Google's Android operating system has made quite an impact on the smartphone market in its short life, and it's still very much on an upward curve. The latest Android handset to come our way is the Samsung Galaxy i7500, which is available exclusively on contract from O2 (from free to £244.67 depending on tariff) or SIM-free (£474.99 from Expansys).
If you're seeking a sleek and businesslike smartphone, you might be slightly disappointed by the Galaxy i7500. It has a distinctly shiny casing, while the front button design is both blocky and busy (those with large or stubby fingers may appreciate the button size though). The only exception to the large front keys is a lozenge on the right: raised from its surroundings, this Android Home key returns you to the main screen whenever it's pressed.
The Galaxy i7500 is Samsung's first Android smartphone.
In contrast to HTC's Android handsets, there is no Search button on the Galaxy i7500. Call and End buttons are supplemented by a Menu button and Back button. We rather missed the search button, which we find quite useful on our workaday HTC Hero.
We also miss the miniature trackball seen on the Hero (and other Android-based HTC handsets). Samsung has opted for a large D-pad instead, although the Galaxy's touch-screen renders it largely superfluous. A trackball can be rolled under the thumb to emulate finger-sweeps, while the D-pad feels clunky by comparison.
There's a Hold button on the right edge, which dims the screen and disables the buttons on the first press; a second press brings the screen back to life, while a long press unlocks the screen and keys. The button seemed to function erratically on our review sample, sometimes needing a longer press, sometimes a shorter one.
The right edge also has a button for the 5-megapixel rear-mounted camera, while the left edge houses a volume rocker. The Micro-USB slot for recharging and PC connection is at the top, with a 3.5mm headset jack alongside.
The display measures 3.2in. across the diagonal and has an unremarkable 320-by-480-pixel resolution. However, it uses AMOLED technology, which means it's very sharp and bright, with superb viewing angles. The screen is made from scratch-resistant tempered glass that's less of a fingerprint attractor than some.
For what it's worth, Samsung says the Galaxy i7500 is the slimmest Android handset currently available — although it actually feels quite chunky in the hand. For the record, the device measures 57mm wide by 115.4mm tall by 11.9mm thick and weighs 116g — all pretty average.
The Galaxy i7500 ships with an AC adapter, a PC connection cable, a one-piece stereo headset with round in-ear buds, a pouch, a utilities CD and a printed user manual. The pouch is a rather tight fitting slip case with a cutout section to accommodate the rear-mounted speaker.
The Galaxy i7500 runs Android 1.5, to which Samsung has made minimal look and feel alterations. If you want something a bit flashier, you may prefer HTC's Sense User Interface, as seen on the Hero, or Motorola's DEXT handset.
The i7500 has three home screens between which you move with a finger-sweep, each of which can be customised with icons and widgets. The usual Android conventions of messaging alerts on the top row of the home screen and a pull-down notifications panel are present and correct.
This is a quad-band GSM phone with HSPA support for 7.2Mbps downloads and 5.76Mbps uploads (network coverage permitting). Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) are both integrated, along with GPS. There is 8GB of user memory and an SD card slot underneath the backplate. Unfortunately you have to remove the battery to get to the expansion slot, which rules out any hot-swapping.
The Galaxy i7500's 5-megapixel camera is a simple point-and-shoot affair with few image settings.
There is no front-facing camera for two-way video calling, just a 5-megapixel camera at the back with a small LED flash. The manual suggests you have to insert a memory card to use the camera, but we were able to take photos without one. There are very few image settings: no zoom, timer, panorama mode, colour settings, filters — nothing, in fact apart from flash settings. This makes the camera a much simpler point-and-shoot affair than we're used to seeing on a smartphone. Results are mediocre and far lower quality than you'd expect from the headline 5-megapixel figure.
You can send images to Google Mail and Picasa, but oddly not via Bluetooth — we also have this problem with our HTC Hero, so it's presumably an Android issue rather than a Samsung one.
Typing on the touch-screen has its pros and cons. The accelerometer automatically switches the on-screen keyboard from full QWERTY in landscape mode to a more condensed layout in portrait mode. In the latter mode, keys are too close together for comfortable use at speed and we made a lot of errors hitting the wrong keys. We did like the presence of a smiley on the bottom row though. In landscape mode the keys are better spread, enabling faster typing.
In both landscape and portrait orientation, however, the shift key only works one letter at a time. So if you want to write something in ALL CAPS, you need to press the shift key before every letter, which becomes annoying.
The screen also lacks multi-touch support, so there's no 'pinch-to-zoom' functionality. We miss this particularly when browsing the web: to zoom into a web page you tap and hold, and then use on-screen '+' and '-' icons to zoom in and out at predefined increments to the centre of the screen. Thereafter you can navigate around the page using a moveable box overlay or pan around. However, if you tap and hold where there's a link or an image, you'll get menus related to the link or image. It can be a bit of a fiddle.
We like the use of a 3.5mm headphone connector and appreciate the fact that it's on the upper edge of the device, which minimizes pocket-snagging. But we can't understand why the Galaxy plays a jingle when headphones are removed from their socket; we couldn't find a way of turning this irritant off.
Performance & battery life
The Galaxy is powered by a 1,500mAh battery and Samsung says you will get up to 560 minutes of talk time and 450 hours on standby. We found the battery could keep the Galaxy going for a full working day providing we didn't make heavy use of Wi-Fi or GPS. GPS, in particular, caused the battery to deplete rapidly and with no notification icon on the home screen that GPS is active you could find yourself in trouble. Daily charges are recommended.
We had no problems with call quality.
Samsung's Galaxy i7500 has a superb AMOLED screen, but suffers from the lack of a permanent shift key and the absence of multi-touch support. The biggest sin of all is the battery, which you can almost watch deplete when the GPS is switched on. Given the prevalence of location-aware services for Android, that's a cardinal sin.