Samsung's Galaxy S2 was a massive success so it's no surprise the company is churning out new variations on the theme. The Galaxy S Advance is a souped-up version of the earlier Galaxy S but takes its design inspiration from the ever-so-popular S2.
Should I buy the Galaxy S Advance?
The S Advance is a mid-range blower for people who want some Samsung Galaxy S2 magic without burning a £350+ hole in their pocket. It's possible to nab the super-slick S2 for a cheaper monthly toll -- starting at around £15 -- than the S Advance. Unless you drive a very hard bargain down at your local phone shop, it isn't worth your while shelling out monthly for this handset.
Its pay as you go price competes with the likes of the Gingerbread-packing HTC Desire S and Desire HD. Notably, HTC also now sells an Ice Cream Sandwich-flavoured mid-range phone -- the pocket-friendly One V -- which has a smaller price tag than the S Advance and up-to-date Android software. The One V can be bagged from £220 on pay as you go but doesn't boast as big a screen as the S Advance.
Samsung also offers a slightly cheaper Galaxy that's worth considering -- the Galaxy Ace 2.
The first thing you'll notice when you clap eyes on the S Advance is its screen. This 4-inch panel uses Super AMOLED tech -- a kind of display that Samsung is particularly fond of. The screen is bright and colourful, with hues that tend towards being over-saturated, which makes colours really pop out.
Look carefully and you'll see the screen is slightly curved so it fits snugly against your chops. Face-hugging aside, there's not much practical benefit to that curve, but it's a subtle design touch that looks quite cool.
The resolution of the display isn't particularly high, offering up 480x800 pixels (which equates to 233 pixels per inch). That pales in comparison with 720p resolution phones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus or the Huawei Ascend D Quad, but those blowers sit further up the smart phone price spectrum so that's to be expected.
Despite its relatively average resolution, the S Advance's lightly curved pane is a pretty nice place to eyeball videos and photos -- offering plenty of room and making your stuff look clear and colourful. The viewing angle is also good. The screen could certainly be crisper but for the cash you're spending it's still pretty slick.
Elsewhere, this banana-shaped blower sports a design very similar to that of the S2. A squarish build with rounded corners is the order of the day. While at 9.69mm, the S Advance isn't as waifishly thin as the S2 (which is 8.49mm thick), it's still pleasingly svelte. At 120g, it's also nice and light.
Build quality generally feels solid, thanks to the metallic trim wrapped around the sides of the phone which, coupled with the curved screen, gives the S Advance a premium look from the front. But turn it over and the rear is the weakest point of the design, clad as it is in a plasticky dark grey textured finish. The camera bulges out of one corner. It looks cheap and slightly naff.
On the front of the phone is a single physical key -- Samsung's trademark capsule-shaped rectangle. This is easy to press but it does feel on the cheap side. There are also two touch keys, one either side of the home button -- menu and back. The symbols denoting these keys are invisible until you tap on them, at which point they light up. This can be annoying if you forget which is which as you have to tap the key to find out.
On the right edge of the phone is a physical power key, and on the left, a volume rocker. Both of these buttons feel responsive.
Unusually, Samsung has sited the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone near the micro-USB port. The latter is used for charging and ferrying photos and other files such as music and videos to and from the phone.
Crack off the plastic back of the S Advance and you'll find a microSD card slot for expanding its 8GB of on-board storage (there's also a less common 16GB version of the phone), a SIM slot and a removable 1,500mAh battery.
Processor and performance
The classy face of the S Advance is probably the high point of this mid-range mobile but its hardware is still respectable. It's powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor. There are more powerful chips out there but at this pay as you go price range, single-core chips tend to be the order of the day. You'll be hard pressed to make your money go further (unless you can afford the pay monthly contract route).
That's not to say the S Advance is lag free. There's certainly some judder and inertia, especially if you're doing more taxing stuff like multi-tasking by opening lots of windows in the web browser. Overall performance for a mid-range phone isn't bad though.
Web browsing isn't always lightning quick but it's fairly fleet of foot -- even when you're flicking around full-fat desktop versions of websites. Lightweight apps also download and load without huge delays. And the S Advance will snap a photo in about a second -- again, not too shabby.
Flicking through photos in the gallery doesn't over-tax its engines either, and Google's Play app store, while definitely on the juddery side, presents its digital wares without keeping you hanging around too long.
Don't expect all apps to be super-slick though -- heavyweight apps will certainly have a stutter in their step and even Facebook's app feels laggy.
In Antutu's test of CPU, graphics and memory, the S Advance gained 5,091 -- a considerable improvement on the original Galaxy S and much better than the HTC One V's 2,736. In Quadrant's benchmark, the S Advance scored a solid 2,696, beating the Desire HD and One V (among others).
I also fired up GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test of 3D graphics. The S Advance ran this test at 39 frames per second (versus the HTC One V's score of 32). So while the S Advance is no graphical powerhouse, it's an above average performer. It handled Real Racing 2 without serious complaint -- although it did take more than half an hour to download the in-game content over Wi-Fi.
For smooth adrenaline-fuelled 3D gaming, you'll ideally want to shell out for a more powerful phone such as the quad-core Galaxy S3.
Call quality was good -- I had no trouble hearing or being heard. The S Advance's slight curve also means it's a comfortable shape to hold against your face for long periods.
If you like pumping out music to everyone around you, the S Advance does have a front and rear speaker, but they do crackle at the top of their range.
Here's the 5-megapixel camera poking out of the textured case.
Samsung reckons the 1,500mAh battery is good for up to 430 minutes of 3G talk time or 180 minutes of video calls (there's a front-facing video camera). On 3G standby, the phone can manage 550 hours before requiring a charge, according to the company.
I found the battery life to be standard smart phone fare. In a streaming video test over Wi-Fi with the screen set to max brightness, I depleted 30 per cent of the battery after 2 hours of continuous playback. So if you're using the phone moderately, you should easily get a day's use out of it before needing to charge it.
Heavier use such as lots of video streaming, app downloads and 3D gaming will drain the battery more quickly, especially if you have the screen set to maximum brightness.
The 5-megapixel camera is not an especially high resolution, but at this price, 5 megapixels is what you'd expect. It also has a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front for video chats or for snapping grainy self portraits. Having a front-facing camera isn't always a given for this price so it's a welcome addition.
Results from the main camera were pretty good. In strong light, the S Advance can turn out clear, colourful shots.
In lower light conditions, shots are typically softer and quickly become speckled with noise. The phone will happily serve as a basic point-and-shoot for snapping images to upload to Facebook et al.
There's a single LED flash on the rear so you can snap photos in the dark. I found the performance of the flash inconsistent though. In quite a few test snaps it ended up washing out the subject entirely, while in others, it achieved a nice even spread of light.
The phone can capture video at a maximum resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. The quality of the test footage I captured wasn't bad, with good levels of detail and true-to-life colours. It will certainly serve for making clips to upload to YouTube and Facebook.
Software and apps
The S Advance runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread out of the box, not the more recent Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. You might not mind that -- Gingerbread is still a widget-packed, app-crammed operating system with a lot to offer. But those thirsting for cutting-edge Android action might want to shop around, especially as Google has now unveiled Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. As mentioned earlier, HTC's stylish One V comes loaded with ICS from day one.
As with the majority of Samsung's Galaxy devices, the S Advance has been skinned with Samsung's TouchWiz software. This gives you multiple home screens to swipe around and trick out with apps and widgets. Content can be added to the phone by raiding Google Play's virtual shelves of downloadable apps, games, digital books and films.
Samsung has pre-loaded its usual line-up of software offerings on the S Advance including Social Hub, Music Hub and Game Hub, plus the Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps store. Samsung's software is not always well designed and intuitive to use but you don't have to use any of its apps if you don't want to -- there are plenty of alternatives up for grabs in the Play store.
One Android app you can't currently get your mitts on as an S Advance owner is Google's Chrome for Android browser. This is only available on versions of Android starting at Ice Cream Sandwich so it would only become available if the phone gets an ICS update.
The Samsung Galaxy S Advance is a solid addition to the Galaxy line-up. There's nothing about it that we haven't seen elsewhere, and if you can afford a pay-monthly contract, you'd be better off shelling out for the more powerful Galaxy S2. But as a pay as you go/SIM-free phone, it gives you more on the hardware side than average, with a large, slick screen and a dual-core engine.
The S Advance isn't free from lag -- it'll certainly slow down if you're taxing its engines with multi-tasking or heavyweight apps. But as a trusty all-round smart phone for people on a mid-range pay as you go budget, it shouldn't disappoint. Provided, of course, you don't mind making do with a version of Android that's getting long in the tooth.
Additional writing and reviewing by CNET UK's Luke Westaway.