. No new information, but an extra step all the same. We prefer the regular Android icons to those in TouchWiz, though admittedly that’s a matter of taste, but the way Samsung has managed the desktop is slightly at odds with Google’s own approach with Android. The Galaxy S has seven homescreen panes with the default “home” pane on the far left; the Android OS is more used to the “home” pane being central, and so if you choose Google Maps as your Live Wallpaper – which normally uses GPS to center the map on your current location – the maps are offset since the center point is on homescreen four. Nit-picking, yes, but it’s the sort of poor polish that undermine a successful UI.

Sadly there’s no way to easily turn off TouchWiz and return to the native Android UI, so owners unwilling to experiment with unofficial ROMs will be stuck with Samsung’s interface. Some of the company’s preloaded tools aren’t bad, however; there’s a full copy of Swype, the gesture-based keyboard (though it isn’t enabled by default) and Samsung’s multimedia player is far better than the standard Google offering. It supports MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, Xvid, WMV, AVI, MKV and FLV video, among others, together with a healthy clutch of audio formats including OFF and FLAC. Paired with the 3.5mm headphones jack and onboard storage you’ve got an Android phone that could certainly give an iPod touch a run for its money.

Social networking tools are fashionable, and Samsung’s approach is a little similar to HTC’s. The Galaxy S has Samsung’s Social Hub, a combined stream of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter messages – complete with a desktop widget and the ability to send out an update to one or all services simultaneously – but there’s also a “Mini Diary” app that allows you to easily create journal entries complete with photos, stored weather information, text notes and more. Unfortunately, once created they’re basically stuck on the phone; there’s no way to remotely sync them or upload them automatically to a blog somewhere.

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More useful is Samsung AllShare, which takes DLNA media sharing and puts a cellphone-friendly face on it. AllShare allows you to stream multimedia from the Galaxy S to a WiFi-connected player – whether a standalone audio system, network-connected HDTV or a computer – or vice-versa, or even to act as a remote control for your media server, selecting files to play remotely. Video, audio and images can all be streamed, and the Galaxy S simply showed up as a media source in compatible apps.

As for playback on the Galaxy S itself, understandably it’s video that shines best thanks to the Super AMOLED display. We had no problems getting various DivX and Xvid files to play, with 720p HD video looking great. Interestingly, there’s a TV Out option in the settings pages, though no sign of an adapter in the box to actually hook up a bigger screen. Audio, meanwhile, is reasonably loud and clear via the Galaxy S’ own speaker, but Samsung’s bundled earbuds are actually surprisingly good and, while still not outperforming a reasonable aftermarket set, do at least avoid the noise leakage and underwhelming bass of Apple’s standard set. There’s also an FM radio, complete with auto-scan and user presets, though it relies on the headphone wire to act as antenna.

Samsung has something of a reputation for decent cellphone cameras, and the Galaxy S generally doesn’t disappoint. At 5-megapixels with autofocus, the only thing missing from the spec sheet is a flash of some sort. What you do get are various photography modes, including blink, face and smile detection, panorama and high-speed shooting, together with a decent amount of control over manual settings. There are also multiple effects, such as vintage and cartoon, and a high-visibility mode which boosts the UI so that it’s easier to see while outdoors. The end result are bright, clear and well balanced shots, with decent colors and – as long as you don’t use the digital zoom – little noise or pixellation. Without a flash you’re obviously limited in your low-light use, with focus being a particular trouble, though we might argue that LED flash units are generally underwhelming anyway. There are samples in the gallery below, unedited aside from being resized by 50-percent.

Video, meanwhile, can be recording in one of five resolutions from 320 x 240 to 1280 x 720, with or without audio and with manual control over exposure, contrast, saturation and sharpness. However there’s no focus control. Interestingly, during recording you can choose to either pause or stop; pausing allows you to chain several segments into the same clip. A size counter shows how big the file is getting while you can also use the 4x digital zoom (which is jerky moving between levels, rather than a smooth optical zoom). Files are recorded in MPEG-4 in a 3GP container and at around 11.6Mbps, along with mono audio from the Galaxy S’ single microphone.

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