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Hands-on with the T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant Android smartphone

Samsung is rolling out their Galaxy S line of smartphones and the first carrier to get the device is T-Mobile USA. This $200 Google Android device looks to set the bar for smartphones on T-Mobile, don't you agree?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on

The smartphone market moves at an amazing clip today and in May I put together a top 10 list of smartphones at the time that has radically changed over the last couple of months. I also mentioned top smartphone on each carrier in June and would make at least one change to that list. You could buy a Nexus One and use it on T-Mobile, but it was never sold through the T-Mobile retail channels and all the other Android devices were more mid-level quality. The T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant has now changed that and rises to the top of the heap for T-Mobile smartphones. I thought the HTC HD2 would be that top smartphone, but the device let me down too often to take that spot. I have been very happy with my Sprint HTC EVO 4G and wasn't really thinking I would buy my own Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile, but I didn't have a high end smartphone for T-Mobile so I decided to swing by the store and check out the device. After just about 5 minutes of playing with the Vibrant, I went to the counter and found out I was eligible for the $199.99 price (after $50 rebate) so I quickly paid and was on my way. I have now spent several hours with the Vibrant and personally find it better than the Nexus One is several ways and am even enjoying it more than my EVO 4G at the moment. I understand some of this is part of the "new, shiny device" phase and plan to spend a lot more time with it. Check out my image gallery that includes photos and screenshots, my YouTube video, and my first impressions walk around below.


Image Gallery: Check out photos and screenshots of the Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile.
Image Gallery: Samsung Vibrant in hand
Image Gallery: Typical Home screen panel

In the box and first impressions

T-Mobile and Samsung have some pretty heavy promotions going on with the Samsung Vibrant that include the movie Avatar, Amazon Kindle app, MobiTV service, and The Sims 3 game. Each of these four have icons on each side of the box with the device showing Avatar on the front of the compact, solid box. When you lift off the top of the box you will find the Samsung Vibrant wrapped in plastic with a small black compartment below this and divider under that. The small black compartment stores an extra (red tinted) back cover, Quick Start Guide and some other pamphlets, and a recycle bag. Under the divider you will find a stereo wired headset, A/C wall charger, USB to microUSB cable, and the battery. The included cover has a slight blue tint and that is what I kept on there so far.

I placed my SIM card in the Vibrant, slid the battery in place, and put on the back cover. The Vibrant feels great in your hand and is quite light at just 4.16 ounces. It is almost all plastic, yet it doesn't feel cheap. It looks to be a fingerprint magnet, but is also easy to wipe off. I turned on the display as it was charging up and was extremely impressed with the colors and clarity of the display. The Super AMOLED touch screen looks fantastic and may alone be a reason that people pick up this smartphone.

Specifications

Specifications for the Samsung Vibrant include the following:

  • Android 2.1 with Samsung Touchwiz 3.0 experience
  • Cortex A8 Hummingbird, 1GHz processor
  • Quad-band GSM and dual-band 3G (1700/2100 MHz)
  • 4 inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive Super AMOLED touch display
  • Integrated 16GB flash memory and microSD card (2GB included)
  • 5 megapixel camera without flash
  • Dedicated, touch-sensitive Home, Menu, Back and Search areas
  • Proximity sensor, light sensor and digital compass
  • Integrated GPS
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • Dimensions: 4.82 x 2.54 x 0.39 inches and 4.16 ounces

Some of the more impressive specs from above are the Super AMOLED display, integrated 16GB of memory with support for a 32GB microSD card, Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11 b/g/n, and Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor. I cannot find definitively if there is a FM radio in the device or not, but there is currently no application to use it if the hardware is in there. The size is also quite impressive and even though the display is 4 inches, it feels quite pocketable.

You will also find a few software goodies on the device that I will talk about below. The 2GB microSD card seems quite minimal, but it is preloaded with the full Avatar movie that is protected by DRM so if you do not plan on watching the movie you can simply take it out and put in a card of your choosing.

Walk around the hardware

The front of Samsung Vibrant is dominated by the brilliant 4 inch 480x800 Super AMOLED screen. You really need to see this display to be impressed with the awesome colors and clarity. I had a rare full sunny day today to try it out in and the screen was completely viewable in direct sunlight. There is no front facing camera on the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S device so there will be no video conferencing with it from the front camera. A proximity sensor is found above the display too. Below the display you will find the four flush touch sensitive areas for the menu, home, back, and search functions. I have not seen any indicator lights on the device, but I honestly rarely use or need them myself. However, it is nice to know when a device is fully charged or you missed a message or call when your phone is laying on your desk.

There is nothing on the bottom of the Vibrant. The right side simply holds the very small lock/power button that sticks out just a bit from the side. I found it to be quite functional so far. A single button volume bar is on the upper left side with a lanyard opening above that. The 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB port are found on the top. The microUSB port is actually protected by a sliding plastic door.

Flipping the Vibrant over reveals the 5 megapixel camera (with no flash) and the single mono speaker opening. There is Galaxy S branding on the back cover with a 1500 mAh battery, SIM card, and microSD card slot below.

I read some initial feedback that the RF reception was not super on the Samsung Vibrant and am seeing fewer bars on it than I do on other devices I run with my T-Mobile SIM. I wonder if this can be improved via a software update and will keep an eye on this to see if it is a real issue or just a reporting issue.

Walk through the software

One of the reasons I wasn't really giving much thought to the Samsung Vibrant was my past experiences with a cartoon-like Touchwiz user interface on my Samsung Omnia. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Touchwiz 3 interface primarily consists of some device customizations like scrollable widgets, custom live wallpapers, Swype text input method, slide to unlock, puzzle notification lock option, application launcher, and handy wireless manager in the notification bar. If you don't want to use the widgets, wallpaper, or text entry method then you do not have to so you get a great experience with the device. I find the Swype implementation on the Samsung Vibrant to be one of the best I have tried and am loving this text entry method. I like their live wallpapers and wireless manager too. I can now say that Touchwiz is no longer a reason to avoid this Samsung smartphone.

Samsung is also known for adding some utilities on board their devices and you can find things like their alarm & clocks utility, AllShare (DLNA) utility, Daily Briefing widget, Media Hub (not yet launched), Music Player, Memo, Mini Diary, Voice Recorder, and Video Player. In my video I mentioned I could not figure out how to change the stock name and a reader sent in a note to let me know that you don't just tap the check box, but you also can tap the stock name (and the same for the weather and AP News links) to access more settings.

Exchange is supported with email, contacts, and calendar syncing up with ease. It isn't the most robust Exchange experience, but it gets the job done in most cases.

You will find Avatar on the microSD card, The Sims 3 game (full version), Kindle for Android, Slacker Radio, Gogo inflight internet, MobiTV, ThinkFree Office, and TeleNav GPS navigation. MobiTV has come a LONG way since I tried it on my HTC HD2 and it is a TV streaming service that I plan to use for the free 30 day trial and may find myself adding as a $9.99/month subscription if the content and quality is as good as my initial usage were. The ThinkFree Office app is a viewer and I personally loaded up QuickOffice to meet my own Office needs. I love the Kindle and Slacker apps so kept them on and set them up too. I look forward to trying out the Gogo internet service when I take a supported flight.

I was worried a bit about the 5 megapixel camera with no flash, but I honestly cannot remember ever taking a quality image in the dark with a flash on my smartphone so really could care less about a flash. I was encouraged to see the options in the camera software with multiple shooting modes, quality, specific settings, and more that should help take decent photos. I love the easy panoramic mode where you press the button once and then just move right to capture the rest with the green border guide. I included a macro and panoramic shot I took in my image gallery and they look decent, but I am seeing a bit of fuzziness in photos and think they could definitely be sharper. This seems like a software fix more than anything and maybe we will indeed see an improvement with an update. Video is also captured in 720p quality so I plan to test out this capability soon.

The phone dialer is also quite good with large numbers and smart dial support. There are four easy to access tabs on the top of the dialer for dialer, call log, favorites, and voicemail.

Pricing and availability

The Samsung Vibrant is available on T-Mobile right now for $199.99 with a $50 rebate for those who want a 2-year contract or extension. The full Even More Plus (no contract) price is $499.99. This $500 price is a bit too steep for me, but at $200 I couldn't pass it up. I was actually told I had two eligible lines for the full reduced upgrade price and I could have bought one Vibrant and gotten one for free (BOGO), but I didn't want to add smartphone data to another line on my family plan. Every carrier will be getting some version of a Galaxy S device, but T-Mobile is out of the gates first with the Vibrant.

Editorial standards

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