Android devices generally arrive bragging about their high-powered processors and massive screens, but what if you want a more stripped-down handset? In fact, what if you don't want a smart phone at all but still like to play with all the apps available in the Google Play store?
Enter the Galaxy S WiFi 4.2 -- Samsung's updated take on the iPod touch. Aping what the touch does for the iPhone, the S WiFi takes all the features of higher-end Android phones like the Galaxy S2 and rips out the phone part, leaving you with a device aimed squarely at playing apps, checking emails and browsing the web.
It's not for those of you who already own a decent Android phone -- you'll already have all the apps and games you want. It's geared towards those who prefer to carry around a simple phone during the day and then chill with Android features on their WiFi connection at home in the evening.
With a low-powered 1GHz processor beneath a 4.3-inch screen, is it worth the £180 price tag?
Design and build quality
If you didn't already know otherwise, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the S WiFi is another phone in Samsung's ever-increasing line-up of Galaxy blowers. At 124mm long and 66mm wide, it's almost exactly the same size as the Galaxy S2, undercutting it by a mere 0.1mm. You'll have no trouble sliding it into those skinny jeans then.
The front of the device is dominated by the 4.2-inch screen with the Samsung logo at the top. A physical home button slumbers below. The button is small and sits almost flush with the glass front, although it has a subtle silver edge that makes it stand out enough to be recognised. It's easy to press and doesn't feel weak and flimsy like some home buttons. I have no concerns that it'll give up the ghost after a few hundred presses.
Around the edge is a chrome-effect band that adds an attractive premium feel. If it were entirely white it would almost certainly look very cheap and plasticky so the metal is a welcome addition.
There are two speaker grilles set into the top and bottom. The speakers aren't much to speak of. They're a tad louder than some phones but you'll want to use good headphones if you plan to listen to music and don't want everyone around you wishing you ill-health. If you're just watching a quick YouTube clip in your living room though, they're fine.
The back of the device is an entirely glossy white affair that looks a little plasticky. Like the Galaxy S2, the back case can be removed in order to change the battery. Inside is also where you'll find the microSD card slot, which will come in handy if you want to increase the rather meagre 8GB of built-in storage (a 16GB model is also available). Annoyingly, you have to remove the battery in order to change the card, so don't expect to quickly swap in a fresh card if you've filled one up with photos and videos.
The back case might feel a little cheap, but the impression is it's pretty well put together. There's no flex in the chassis when you squeeze it and there are none of the unpleasant gaps in the frame that would hint at a poor construction. In my time with it, I was convinced it could put up with a few knocks -- just don't spill anything on that crisp white jacket.
There's a 480x640-pixel front-facing camera for making video calls, and on the back is a 2-megapixel
camera. While that offers more pixels than some very low-end Android
devices, it's not going to satisfy the truly dedicated shutterbugs --
especially as there's no LED flash. If you really want to capture the
world in all its glory on your 'droid, you should look towards the
Galaxy S3, HTC One X or Sony Xperia S -- we've even done a lovely
comparison of them for you.
The screen on the S WiFi measures 4.2 inches on the diagonal, which is a touch smaller than the 4.3 inches of the Galaxy S2. If you're used to the S2, it's unlikely you'd notice such a small difference. But if you tend to have your hand wrapped around goliaths like the Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X, you might find it lacking -- although if you owned those, you probably wouldn't need one anyway.
It's a WVGA display, meaning it has a resolution of 800x480 pixels, which is the same as the S2. Given the S WiFi's slightly smaller size, it has a higher pixel density than the S2, but I don't think you'd ever tell the difference, no matter how long you stared at them.
The iPod touch offers a resolution of 960x640 pixels on a smaller 3.5-inch screen. So in terms of sheer clarity, the iPod wins, hands down. Of course, the iPod's screen is smaller and it's more expensive. So if you want more screen space for your apps and a few quid left in your pocket, the Samsung might be your thing.
It's a regular TFT display, rather than the Super AMOLED Plus screen found on the S2, so it's not as bright or as vivid. Compared to most screens, it's not bad at all though, and I personally prefer the more natural colour balance over the often over-saturated look of the S2. I found it perfectly pleasant for watching YouTube clips and playing colourful games like Angry Birds, which is, of course, exactly what it's designed for.
The S WiFi runs on Google's Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, which is the older version designed specifically for mobile phones. Gingerbread has been replaced by the more recent Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which brings various interface tweaks and features such as facial recognition unlocking and new camera controls.
It's not surprising that the S WiFi isn't running the latest version of the software. Firstly, it's much cheaper than Samsung's top range of devices like the Galaxy S3 so the company wasn't not likely to put premium software onto it. It's also not a phone, so some of the features of ICS would be redundant. For its job of providing access to music, videos and apps, Gingerbread will do the job fine.
Although Samsung makes a habit of re-skinning Android with its TouchWiz interface, it hasn't done a whole lot with the main structure of the software here. It's a simple and straightforward interface. If you're at all familiar with Android then you'll be right at home. There are seven home screens to fill up with all your apps and live widgets. At the bottom of the screen are shortcuts that take you directly to your music and video collections, the web browser or to view your installed apps.
Placing an app or widget down onto one of the home screens is a simple process. Press and hold on a spare space to bring up a menu for choosing what gets pride of place up front. You can't resize the widgets like you can in ICS so you'll have to arrange them in whatever way looks best for you.
Samsung has added a few pieces of its own software into the mix including its Social Hub for easy access to all your friends' goings on among the social networks. It also appears to have included a bunch of EA Games' top titles like Need For Speed and The Sims 3, but when you fire these up, you're immediately asked to pay full price. It's rather poor form to put what are essentially adverts onto a device you've just paid a couple of hundred quid for. If we want these games, Samsung, we'll ask for them, okay?
Crucially, you get full access to the Google Play store to download any of the hundreds of thousands of apps and games stored within. Downloading an app is as simple as it is on any Android device -- enter your Google login details (if you've not set up an account before, you'll be taken through in a few easy steps), and get searching for the best apps. Speaking of which, did I mention the new CNET Global app is now available?
Once you've set up the device with your Google account, the Gmail app will automatically sync with it, as will any other Google apps you've installed. Setting up email accounts can often be a confusing process but using a shared login makes it much easier to get everything up and running.
Transferring your own videos, photos and music files onto the device is fairly easy, requiring you to hook it up to your PC via USB and dragging and dropping the files into the appropriate folders listed within. You could also store all your files onto a 32GB SD card and play them straight from that, saving precious internal storage.
Power and performance
The S WiFi might be designed mainly to run apps, but with so many apps using high-definition graphics and performing ever more intense tasks, any device is going to need a decent serving of power to offer a smooth experience.
Inside the white shell is a single-core 1GHz processor. If you've spent any time reading up about recent phones then you'll know that's a low-end processor. Recent phones like the Galaxy S3, HTC One X and the LG Optimus 4X HD pack quad-core processors clocked at much higher speeds, so don't expect anything like the same performance. Of course, these all come with much higher prices, but even the Galaxy S2 boasts a speedy dual-core processor and that can be bought for a very reasonable cost now.
To see how it stacks up against the competition, I set loose the CF-Bench benchmark tool and was given a score of 2,246. By comparison, the Galaxy S2 achieved 6,442 on the same test and the quad-core Galaxy S3 hit over 13,000. So the S WiFi doesn't seem to be offering much processing power.
Of course, benchmark results aren't everything so I took it for a spin to see how it handles real-life use. Sadly, I wasn't any more impressed here. Swiping through the home screens lacked the immediacy of even some low-end Android phones and there was often a delay between pressing a menu icon and it actually opening. Once you start filling it up with live widgets hogging your processing power in the background, this is likely to get worse.
It was able to handle basic games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja without much trouble, but when I booted up EA's Fifa 12 (one of the few games not actually requiring a hefty fee), the 3D graphics resulted in noticeably juddery gameplay on several occasions.
If you only plan to use the S WiFi for the absolute basics of email, Facebook, Twitter and a small handful of less demanding games, then it will perform adequately. If, however, you want to delve into the world of photo and video editing with apps like Instagram, or you want to play the more graphically intense 3D games, then you're likely to find it lacking in power.
If you already own a decent Android smart phone like the Samsung Galaxy S2, then the Galaxy S WiFi 4.2 isn't going to offer you anything you don't already have. It's aimed at those among you who use a simple phone but who also want to experience the fun of apps on a second device.
It offers a decent screen and attractive design. But it's sadly lacking in power, making it only suitable for more basic tasks. Cheaper Android phones like the Huawei G300 offer similar performance for less money, with the added benefit of being able to make calls. So the S WiFi isn't the best place to spend your money.