Samsung has delivered its own little green robot into the world. That's right, smart-phone fans, the company's first Android handset, the Galaxy i7500, has been born. Samsung has given it some of the features it does best, like a vivid AMOLED screen and a good-quality camera, but it's left Android pretty much alone. The result is a phone that feels like an improved version of the HTC Magic, but doesn't fly with the eagles like the HTC Hero.
The Galaxy is only available on a contract from O2. You can get it for free on a £44.05-per-month,
18-month contract or a £39.15-per-month, 24-month contract. You can also pick it up for around £440 SIM-free.
Look into my screen
The crowning glory of the Galaxy is its screen, which is bright and vivid, with satisfyingly deep blacks. Unlike with the Hero, whose screen seems to sit slightly below the surface of the glass, the Galaxy's display is wonderfully in-your-face. The colours are so bright and saturated that they sometimes seem slightly inaccurate, but we'll trade accuracy for blinding good looks any day.
We only wish Samsung had stuck the beautiful screen into a better-looking body, although, at 12mm thick, it is pleasingly slim. For us, the layout of the keys, with their thin, chrome trim, looks old-school -- and not in a good way. The all-over black plastic is pretty boring. We also found it odd that the menu key is labelled with a cryptic icon rather than the standard 'menu', and the home button is small and wedged between the back and end-call keys.
The five-way navigation key isn't as groovy-looking as HTC's trackball, and takes up more room, although you may prefer it if you have big, clumsy, sausage-like fingers. It also doesn't glow and flash seductively like the trackball, but maybe this toned-down appearance will appeal to users with more conservative tastes.
AMOLED screens are meant to suck less battery juice than LED screens, and Samsung promises up to 390 minutes of talk time with the Galaxy. The company doesn't specify whether it means 3G or 2G talk time, though. The Magic claims to provide up to 450 hours of talk time on 2G and 400 hours on 3G, but, in our long-term test, we found the Magic barely makes it through a day without requiring charging. Stay tuned for our long-term test of the Galaxy's battery life -- we'll find out if it's really worse than the Magic or if it's just more modest with its claims.
Flash and go
The Galaxy is the first Android phone to offer an LED photo light, to go with its 5-megapixel camera. It's the best camera we've seen on an Android phone, but it's still can't compete with that of a great camera phone, like the Sony Ericsson C903 Cyber-shot. In good light, its photos are sharp and clear, although whites look rather grey. The LED light makes a brave stab at illuminating dark shots, but it only works well when objects are close by and you keep a very steady hand.
We weren't as impressed with the video taken by the Galaxy. It looks jerky because of its low frame rate and bright light isn't handled well. But most mobile phones suffer from these problems, so they certainly wouldn't put us off choosing the Galaxy.
There's plenty of room for photos and video on the Galaxy's 8GB of on-board memory, with support for 32GB more via a microSD card bay. You can also stuff music on there, and the Galaxy has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can listen to your tunes on your own cans -- something we always love.
We're not fans of Samsung's keyboard design in general, and the Galaxy's is a disappointment. We'd rather use the keyboard on the inexpensive, pay-as-you-go T-Mobile Pulse Android phone than the one on the Galaxy. As usual, Samsung has stuck in too many rarely used keys, like one for switching languages, and the keyboard covers much of the screen. But Samsung hasn't included easy shortcuts for entering numbers, such as the Hero and Pulse benefit from.
Nevertheless, compared to its Android competitors, the Galaxy's soft keyboard isn't difficult to type on, although it's not as responsive as that of the current king of on-screen typing, the iPhone 3GS. When we typed very fast on the Galaxy, it did a good job of reading all our keystrokes, and the predictive text is accurate and helpful. It's too bad that the keyboard's so ugly.
The responsiveness of the keyboard is echoed throughout the phone's user interface, which is snappy and a pleasure to use. The bright AMOLED capacitive touchscreen is a delight to tap, and menus and applications all pop up promptly.
With the keyboard leaving us cold, we're happy to see that Samsung hasn't tweaked the Android operating system in any other noticeable way. The Galaxy may not have the social-networking bells and whistles of the Hero or Motorola Dext, but the user interface of vanilla-flavoured Android is good enough to get us through the night.
If you crave more than the features that come in the box, you have access to the Android Market, which is packed with great apps that can give the phone new powers, from harnessing the infinite jukebox of Spotify to becoming a Skype phone. Many of the apps are free, and, although they don't tend to be quite as slick as the apps available for the iPhone, the Android Market wins points for giving developers more leeway for creativity.
Unfortunately, Android doesn't support multi-touch without some tweaking, and Samsung's done no tweaking in this regard. That means Galaxy dwellers won't have the pleasure of pinching their fingers to zoom into a Web page or photo, as you can on the Hero. Instead, they'll have to tap at zoom-in and zoom-out buttons on the screen, which isn't as instinctive or as accurate a method.
The Samsung Galaxy i7500 can march down the main street of Android Ville with its head held high, thanks to its stunning AMOLED screen, 5-megapixel camera with LED light, 8GB of on-board memory, and snappy, responsive user interface. But, with the bog-standard version of Android on-board, we missed the HTC Hero's bells and whistles, such as multi-touch capability. Based on the poor keyboard design, though, we're probably fortunate that Samsung has pretty much left Android alone. The Galaxy feels like a tricked-out HTC Magic with less attractive looks, but it's a solid smart phone that we'd be happy to show off.
Edited by Charles Kloet