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Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Samsung is a prolific smartphone maker, and it uses three operating systems — Windows Phone, its own bada OS and Google's Android. Its Android-based Galaxy S II — launched early in 2011 and soon to get the latest Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) — remains a best seller.
The Galaxy Extreme Xcover S5690 is Samsung's attempt at a ruggedised Android smartphone. Its nearest rival is Motorola's Defy+, which matches the Galaxy Extreme for price. Our review sample came from Clove Technology, where it costs £189 (ex. VAT).
The Galaxy Extreme doesn't look particularly rugged, and the build materials aren't particularly 'industrial'. The bronze edging on our review sample makes a nice change from the usual black or black-and-silver smartphone liveries.
But despite appearances, the Galaxy Extreme is IP67 rated, which means it's completely 'dust tight' and can withstand immersion in 1m of water for 30 minutes.
The Galaxy Extreme is a ruggedised, but not especially rugged-looking, 3.65in. Android 2.3 handset
To that end, the three front buttons (for Android's Home, Back and Menu functions) are protected by an internal layer, which fortunately has no adverse effect on their usability. The buttons have a stippled surface that helps you find them by touch alone — this is particularly handy in darker conditions as the buttons are not backlit.
The side buttons are also protected internally, again with no usability tradeoff. The on/off switch is on the right edge, and there's a volume rocker on the left. The latter has a double function: if you hold one end down, the LED flash for the camera turns on, doubling up as a torch. You can set an automatic timeout on the torch to conserve battery power.
The Micro-USB port on the bottom of the chassis and the headset jack on the top are both protected by hinged covers. These may prove awkward to remove, but of course without them the Galaxy Extreme would lose its dust and water resistance.
The long edges of the chassis are punctuated with grooves, no doubt to help with grip in colder conditions or when you're wearing gloves. The backplate has a stippled finish, probably for the same reason. It's held in place by a screw lock and is fixed pretty solidly by four internal clips.
There is a double seal inside the backplate. One sealing layer goes all around the edge, while an inner layer surrounds the battery. Both the SIM and microSD card slots are underneath the battery. The screen uses tough, scratch-resistant, Gorilla Glass — something we see quite regularly in smartphones these days.
As noted earlier, none of these rugged features affect the Galaxy Extreme's overall look and feel, although the chassis is on the large side given the screen size. Measuring 65.9mm wide by 121.5mm deep by 12mm thick and weighing 100g, it fits neatly enough in the pocket, but the 3.65in. screen does look rather lost in its surroundings. We were just able to reach all the way across it for one-handed use.
The screen's resolution is disappointing too: 320 by 480 pixels is distinctly low-end for a smartphone these days — something we noticed particularly with graphics-rich activities like web browsing.
Still, the screen is responsive enough to the touch, and text entry is quite comfortable in both portrait and landscape modes. Samsung has implemented Swype, the screen-sweeping text-entry system. In portrait mode you can also choose handwriting recognition and a 3-by-4 grid keyboard. All these choices have to be made in the main settings area of the handset, but we'd prefer the ability to switch between settings on the keyboard screen itself.
The Samsung Galaxy Extreme is currently selling for £189 (ex. VAT), and at that price you clearly can't expect top-notch specifications. We had no problems with the 800MHz processor in terms of general responsiveness, but it cannot support Flash, which clearly affects the web-browsing experience. The Motorola Defy+, which costs the same, has a 1GHz processor and does support Flash.
There's 512MB of RAM and just 150MB of internal storage, which is likely to need a boost from an external microSD card. If you like hot-swapping cards, you may be disappointed that the slot is under the battery. However, this could be seen as a plus point in a handset offering protection against water ingress, as it helps protect the card.
The Samsung Galaxy Extreme runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and is a quad-band GSM/GPRS phone offering HSDPA up to 7.2Mbps and HSUPA up to 5.76Mbps. There's also Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) with hotspot capability, but Samsung has not bundled a DLNA application so there's no wireless sharing of photos, video and music. Bluetooth 3.0 is included, along with GPS.
You start out with three home screens, but can boost this to a maximum of seven. Samsung has overlain its familiar TouchWiz user interface on top of Android. This places four shortcut icons on each home screen, which take you to Dialler, Contacts, Messaging and the apps menu. When you're in the apps menu, the shortcuts are still in place, with the fourth one now pointing to the main home screen.
The 3-megapixel camera is something of a disappointment, as this is an entry-level specification for a smartphone these days. Video shooting tops out at VGA resolution, which seems very low given that 720p is fast becoming the smartphone standard. A camera isn't an essential feature for everyone — but if it is, the low-end unit on offer here could be a deal breaker.
Professional users will appreciate the presence of Polaris Office. You'll have to download it before first use via an icon in the apps area, but it's free to download. You can use Polaris Office to create new Word-, Excel- and PowerPoint-compatible documents as well as edit existing ones. It has a good range of formatting and other features and works well on a smartphone.
The other bundled extra apps are less interesting to business users. These include an e-book reader, a fitness app called Cardio Trainer and a music store. Samsung's own app store complements the Android Market for additional downloads.
Performance & battery life
The Galaxy Extreme's 1,500mAh battery ought to be able to keep the handset going for a full day, but disappointingly we often needed to recharge it half-way through the day. If you're keen on music or GPS use you'll almost certainly need to find a source of mains power before the day is over.
We tested the water resistance of the Galaxy Extreme by running it under a tap for several ten-minute periods. We found that unless we were careful to press the backplate down very firmly there was a little water seepage under it. However, the second seal around the battery remained firmly watertight.
The Samsung Galaxy Extreme is an affordable Android handset whose rugged features may have some appeal, although we noticed a little water seepage under the backplate in our tests unless we were very careful about fitting it securely. It's short on internal storage, and the screen and camera are both disappointingly low resolution.
If you want a rugged Android smartphone that doesn't look like one, the Galaxy Extreme is certainly a contender — but you should also consider the similarly-priced Motorola Defy+.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel