Long Term Review of the Samsung Galaxy S

I bought my device early November of 2010 and I’ve been using it as my primary phone since then, for about 3 months. So besides talking about the usual stuff such as specifications & features, I will talking about how good an experience using the phone has been.

The display on the Galaxy S is by far the best I have seen. It has amazing contrast levels, very good color saturation(this is debatable, some would say it is over-saturated) and has a decent resolution at 480×800. Although the iPhone 4 has a higher resolution screen(at 640×960 pixels) it simply cannot match the contrast levels of the Galaxy. Just keep any display next to a Galaxy S and it will seem washed out. The screen size of 4 in is perfect too. Before moving on the Galaxy, I used to rely on my iPod Touch(2G) as the go-to internet device which has a 3.5 in display. But after having bought the Galaxy, it is difficult to go back to it – who would ever thing that half an inch would make so much of a difference! Also, ever since Apple came out with the iPhone in 2007, it has set the standard in screen touch sensitivity. No other phone in the market offered a similar level of slickness and response to touches. Samsung has managed to match Apple in this regard.There are cons to the display too however. While Samsung claims to have improved outdoor visibility with the super-AMOLED, it is probably an improvement only on paper. Every time I step outside in the sun, I have to cup my hands around the display to make anything out on it. I’m indoors most of the time however, so it is much of a problem for me.

The Galaxy is entirely made out of plastic which makes it seem lighter that it should. It is quite solidly built too and since the plastic doesn’t creak or bend much, it doesn’t feel very cheap. I have dropped it from over 6 feet on two occasions; once on to a carpeted floor and another time at a concert on to concrete floor. It survived both falls unscathed, with nary a scratch. I guess a metal phone would have dented a bit and possibly shattered the screen, but the plastic just flexed enough to cushion the fall.

The phone has a beautiful shape which feels right in your palm and allows for comfortable single handed use. Over prolonged use however, I ve noticed the back of the phone to catch enough grime and oil from my hand to make it very slippery. Also, below the screen are three buttons – two of which are touch sensitive. I would have preferred them to have been buttons of the regular kind. Because I’m right handed, on several occasions I’ve inadvertently activated the ‘Back’ button only to have the running application quit on me.

The top of the phone houses the 3.5 mm headphone jack and the micro-USB port. I find having the headphone jack at the top of a phone very convenient. The bottom of the phone is quite bare and only has the microphone for calls. On the left side of the phone is volume rocker and on the right is the power button. This initially caused some trouble as I would keep pressing it by mistake but over time I got used to it. The phone also has support for external micro-SD cards up to 32 GB, which are hot-swappable. But these are housed beneath the back cover which needs to be yanked out. Having this slot on one of the sides would have been far more functional.

Before I delve into my actual usage experience, a bit of background is in order. Prior to the Galaxy S, I used an Asus P565 phone along with an iPod Touch. The Asus(a Windows Mobile 6.1 device) used to be my device for calls, maintaining contacts, taking on-the-go notes and checking office mail. For any social networking or web based activity, the iPod was my goto device. One of the main factors which motivated me to buy the Galaxy was that it gave me the best of both worlds –  great PIM capabilities along with superb multimedia options.

When I bought the Galaxy S, it ran on Eclair ie. Android 2.1 which was at the time about a year old. Froyo had come out earlier that year in May, but it wasn’t till the end of November that Samsung managed to release it for Galaxy S owners in India. Samsung has generally been very slack in releasing regular updates for the device. Although Gingerbread has been out for a couple of months now, Samsung has not yet revealed any timelines for updating their flagship phone. I hear it is a similar story with most companies making phones running on Android. That is one of the pain points of not owning the reference phones that come out of Google directly like the Nexus One or the Nexus S, which are updated very regularly. Anyhow, I digress.

Samsung had replaced the stock Eclair UI with their TouchWiz UI. While functional, it was not very attractive(personal taste) which I remedied by quickly installing LauncherPro along with Home Switcher from the market place. The Contact application on the phone also integrated my Gmail, Facebook and Twitter accounts which was great. It tries and detects the same contacts on all three different services and groups them which enables me to open any contact and check out his/her tweets and Facebook updates. It allows for retweets and comments from within the app. Additionally, I have to point out here, Gmail integration with Android is astounding. I wish it would be just as good on other platforms. The calendar on the device integrated beautifully with Google Calendar which was again great. Also, thoughtfully, Samsung added a registered copy of Thinkfree Office which is capable enough for light edits of different Microsoft Office documents. I thought I was in Smartphone heaven. But not quite..

While Android has great features, customizability and a pretty good market place its performance on a device of Galaxy Ss’ calibre leaves a lot to be desired. The Galaxy S has a 1Ghz Hummingbird SoC powering it which packs a PowerVR SGX540 graphics chip inside it – I have Quake 3 running on it butter smooth(which while not playable makes for a great demo of the phones power). Despite this, I ve noticed several stutters in day to day use. Sometimes an app will take an inordinate amount of time to open, sometimes the onscreen keyboard wont respond, sometimes onscreen animations/transitions drop frames, sometimes from inside an app hitting the home button blacks out the screen for a few seconds before drawing the home-screen icons and widgets… The list is endless. I have to attribute these slowdowns to both Google and Samsung. Google, I believe, has not really designed Android to take advantage of GPUs in most phones nowadays for most onscreen animations.There seems to be a general lack of performance optimizations right across Android as well, perhaps it was Samsung’s job to do this for their device. Also, from several sources online, I ve come to know that the filesystem that Samsung has implemented, called RFS, offers very poor performance. Apparently there is no concept of buffering here and whenever there are multiple write requests to disk, each process completely locks the filesystem to write and ten releases it for the next waiting process.

I ve taken a lot of pains to try and attain lag-free nirvana on my phone. I rooted the device and installed RyanZAs excellent One Click Lag Fix(OCLF) which brought down the freezes by about 90%. The phone felt almost iOS fast after that. In fact, I had to do this twice – once for Eclair and once again for Froyo. To be frank, Froyo was a pretty disappointing update. I was hoping it would unleash the power of the Hummingbird, but it did not improve overall performance noticeably(actually it reduced my Quadrant score from 2200 to around 1900) and most of the new features it brought along were not relevant to me. When I have 16GB of space on device, I do not have to move applications to the SD card! Although it offered the option to tether my phone to my PC, my service provider charges exorbitantly for it.

So at the end of an OS update, a root and a lag fix installation I had a wonderfully powerful phone which still felt like it was held back. There are still a few animations which dont feel buttery smooth. I use the stock music player on the phone since it is the only music player I ve used on Android thus far which gives track control options from the lock screen. At the lock screen, the musc player hangs down from the top exposing itself like half a CD which you need to pull down to expose the track control buttons. Whenever the music is playing, this animation of the controls dropping down is not smooth – its quite choppy. Sometimes, the display also takes a few fractions of a second extra to display the lock screen while music is playing.

While all this doesn’t detract from the usability of the device, it loses some of its sheen and polish. I sometimes wonder – if the fastest Android phone is like this, how will the mid-range devices be? Another point is the time and effort I had to put in to bring the Galaxy S from its stock state to its present state. I’m sure not many people would be doing that – only those with a technical inclination would root the device, install a lag fix and change the UI. Out of the box, I found Android to not be very usable, especially from a performance stand-point. It is one area where it loses out to all iOS devices(phones and tablets) handily. At the same time I must admit, the amount of customizability that the OS offers is amazing. And after having used Android, I will not be able to use another mobile OS without widgets.

Most of the applications that I use are downloaded from the market place and have been developed by third-parties. I highly recommend Springpad for notes, Shazam for music tagging and Seesmic for twitter. The stock applications like Gmail, the stock browser and Messaging are all wonderful, except for the Music Player. After having used the iPod Touch, using this is a punishment. It is not very intuitive(I still havent figured out a valid use-case for Quick Lists) and maintaining playlists requires too many steps. Creating playlists for the iPod Touch was super easy and fast(both on device or in iTunes), so this is a definite step down.

The Galaxy S has a 5 MP camera which can also capture 720p video at 30 fps. For my needs, the camera has been quite good. Color reproduction and White Balance are acceptable. When viewing them on my 1280×800 macbook screen, they look as good as any point-and-shoot camera. In low light, it is practically useless; like most phone cameras it is no surprise.

Overall I would give this phone 8 out of 10. It is the best phone I have ever used, with excellent hardware both internal and external. It has offers great functionalities and has very good integration with all of Googles’ services and with Facebook & Twitter. My only issue with the device is its ‘inherent’ quality to stutter and Samsung’s apparent lack of commitment towards keeping their flagship phone updated with the latest OS release.

Individual category scores:
Screen – 9/10
Build & Ergonomics – 7/10
OS – 7/10
Applications – 8/10

Comments

3 comments on “Long Term Review of the Samsung Galaxy S”
  1. kindle books says:

    Great review. Thanks for posting such an in depth impression. I’ve handled one in the store, but your review covered alot of ground that I couldn’t with such a limited amount of time. Based on my in-store experience and your review I think I’ll be waiting for a future generation to arrive. The potential is certainly there for this device, but based on my current portfolio of tech devices (laptop, desktop, iPhone, iTouch) I’m not sure this device quite justifies the expense at this time for me.

  2. Best reveal. Thanks for posting such an in depth impression. I’ve handled one in the shop, but your retell covered alot of ground that i couldn’t with such a miniature amount of time. based on my in-store experience and your chronicle i consider i’ll be

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