Samsung Galaxy W £249.99
10th Feb 2012 | 15:35
A mid-range Android 2.3 smartphone one step below the Galaxy S2
Overview, design and feel
Flying the Samsung-branded flag for the mid-range smartphone market is the Samsung Galaxy W, a handset also known as the Samsung GT-I8150.
Having taken the high-end smartphone market by storm with the Samsung Galaxy S and subsequent Samsung Galaxy S2, Korean tech giant Samsung is now intent on dominating the full mobile phone scene with a flurry of boundary-pushing handsets.
With a 3.7-inch form factor and Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, the Samsung Galaxy W pushes the boundaries of its lower mid-range smartphone price point.
The phone features a strong 1.4GHz single-core processor, offering the grunt to power a handset that also packs a 5MP rear-mounted camera, 720p HD video recording capabilities, 512MB of RAM and a flurry of connectivity options.
Touting an array of specs comparable to former top high-end Android smartphone the HTC Desire, the Samsung Galaxy W perfectly demonstrates exactly how quickly the smartphone scene is evolving.
The Samsung Galaxy W is set to duke it out with other 3.7-inch Android smartphones such as the Motorola Defy+, while its 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor is the same speed as that of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, and faster than the 1.2GHz offering on the BlackBerry Torch 9860, both of which cost around £100 more than the Samsung Galaxy W, priced at around £249.99 on Pay As You Go.
A relatively compact handset, the Samsung Galaxy W - in which the 'W' stands for 'Wonder' - features an aesthetically pleasing form factor, with the handset's 3.7-inch WVGA LCD capacitive touchscreen boasting a 480 x 800p resolution.
The smartphone's interface enables you to seamlessly access desired content and use the extensive array of app-based content on the pre-loaded Android Market.
Offering a lot of bang for your buck, the Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth 3.0 and GPS-enabled Samsung Galaxy W lands with a spec far superior to that of a number of its similarly priced competitors.
Lining up at a respectable 11.5mm thick, just 0.2mm thicker than the HTC Sensation, the Samsung Galaxy W's round edged design might not be first in line for any beauty awards, but it is a form that in no way offends on an aesthetic front.
With the handset's rigid and compact design resulting in a 114.7g weight, the Samsung Galaxy W is just over a gram lighter than the 116g heft of its 4.3-inch Super AMOLED-touting high-end sibling, the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Relatively well crafted with little flex or distortion when put under extreme pressure, the two-toned body of the Samsung Galaxy W is let down considerably by the over-apparent join between the main shell and the removable back plate, which runs like a parting seam around eight tenths of the handset's edging.
In typical Samsung Galaxy fashion, the W's removable back panel is scarily thin and unnervingly delicate. When removing it, it seems so fragile that you fear a snap any time you take it off to replace the SIM, battery or well-hidden microSD storage card.
Comfortable and unobtrusive in the hand, the Samsung Galaxy W features a design that fails to accentuate its key features. Although not noticeably overpowering at first glance, the phone's bezel can at times make the device's screen feel quite narrow, detracting from the otherwise pleasant visual offering.
Although not offering an on-screen experience with as much pop or attention-grabbing vibrancy as its high-end rivals, the Samsung Galaxy W features a more than acceptable screen. The capacitive touchscreen display sports the same dimensions and 480 x 800p resolution as the ClearBlack AMOLED offering on the Windows Phone-powered Nokia Lumia 710.
Accentuating the handset's smooth design traits, the USB connector-come-charging port is hidden beneath a sliding tab, a move that aids the appealing aesthetic but can make it fiddly to open and access.
Weighing down heavily on the side of the touchscreen revolution, the Samsung Galaxy W features just three physical buttons, with a raised home button landing alongside well-placed volume controls and a power switch.
Everything else is touch-based, including the Android standard back button and option key, something that might not appease traditionalists but certainly bolsters the smartphone's physical appeal.
As with virtually all Android 2.3 Gingerbread-powered handsets, the Samsung Galaxy W interface is intuitive and easy to follow, with the standard array of Google apps and widgets residing on the seven available home screens.
As with all Samsung Galaxy devices, the handset comes packing the company's TouchWiz user interface for a further enhanced, joyfully simple user experience at all times.
Thanks largely to the 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor and 512MB of RAM, there is little judder or stilted transition when switching between this collection of home screens, or indeed when jumping back and forth between menus.
With easy, highly responsive scrolling controls, the Samsung Galaxy W is extremely user-friendly. Its simplistic layout and positive use of Android ensure that both complete novices and relative veterans of the Google operating system are able to quickly navigate their way through the grid-based app menu or home screens.
Requiring little initial setting up or unnecessary faff, the Samsung Galaxy W offers you the most likely desired content in prime positions direct from the box, with access to the Android Market clearly labelled, enabling you to further fill the handset with other content.
Contacts and calling
Arguably still the most important aspect of any smartphone, no matter how many fancy bells and whistles it plays host to, is its ability to make calls with a strong, clear, interruption-free connection.
As impressive and high achieving as some of the Samsung Galaxy W's more superfluous features might be, as a standard pocket blower, the phone falls a little short of expectations.
While it might be easy to navigate through the calling process, once connected, calls often sound quite airy and distant, with a little background distortion and muffling causing those on the other end of the line to sound quiet and isolated compared to other handsets.
Despite these audio quality issues, during our period testing the phone we experienced no unexpected dropped calls or complete loss of signal.
On the contacts front, thanks to its Android innards, the Samsung Galaxy W offers a simple and seamless user experience, with an intuitive process requiring no explanation to access, modify, search and add contacts and personal details as desired.
With communication histories for individual contacts easily accessed via a run of shortcut menu options within the contacts book, communications between those in your address book is further bolstered by the ability to sync with connected social media accounts and assign contact images based on Facebook profile pictures.
Further enhancing the user experience and making it easy to find desired contacts in what could potentially be an otherwise highly cluttered mass of names and numbers, all contacts can be organised easily into groups. The standard group names of 'Co-workers', 'Family' and 'Friends' can be further enhanced by the creation and self titling of further groups, a process that is neither arduous nor time consuming.
A core pillar of any modern smartphone is it messaging capabilities. Here the Samsung Galaxy W once again covers all the basics and most common extras but fails to push the boundaries to set itself apart from the crowd of similarly priced devices, such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray and some full QWERTY-touting BlackBerry handsets.
In typical Android fashion, messages are simple and easy to read, with a well sized and spaced font enabling quick absorption of incoming content, be it via SMS or email.
One of the Samsung Galaxy W's stumbling blocks while constructing messages - an issue that rolls across to its search and browser functions - is its slightly cramped and narrow-lettered keyboard in portrait mode.
Thanks to its full touchscreen interface, the Samsung Galaxy W's QWERTY keyboard offering is that of the Android software and TouchWiz UI. While not offensive or cumbersome to use, the touch QWERTY input will result in many users with average to larger-sized digits repeatedly finding themselves correcting errors and accidentally pressing multiple keys.
Although this issue is less apparent when holding the phone in landscape orientation, Samsung has largely corrected the issue itself with the inclusion of the Swype input system. This enables you to simply drag your finger between letters with the software then filling in the likely desired words - a system that, more often that not, works.
Continuing its run of user-friendly features, both email and SMS messaging services feature prominently on the handset's main home screen direct from the box, with MMS messages able to be sent via a simple tap on the attachments option while in the messaging menus.
Quick and simple to connect to a wireless internet network, the Samsung Galaxy W is a joy to use as a source for internet browsing and online content perusal.
With strong connectivity and fast load times over both Wi-Fi and 3G connections, the Samsung Galaxy W hosts a well-sized URL input box and a handy bookmarks tab.
Enhancing the user experience and cutting down on irritating lag, the Samsung Galaxy W's browser features extremely quick image and text rendering, enabling you to pinch to zoom in on desired content and have it available in an easy to absorb manner in a fraction of a second, for an uninterrupted browsing experience.
Requiring no unnecessary user input, the full web experience is open to you, with the phone's integrated browser capable of handling both HTML 5 and Adobe Flash content, including Flash videos, direct from the box. This further bolsters the handset's already impressive web credentials.
Easily navigated via the standard touchscreen controls, the handset's Android-necessitated back button acts as further navigation through previously viewed web pages.
Unlike most computer-based browsers, however, the Samsung Galaxy W offers no means for scrolling forward through pages if users have already skipped back. Although not a catastrophic omission, this feature is sorely missed when required.
Sporting a 5-megapixel camera on the rear, the Samsung Galaxy W's photographic capabilities are rather impressive, with sharp detail and strong colour management across a range of lighting conditions and subject matters.
Although 8MP snappers will no doubt soon be filtering down into the mid-range smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy W's current 5MP camera will fulfil the needs of most users.
Quick to focus in good lighting conditions, the handset's camera is somewhat let down by its low light abilities, with heavily grainy and noisy images the result when shooting without the flash.
Use the LED flash and the results are pleasantly surprising. Unlike many handsets that offer over-exposed, whited out images when shooting with flash, the Samsung Galaxy W provides images of impeccable colour and contrast management with the additional light source well distributed to accent fine details and highlight desired areas of interest.
The one downfall of using the Samsung Galaxy W's camera with the flash on, however, is the heavily increased focusing times, with the camera's incorporated autofocus feature repeatedly second guessing itself before finally agreeing on a point of focus.
Adding to the handset's rear-mounted snapper abilities is a second - VGA - camera on the front. As with most forward-facing phone cameras, the Samsung Galaxy W's VGA offering provides heavily grainy end results, offering little inspiration and creating little desire to use the handset's possible video calling abilities.
As well as shooting strong 5MP still images, the Samsung Galaxy W's rear-mounted camera captures impressive 720p HD video content at up to 30fps. Impressive stats on paper, the handset's recording capabilities are rather hit and miss, with performances slightly less than the quality expected when taking into account only the cover notes.
On the positive side, the Samsung Galaxy W possesses strong light management with its video content, like it does for still shots, making good use of natural light when available and quickly adjusting to varying conditions of light and shade when recording.
On a more negative, note the handset's audio recording abilities let the visuals down, with the accompanying sound often tinny with a static air that lacks clarity and the crisp, clear sounds that are expected.
On the design front, the high, central positioning of the lens makes shooting content a tricky task when trying to avoid unwieldy fingertips sneaking into shots.
Featuring less than 2GB of available internal storage, the Samsung Galaxy W hasn't been created with high-performance, storage-heavy media in mind. Although these storage limitations can be easily overcome with an additional microSD card, up to 32GB in size, some of the handset's other media pitfalls are harder to overlook.
The biggest offender on the media front is the Samsung Galaxy W's audio abilities. An inbuilt speaker drastically lacks depth, producing audio and video playback that misses deep, bass-heavy tones. Instead it replaces rich, premium audio output with tinny notes and voices that are almost warped when watching video content with any amount of dialogue.
Furthermore, despite a number of handsets, such as the HTC Sensation XE, now coming boxed with a pair of impressive in-ear audio buds to further enhance your sound experience, the Samsung Galaxy W lands packaged with a pair of poorly constructed, tacky plastic buds. These offer no reassurance of quality at first glance, and their performance matches their unappealing physical appearance.
Aside from these audio issues, the Samsung Galaxy W's 3.7-inch screen offers a pleasant base on which to enjoy video content, with the Google-brimmed handset coming pre-loaded with the YouTube app, enabling quick access to hours of video content on the move.
Other media offerings on the Samsung Galaxy W include the incorporated FM radio and the ability to perform minor edits, such as cropping and simple contrast alterations to images shot with the device.
Battery life and connectivity
One of the often maligned features of modern smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy W's battery is highly impressive, with the handset breezing past the hump of a single day's heavy use and easily getting through a second day without the need for further charging.
Thanks to its 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery, the Samsung Galaxy W touts a claimed eight hour 20 minute talktime life, with 3G enabled, and up to 420 hours standby time. Both figures ring true, with a day's regular use across calls, web-based activity and media features leaving the phone with around half of its juice still to spare.
Despite landing at roughly half the price of some of its top-end competitors such as the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich-packing Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy W features a far superior battery life, thanks to its more conservative feature offerings.
On a connectivity front, the Samsung Galaxy W boasts a vast array of options, with the standard Wi-Fi and GPS offerings further bolstered by the integrated USB connector and Bluetooth 3.0 options.
While the handset is fast to access wireless networks and boasts strong connectivity once signed up, the phone can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, to offer wireless internet connectivity to a number of further Wi-Fi-hunting gadgets. Simple to set up, the personal Wi-Fi hotspot feature is intuitive to manage, with resulting connectivity providing strong, speedy coverage.
Maps and apps
Thanks to its Google-branded Android innards, the Samsung Galaxy W comes pre-installed with Google Maps and the service's standard array of location and navigation-based features. Although a handy service to have lined up on your handset's home screen, the inclusion of Google Maps is no great surprise, with the software typical of virtually all other Android devices.
In terms of apps, the Samsung Galaxy W boasts two main outlets for users to fill their devices with post-production content and handy tools, games and the usual utilities, with the standard Android Market followed up by the Samsung Apps offering.
Replicating much of the app selection from the official Google store, the Samsung Apps outlet sees a number of apps land with considerably higher price tags than when bought via the Android Market. A prime example of this is Bejewled 2. Available from the Android Market for just £1.99, the same game from Samsung Apps costs £3.00.
While many will turn to the Android Market and Samsung Apps outlet for additional content, the Samsung Galaxy W comes pre-loaded with a hearty selection of app-based features that enhance the user experience and entertain.
Covering all bases with a selection of games, utilities and business-assisting apps, the pre-loaded offering, which features the likes of The Sims 3, Hangman, Polaris Office, YouTube and the standard Samsung Social, Music and Game hubs, often presents you with a tester of what can be further expanded and fully used for an additional price.
Hands on gallery
Overall a very strong mid-range smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy W is not without faults. Combining strong hardware with strong software, a few cracks appear where the two join.
While the handset isn't the pristine, perfect product that some would hope, it is, however, one that pushes the boundaries of its sub-market expectations.
With a £249.99 PAYG price tag, or available for free on contracts as low as £25 per month, the Samsung Galaxy W proves great value for money, repeatedly exceeding expectations where it counts - in overall base performance.
Largely well designed, well constructed and well finished with Android 2.3 and the Samsung TouchWiz user interface, the Samsung Galaxy W surpasses the core abilities of a number of its closest competitors. It even rivals the performance capabilities of some handsets around£100 more expensive.
The handset's 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor makes the Samsung Galaxy W a joy to use for standard tasks, with smooth, quick transitions between applications enhancing the user experience and bringing some fluidity to the phone.
Elsewhere, the Samsung Galaxy W's browser is fast and simple to use, bolstering the online experience, while the 5MP rear-mounted camera offers up a surprise with its strong light management while shooting both stills and video content.
Let down by the inbuilt speaker, the Samsung Galaxy W isn't a device targeted at the hardcore media-absorbing market. Nor is the smartphone particularly strong on the calling front, with distorted connections a considerable bugbear when using the handset on a long-term basis.
Strong in some areas, weak in others, the Samsung Galaxy W is a mash-up of the best and slightly below par offerings on the mid-range smartphone market for those users not yet ready to make the jump to the high-end and costly Samsung Galaxy S2.
A very impressive battery life far exceeds those of its higher-end, higher-priced rivals, while the intuitive interface and speedy processor offer a strong introduction to the smartphone scene for those who are adopting the well-priced Samsung Galaxy W as their first trip away from feature phones.
With the numerous benefits outweighing the negatives, the Samsung Galaxy W is an impressive offering for its price point, with premium components creating a strong all-round user experience.
Thanks to Three for sending out handset out for review