Samsung Galaxy i7500 £499.99
24th Sep 2009 | 23:34
Will a new player help make Android even better?
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Overview, design and feel
Update: click here for our Samsung Galaxy Portal i5700 review.
Samsung's new i7500 Galaxy makes it the first manufacturer after HTC to enter the Android game, and it does so with a fairly feature-rich phone.
Exclusive to O2 in the UK, the Galaxy is a sleek proposition, but is it enough to consider the Koreans firmly in the Android game?
The i7500 Galaxy has three obvious features when you pick it up: it's very slim at 11.9mm thick, it feels very light at 116g and the 3.2-inch screen might not seem very large, but it dominates the chassis. The screen also packs Samsung's latest OLED technology, which makes the display bright and vivid.
The overall feel of the phone mirrors that of the Samsung Jet - it has a similar (if larger) layout on the back of the phone, and has a weird spring-like response when you tap it as the haptic feedback device inside is clearly finely balanced.
The phone has a different key layout to the other Android phones we're used to, with the search button dropped and the home key squashed between the terminate and back buttons.
And instead of the trackball, Samsung has slapped a large D-pad with an 'OK' button at the heart of the layout, which takes up a lot more space and in all honesty isn't really necessary.
One of the beautiful things Android gives is a finger friendly design, meaning the amount of times you need to reach for the D-pad is minimal, and is mostly limited to moving between letters when inputting text and changing fields.
We'd have preferred it if Samsung had shrunk the D-pad down considerably and instead given us a larger home button, given how important that is.
The left side of the phone houses the up/down keys, which are limited to volume control in nearly every application, which is irritating when you want to adjust things like screen brightness without having to use a touchscreen slide bar.
The top of the phone has the 3.5mm headphone jack along with the easy-to-open microUSB port, with the former well placed for headphone use, never getting in the way when in the pocket.
The right-hand face of the phone holds the lock key and camera shutter, with the former a small button that will likely irritate the life out of Samsung i7500 Galaxy users (more on that later) and the latter sporting a nice design, with a good segmented press for auto focus.
Again there's no front facing video camera, as current iterations of the Android OS don't seem to support it, but that's no great loss at the moment.
Overall, the layout of the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is fine – it's a little wide at 56mm, but overall it fits just about well enough in the hand and is pocket friendly thanks to being slim and light.
In the box
It's a pretty basic set of tools in the box from O2, with the notable exception of a weird case for the Samsung i7500 Galaxy
Other than that there's a Samsung New PC Studio CD for connecting to the PC, a set of 3.5mm headphones with basic hands free/music controls, and a microUSB charger and USB connection lead, as well as the phone itself and the user manual.
It's a nicely put-together box and feels solid. However, if you're going to spend over £240 for a phone on contract, then you probably want it to be packaged nicely.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Interface
The Samsung i7500 interface is pretty much the standard Android 1.5 OS platform, with very little in the way of customisation.
That's not necessarily a terribly thing, as it provides something that's clean and easy to use for the most part. However, on the flip side it pales in comparison to the more recent UI's on the market, namely HTC's Sense UI and Motorola's MotoBlur.
The home screen consists of three swipeable displays, each customisable with the icons and widgets you want.
This means you can slap on any icons from the menu screen simply by holding them down and then dragging them to the position you desire.
The same is true for widgets, which can be called up by holding down on a blank space on the home screen, and the list of widgets is selectable. Depending on the applications you've downloaded, there will be a number of applications which are shrunk down to basic functionality to sit on the home screen.
For instance, Facebook for Android will cycle through your friends' status updates, and Imeem for mobile will give you instant access to your chosen tunes (although there's sadly no option for Spotify Mobile).
The built-in Google gadgets for the home screen are pretty good as well, if a little sparse. For instance, you can see upcoming calendar entries from your G-Cal application, or enter the music player to see what's playing at the moment and interact with it from there.
It's like a miniature version of what's on offer from HTC's Sense UI, but is still a nice selection of options.
Those of you not familiar with Android will enjoy learning about how you can easily call up the menus and see your notifications. By dragging the bottom tab up (or pressing it once) you get access to all your menu icons, each of which can be placed on the home screen as described above.
If you get a text, email, missed phone call or even a new Tweet (if you have the right application like Twidroid) then you'll get a little notification in the upper part of the screen, and in the case of a text a snippet of what it says.
You then simply swipe down from the top of the screen to call up the notifications pane, where you can deal with all your correspondence, or simply clear all notifications to clean up your Samsung i7500 Galaxy.
However, there's a slight problem with the i7500 Galaxy – the screen's not as responsive as other Android efforts, and at times it really shows. There were instances where we were trying to pull down the notifications pane and we simply couldn't, instead having to make a real concerted effort to do so.
And far too often swiping across the screen ended with no response (or a very limited one). What is odd is that this only happened sometimes, and other times it was fine, showing that there's very much a knack to working the Samsung i7500 Galaxy.
Flicking up and down menus is a nice sensation on Android, but the Samsung i7500 Galaxy struggles with this sometimes. The smooth kinetic action is occasionally disrupted by lag and stuttering, which ruins the slick effect of the phone.
While we're talking about problems with the phone, it's worth mentioning one of the big ones here – the lock screen and unlocking methods. Frankly, they're among the worst we've seen on any Samsung phone (or almost any other phone for that matter).
Basically, when the phone switches off the screen to conserve power (which it does after 30 seconds by default) you have to hold down the lock button on the side for an indeterminate amount of time – depending on what's running on the phone, the time taken to unlock the Samsung i7500 Galaxy varies between two and four seconds.
Not only is this unnecessarily convoluted, but if you don't hold the button for exactly the right amount of time, it will simply switch off the screen again. It's so frustrating and thanks to the random amount of time you have to wait, very hard to get used to.
What's wrong with the slider switch, or even just pressing a button and hitting the screen to activate it? We'd rather make the odd wrong call in the pocket than go through this palaver every time.
Another interesting quirk of the Samsung i7500 Galaxy (and to be fair, Android in general) is holding down the home button will call up a list of open applications, which is all well and good. But holding them down doesn't give you an option to shut them down, which means they will just run and run in the background.
Some can be forced to close from within the application itself, although others just appear to sit there waiting for another input. It looks like you can only have six going at once, but that's still enough to suck the life out of the battery.
Another odd feature is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Not the presence itself (although it's still more rare than it needs to be) but if you wiggle a headphone jack in the hole, the music player will start up for some reason (we can only assume it mimics the function of the handsfree).
It also plays a notification sound every time you plug something in, which half plays on the speaker then jumps to the headphones. Weird.
Also, some headphones don't seem to fit snugly in the 3.5mm headphone port, meaning it automatically either pauses when listening to music or just decides to pump it through the speaker.
The interface is slick and for the most part fast thanks to the Android OS, but there's a slight amount of lag when switching screens at times, making us think the Qualcomm 528MHz processor might not actually be up to scratch for the i7500 Galaxy.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Calling and contacts
Android and Samsung haven't tried anything fancy with the contacts menu, and for that we applaud them. Since Nokia put a section on the phone for an assistant's name, we've realised you can have too many contact fields, so we're glad for the simplicity.
The contacts application actually handles all aspects of the calling system – dialling, call history, contact list and favourites.
The first is a nicely laid out set of buttons that makes it easy to tap in a few numbers to call, although there's no smart dial to call up numbers based on the letters associated with your selection.
The call history is much as you'd expect, and the contacts list is a nicely laid out experience too. Simply swiping down the lists will scroll through a huge number if you flick fast enough, and an easy to grab tab appears allowing you to slide through the names by the first letter.
You can also synchronise your contacts from your Google account, but this is not advisable unless you've spent some time sorting out your online contact book, as otherwise you'll simply end up with a huge number of blank spaces, names with no numbers attached and random email addresses you may have sent something to years back.
There's also no way to simply view by SIM card or phone only, so you're often left with doubles from earlier synchronisations.
The favourites system works well though, with pictures and names displayed at the top of the page. We wish these could be used as icons as seen in HTC Sense, but sadly that's not the case.
There's also a list of the most frequently called people – pretty useful, but again we wish there was a way to put this on the home screen as an icon.
Call quality is good for the most part, although once or twice we struggled to get our calls to connect.
However, with the coverage lasting well at all times and the length of the phone just the right size for the face, it's a more than adequate beast for calling on.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Messaging
Messaging on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is a pretty nice experience, with a wealth of possibilities to choose from.
We'll start with the most commonly used of the bunch – text messaging. The nice thing about this section is the messages are threaded, meaning you can see the conversations you've been having with people (which is handy when you're handling multiple conversations at once).
Entering text on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is pretty easy too, as the portrait and landscape QWERTY keyboards are wide and fairly easy to hit. We found the best way to accurately input text for the portrait mode was to turn on haptic feedback (so the phone buzzes under your finger) and enable auto correction of text, so if you wanted to write 'happening' and wrote 'jappwning' instead, the phone will work it out for you.
We're not convinced by the accuracy of the screen once more, as the need to tap the text box to compose a message was a lot harder than it should be, with the finger needing to go far higher up the screen than necessary.
We also had problems receiving picture messages on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy, with messages appearing with a download box next to them. However, when this was clicked, nothing happened, and when we tried to do it again, the message 'download already in progress' appeared, and stayed there for hours.
Email is also very easy on the phone, and thanks to the tight Google integration into the Android OS, Gmail is very simple to set up. After you've entered your details once you can register for all kinds of things like Google Voice, Maps and Android Market, but the best thing about it is email.
This is due to the fact you get to see your new Gmail updates in the notification bar at the top, although the same is possible with other email accounts.
However with these you have to go through the palaver of setting them up for mobile use, whereas Gmail is right there under the hood.
The Gmail interface is a lot like a potted version of the website version, with clean white spaces, simple buttons to hit and a few options to tinker with.
Annoyingly, you can't swipe through messages once opened (which is especially annoying when you're searching for a specific message) but there are a good amount of native options within Gmail on the Samsung i7500, allowing you to label, search or forward the message cleanly and easily.
Gmail set up might be obviously easy on a phone powered by a Google OS, but the i7500 Galaxy is equally adept at integrating other email accounts as well, with the email and the password the only information needed, with the phone searching for the set-up information automatically.
Email from these accounts works equally as well as Google mail, although the mail organisation options are a lot more limited than the Gmail experience.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Internet
Internet browsing on the Android platform has always been one of the best mobile browsers on the market, and that experience is thankfully mimicked on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy.
The only downside is the slightly unresponsive screen not necessarily being the best for scrolling around web pages.
The internet on the i7500 Galaxy will give easy access to full HTML options, and the phone has a similar smart-fit ability to the HTC Hero, with text being shown in the correct column even after zooming in to a massive size.
The phone does judder a bit when navigating around and resizing web pages, and the zoom functionality is a bit limited by a virtual zoom in, zoom out effort at the bottom of the page.
However, there's an easy option to resize back to the normal zoom level thanks to the '1x' virtual button in the bottom right-hand corner, and the excellent mini-magnifier mode is there once more.
The latter is a particularly cool function as it allows users to drag a little pane around a highly zoomed-out view of the web page to find the text you want, before automatically focusing back in on it.
As mentioned, this function would be a little better if it wasn't for the juddery nature of the interface at times, but it's a minor niggle.
The Samsung i7500 Galaxy can also handle multiple web pages, with a nice animation for each change showing the new windows opening a new pane. These panes can be accessed through the menu button, giving users easy access to all the pages they currently have open.
The Samsung i7500 Galaxy also features intelligent bookmarking as well. When holding down the back key (for quite some time, it has to be noted) new tabs are brought up, with bookmarks, most visited and history all listed for your prodding pleasure.
Copy and paste is also supported (take THAT, iPhone) and is activated by opening the menu and choosing to select text. There's no option to just hold down the screen to call up a menu, which would make sense, but Samsung has decided to lob everything under a menu instead.
You can also post a page to Facebook, Twitter or other locations from the same menu, so if you see a link that you think others should know about you can easily let them know.
This was particularly useful if you have Twidroid installed, as one of the joys of tweeting is letting others know which pages to look at, and this method certainly takes advantage of that.
The internet experience on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is very good, but the screen responsiveness lets it down slightly, meaning it lags behind the superb mobile Safari application on the iPhone 3GS, and the HTC Hero and Magic both outstrip the Galaxy in terms of speed and performance.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Media
Using Android for music/video has been a slow burning process, with not a very quick rate of evolution for the OS, and the Samsung i7500 Galaxy doesn't really add a huge amount in terms of functionality.
The music player has been given an overhaul in the latest version of Android, so thankfully it's a lot more functional. That's probably the best way to describe the music player on the Galaxy – functional – but then again, it's all you really need in most cases.
Listing the music by artist, track, album or playlist is an easy way of doing things on the Galaxy, and the four main buttons make it easy to see and use.
Once in the music player, easy-to-hit buttons offer a nice way to navigate around – shuffling, repeating songs and heading back to the library are all on offer.
From the menu, users can also choose party shuffle, so if they're into using their phone to get a gathering going, the Galaxy can help throw together some tunes in an easy-to-use playlist.
Actually, the speaker on the Galaxy is very high quality (as long as you don't play songs that rely very heavily on bass) with a good sound output and nice tone.
One weird function of the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is the decision to play a notification sound when you plug in the headphones. Not only is this the same sound as when you receive a text or email, but it also plays half through the speakers and half through the headphones.
We couldn't find an easy way to disable it in the settings, and it was quite an annoying feature in public.
The video player on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy is of decent quality, while not bringing extra functionality (much like the music player). Videos are organised the same way as pictures in the gallery, and the default view makes it hard to search for the video you're looking for.
However, there's also a dedicated video viewer as well, with the videos listed by name (and no other way of organising them.
When we said the video player was basic, we weren't joking. We're talking a play/pause button, and a fast forward and rewind option. And nothing more – no menus, nothing.
To be fair, we're not sure what more you'd need, especially when there's a slider bar as well to help you skip the section you're looking for. But perhaps being able to force the video into portrait mode or something would be nice.
We're hoping that Android's application Market will sort out the problem, but as yet we haven't seen a killer app for this.
The Samsung i7500 has a decent enough gallery, with items organised in folders based on type and content. It's a very Windows-style approach, but works well. A nice touch is the addition of a timer, where the phone lets you know how many files it has to sort through before the folder is ready.
It might highlight how slow the phone can be at times, but it's much better than staring at a spinning circle for an indeterminate amount of time.
Photos are nice and easy to scroll through, although you do have to stab at a small arrow to navigate, with no option for swiping. Zooming in is only possible by the on screen magnifying glass, although it does manage a decent level of zoom.
The YouTube application is excellent on the Samsung i7500, with the player working best over Wi-Fi.
The option to use high quality clips is brilliant, as most are as good as stored video on the phone, and stream very quickly. The option to switch to higher quality is buried through the menu system, so we suggest you activate it as soon as possible.
Video range is getting better all the time for the mobile version, and until flash support is available on a wide range of smartphones it is the best option by far.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Applications
Applications on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy fall into two categories – decent applications on the phone and the best the Android Market has to offer.
The main applications on the phone are those from Google, as they're excellent. The Maps application is the best of the bunch, with Streetview integrated and the compass function working very well. Holding the phone up and swivelling it around will let you virtually tour London from the comfort of your own bedroom, which is a nice feeling for the lazy among us.
Again, a lot of options like Streetview and compass are hidden in drill down menus, and we'd hope that future Android updates would sort this.
But the mapping software, with the GPS, is pretty good, although it took us a long time to get a lock on our location. You know what you're going to get with Google Maps, and the i7500 Galaxy didn't disappoint.
Google Talk is also excellent on the phone, and it needs to be as the only messaging client on the phone. It has a well designed interface, and a very fast update so the mobile experience isn't a lot different to the PC.
Android Market is also a very good application portal, and like the iPhone, the amount of programs on offer will only expand. There's already a very good selection on board, so here's a few of our early favourites:
Argue about the price all you want, but Spotify on Android is great (and better than that on the iPhone). Not only does the streaming over 3G generally work pretty well, but the Android-friendly interface full of draggable tabs and icons is brilliant too.
Syncing over Wi-Fi is fast and offers the songs just like you'd expect on the PC, with good sound reproduction and a fairly wide catalogue. You might be able to tell we're fans of this one.
Yes, it's Doom in all its glory on a mobile phone. And it's free. However, there's a problem here – the down key doesn't work on the i7500 when playing the game, so turning right is not an option.
This means you need to play the game in a Derek Zoolander fashion, only turning left and leaving yourself exposed to enemies. It's still awesome to have a free version of Doom on the mobile, but we still wish it would work properly.
We've mentioned it a few times in this review, but Twidroid is one of the best Twitter clients for Android. The Tweets appear in the notifications bar, and you can choose whether to display them in full or just see when new ones arrive before entering the application.
With the ability to enter pictures, links and text from many areas of the phone (not just the application itself) it's a good example of what's possible with Android.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Battery life and organiser
Here we come to the main failure point of the Samsung i7500 Galaxy – its battery life. There's a good chance this phone has the worst battery life of any handset we've ever had on test, which is utterly inexplicable when you consider it has one of the largest battery on the market at 1500mAh.
Couple that with the optimised (well, you'd assume it was) Android OS and the OLED screen drawing less power than its LCD counterpart, and we're jiggered if we can work out what's going on here.
We managed to run the battery down in around three hours of moderately hard use. By that we mean Twidroid running in the background, Gmail, the music player and a fairly hard session on the internet. Not easy, granted, but most phones handle it with a third of the battery going at most.
But the Galaxy just looked at us snootily and switched itself off. And with even a medium to low use, we only got a day's charge out of it, which is ridiculous.
The only good thing is that it's likely to be a software fault, as there are many reasons to believe that it should have a class leading battery, not the opposite. If that's the case Samsung should divert all attention to this problem. It's that bad.
At least the organisational functions on the i7500 Galaxy are decent, with Google Calendar a great experience. Fast synchronisation with the web calendar means you're always up to date, and it's easy to simply drag and create new events on the phone.
You can choose a range of alerts for upcoming events on your G-calendar, which appear in the notification bar by default.
The screen displays the information well, and you can choose a variety of views, such as day, week and month to manage your life. If you're someone who needs a calendar to use day to day for work or the like, this is an excellent option.
Other software isn't so plentiful, with the calculator the only real other option in terms of organising your life.
However, there is an alarm clock as well, which is functional enough and allows you to set multiple alarms for different days of the week. Although we suggest you instantly take it off the annoying beep-beep-beep sound that makes you want to curl up and die when it rouses you from your slumber.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Connectivity options
The Samsung i7500 Galaxy has a few options on the connectivity front – the bad news is most of them have some kind of problem.
The first, 3.5G connectivity, is fine, operating most of the time easily. However, if the phone jumps to EDGE or another lower speed network then it will struggle to reconnect to the faster option, and it's very difficult to force it to do so.
Wi-Fi is something we had a lot of trouble with on the Samsung i7500 Galaxy, as it kept flickering on and off. When in our home network we happily connected up to Wi-Fi, but then when the phone went into sleep mode, the connection was lost. When perusing the problem, we found the phone was struggling to obtain an IP address from the router, which was strange when it had done so a minute before.
However, once we turned the Wi-Fi on and off it was fine, which gets pretty irritating when we had to do it for the fiftieth time.
Bluetooth is very basic on the i7500 Galaxy too, with the only option seemingly to connect headphones to the device. This worked well, with the Jabra Halo dual mic headset providing some nice sounding music and working well on calls too, with no connection drop and a good range possible from the device.
However, you can't send pictures using Bluetooth, which was pretty irritating to say the least, and seems very strange when most phones have been able to do so for many, many years.
GPS was also strangely uncooperative most of the time, falling massively behind the iPhone in direct speed tests. It just flickered and flashed for ages in Google Maps, and eventually caught, but took too long for our liking.
Samsung's New PC Studio is included on CD in the box, and gives the usual range of communication options, such as media and message management, and the option to browse the phone's inner file structure, which is always handy.
However, we were unable to get his up and running on our PC, despite numerous attempts to connect the cable the re-install the drivers. We know the New PC Studio experience is a good one, so we'll assume that other models won't have the same problem.
We were able to copy off the SD card, meaning we could transfer files to and from the phone.
Samsung i7500 Galaxy: Verdict
Samsung has to be commended for being the first non-HTC manufacturer to release an Android phone to the market, as it's taking everyone else far too long to achieve the same thing.
The Samsung i7500 Galaxy costs nearly £100 on a £35 per month contract from O2, which is the exclusive provider of the phone in the UK at the moment.
The design of the i7500 Galaxy is pretty nice – it's certainly better than the HTC Hero (although we're sure the other half of the other love it/hate it divide will have something to say about that).
It's feature rich, with a flash, 5MP camera - the best on offer for an Android phone at the moment.
The Android OS is a good platform, and the phone only stands to get better as updates trickle out, with 1.6 Donut due any week now.
The OLED screen is bright and vivid too, with a decent enough sound pumping out the speaker when used in 'commuter-baiting' mode.
Unfortunately, there's a lot to dislike in the i7500 Galaxy too. The main problem is the battery life, which is currently just abysmal. The ultra-long lock button holding is a problem as well, with the length of time needed to press it as much of an irritation as its erratic nature.
The camera is pretty poor as well, especially from Samsung, and we're sad there's not profile settings to change the option you're after beyond turning the volume down to a buzz.
The price is also very high for such a phone, and we're already looking to see how much the i5700 Galaxy Lite is going to be. Budget Android is likely to be big later in 2009/2010, and this might be the wrong time to release an expensive handset.
The problem for the Galaxy is others have already shown us what's possible with Android, with Archos, HTC and Motorola already skinning Android to the nines to create a plethora of new functionality.
Samsung has done precisely nothing with the Android OS for the i7500 Galaxy, and it now shows when we've been spoilt by the Sense UI on the Hero. In fact, the phone's main saving grace is the fact it's packing Android, which is an awesome OS, as without it this would probably be among Samsung's worst touchscreen phones.
For the money we want a lot more these days, and you'd have to think the HTC Magic is better value at the moment. Sure, it doesn't have a flash or a headphone jack, but for the cost and performance we'd say it puts the i7500 galaxy in the shade.
We know we're only at the very start of the Android journey, but we can't help feeling Samsung should have done better with its first effort.
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