Samsung Galaxy Pro
18th Jul 2011 | 15:22
Cheap as chips Android with a QWERTY keyboard
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Overview, Design and Feel
Samsung is like the little engine that could. It just keeps on going. Sometimes it produces high-end, market-leading smartphones such as the stupendous Galaxy S II, sometimes it plays a safer game, attacking the middle of the road as with the likes of the Galaxy Mini.
It's Android's turn again, but with a bit of a twist. Samsung has stuck Android 2.2 into a small-screened handset with a chunky BlackBerry-style keyboard, in the hope, no doubt, of stealing some market share from the fruity company that seems to be losing its way a little at present.
The Samsung Galaxy Pro has been equipped with a range of smartphone credentials, including GPS, HSDPA (7.2Mbps) and Wi-Fi. The 3MP camera sounds a bit measly on paper - we'll see how it fared under testing later on.
There's an 800MHz processor, and the mere 512MB of onboard memory is supported by a 2GB microSD card.
The screen is - of course - touch sensitive, but at a size of 2.8 inches and a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, its a worry before we even switch the phone on. Will it be big enough to handle what Android expects of it?
In terms of physical design the Samsung Galaxy Pro has its ups and downs. We really like that the micro USB port on the top edge has a sliding cover to protect it from dust and dirt. This port is all too often open to the elements, in our view and can severely disrupt your phone's lifespan if it breaks.
The top edge also houses a 3.5mm headset connector, and this is in just the spot we like to see it. There is precious little else going on by way of ports and connectors, though, with just a volume rocker on the left edge and the on/off switch a tiny button on the right.
On the front, beneath the screen, there's a long lozenge that looks like a rocker, which houses the Home and Back buttons, and outside this are the Search and Menu buttons. The keyboard occupies the space below, and we'll look at this in more detail a bit later on.
The chassis is plastic through and through, and this helps to keep it fairly light at just 103g. There's a rather nice patterning on the backplate, but otherwise things are pretty nondescript, design-wise.
The Samsung Galaxy Pro is a bit wide for the hand, though, at 66.7mm. Smaller hands will have trouble using either screen or keyboard one-handed.
On the plus side, it's super cheap at £18 per month and only £130 a month on PAYG - surely enough to make up for a large number of faults?
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Interface
The Samsung Galaxy Pro runs Android 2.2 (Froyo). Samsung has applied its own little bit of skinning to proceedings to help it stand out a little from the crowd, bringing a version of its TouchWiz overlay.
There are four shortcuts, hardwired to the right side of the screen. One opens the dialler; one takes you to contacts; one to messaging; and one to the full apps list.
The action on the screen is pretty good under the finger - we were mostly impressed that the 800MHz processor managed to keep up with our movements without issue, although some slowdown was apparent in very minor instances.
The Samsung Galaxy Pro starts life with three home screens that you can move between with finger sweeps. The recently reviewed Samsung Galaxy Mini also starts life like that, but you can add more home screens to it, up to a total of seven. That's not the case here: you can't ever get past three home screens.
This is a bit of a pity, actually, since the real estate here is rather cramped. With the screen measuring just 2.8 diagonal inches and offering only 320 x 240 pixels you've not got a lot of space for many nice, big widgets. Realising this, perhaps, Samsung hasn't bothered to provide very many interactive panels.
As is usual, you can drag down the notification bar to get to updates of incoming messages and so on, and there's also a little settings bar you can use to toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, volume and the screen's auto-rotation.
That screen rotation isn't a universal thing. It doesn't function on the home screen, but it does function in many of the other apps - and sometimes very confusingly. For example, would you want to rotate the screen when using the keyboard to compose a message? We think not.
There's something else we aren't too happy about as far as the screen is concerned: there's no pinch to zoom. This is bizarre, as the screen is capacitive. We can't see why Samsung has left the feature out.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Contacts and Calling
Making a call is a very simple matter with the Samsung Galaxy Pro.
When on any home screen you can start tapping out a number on the keypad. You have to hold down the Alt key while you tap at the number keys, as they are doubled up on to letters, and as the number grows on screen, the array of choices diminishes.
When the full number is on display, just hit to dial it or to add the number as a new contact.
Unfortunately this isn't full predictive dialling, as it doesn't link into your contacts file. You can link into contacts, but not by starting with their number, only their name.
Instead, this is part of a search system that enables you to search the web or handset by typing what you want to look at when on a home screen. This is a complete take-off of a BlackBerry feature, and is super quick and slick.
Another way into contacts is to use the dial pad or to go straight to contacts, and there are links to both hardwired onto every home screen.
Tapping the dial pad gives you an unusually blank-looking screen, with no number pad, just links to logs, favourites and to switch over into contacts. There's a keypad link too, but it doesn't bring up a touch dialpad on the screen - you have to use the keyboard to dial.
This is a bit of a disappointment - some people will find it easier to tap the screen than the keyboard - but the good news is that when you're on this screen you don't need to use the Alt key to register numbers. The Samsung Galaxy Pro is clever enough to work out that if you've come here you really do want a number 1 rather than the letter E when you hit their shared key.
In this instance you do get predictive dialling. You are shown how many contacts match the number you've typed so far, and hitting that indication brings them all up, so that you can choose the one you want.
Here's one of many places you'll encounter problems caused by the small screen. There's only space to show one match at a time on the main dialler screen, and if there are more than three matches when you click through, you'll need to scroll.
When you're looking at the contacts listing there are tabs for groups, history and activities, as well as for a straight A-Z list of everyone. You'll be wondering what the 'activities' tab delivers. Rather oddly, it doesn't deliver anything at all till you've signed into Facebook. When that's done and Facebook has synchronised, you get an FB news feed.
In use for voice calls the Samsung Galaxy Pro did a fair but not outstanding job. It maintained a good signal, and delivered at an acceptable volume, but with less than great clarity at times.
Connectivity in the city remained strong and voice quality was acceptable when walking down the street, although we did wish for a spot more volume than the phone could offer at times.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Messaging
As an Android handset worth its salt, the Samsung Galaxy Pro enables you to set up a range of different social media and email accounts, including Hotmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and, of course, Google.
There's also Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and email for Exchange, for those wanting a work-focused connection.
You can synchronise accounts and manually link contacts so that information from different places is all brought together. Manual linking is a bit of a tedious process, but the handset did make automatic links where both Facebook and Twitter names were the same, which is at least a bit of a help, and also managed to work out a few that were more crazily-named.
SMS is another area where the small screen shows itself to be a bind. You can see enough on screen to type out a full 160-character message - but even if messages are only one word long there's not room on screen to show more than two in any threaded conversation at once. You have to scroll to see more.
The keyboard supports auto-capitalisation and auto-punctuation, and did both surprisingly well.
And now we can't put off discussing the keyboard any longer. The good news is that it's responsive and easy to use at speed. The keys are relatively big and are domed, both of which factors make it easy to tap away. Samsung has made its shaping ever-so-slightly different at the edges than in the centre, which also helps.
There's a second function on the Z key for the @ symbol and another on the Sym(bol) key (left of the rather small space bar) for smileys, and there's a little set of four cursors that make it really easy to move around in large chunks of text when you want to make an edit.
There are plenty of useful symbols - one to each key - and you can get a good few more from the Sym key. A double-tap on the Shift key enables shift lock so that you can SHOUT YOUR SMS OR EMAIL.
All in all, this adds up to a keyboard that is fast and easy to use - it even gives BlackBerry offerings a run for their money.
If you really want to, you can activate soft keyboards in both tall and wide modes, but they're so small and fiddly to use that we can't really see why you'd want to bother.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Internet
We've trailed it a bit already, but that 2.8 inch 320 x 240 pixel screen really shows up its failings when you're trying to browse the internet. And the fact that the screen doesn't support pinch to zoom just adds insult to injury.
The 7.2 Mbps HSDPA and Wi-Fi mean that you can get to sites quickly enough, but the initial load probably won't give you enough detail to read much, so you're stuck waiting for the green bar to get all the way across.
Scroll around with a finger and you may or may not be able to read enough detail to see what you want to click next. A double-tap zooms you in, and this is likely to deliver the detail you need.
Double-tap again and you zoom in again - this time to a really large screen size. Another double-tap and you zoom out.
You've got the option of turning the Samsung Galaxy Pro to get a tall screen view, but as you can see from the shots below, it doesn't make a whole heap of difference, really, because the width-to-height ratio of the screen isn't very different.
On the plus side, the Samsung Galaxy Pro has full Flash support, which means that embedded video works well. We were streaming content from web sites like crazy - and although some websites weren't able to properly deliver Flash thanks to the slightly lower power processor, it was still and excellent
The browser supports multiple windows, too, so you can keep tabs on a few websites without having to go back to the drawing board all the time.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Camera
A quick peek at the specifications tells you the camera isn't likely to be up to much. With just 3MP on offer and no flash, you really shouldn't be looking for greatness. But there's autofocus and a reasonable range of shooting modes, including panorama mode, so you do get something to play with at least.
Indoors, if the lighting is fair to middling, you can get a reasonable shot. This one was taken in a café with low-level overhead lighting and is certainly good enough to pass on.
General outdoor shots are OK, and if there's a lot of ambient lighting you can get away with taking some decent photos. The camera does struggle if light and dark shades are widely variant, though.
In the early evening, the camera did fairly well at capturing what light was around. This shot is taken at full 3x zoom and looks understandably patchy
The camera combines eight shots to take a panorama image. You can see that there's a lot of 'bending' in the photo. This is far from the best panorama we've seen.
You've got several shooting modes on offer. Nothing out of the ordinary, but there's black and white, sepia and negative to play with.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Video
Video shooting is limited to a rather sad 320 x 240 pixels, and you might therefore think you want to leave it alone completely.
But it actually isn't too bad if you're able to live with the low resolution. You can apply some filters, which are fun - check out our negative offering in the samples below, and you can also use black and white, and sepia.
It also runs at 30fps too, so at least it's nice and smooth. For the price, we're not expecting HD capture and a superb camera - and we'd label this an acceptable snapper for the odd occasions when you happen to see your favourite celebrity in the street.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Media
With a music player and FM radio onboard, basic audio media are covered fairly nicely. The radio has a rather nice user interface involving an old-fashioned tuning image and round 'button' that you can use for manual tuning. It'll auto-scan channels and you can save four favourites.
There's a handy mute button, which is useful if you are listening through the loudspeaker, all of which contributes to a decent system.
If you are listening to the radio you get controls from the notifications bar, so you can switch channels and flip into the main app easily. And you can set an auto-off timer so that you can go to sleep with the radio on and it'll just, well, switch off.
Music playback is a reasonable experience, but it is a bit miffing that Samsung can't be bothered to provide headphones. You'll need these for the FM radio too, of course - and thankfully there's no adaptor needed, so the inevitable headphones upgrade is just brought forward a little faster anyway.
The player picked up tunes from an SD card without a hitch, but failed to find our album art. The loudspeaker is fairly good quality, and there's an equaliser with a few different settings.
The equaliser does make a difference to sound, but it's another of the annoyances of the small screen that you have to do a lot of scrolling to see all of the equaliser options on offer.
Just as with the FM radio, there are controls you can call up by dragging down the notifications bar.
The Gallery app finds photos and video, and displays them in a rather nice thumbnail grid that allows you to flick through and find what you want to look at. The Samsung Galaxy Pro supports MPEG4, DivX and Xvid, and it played back files that we've sometimes had trouble with on handsets because of their size.
Finally, if streaming is your thing, you can always fall back on YouTube. The client worked well for us, although just like the video recording it does suffer because of the small screen size.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Battery, maps and apps
Samsung equips the Galaxy Pro with a 1350mAh battery. This is pretty much small fry, although Samsung says it will give you 11 hours talktime and up to 620 hours on standby.
With such a small screen to manage you can expect battery life to be fairly good, although pushing the 800MHz processor will of course give it a chance to flex its muscles.
We found that we got a day's worth of battery life fairly easily without recourse to mains power, but then the screen size meant we weren't as inclined to attack the web or stream video as we usually are, which helps to explain this.
The Galaxy Pro's reasonable-quality music playback might mean you use it regularly for this purpose, and in this case you may well need to boost the battery mid-day.
Wi-Fi connections were fast and held well: we never experienced any dropped connections. The same can be said for 3G. Both are good plus points, which, yet again, made us rue the small screen.
We also liked Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP support on offer as well, meaning the next generation of the wireless transfer (well, one of them) is nicely covered.
With this being an Android handset it won't come as a surprise that Google Maps provides the navigation features. Once again we have to complain about the small screen, which means you can't see much of a map at any one time, but at least the GPS fared well. It wasn't the fastest to get a fix, but once found, it held on well.
Among the other apps on board is a nice little memo maker for taking short, simple notes. You can even colour-code them.
And there's a voice recorder too, in case you want to go all old fashioned and make voice notes.
Samsung adds its own app store to the Android Market. This is getting larger as time goes on, as more apps are starting to emerge to fill it. The rest is very much standard Android fare, but of course you have access to the Market to add whatever takes your fancy.
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Hands On Gallery
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Official Gallery
Samsung Galaxy Pro: Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy Pro had us spitting feathers at times, while at other times we really enjoyed using it. It was a real love/hate affair, caused by the two key features of the smartphone.
The keyboard. We've seen lots of these mini-keyboards, and we have to say that this is one of the better ones. Not as good as the best that BlackBerry or Nokia can offer, but certainly up there with the front-runners. If you're an inveterate texter, it could appeal.
The price of the phone is certainly impressive too - it's a lot cheaper than the likes of the forthcoming Nokia E6, and although it has a much lower-res screen, it's still the equal in terms of performance.
The small screen. Both the size and the low resolution are issues when using a media-friendly operating system such as Android, and we often found ourselves squinting at data or scrolling and scrolling.
This is made more irritating still by the lack of multitouch and pinch to zoom, even though the screen is capacitive.
The HTC ChaCha out-does it in terms of similar form factor and Android power, but does cost a fair bit more. If you're a dedicated Facebook fan though, we'd recommend you look at HTC's QWERTY offering.
The Samsung Galaxy Pro is a slippery little fish. We want to praise it for its keyboard, but berate it for its screen. Samsung could have helped matters by offering a higher resolution on the screen.
If you want a handset of this design, take a look at the HTC ChaCha or Nokia E6. But don't forget the Sony Ericsson Xperia 10 Mini Pro which, while it is a side-slider, is teeny - or, indeed, any of the larger side-sliders that offer a more desirable, larger screen.