Samsung Galaxy S

20th Jul 2011 | 15:14

Samsung Galaxy S

Looks like an iPhone. But now tastes like Gingerbread

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A solid smartphone that's worth a look if you're after something on a budget

Like:

Superb screen; Cheaper price; Slim chassis; Great audio quality; HD video recording

Dislike:

No unified inbox; No more updates?; Wi-Fi not too strong; No camera flash

Samsung Galaxy S: Overview, design and feel

This Samsung Galaxy S review has been updated to include the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system update.

A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away... (OK, not that far – South Korea), a new smartphone set Samsung's mobile fortunes alight: the Galaxy S.

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you can check out our quick video guide to what to look out for:

It may have been less than a year ago, but that's a long time in mobile phone world. And this one has shipped by the bucket load. Samsung surpassed its aim of selling ten million Galaxy S units back in January, and for the South Korean technology legend, it's the gift that just keeps giving.

Originally shipping with 2.1 Eclair, then upgraded to 2.2 Froyo and now given a new lease of life, rocking 2.3 Gingerbread, the Galaxy S is no longer Samsung's flagship – its big brother, the Galaxy S2, takes that crown.

Samsung galaxy s review

But retailers are still selling it and punters are still buying it. A fantastic screen, surfing experience that really works and 5MP camera are just a few attributes that make the Samsung Galaxy S at least looklike it ticks all the boxes.

But is it really out of this world?

Samsung galaxy s review

We know some Android fans won't like this, but sorry, there's one word we have to bring up here and we can't help it: iPhone.

Like it or not, the Samsung Galaxy S will be compared to Apple's offering.

Samsung galaxy s review

In fact, when it was launched last year as Samsung's flagship device, it was probably the main challenger to the iPhone and the choice of those who didn't want to be locked into Apple's way of doing things, yet still wanted the benefits of a touchscreen smartphone with all mod cons.

More recently, it's been knocked out the spotlight by its own replacement, the Samsung Galaxy S2, but Samsung clearly believes this is a popular handset and it's now being marketed as a higher mid-level phone to those who don't want to compromise on features and go for a budget smartphone (such as the Galaxy Mini) but can't necessarily afford to go premium.

Samsung galaxy s

With a 1GHz processor, GPS, HSDPA/HSUPA, HD video recorder, generous built-in memory (8GB or 16GB) and the latest Android operating system, this could never be considered a slouch of a phone.

We found one retailer selling it SIM-free for £309 (not far off £200 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S2) and contract-wise, you can pick it up for free at £20 per month on certain network deals.

Back to Apple, though, and there's no mistaking it – the Samsung Galaxy S and iPhone 3G/3GS could very easily have been separated at birth.

Samsung galaxy s

From the all-black shiny front, to the curved bezel around the frame, to the single physical button (albeit a rounded square rather than a circle) and even the glossy back in a choice of white or black, there is no way Jonathan Ive wouldn't have felt at least a little miffed (or flattered) when he saw the Samsung Galaxy S design for the first time.

It's not a bad thing – but apart from the Samsung logo just beneath the earpiece and a slightly larger screen, there's not much difference in the Samsung Galaxy S's appearance.

In terms of size, the handset measures 64.2 x 122.4 x 9.9mm. It feels significantly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S2 – which it is due to the fact that it doesn't have the latter's huge screen.

Despite our love for the Samsung Galaxy S2, we actually found we preferred holding the Galaxy S, because the smaller size made it easier to grip. But it's definitely a trade off, and one that each buyer can evaluate, based on their own needs.

Samsung galaxy s review

The Samsung Galaxy S does feel like a quality device in the hand – but it's also very plasticky. The glossy plastic rear cover is a fingerprint magnet, but at least it all keeps the weight down.

Because when we first picked up the Samsung Galaxy S, coming from an iPhone 4, we couldn't believe just how light it was. In fact, we opened the back thinking the battery must have been missing, but it was in there. At 119g, it feels great and not something you're likely to notice in your pocket.

With the Home button on the front, you also have two soft keys either side of it. They light up when the screen is on and register your interest with a little haptic vibration when pressed. The one to the left is the Menu/Options button, and a Back button is located to the right.

Samsung galaxy s review

There's no dedicated search button like you might find on some other Android handsets. Likewise there is no dedicated camera button on the side of the Samsung Galaxy S, which is something we'd like to see because it makes the startup process and actual picture taking a lot easier, but we'll not hold that one against Samsung too much.

On the left side is a simple volume rocker, and the right-hand edge houses the lock button about two thirds of the way up. If you're left handed, you'll have no problems because you can hold the Samsung Galaxy S in your palm and reach around to press it with your index finger.

Samsung galaxy s review

If you're right handed, you'll have no such luck. In fact, this was our first gripe with the Samsung Galaxy S that we found really irked us. The problem is, if you hold it one-handed in your right hand, it's natural to press the button in with your thumb - although you can tap the home button to wake the phone back up too.

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The top holds a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro USB port for charging/syncing. Thoughtfully, Samsung has also fitted that port with a little sliding door – presumably to keep rain out because it's at the top of the phone.

It hasn't put one over the headphone jack though – we assume it thinks you'll have your headphones plugged in most of the time. Or it would be just too annoying to have it there.

The back holds the camera lens (5MP) and a speaker grill. There's no flash. Yes, no flash. On what was Samsung's flagship handset – and is still a mid-to-top level mobile phone – there's no light. Not even a little LED. Zilch. We'll go onto that in more detail in the Camera section. It won't be pretty.

There's also a rather curious bump along the bottom that protrudes – think the HTC chin found on various handsets such as the Salsa but on the back and sticking out the other way. Heaven knows why.

Samsung galaxy s review

The MicroSD slot is located under the cover. But it's not behind the battery (hurrah!), which means it's fully hot-swappable.

The real surprise is when you turn this baby on. The Samsung Galaxy S screen is a belter – a 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED – and it's so vibrant. Not that we'd expect any less.

Samsung's screens have always been probably the best out there on mobile handsets – even back in the days of the T100 and D410 (we're speaking relatively, of course, compared to the competition at the time.)

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Pixel-wise, it's not 100 per cent perfect – close up you don't get the clarity of, say, a retina display or the updated Super AMOLED Plus. But as for those colours, you really can't take your eyes off them. Vivid, bright and full of life is how we'd describe them.

We installed a free HD wallpaper on our review unit and thought it looked amazing. So much so, we kept fiddling and turning the screen on to look at it. It's probably the first sign of madness.

Samsung galaxy s review

Samsung Galaxy S: Interface

Samsung galaxy s

Samsung ships the Galaxy S with Gingerbread 2.3 (or at the very least, offers it as a free upgrade.) It's the latest operating system for Android and, on top of that, we're treated to the TouchWiz skin. Although Sammy's overlay polarises opinion, we're big fans of Samsung's offering here. It's vivid, colourful and makes the most of that amazing screen.

Yep, back to the screen again, because we can't stop raving about it. Especially with some of the included wallpapers. Prior to the Samsung Galaxy S2 being released, we'd put it as one of the most seductive out there, and it's still excellent. TouchWiz just makes it better.

You have seven home screens by default, and with no way to expand this. But unless you're really greedy and just gobble widgets like cakes, you'll find this is more than enough. The first home screen is your main one, and you swipe to the right to move along.

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You can also just pinch the screen in to show all your screens at once. It's a nice touch, and very fluid. At no stage did we find our widgets slowing the handset down at all – but with a Hummingbird 1GHz processor inside, we'd have been surprised if we had.

Samsung hasn't gone overboard with its selection of widgets on the Gingerbread release. When you turn it on for the first time, there are none set up on the Galaxy S home screens, and when you look into the options, there are only 11 (four of which are variations of the same one) plus the standard Android offerings.

But it's no real worry, because there are many available from the Android Market.

And the ones that do come with the Samsung Galaxy S, we really liked. Calendar Clock displays a large clock that highlights the times you're not available on a particular day, and Buddies Now is a cool addition – a simple carousel that enables you to call and text assigned contacts within a second or two. It's not splitting the atom, but it's fun.

Others include: Days (a diary widget), Daily Briefing, Feeds and Updates, Program Monitor (a task manager) and Y! Finance Clock (Stocks) - so far, so yawn.

Samsung galaxy s

TouchWiz provides four shortcuts at the bottom of your screen, which are there at all times – Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications. Go into any home screen and they're there. Go into your application drawer and they're there. The only time they're not visible is when you're actually using an app.

You can replace them with others by simply going into the Application drawer, and going through the Options menu. It's a simple case of drag and drop. You can also reorder your Android apps depending on which you use most and what you want to see (by default, they order alphabetically) and we really like this.

It's one of those simple functions you expect to have, but on so many Android handsets, it's missing. And scrolling through your apps can be a right pain in the neck. One quirk we did notice was when you re-order apps or fiddle with those you have in the dock at the bottom.

Once you've made your changes, you have to consciously press your Options button and select Save or your changes are lost and you have to do it all again.

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We'd been using an iPhone 4 prior to the Samsung Galaxy S, and had got into the habit of just pressing the home button to save changes, so this extra click threw us a little bit. But it's not a problem – it's just a different way of doing things.

We're pleased with the look of apps in the drawer and think that here the Samsung Galaxy S actually outshines its big brother, the Galaxy S2. You see, one of the differences between iPhone apps and Android apps is that iPhone icons are all the same shape and size.

They even have that slight curve of colour and shading on them. Aesthetically, iPhone home screens look good because everything is uniform and fits together.

But with Android, they can be all different shapes and sizes and your app drawer can, on occasions, look a right mess, with a mish mash of different styles sitting together. For obsessive folk like us, that's not good.

But the TouchWiz on Samsung Galaxy S adds a box around each icon. Each one is a different colour and is fairly bright (some may think it's a little playschool, but not us) but more to the point, it regulates everything so the icons are all the same size and shape. It's one of those small touches that you don't notice is missing until it's not there, and on the Galaxy S2, we're shocked Samsung has left it out.

Samsung galaxy s

Another thing that shocked us is the ringtones. We know these South Korean manufacturers love their weird tones (LG is just as bad) but the ones Samsung includes are nothing short of mortifyingly embarrassing. Thank heavens you can use your own MP3s, although we wish they'd just left them out. Dreadful.

Luckily, Samsung hasn't left out the toggles on the status bar that enable you to control certain battery-hungry elements of the operating system without having to delve too deeply into the menus. That's all present and correct.

Also, Samsung has thought ahead and given users a screenshot ability where you hold down the Home and Back button to take a snapshot of your screen. It's something that Apple users have had forever and will be used to, but Android, bizarrely, makes it incredibly difficult and provides no way of grabbing screenshots out of the box.

There are various flaky apps that do it, but they don't always work, and the only guaranteed method is to run the SDK kit, so this Samsung shortcut gets a definite thumbs up from us. It could be a bit better, though, because you have to press the Back button as part of the process, which often closes the screen you're trying to shoot.

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The lock screen wallpaper is the same as the home screen. It can be changed easily, although we couldn't see a way to change back to a default lock screen wallpaper once you've set one of your own (you can change to one of your pictures, but not to one of Samsung's, and you can change the standby wallpaper back to default, just not the lock screen).

To unlock the phone, it's a simple case of wiping the screensaver off in a sweeping motion. It works as well as you'd expect. And one thing we love about it (shallow, yes we admit) is the fact that when you get an SMS/missed call, the lock screen turns into a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. That piece is your notification elsewhere on the screen and you drag it across to fit the gap and unlock. It's daft, but it's fun.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S has a fluid operating system, and because it's Android, if you're coming from another Android handset, you'll be at home. The TouchWiz just gives it a little extra sparkle and, in itself, even a novice will be able to navigate it within minutes.

Samsung Galaxy S: Contacts and calling

Samsung galaxy s review

Contacts and calling on the Samsung Galaxy S is pretty standard Android fare.

We quite like the phonebook and the way it's laid out with contacts' profile photos in list mode. Again, small touches make all the difference. We're pleased to see even BlackBerry does this now, and just wait for the day the iPhone follows suit (and then announces it in a way that makes it sound like an amazing new feature Apple has invented!).

It's helpful that you can join contacts – to prevent duplicates, something we have lots of – and can now create groups directly on the handset – some previous Android iterations forced you to do that on the web.

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Accessing your contacts list can be done in one of two ways – tapping the contacts icon in the dock or going in through a tab on the phone – and adding a contact is as simple as tapping in the number in the phone app and hitting 'Add to contacts.'

Dialling is standard Android fare – there isn't even a skin here to change the dialler – but if it isn't broken, why fix it?

You can tap out a contact's name using the number pad, and the smart dialling kicks in immediately.

It's a fact that millions of smartphone owners use their phone less for calling and more for texting, surfing the web and social networking – more on the first two in the Messaging and Internet sections of this review. But we can't help feeling that Samsung's support for the latter is a poor show on the Samsung Galaxy S.

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There's a bright Feeds and Updates widget that we're not overly keen on, because it only seems to show a maximum of two entries at a time – which means a lot of scrolling if you're popular.

And the Social Hub app that's supposed to aggregate your messages, Twitter, Facebook and so on just feels a bit... unimaginative, and isn't actually that functional (we'll explain more on that in the Messaging section.)

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We're sorry to say it, Samsung, but you don't even come close here to HTC, who we would pit as the main Android competitor. Its integration of social feeds into contacts and so on is a market leader, and an example to be followed.

Even Windows Phone 7 Mango has amazing Facebook integration, and Twitter is in its pipeline. So there really is no excuse, and we hope you sort it out before an Ice Cream Sandwich update – if one arrives for the Samsung Galaxy S.

Samsung galaxy s

On the other hand, making and receiving calls on the Samsung Galaxy S was a pleasure.

We managed to hold a connection while travelling (in the passenger seat, of course) at high speed on the M6 between Sandbach and Stafford – a good distance where you'd expect at least one dropout. Signal did go up and down a bit, but the Samsung Galaxy S held on to that call for dear life and we couldn't fault it at all.

Volume isn't massively loud and clear, but it's bearable, and callers reported back that they could hear us perfectly.

One other thing we did like is that when you're in a call, if you hit the Options key, it brings up the option to write a memo. That's a really good idea, and actually came in handy while we tested the phone, taking notes on the performance when we were engaged in conversation.

Samsung Galaxy S: Messaging

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With the Samsung Galaxy S being an Android handset, it naturally supports the most common forms of messaging – namely SMS/MMS, IM and email. And it does this well.

The messaging app is straightforward, and you can compose a text to a contact either via this or via the phone book. Options include automatic conversion from SMS to MMS if you attach a file, and the ability to add smileys – although we always think the standard Android ones look a bit demented compared to, say, Emoji ones.

We're not massively keen on the SMS/MMS app if we're completely honest. It's just not customisable very much at all.

For example, you're stuck with yellow and blue speech bubbles. That's it. And the text size is a bit big, with no option to make it smaller.

Samsung galaxy s

Considering the Samsung Galaxy S2 – which also runs the Gingerbread 2.3 operating system – comes with several messaging skins included and the option to change text size, we can't see why Samsung has left this out of the Galaxy S.

We can appreciate it doesn't want to put all its eggs into one basket, and wants to keep some features exclusively for its premium hansdset – that's fair enough – but this is hardly a killer feature, and wouldn't have pained them that much to incorporate, bearing in mind the target market is media/social-hungry sorts.

We're still traumatised from the experience with our Samsung D500 back in 2005 when, on unwrapping the box to find an incredible 1.3MP camera, we snapped away to our heart's content but then couldn't MMS the pictures to anybody because the phone didn't automatically resize images.

It's a heartbreak we felt again some years later when the same problem surfaced on our shiny new Google Nexus One, which had arrived fresh from the US. So it was with some trepidation that we cranked the Samsung Galaxy S camera up to its full 5MP setting and took some snaps, which we then attempted to send via MMS.

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Don't worry, you can breathe out. It all worked. Perfectly.

The Samsung Galaxy S automatically compresses photos (hooray) to get them below the 300KB limit from within the messaging app.

It didn't fare so well with a full HD video file we shot, but we can live with that since you're more likely to send those files by email than MMS anyway.

If you're using the Samsung Galaxy S for Gmail, you've got two options – the official Gmail app (which works but we're not massive fans of, because of its inability to display HTML emails properly) or Samsung's email app (which also supports other IMAP/POP3 services).

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We must say we were big fans of the Samsung offering. It setup our Gmail account within seconds, and we were off and away.

It's different to the standard, built-in email app available on the Samsung Galaxy S2, and we dare say it's better, in our opinion.

OK, so it lacks the sparkle of split-screen view in landscape mode, where it shows your message list and the message text. But it makes up for it in other areas.

For example, running along the top of your inbox at all times are tabs to quickly switch to any of your email folders. It's a small tweak, but a real time saver.

You can change the size of text and the look of the email app, with messages displayed not just in white on black or black on white – as you can on the Galaxy S2 – but also in a plethora of colour options from beige to wood to olive green. Yes, it's just a cosmetic tweak, but it's fun and some will find it handy.

Bizarrely, when you change the text size in an email, there is a noticeable difference between small, medium and large. Yet when you change the text size of your email inbox list, there's very little difference between small and large.

Conversation mode is supported, although it gets confused easily. If you're like us, you'll often fire messages off to buddies without the subject field filled in. Replies then come back with 'RE:" in the subject field, and our inbox is full of these things.

The Samsung Galaxy S got a little muddled with this and started putting emails from various random contacts sent weeks apart regarding different things into the same conversation.

HTML emails are supported (better than in the standard Gmail app, we think) with pinch to zoom in/out option and images downloaded automatically (having to download images manually in each email is a real bugbear of ours).

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If we had to pick one fault with the Samsung email app, though, we would have to say it's the length of time it takes to open an email. Tap it and you can go and put the kettle on while you wait for it to display at times.

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it's not as instant as you'd expect. And waiting three or four seconds for each message to open feels like an eternity when you're not used to it. We don't understand because, as far as we can make out, the messages are stored locally but, even if they aren't, it was still slooooooooooow on Wi-Fi when it shouldn't have been.

Other than that, though, the email app is top notch.

But despite all of this, unfortunately, there is no unified inbox. We crave the day that Android takes some cues from BlackBerry and gives us the option to have everything under the sun fall into one pit but here, email, social feeds and so on are very much separate.

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You have the Social Hub, but quite frankly, as we alluded to before, it's hardly worth the memory it uses up.

If you go into it and hit 'Messaging', it just opens up the messaging app. Hit 'Email' and it opens the email app. 'Twitter' opens up the Twitter app and 'Facebook' doesn't open the Facebook app but the Facebook mobile site (yes, really!), despite the Facebook app being installed.

There's no integrated inbox like there is on the Samsung Galaxy S2's Social Hub. Here, on the Samsung Galaxy S, Social Hub acts simply as a load of shortcuts to apps that already have shortcuts in the app drawer. All very bizarre. And not well thought out.

Another thing we'd like to see is Quick Compose built in by default, so you wouldn't have to go into Messages to send a new text, Email to write a new email and so on.

The Samsung Galaxy S comes with something similar called Write and Go, which you open and type a message into, gives you the option of sending by text, email or using to update your status. It'll do, but we weren't bowled over with it for one reason.

As we've said, we were using the Samsung email app over the Android Gmail app. Yet, when we used the Write and Go feature, all it offered us was the option to send by messaging or Gmail. There was no option to use the email app we were using, and so we were forced to use Gmail.

All very bizarre that both the Write and Go and Email apps are Samsung creations, yet don't seem to be able to talk to each other. It's details like this that can make you want to chuck a phone out of the window, regardless of how good the screen may be.

The Samsung Galaxy S comes with the standard Android keyboard as well as the Swype offering for swirly key patterns if you're into that.

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The standrad option has been given a makeover for Gingerbread, but we think it's still a bit of an acquired taste. We know people who have used it and love it but we didn't find it to be amazing.

The best Android keyboard we've found has to be the HTC one – found on phones such as the Sensation – which manages to get the balance between size and functions spot on.

The size of the keys on the keyboard that comes as standard on the Samsung Galaxy S were, for us, just that bit too small. They were better if you turned the mobile phone to landscape mode, but still not perfect.

Also, we didn't like the fact that you can't double-tap the space bar for a full stop, new sentence with capital letter. You actually have to do it the old-fashioned way, which is a pain. This is strange, because on the Samsung Galaxy S2 it works on SMS but not on email. Whereas on the Galaxy S, it just doesn't do it for either.

We won't dwell on the keyboard too much, because there are dozens of alternatives and keyboard skins on the Android Market, and finding one that suits is a personal choice. We downloaded Better Keyboard and couldn't fault that.

Swype is included on the Samsung Galaxy S and is buried in the menus. It's functional and does the job if you can figure it out. If you can, you'll love it. But book a day off work if you're going to teach yourself, because it's a bit of a learning curve.

In terms of IM, Google Talk is on board and worked fine. But again, you can download various methods from the Market and go to town as you wish.

Samsung Galaxy S: Internet

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For us, the internet is one of the Samsung Galaxy S's biggest strengths.

Early adopters would have found their device running Éclair, which had one major omission: Flash. Thankfully, that was fixed in the Froyo update, and works seamlessly here in Gingerbread.

It makes you wonder just what Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer and Mike Lazaridis are playing at. It's been perfectly implemented on Android for a while now and just shows that protestations about it being buggy are way off the mark – we didn't encounter a single crash when using it.

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On top of that, the quality of the screen really lends itself to browsing web pages, and they look great zoomed out. A nice touch is that you can adjust the brightness, turning it up and down from the browser menu itself without affecting the general screen brightness settings, which is great if you're surfing in bed and don't want to wake up your better half.

You're fully equipped for surfing both at home and on the road. Wi-Fi comes as standard, as does 3G in the form of both HSDPA and HSUPA.

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Both loaded pages very quickly indeed. Wi-Fi was blisteringly fast, loading up a data-intensive page on the Daily Mail site in a little over five seconds. 3G took a little longer, at eight seconds (with a full signal).

The same page took nine seconds on Wi-Fi using an iPhone and 17 seconds over a 3G connection under the same conditions.

We're also big fans of the way you can just type a search term into the web address bar as well as an actual link. It's a small thing – and common across Android – but also a welcome element.

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Zoomed out, pages are fairly illegible but look pretty, and the tap-to-zoom works well, although on certain forums we couldn't get text to reflow and had to zoom in using the pinch method and then slide the screen left and right, back and forth to read what was being said.

Bookmarks is standard Android fare, and works well by tapping the icon next to the address bar to bring them up. If you long-press you can add a shortcut to your home screen.

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But we would have preferred to have had a full Samsung Bookmarks widget like you get in the Samsung Galaxy S2. That actually shows screenshots of your website and looks great. What we have on the Samsung Galaxy S, though, is just a red ribbon. It looks boring and for a phone that relies so much on providing eye candy, it's unfortunate.

Should you wish to go for a different browser, there are plenty available on the Android Market for you to peruse – including the mobile version of the open source community's favourite, Firefox. Dolphin HD also is worth a look, although quite frankly, for the majority of users, the built-in browser won't just suffice – it'll probably surpass expectations too.

Samsung Galaxy S: Camera

Samsung galaxy s review

So here we have what was Samsung's premium device, and is still a pretty impressive handset: massive processor, amazing screen, every connectivity method under the sun and a 5MP camera. So there's got to be something missing, right? Yep.

Turn the Samsung Galaxy S over and you'll see it. Or rather, you won't – because there's no flash.

To say we were flabbergasted to learn this when we first used a Samsung Galaxy S last year is an understatement.

This is a device that, at its height, was selling for £500 SIM-free. And not only does it have no flash, it has no LED light. Not even a piddly little squirt of illumination. Nothing.

We don't want to go on about it – but we can't overestimate what an annoyance this is because, quite frankly, in low light, this camera is really under-par. And if budget handsets out there have something resembling a flash, how can this camera not?

Samsung galaxy s review

That gripe aside, the camera is actually really quite good when you have light – which rubs in the omission even further.

It's a 5MP snapper – not the height of sophistication now, compared to the 8MP and 12MP lenses some handsets boast, but fairly respectable by most standards.

And the quality of snaps it pumps out are, on the whole, very pleasing. We used the Samsung Galaxy S last year at launch and we always thought the camera was OK. With Gingerbread apparently comes more efficient image processing as the photos now seem even better than before.

We took pictures in a variety of conditions and when the light was good, they were great. Combined with the screen being so vibrant, viewing them was a pleasure, and they looked just as good transferred back to a computer.

Colours were, on the whole, reproduced well, and the macro mode pulled out text sharply when required. Tap-to-focus is present and does the job. Overall detail wasn't brilliant, but we can't say we weren't impressed.

Samsung galaxy s review

There are dozens of options available – the Shooting Mode menu invites you to pick from Single Shot, Beauty, Smile Shot, Continuous, Panorama, Vintage, Action Shot, Cartoon and Add Me (we were particularly taken with the latter, which takes two snaps and then merges them together with spooky-looking results.)

But that's not your lot, because you also have scene modes including Portrait, Landscape, Night, Party, Indoor and Sports. In fact, you have three pages of scene options, which, while all very nice and welcome, actually becomes a bit of a pain to navigate, since most people will just want to point and shoot.

Yes, we know it could be argued that Samsung is including professional camera software and options here to try to rival a stand-alone digital camera, but we don't buy that because it's left out the flash. It's like buying a Porsche with pedal-car wheels.

Having said that, the various options do tend to make a noticeable difference. As you can see from our shot of the road, putting night mode on made it look a lot brighter in very dark conditions.

But you do have to hold it still for about ten minutes while the photo is taken, so you won't be using this camera in a club to take snaps of friends dancing like idiots (unless they're doing the zombie bit from Thriller, so therefore moving very slowly).

In normal light conditions, the shutter speed isn't amazing, but is passable.

GPS geotagging is included (though turned off by default) and you also have the option to automatically have the camera crank up the brightness for outdoor visibility, which is a nice touch.

Unlike some other handsets, you can turn the shutter sound completely off, which is always a plus if you want to do some covert photography (sometimes it is justified, honest).

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DIM:Close-up, taken with little light

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CLOUD: Taken outdoors in cloudy conditions

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MACRO: Taken outdoors in Macro Mode

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OUTDOORS:Taken outdoors in good light normal mode

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MOVING:Taken in good light while moving, to gauge shutter speed

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DARK: Taken in poor light with no night mode

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GOOD:Taken in good light

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GRIM: Taken indoors in grim light conditions

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NIGHT:Taken outdoors at night with no light

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Samsung galaxy s

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Samsung galaxy s

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Samsung Galaxy S: Video

Samsung galaxy s review

The big boast of the Samsung Galaxy S is that it captures HD video. And it does this nicely.

You're offered two modes – normal and MMS.This is a little bit of an annoyance if we're honest, but it's not something that is limited to Samsung smartphones.

We hate having to make the choice between the two, because often you'll take a video of something randomly then think it warrants being sent by MMS. We're not talking 30 minute home-made movies in HD, because that would be pushing it, but more like 20-30 second clips.

The problem is, shot in full resolution, these files are always too big for MMS and don't convert automatically.

So you're left with having to leave the handset set up to shoot for MMS permanently, just in case, which then means your videos are poorer quality and negates the point of having an HD video camera.

You can send the files by email so all is not lost if you do end up with a high-quality video, but we wish Samsung and Android handset manufacturers in general (plus BlackBerry – we're not letting RIM off here!) would follow Apple's example,because the iPhone manages to resize all videos automatically for MMS, just reducing the quality more and more in line with the clip's length.

The options in the videos section are more limited than the camera's, and there's no way of changing your scene mode. In fact, you're stuck with what Samsung has decided is best, with the only customisable option being the exposure value to control brightness and the resolution, which begins at 320 x 240 and maxes out at 1280 x 720.

We shot a full-resolution video in a moving car and were impressed that not only did it manage to focus and keep the quality up, it also recorded the audio well so that George Michael was fully audible (though thankfully, not our singing along).

In fact, captured audio is remarkably clear and succinct. We were definitely impressed with this SRS virtual 5.1 surround sound for playback.

The camera also copes reasonably well in situations where it moves from darkness to light, adjusting valiantly even though it is noticeable, and some colours end up looking very bright to compensate.

Sadly, there's no tap to focus, so if you're including text as part of your video you may struggle. And if you're thinking of editing it on the fly, forget it, because there's no relevant app included out of the box. But on the whole, we can't fault Samsung for its video efforts.

Shame about the lack of light though – did we mention there is no flash?

Samsung Galaxy S: Media

Media is one of the Samsung Galaxy S's strong points – in fact, you get oodles of space to store your files.

Internal memory is either 8GB or 16GB, depending on which handset you plump for, and then you can add your own MicroSD up to the value of 32GB, meaning it beats the iPhone for serious music and video watchers looking for optimum storage.

The included music app works very well, offering you the options to browse by All, Playlists, Albums or Artists. Although the settings section looks fairly basic, there's actually a good selection of options in there for equalisers, effects, music menus and visualisations.

Samsung galaxy s review

As with so many of the Android features, though, if you don't like it, you can quite easily switch to a third-party one. PowerAMP is a respectable alternative, but we were bowled over by the DoubleTwist player, because it syncs perfectly with iTunes libraries over Wi-Fi – ironically, released before Apple itself managed to introduce that feature.

Samsung galaxy s review

If you combine this with access to the Amazon MP3 store, you really do have a credible alternative to the iPhone for a multimedia powerhouse smartphone. Such is the ease of Android that you can control songs that are playing by simply dragging the status bar down to reveal shortcuts.

Sound reproduction is good and we couldn't fault the bass levels, which really gave our music a bit of a kick although, at times, we wished we could turn the volume up and deafen ourselves a little more. All of the major – and some less major – music formats are supported, so you shouldn't have any issues listening to your tunes.

Samsung galaxy s review

Plus we're pleased to report there's an FM radio. We're always happy to see these, because lots of people still like to listen to live shows as well as handing over their money for MP3 downloads.

It needs the headset to work as the antenna, as do most mobile phone FM radios, and does suffer from a bit of hiss now and then, but it's functional and we're pleased to have it here.

Samsung galaxy s review

If you like throwing parties, you'll be pleased to know that DLNA is here. It's actually called allShare, but is basically the same thing. We streamed some music to our TV via the PS3 and, although it could be a little temperamental when the screen went off, it worked well in general.

Samsung galaxy s review

Not only did we blast some good tunes out and annoy the neighbours, we also managed to impress our friends, so pats on backs all round.

Your photos can be accessed in one of two ways – either through the Gallery section (which we love – especially the way Android cleverly creates automatic folders depending on where the media came from) or through the camera app. Videos and photos are jumbled in together.

Samsung galaxy s review

We tried various videos on our review unit and couldn't disagree with Samsung's spec sheet, which reads like an A-Z of tech speak – supported formats range from DivX, XviD and MPEG4 to H.264, WMV, 3gp, AVI and even FLV. And that's just a selection.

Samsung galaxy s review

What's more, the Samsung Galaxy S is an easy phone to watch movies on. It's lighter than an iPhone 4 and sits in the hand like a dream. The glossy back makes it hard to stand it up against things without it falling over, but we won't hold that against Samsung too much. Your wrists definitely won't get tired holding this.

Samsung Galaxy S: Battery life and connectivity

Take the back off of the Samsung Galaxy S and you'll find a not too shabby 1500mAh battery inside.

Samsung quotes it as having up to 393mins talk time on 3G and 803mins on 2G.

Samsung galaxy s review

Manufacturers' estimates always seem wildly optimistic, and it's impossible to gauge their accuracy because we all use smartphones for different reasons and for different lengths of time.

Add to that the fact that batteries tend to take a week or two to bed in with their charging cycles, and the fact that we tend to play with our new gadgets a lot more when we first get them, and you hardly end up with a scientific conclusion.

What we will say is this – we played with a Samsung Galaxy S for a while last year just after release running Froyo, and found the battery to be pretty shocking.

Samsung galaxy s review

We were talking moderate-to-heavy use after taking the phone off charge at about 8am and having to recharge it by 4pm.

Now, we're not sure if Samsung is in the business of creating miracles, but it certainly seems to have pulled one out of the bag with this update.

Maybe its Gingerbread's updated power management settings or maybe the Pope blessed our handset, but the Samsung Galaxy S running 2.3 is vastly improved compared to its predecessor.

Samsung galaxy s review

Curiously, our handset never charged to 100% and seemed to give up at 96%, but that was probably a bug on our unit rather than the Samsung Galaxy S itself.

We took our handset off charge at 6am and went for an hour-long walk with the dog, in which time we shot a couple of videos and photos, sat down with a coffee and browsed the BBC News app for about 15 minutes, then went for a run for two hours using the MiCoach app (which keeps the GPS on the whole time but the screen off) while listening to the FM radio.

We listened to music streamed over the car stereo on a 20 minute drive to a friend's house, surfed the web for a few minutes, sent and received about 15 emails and 11 texts and chatted on the phone for just over half an hour.

By 6pm, we could stand it no longer so checked the battery management settings, convinced the Samsung Galaxy S was about to conk out, and were very pleased when we saw it still had 13% left.

By bedtime, that was down to 10% (admittedly, we didn't use it between 6pm and 10pm) and then when we woke up the next morning, it had died. We really have to congratulate Samsung for this, and point out that the iPhone does not manage to get by so well.

It's all the more remarkable when you look at all of the connectivity options this phone has that could be sapping that battery life at any one moment.

Samsung galaxy s review

HSDPA/HSUPA, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and DLNA are all present and accounted for. You've also got the luxury of tethering from the Samsung Galaxy S to your computer either through USB or creating a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.

We created a wireless hotspot and hooked up to it with our MacBook Pro to write this review, and encountered no problems.

Connecting to a PC requires Samsung's proprietary Kies software, which we're not massive fans of as it sometimes fails to register the pone connection and still east up a lot of computer processing power.

Samsung galaxy s review

It does a good job for things like converting file formats if you're feeling the urge, and can give you an easy place to download new items too.

But you can bypass this by just using disk mode and dragging and dropping your files into the folder structure. It's by far the easiest way to get media on and off the Samsung Galaxy S - and we'd only recommend checking in with Kies once every couple of months to see if you have firmware updates.

Samsung Galaxy S: Maps and apps

Maps

Early release Samsung Galaxy S models had a problem with the GPS never getting a lock on. Thankfully, it was fixed, and now the Samsung Galaxy S locks on to a satellite fairly reliably.

It's still not as good as the Samsung Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4 – both of which seem to be able to find your position before you've even decided you're going to take the phone out of your pocket – but it carries itself well compared to other handsets.

Samsung galaxy s review

We typically found that it picked up our position in around five to eight seconds when cold, and maintained the signal well. Very occasionally when using the GPS on a run in built up areas, we heard a warning in our ears that GPS was low, but it clung on valiantly and kept the signal.

This being an Android handset, the Samsung Galaxy S comes with Google Maps, which really is unmatched for what it does. The Gingerbread version goes one better than previous updates and allows 3D navigation in loads of places - thankfully now including London.

The Galaxy S' processor and multi-touch screen means the new, vector-based Google Maps runs perfectly, with the full range of 3D zooming, panning and rotating options available when viewing maps up close.

Samsung galaxy s review

The initial GPS lock was swift, with Google's fantastic Maps Navigation app giving you a superb free satnav tool.

Google's Maps app is easily the most impressive mapping and navigation tool out there. As well as access to the classic Google Maps, it now includes full voice navigation across most of Europe (although be ready with a decent data plan if you're thinking of roaming, or reams of cash).

Simply accessing the Directions tab lets you specify a start and end point, with Google computing a route for you.

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Clicking on the Maps Navigation arrow then opens the sat-nav part of the app, prompting you to download and install a voice pack for spoken directions – if you want to hear some amusing American mis-translations of UK place names or a robotic man in your car.

The route is calculated in advance, so it's simple to punch it in while at home on Wi-Fi, then head off and let the GPS do the rest of the job. It's one of Android's killer apps.

Apps

Android now has at least 150,000 apps, and with more Android phones sold than any other smartphone operating system, that number is growing. It's a little rougher around the edges than the iOS app store, because anybody can develop and publish their own apps, but many people like the freedom.

And developers are cottoning on to the fact that they need to produce an Android version of their app too if they're going to reach the masses – even if Google users are statistically less likely to pay for apps than Apple fans.

Samsung galaxy s review

Samsung also provides an AppStore of its own, but it's hardly what you could describe as "heaving" with content. It has various programmes already available on the Android Market such as Angry Birds and Flixster, plus a smattering of EA games. It all seems kind of pointless and confusing.

You get a fair amount of apps included pre-loaded on the Samsung Galaxy S straight out of the box. Aside from the obvious standard ones of Messaging, Gmail and Google Talk, you'll find some other fun bits here.

Aldiko eBook is an interesting concept. When you open it, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're looking at Apple iBooks (even down to the wooden bookcase) but it's an e-reader for publicly available works.

What's intriguing is that when you try to get new books, you don't access a single store but lots of different sources to check out and browse. It feels very geeky doing it this way, and isn't something that first-time users may necessarily 'get'.

Of course you could also download the Kindle app, but bear in mind that if anything is likely to sap power like nobody's business, it's reading e-books. Because, unsurprisingly, it's the screen that uses the most power on the Samsung Galaxy S, so keeping it on all the time while you read won't be beneficial to your battery.

Samsung galaxy s review

Daily Briefing sounds good on paper – an aggregator for all your feeds. But in reality, we have to say we think it's rubbish. By default, it has four pages – an AccuWeather forecast, Yahoo! Stocks, AP News and your schedule. "Never mind", you may think, "I'll add my own feeds".

Well, good luck with that. We, for the life of us, couldn't gauge how on earth you are meant to do it. It should be easy. But there is NO option to do so, which kinda makes this app a bit of a wet duck.

There is a slightly similar app in Press Reader, which is a subscription-based service that enables you to download newspapers on a pay-per-view basis.

We were certainly impressed with the amount of countries you can pick from (too many to mention) and the choice available (160 publications in the UK alone), but can't see many people taking advantage of this for the simple reason that most of the papers included have good websites that you can navigate to and explore for free.

Samsung galaxy s review

And if there is any phone you will be using to enjoy websites, it's likely to be the Samsung Galaxy S. Still, it's a good try and a nice addition.

Mini Diary allows you to put photos and texts together on a bright board and keep a journal. But you can't seem to export your entries from the phone to a computer, so it all becomes a bit flat. It's probably useful if you're 11 years old.

Samsung galaxy s review

For the adults among us, ThinkFree Office will provide some business functionality (with viewing and editing of documents allowed), and the Task Manager does what it says on the tin.

Don't get us wrong – we're glad that Samsung has included a few goodies to get us going when unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S. There's nothing worse than getting a new mobile phone and having nothing in there, but it all just seems so badly thought out.

For such a competent company when it comes to hardware, it makes us wonder why they're not putting as much effort into software development. All we can say is thank heavens you have access to Android Market.

Samsung Galaxy S2: Benchmarks

tablet benchmarks

Samsung Galaxy S2

How it rates against the rest - higher is better

S2

How we test

TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful phone reviews on the web, so you're able to make a more informed buying decision.

Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.

We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.

Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.

We test each device three times and take an average.

Samsung Galaxy S: Hands-on gallery

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Samsung Galaxy S: Verdict

Samsung galaxy s reviewThere's no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy S has fallen from the top of Samsung's portfolio to second place now that the Galaxy S2 is here.

But as we've mentioned, that means that you're likely to get some great deals on a handset that is still one of the most advanced Android models available at the moment. It may not be dual-core, but few people will notice or care at £20 per month.

Samsung is obviously confident, and we're pleasantly surprised that it has upgraded it to Gingerbread, because it's rare to see a manufacturer give an Android device TWO upgrades following launch (we won't hold our breath for Ice Cream sandwich, though).

It's still being heavily marketed in phone shops, and we think that as prices begin to fall, the Samsung Galaxy S can only continue to generate huge sales until stocks eventually run dry.

We liked

We can't underestimate just how much of a bargain you may be able to get with this phone. It's not the most advanced Samsung Android handset out there, but it was just a few months ago. And now operators have the Galaxy S2 to promote, they'll be keen to get rid of their Samsung Galaxy S stocks – which can only be good news for the consumer.

Form-wise it's incredibly light, and yet, while plasticky, feels like a premium device. Android is the most popular operating system on the planet right now and we love the fact that you can customise almost every aspect of it.

That Super AMOLED screen is still beautiful to look at, and still has wow-factor down the pub (although you better hope nobody has an S2 to compare it to).

And with every form of connectivity you can shake a dongle at – plus effectively being a full, free sat nav unit – the Samsung Galaxy S is a great handset for first-timers and social media old timers alike.

We disliked

We sound like a broken record, but the omission of a flash for the Samsung Galaxy S's camera is unforgivable, and could be a real deal-breaker for some. It's inconceivable that it didn't include one, yet did include so many advanced features.

The battery is a real improvement from before, but remember this is all relative, and you'll get much better power from a non-smartphone if just making calls and sending the odd text is your bag.

We also wish there were some more video options, because it feels at times like it takes second place to the camera.

And the customisation options within the SMS app are a bit of a letdown. Plus, if you're clumsy (especially if you're right-handed), you may be prone to dropping this slippy little blighter, so bear that in mind.

Verdict

Samsung obviously sees a future in the Galaxy S line, which is why it is continuing to push an 'old' handset when the new one is selling by the truckload.

There are a few faults, but on the whole it's a cracking bit of kit, and you really could do a lot worse. You can't do much better for the price, put it that way.

If the Apple iPhone is the 'Jesus Phone' as many fanboys suggest, the Samsung Galaxy S is definitely one of the disciples. But that's at the very least. It could very well be the second coming of an already top-end phone.

Samsung Galaxy S Android 2.1 Super AMOLED techlife
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