Android-based smartphones are making inroads in all sectors of the market, from top-end £400+ models to entry-level devices costing as little as £100. The Samsung Galaxy S sits at the apex, with its large high-resolution screen and top-notch internal specification.
The Galaxy S clearly references Apple's iPhone in its physical design. The front is almost all screen, with a silver frame around its black chassis and curved edges. The homage is somewhat diluted by the Samsung branding above the screen and by the use of three buttons (compared to Apple's one) beneath the screen.
Samsung's iPhone-like Galaxy S has a 4in. Super AMOLED screen and is powered by a 1GHz ARM processor
The central button is a physical one that takes you to the home screen; the flanking buttons are touch-sensitive, performing Menu (left) and Back (right) functions respectively. Unusually there's a front-facing VGA-resolution camera for two-way video calling above the screen. The backplate, made of shiny patterned plastic and carrying both Samsung Google branding, carries the 5-megapixel main camera, which has no flash.
The sides have the bare minimum of buttons and connectors. On the left is a volume rocker, while the right-hand side has the on/off button. At the top is the micro-USB slot for PC connectivity and battery recharging, plus a 3.5mm headset jack.
The Galaxy S measures 64.2mm wide by 122.4mm deep by 9.9mm thick and weighs a surprisingly light 118g. The footprint is large because of the 4in. screen, whose 480-by-800 pixel resolution makes for very sharp, clear viewing. The display is ideally sized for tasks like web browsing or spreadsheet work, while its Super AMOLED technology delivers beautifully rich colours and excellent viewing angles (especially indoors). That said, we noticed that text on web sites is not as sharp as it is on some displays, the iPhone 4's Retina display among them.
The screen is capacitive and one of the most responsive we've come across. Thanks to its size, we had no trouble typing out emails using the on-screen keyboard even in portrait mode — although landscape (wide-screen) mode is even more comfortable.
The Samsung Galaxy S is brimming with top-end features. Naturally, the Android smartphone basics of Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (3.0), HSPA (7.2Mbps down, 5.76Mbps up) and GPS are all present.
The Galaxy S's ARM Cortex A8-based S5PC111 processor runs at 1GHz, helping to deliver impressive performance. Our review sample came from Vodafone and had 16GB of internal memory plus a microSD card for extra capacity. More commonly, the Galaxy S comes with 8GB of internal storage.
The operating system is a skinned version of Android 2.1 (Eclair). There are seven screens for you to fill with widgets. At the bottom of each screen is a quartet of ever-present links to the phone, contacts and messaging apps, and the full application list. An upgrade to Android 2.2 (Froyo) is eagerly awaited by Galaxy S owners.
The list of applications ranges across horizontally rather than vertically scrolling screens. There were two screens-worth on our review device, new screens being added as you install more apps. You have access to both the Android Market and the Samsung Apps store, the latter coming a poor second in terms of what's available.
The lock screen first saw the light of day on the Samsung Wave. We like it, although it's perhaps a little 'blingy' for some professionals. The lock screen is overlayed with puzzle-piece shapes. One piece is out of location, and this has messaging notifications on it. If you want to jump straight to the messages you drag the puzzle piece into its slot. If you want to go to the home screen, you simply swipe anywhere on the lock screen.
You can import Twitter and Facebook contacts, although you'll need to spend some time linking and weeding out duplicates to make the most of these features. Samsung adds a number of additional applications to the standard out-of-the-box set.
There are a couple of potentially useful applications in the messaging arena. A text entry system called Swype lets you sweep a finger across the letters in a word when typing rather than tap at individual letters. Words are recognised automatically as you lift your finger off the keyboard to end each word, with suggestions offered where there is ambiguity. You can get surprisingly fast using Swype, but there is a learning curve.
Write and Go lets you create some text and then perform a variety of actions: save a calendar entry or a memo; send an update to Twitter, Facebook or MySpace; or send an email or SMS.
Samsung also includes ThinkFree Office, a document creation utility that's compatible with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, includes a PDF viewer and gives you access to documents stored online. There's also an FM radio and a few other extras.
You can use the Galaxy S as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices, although this will inevitably have an impact on battery life.
Performance and battery life
Despite some reports of poor performance, unexpected reboots, bugginess and slow-downs, such behaviour didn't manifest itself on our review sample, which behaved well during the testing period.
That said, we were unimpressed by the battery life, which is distinctly below average. You may well need to recharge the battery during the course of a day if you make significant use of Wi-Fi, HSPA and/or GPS. Under normal conditions, you'll find yourself recharging the phone at the end of every day.
The Galaxy S is Samsung's flagship Android smartphone for 2010, and it's certainly competitive with the best that's available elsewhere. The large screen is great for data-rich applications, and it accommodates sizeable on-screen keyboards in both portrait and landscape modes. Some of Samsung's add-on applications have little appeal for business users, and battery life could be better — but the latter complaint could be levelled at all of today's top-end smartphones.