Samsung Galaxy Ace
4th Jan 2013 | 13:02
Is the little brother in the Galaxy range an Ace up Samsung's sleeve?
Overview, design and feel
UPDATED: The Samsung Galaxy Ace is still being touted as a top smartphone years after its launch, so we've updated our review accordingly. Should you consider it at all despite it's super-budget price tag?
Once a bit player on the smartphone scene, famed more for questionable construction than standout handsets, Samsung has turned a corner in recent years, establishing itself as a genuine player on the pocket phone front and producing some of the most desirable handsets on the market.
Following on from the success of the high-end Samsung Galaxy S and Samsung Galaxy S2, the Korean tech behemoth expanded its range of intergalactic-named mobile phones, with the Samsung Galaxy Ace touching down last year as a mid-level handset.
Tasked with raising the expectations of what is possible from a wallet-friendly smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Ace, which also flies under the flag of the Samsung GT-S5830, has since spawned a sub-series of its own, with the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 also landing on the market.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 review
Lining up with a display size similar to that of the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's 3.5-inch TFT screen is no match to that of its Cupertino-crafted rival, and is just one of a number of aspects that fall below the benchmark set out by the iOS-powered handset.
While a 5-megapixel rear-mounted camera lines up well alongside snappers infused within handsets generally superior and pricier than the Samsung Galaxy Ace, the handset's imaging abilities are diminished, on paper at least, by its lacklustre maximum 640 x 480p video recording capabilities.
In terms of base specs, the Samsung Galaxy Ace boasts an 800MHz single-core Qualcomm MSM7227 processor.
This is now significantly below par for the influx of 1GHz CPU mid-range smartphones and even the odd dual-core entrant. But it lines up with that of the new Motorola Motoluxe, a handset one year the Samsung Galaxy Ace's junior.
Although available for free on a variety of pay monthly tariffs with a variable collection of inclusive minutes, texts and data allowances, it's now priced at just £90 on PAYG, and from £7.50 on contracts, making it a true budget smartphone.
However that doesn't mean it's any good of course - and with older software and yesterday's specs, why is it still being pushed?
Now cheaper than the likes of the 3.7-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display-packing, Windows Phone 7.5-powered Nokia Lumia 710, the Samsung Galaxy Ace remains in an area of the market flooded with competition such as the full QWERTY keyboard-touting BlackBerry Curve 9300 and the Android 2.3-powered, 8MP camera-hosting Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray.
Many of today's high-end smartphones are following in the footsteps of the iPhone by being made available in an eye-catching white hue a few months after the original standard black model lands.
Samsung, with the Galaxy Ace, has killed two birds with one proverbial stone by offering the device with a pair of interchangeable back panels that take us back to the days of the Nokia 3330.
While not quite matching the rest of the "onyx black" smartphone in terms of colour, aesthetics aside, the packaged black rear panel offers a more user-friendly feel in the hand than its smooth, glossed white counterpart, with the diamond-cut uneven surface offering a certain amount of grip.
Sleek, stylish and well finished to the eye, in the hand the Samsung Galaxy Ace is - despite its budget plastic construction and weight-saving efforts - a surprisingly reassuring offering, with little flex when put under pressure.
Well-constructed, the Samsung Galaxy Ace features no unsightly seams or unnerving spaces between components, but does suffer from a selection of poorly placed buttons.
Despite featuring just three physical buttons (home, volume and power/sleep) two-thirds of these are placed in locations that lead them to be accidentally pressed all-too frequently.
When holding the Samsung Galaxy Ace in a standard manner in the left hand, the user's thumb lies across the increase aspect of the volume controls with the index finger wrapped firmly around the sleep/power button.
In the right hand, the power control is in prime thumb real estate, with the middle finger at risk of toggling the lower half of the volume seesaw.
More of an irritant than a debilitating flaw, the lack of foresight on Samsung's part of these core design aspects is something that often leaves us on edge and forces an unnatural, unbalanced grip in order to avoid accidental presses.
Reasonably chunky up top, the Samsung Galaxy Ace has been made fatter and more top-heavy to make space for the 3.5mm audio jack and covered micro USB port at the top.
Although helping smooth out the handset's design and remove unsightly docks, the micro USB slider is stiff and fiddly, making it awkward to gain access to the port with one hand.
Standing up well to the odd knock and bump against coins and keys, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's relatively robust exterior showed little damage from everyday use during our time with it. However, thanks to its largely plastic finish, it is a handset that is likely to show its age after a few months of use.
Helping redeem the handset's controls, the Android 2.3 Gingerbread-powered device's touchscreen base Android menu and back controls are a joy to use, with a large surface area that is highly responsive and helps provide a fluid user experience.
The target user base for the Samsung Galaxy Ace isn't one that will mostly care for the latest version of Android (first time smartphone users are key here) and while Gingerbread is creaking under the weight of the phone these days, we can't make a huge case for it to be rocking the latest version of Jelly Bean.
Lining up at an uninspiring 11.5mm thick, the Samsung Galaxy Ace is considerably chunkier than the minimalist iPhone 4S, but is a mere 0.2mm thicker than the flagship HTC Sensation.
In terms of weight, the 113g heft provides a reassuring feel in the hand, but, considering the 4.3-inch Samsung Galaxy S2 is just 2g heavier, users could be forgiven for expecting a lighter handset.
Arguably the most important component of any smartphone that uses its touch-sensitive display as a means of control as well as for content and media absorption, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's 3.5-inch screen is an acceptable offering that fails to stand out from the crowd on any front.
With a 480 x 320p resolution and 165 pixels-per-inch image density, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's TFT capacitive touchscreen is distinctly average, with images of an acceptable but far from inspiring or eye-catching standard.
While providing a passable viewing experience for video playback, image viewing and application use, the Samsung Galaxy Ace fails to live up to the high screen standards that have come to be expected from Samsung's mobiles.
It's far from the vibrant AMOLED offerings that have landed on a selection of Samsung's high and mid-range devices in the past 18 months. Indeed, the Samsung Galaxy Ace is some distance behind the latest 720p and 1080p Full HD screen that have hit the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with muted colours and a lack of pin sharp detail.
Largely bowing to user command, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's screen can, at times, be a little unresponsive, prompting a couple of firm presses before registering a desired action.
Not all doom and gloom, the Samsung smartphone's screen, combining forces with the Android OS, automatically dims itself when the handset's battery is reaching the lower end of its abilities. to further eke out the remaining juice. Meanwhile the screen's Gorilla Glass layering helps protects against scuffs and scratches.
Having launched last year running Google's Android 2.2 mobile operating system, FroYo, the fast-evolving software means that the Samsung Galaxy Ace now comes with Android 2.3 Gingerbread pre-installed.
However, things have moved on now, and even the budget handsets are coming with Android Jelly Bean, the latest version of the software which brings a host of improvements, so the Ace is starting to age really badly on that front.
If you're a first time smartphone buyer though, it won't matter too much - you should look at the alternatives, but for the price Android 2.3 performs just fine for the most part.
One of a broad range of varying-sized, differently-specified Google-filled Samsung handsets, the Samsung Galaxy Ace combines the Gingerbread OS with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. This creates a user experience that is tried, tested and a safe bet that appeases user needs without offering a revolutionary or inspiring environment.
Intuitive to use from the box, the Android-based platform plies the user with the standard array of Google apps pre-installed that are easily and handily arranged alongside a host of widgets and shortcuts across the somewhat limited trio of home screens.
Largely due to the handset's restricted 258MB of RAM and 800MHz CPU, opening applications is a stilted affair, with a slight pause preceding the arrival of the desired programme and its content.
This intermittent performance isn't limited solely to app openings, however. Bringing the phone out of sleep mode is sometimes farcically slow and stilted, often causing you to second-guess the button press - an irritating issue that starts a vicious loop of counteracting button presses.
Scrolling through menus and lists is also a little more stilted and jilted than ideal, with a smooth flowing start brought to abrupt stops shortly after. This slows the user experience and puts the device marginally behind some its similarly specced and even lower-end competitors.
It sports four main applications (Calling, Contacts, Messages and Menu) at the bottom of the screen, separating these from the cavalcade of applications at the top, similar to that found in the iOS.
It also has a nifty task manager widget to help you keep your battery life optimised by showing what you've currently got running in the background.
That said, the battery life isn't bad as it uses a standard Li-Ion 1350mAh, which despite being under-powered compared to other smartphones (the top end devices are nearly three times the capacity, but are far more expensive) manages to hold on OK throughout the day.
Another useful widget is the bar at the top enabling you to quickly switch on/off the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, sync as well as increase the brightness of the screen.
Annoyingly, for non-gamers, there are a four pre-installed games that can't be uninstalled, clogging up memory and space on the menu screen.
Contacts and calling
No matter how many new headline-leading features are introduced to the increasingly smart range of smartphones, the core base of a handset will always be its ability to make and receive telephone calls.
On this front, the Samsung Galaxy Ace is a combination of acceptable and slightly disappointing abilities, with the standard Android array of contacts and calling menus once again proving easy to navigate, simple to set up and modify.
Courtesy of TouchWiz 3.0, contacts are easily joined to Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts, which is a definite plus for the social media moguls.
The History section of the contacts is handy because it not only shows your received and made calls, but also messages.
When making calls, however, the Samsung Galaxy Ace fails to come into its own. It offers a mildly disappointing communication experience that, while impressive in some areas, falls far short of expectations and the desired ideal in others.
Although offering good isolation of the contact's voice during calls, removing background noise and unwanted sounds well, the resulting in-ear factor is a very distant, slightly muffled and echoey sound.
This can make hearing your desired contact's comments a little harder that necessary, even when volume options are pushed to their maximum limits.
Thanks again in part to the handset's sometimes questionable screen responsiveness, answering incoming calls via the Android standard swipe to answer method can take a couple of attempts. This adds yet another unnecessary issue to the handset's arsenal that after a few occurrences begins to grate on your patience.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace ticks all the essentials boxes while failing to add any marks in the other comments box and win praise for progressing beyond the norm.
The handset's messaging abilities are wholeheartedly standard, with a basic selection of options and features laid out in an Android-basic, user-friendly manner.
As with many of Samsung's recent market-headlining handsets, the Samsung Galaxy Ace makes the most of the company's TouchWiz UI, boasting the much-loved and highly coveted Swype input functionality.
A welcome inclusion and a standout favourite when composing texts, emails or general notes, the handset's Swype features enable you to compose messages quickly and with little fuss, simply by dragging your fingers between desired keys. This removes the need to make endless individual digital button taps to complete a message.
It's so popular it's even been included in the stock version of Android, known as Jelly Bean, as a method of entering text, and the other big keyboard makers like Swiftkey have integrated it too.
Swype on the Samsung Galaxy Ace is of further benefit when taking into account the otherwise cramped and compact nature of the handset's touchscreen keyboard when holding the device in a standard portrait manner.
Switching the handset to a landscape stance offers a more spacious, finger-friendly full QWERTY keyboard offering.
But thanks to its quick input shortcuts, the Swype software provides one of the best input methods beyond the physical QWERTY keyboards offered by a number of BlackBerry handsets.
Messages are displayed as threads, which makes it easy to follow a conversation.
Webmail and email are easy to set up and are fast to pick up new messages. The application is basic, but works well.
The Galaxy Ace also comes with a Social Hub app, which incorporates all messages you've received on different platforms including SMS, email, Facebook and Twitter.
On first glance, this sounds like an interesting tool, but when you use it you soon find out that messages on the social network platforms can only be read once the application opens up a web browser, meaning that it doesn't actually simplify anything.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace is again manageable, functional and easy to master when making use of its web functionality. Yet it fails to offer any inspiring functions or handset-defining features that would set it apart from the flurry of newer, more powerful competitors.
While in the handset's standard Android browser, bookmarks are easily set thanks to a tab by the search bar.
There's no functionality for scrolling forward through visited pages once you've skipped back using the back button, and the handset can't support multiple tabbed browsing.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace holds its own in terms of page loading times when accessing the web via Wi-Fi or 3G. This means that the phone is simple to assign to desired Wi-Fi connections offering acceptable sync times and a strong, unwavering connection throughout periods of use.
One considerable drawback from the Samsung Galaxy Ace's otherwise impressive internet abilities is its lack of dedicated .com hot button on the handset's keyboard.
Hardly the biggest flaw a smartphone can possess, the missing .com button is more of an irritant and one that is increasingly apparent when comparing the device to many of the other similarly priced devices available on the market.
When reading text-heavy web pages on the Samsung Galaxy Ace, you have to pinch zoom quite some way in before you can clearly read anything, which is something of a chore.
It doesn't support Flash, so it doesn't have that advantage over rivals. Saying that, for the mid-range price the Samsung Galaxy Ace comes at, it's a fair compromise, and you can download alternative browsers like Firefox Mobile to give extra functionality, although the old processor isn't always a fan of trying to keep up during these tasks.
A 5-megapixel camera was a strong offering on a mid-range handset when the Samsung Galaxy Ace originally launched a year ago.
But now the handset's rear-mounted image capturer seems little more than an ample offering that fails to meet the possibilities of the rest of the market, which can ably spit out quality pictures even at the budget end of the market.
Lacking a well-functioning dedicated macro shooting mode, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's rear-mounted camera struggles to focus when close to its target. Attempts at close-ups often leave the handset's autofocus feature confused, out of sync and responsible for poor quality, highly disappointing images.
Trying to rectify these close-up issues by using the camera's zoom opens up a wide array of new issues.
Although touted as boasting two-times digital zoom - a spec that is far from impressive - in reality this feature can only be used when shooting at a reduced image quality. The camera's upper limit of 5MP snaps doesn't enable any form of zoom, whether optical or digital.
There's no quick key to launch the camera for those sporadic happy-snap moments, and a tiny amount of on-board memory (only 158MB) means that the camera is disabled until the 2GB memory card that comes in the box is inserted.
More than capable of taking a selection of impressive images when given the correct lighting conditions, the phone's camera offers a choice of single or continuous shot modes, as well as smile-activated shutter and panorama shooting modes.
But the Samsung Galaxy Ace's camera is far from perfect, with the inbuilt LED flash often proving overpowering, highlighting some aspects of shots but causing others to be cast into deep stark shadows. It's of little use when pursuing the perfect snap.
Although a feature that is rarely used for its desired video calling purposes, the lack of a second, forward-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Ace is an omission that is becoming increasingly noticeable as the mid-range smartphone market leaps forward at a rapid pace and removes the chance to take portrait shots.
There are a variety of shot modes to choose from, and most of them improve the quality of the image.
INDOORS NO FLASH:
INDOORS NO FLASH:
Failing to meet the HD standards that are today a prerequisite on mid-market smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy Ace lines up with a maximum video recording resolution of just 640 x 480p and 24fps - a standard that is somewhat behind the rapidly progressing times.
Enjoying your footage on larger screens isn't a great experience at all. In fact, don't do it.
Struggling to regulate colours, shooting video on the Samsung Galaxy Ace in anything other than pure, untainted, faultless lighting such as a cloudless bright day is a recipe for troublesome output and a distorted appearance.
Watch our video sample from when we tested the Samsung Galaxy Ace when it was first released:
Often erring on the side of caution, the handset's colour management systems appear to often over-expose video content, giving footage an unwanted artificial yellow hue.
While struggling at times on the imaging aspect of video recording, a pleasant surprise in the Samsung Galaxy Ace's bag of tricks was its abilities to capture strong, clear sound when shooting video footage, offering good directional absorption and the isolation of unwanted background noise.
Usefully, there's a a rolling memory count, which tells you how much space on that puny 2GB card you're lapping up while you film.
Watch our video sample from when we tested the Samsung Galaxy Ace a year after its initial release:
Despite microSD cards being a relatively cheap and readily accessible storage option, the lack of internal storage in the Samsung Galaxy Ace grates as an irritating omission.
Quashing the saying that the best camera is the one you have to hand, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's complete lack of innards means that without a microSD card, not a single snap can be stored on the device.
Featuring an inbuilt music player and FM radio, the Samsung Galaxy Ace has the potential - like most smartphones - of being a media hub. Sadly, thanks to a lacklustre inbuilt speaker, these possibilities are likely never to be fulfilled.
Detracting from its capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy Ace's speaker's poor performance sees little bass and tinny tones result in a poor audio experience that fails to bolster the uninspiring screen's imaging abilities when watching a film, rescued only by its placement.
Unlike many smartphones with speakers in unfriendly positions for holding the device without depleting the output, the Samsung Galaxy Ace has seen Samsung shift the audio provider to the rear central portion of the phone, meaning uninterrupted sounds are possible.
Video and music files are stored in separate applications (gallery and music respectively), which means if you want to watch a music video after a music track, you have to come out of one application and into another.
Video files are arranged in date order in the gallery and play in landscape mode only.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace is not the phone to be picking up if you want a dedicated video player on the go. It has the capability to playback a variety of media files, which is a bonus, but the combination of the poor, low-res screen and lack of internal memory means you'll need to invest in a microSD card before you even think about a movie marathon.
It's not a deal breaker at the price, but don't go thinking you'll get anything like the experience of a Galaxy S3 on this phone, as it's not even got an OLED screen to write home about.
Battery life and connectivity
Claiming a 420 minute standby life when left to rest on a 3G connection, it appears Samsung has oversold the abilities of the Samsung Galaxy Ace's 1350mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Test battery times depleted far quicker than the touted 7 hour mark.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace takes a considerable amount of time to reach a full charge, unlike the Panasonic Eluga Power, which is capable of reaching a 50 per cent charge after just 30 minutes.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace, like many smartphones, is the victim of battery drain, thanks to its power-heavy innards. In our tests it lasts around day, but if you're not planning on using your phone for hours on end (perhaps having it there to download the odd app, browse the internet from time to time and text) then you'll be happy with the power levels on offer.
In terms of connectivity, the standard array of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options are joined by GPS abilities, enabling you to use features such as Google Maps and assign geo-location tags to photos.
Helping the Samsung Galaxy Ace stand out from some of its competitors, the phone enables you to share its mobile connectivity abilities, with the handset able to provide an internet connection (where available) to a non-mobile device such as a laptop tethered to it via a USB cable.
It's still impressive to think that for £7.50 per month you can get a sat-nav, mobile hotspot, Wi-Fi connected networking device... one of the great things about Android phones is you know you're getting a wealth of connectivity no matter what the outlay.
Maps and apps
As well as offering a wide selection of downloadable content via the ever-present and newly named Google Play Market, the Samsung Galaxy Ace offers access to the bespoke Samsung Apps store.
Infuriately long-winded to set up and access on first use, the Samsung Apps store offers a largely similar array of app-based software as its Google-branded counterpart.
Things aren't a mere mirror image, however, since across a number of apps there are a range of price discrepancies.
Once the Samsung Apps store has finally kicked into life, the price differences become apparent with a variety of games, utilities and performance-enhancing Android apps on the Samsung store being a number of pounds more expensive when snapped up away from the Google-branded outlet.
Many games long past their peak are still on offer even if they've subsequently been replaced by franchise instalments.
There can be price differences and there's a lot less on offer - it doesn't really matter as you can just ignore it and use Google's excellent portal, but it may be initially confusing to some.
Google Navigation really is outstanding. This version of Android enables you to download a voice directions plug-in and, although the voice is very robotic, you can make that sacrifice because usability is top notch.
You can search for directions by speaking the place (which actually works!), typing in, or selecting a contact's address.
You can choose to have driving or walking directions, both of which are always accurate, from our experience. The GPS signal never falters and, unlike some sat navs (including Nav free and Nokia's Ovi maps), Google Maps tends to always select the shortest route – and even knew some shortcuts that we thought were our own little secrets!
Google Maps has improved fantastically over time, and while it runs rather slowly on this ageing phone, it still is a great app and asset to have in the pocket. You can sync your favourite locations from the desktop, tag where your friends live for easy access and although you don't have the power to see 3D buildings like the more high-end handsets, still get a rich mapping app to use.
We're going to re-write the verdict to this phone - it's now under £90 in the shops, is being touted as THE budget phone to buy and bundled with a lot of tablets, so it's only right that users get the proper decision on a phone that launched in January 2011.
Is it a good phone? No. It was a poor phone when it launched, and hasn't got any better.
A comfortable fit in the hand, the Samsung Galaxy Ace is still a well-designed piece of kit that, and thanks to its interchangeable black and white back panels, offers a design that will appeal to a wide range of users.
Simple to use, the use of an older version of Android isn't the handicap it should be, and the price is just brilliant for a smartphone full stop on contract.
Sluggish to exit sleep mode, the Samsung Galaxy Ace never really gets into its stride, with an unresponsive and low resolution TFT display lacking the pop and wow factor that has come to be expected from Samsung-branded smartphones.
Poor on the camera front, the Samsung Galaxy Ace is filled with the software required to become an all-round media hub but fails to back this up with accompanying hardware, since the handset's audio and visual abilities fall below the expectations of such an offer.
A laggy interface doesn't bring confidence to the user, and if you're a first time smartphone user then you'll be disappointed if you think this is how all smartphones run.
Would we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Ace? No, in most cases. There will be some people desperate to get their hands on a smartphone on a budget, but this is still not the phone to do such a thing. There are others out there that are cheaper and more powerful, and were brought out more recently too.
The Android software from years ago may not be the biggest issue now, but consumers are being tricked into thinking this will be a relevant smartphone for two years, which simply isn't the case.
If you're still using the Galaxy Ace in 2015, you'll be really, really disappointed in what's in your pocket when you see your friends using an iPhone 7 or Galaxy S6 which can probably hover or something.
Samsung has already seemingly given up on software upgrades for this phone, and it will be woefully behind the times in a few months already, let alone two years. The processor couldn't keep up in January 2011, and now it struggles even more as apps become more data and CPU-intensive.
The screen is last gen and the pre-installed apps, Google Maps aside, are a relic from the days when Samsung was still trying to 'make it' in the smartphone market.
It's not a terrible choice, but with the plethora of deals being foisted on consumers (the chance to have an older tablet and the Galaxy Ace for £15, for instance) will lead to a lot of gadget apathy. True, you get what you pay for, and having a tablet and phone for that price is always going to be attractive, but there's a lot better out there for those that don't get sucked onto a contract and are smart enough to buy outright with a SIM only deal on top.
In short: the Samsung Galaxy Ace is a phone from an era where Android was still formative, so newer apps won't run as well on it. The internals are last gen, the software isn't anywhere near cutting edge so we suggest you steer clear of it unless you're desperate to pay very little.
It's not Samsung's fault... the Ace should be at the end of its product cycle now, where it was discontinued a year ago, but for some reason it pervades; we just suggest it should be bought with a lot of research first.