Samsung Galaxy S review
A review of the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone by someone that used it almost every waking minute as a portable computer, pda, communicatons device and life organiser.
During August to December 2011 I lost my home broadband service* and so my only access to the wired world was through my smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S. A mobile phone that I had purchased not too long ago and which I probably wasn't using that much other than to make phone calls, send texts and look up the odd answer to a pub quiz question. Nothing taxing anyway.
*It's a long story, which I'll probably write about at some point but in short, never ever sign up with TalkTalk in the UK. Nuff said.
About the phone and service provider.
My Samsung Galaxy S is the 8GB model running Android 2.2 with an 8GB external memory card and an O2 UK PAYG SIM card on a package known as Text and Web, which gives you 500 free text messages and 500MB internet data allowance each month for a minimum ten pounds credit top-up. So nothing fancy. No unlimited contract and no tethering bolt-on.
So on a day-to-day basis this is what I would use the phone for:
- Receiving and making phone calls
- Receiving and sending text and picture messages
- Taking photos
- Reader for all my RSS feeds
- World News
- SatNav and Google maps
- Games, such as Solitaire and Angry Birds
- Alarm clock
I also ripped the majority of my CD collection and uploaded it to the external memory card. Everything from rock and metal to listen to when exercising, to sounds of waterfalls when wishing to tune the world out and to focus on my work. I used the phone to plan my week, set reminders and to do almost everything that I used to use my laptop for. I made use of the built-in web browser to surf and to store bookmarks and I used the Android marketplace to download free apps to serve a need as and when I thought of it. Usually the equivalent of software I had on my laptop, which was now gathering dust.
So now you have a rough idea of what I was using my smartphone for. It was being used as a replacement to my laptop because a) it had internet access, and b) it was with me almost 24/7. Does anyone else currently use their mobile phone this much? I'm talking 12-16 hours a day?
I started to carry the USB cable with me everywhere I went and rarely used the mains charger to charge my phone unless I was at home chilling. Battery life would be 4 to 24 hours depending on use. Music and video would kill the battery in around 4-6 hours and light use would see you through to the next day.
The battery indicator lies too. The phone would tell you to connect your charger but it will keep on working for another hour, but only if you were already in an application at the time of the low battery warning. The screen may dim but the application will keep on working. If you came out then tried to start the application again you would get a low battery message and the app won't start. Plug in your USB lead and you can keep on going while your phone slowly charges. Plugging in the USB cable to a PC became second nature, even if the phone was at 80% charge. You never know when you are going to be next to another USB connection with power, so take advantage of it now and top-up that battery level.
My phone is running Android 2.2. I did try to upgrade it a couple of times but you had to use this piece of software called Samsung Kies and it's the biggest pile of crap ever, and I've seen a lot of bad software. Seriously, this software is so buggy and slow I would rather live with the quirks of Android 2.2 than try to upgrade my phone using this software.
Now I don't know whether it's Android or what Samsung has done to it when installing it onto the Galaxy S, but my phone tends to crash at least once a week and applications hang 3-4 times a week. Operating System crashes can occur if you try to do too many things at once or are impatient (like me) and start pressing buttons a lot. The two off-screen buttons at the bottom that light up will stay lit and may flash and the phone may vibrate in your hand, once, then again twice or more times. If you are lucky you may get a pop-up saying that an application is not responding and you can force it to close. If you are unlucky the desktop will appear without any icons, then disappear, then appear again ad infinitum.
System crashes usually mean a power on and off (cold reboot) in order to fix. In some cases the on / off button will not respond and you either have to remove the back of the phone and take out the battery, or connect the USB lead and plug it into a PC to get it to wake up. I've had to remove the battery about five times now.
When the phone reboots after a power off it then tells you about missed calls and text messages you never received. This is weird but I now believe that as it's really a computer pretending to be a phone, phone calls and text messages are just applications that can crash and so you don't get notified about missed calls and texts until after a reboot, which I now do weekly. Do you leave your home computer on all the time? I don't, so like my laptop I now occasionally reboot my smartphone just to keep it running smoothly.
One of my favourite apps is the Task Manager. I use this to see what's running if the phone is running slowly and taking ages to respond to input. If nothing is running but the phone is taking a while to respond to commands then a reboot usually fixes it.
My SIM card is a PAYG one and I don't get much in the way of data allowance. Does anyone these days? So I like to take advantage of Wi-Fi whenever it is available (and free). I don't keep Wi-Fi on all the time as it can drain your battery so I am always turning it off and on again and pretty much every other time it just says "Error" when turning it on. No idea why but I might have to turn it (Wi-Fi) on and off again a few times before it will work and turn the Wi-Fi logo green.
The signal is not too bad but if I'm more than ten meters from the router, plus a wall or two, then traffic can be very slow indeed. Not as painfully slow as trying to access the internet via O2 over GPRS/E/HSPDA/3G when you are more than a few miles from a decent-sized town, but slow.
Wi-Fi has saved me many a time, especially when O2 has sent me a text saying you are 10MB away from your monthly 500MB limit, then 1 minute later says you have reached your limit and takes a pound off your phone credit balance for further access until midnight, which also runs out a minute later leaving you with nothing until after midnight when it automatically debits you a further pound for another day's 10MB data limit. Grrr.
Calls and texting
You'd think a mobile phone, especially a high-end smartphone would have mastered the art of handling phone calls and text messages, but no. You can hang-up on people with the Galaxy S by pressing your ear or cheek against the screen. I now hold the phone 1cm from my face when talking to ensure I don't get "cheeky" when on a call. When you end up talking to an automated system and the phone screen has gone dark you have to tilt the phone to wake it up so you can ask it to give you a keypad so you can enter the appropriate options. Don't forget to hide the keypad again once you are through to a human otherwise you may get cheeky on them and hang up after all that effort!
Texting on the Samsung Galaxy S has increased my vocabulary thanks to Swype, or un-predictive Swype as I call it. At first it seems great. You can text faster than your niece as your finger whizzes around the screen joining up characters to make words. A month later and the phone seems to have learned a new language all on its own and just writes gibberish or words with about 12 characters when you only swyped over 4.
My texting speed has slowed down to about ten words a minute because I am always correcting it or re-swyping if the word I wanted is not in the optional word list. My 500 free texts disappear fast as most end up being used to explain that what I actually meant to say was..
I use the web browser that came with the phone/Android and it seems ok, except I've never bothered to learn how to turn it off so I just kill it with Task Manager. I also tell it not to remember and history as that's what bookmarks are for and I don't like extra crap using up my phone's memory.
The web browser is nothing fancy and to be honest I mainly surf to look something up or to access a site that doesn't yet offer an app on Android. For instance I never go to IMDB.com any more as I have the app.
I installed AVG because I use it on my home computers and rate it as an ok anti-virus tool, but I kinda know that it makes my phone perform badly as it slows it down a lot. But it scans all downloads and anything coming into the phone and auto updates so it gives me some piece of mind. Not sure how it's doing in regards to fighting the fight against trojans and worms but they mostly target ways to steal your phone credit and as I'm not on contract I can see that my balance is fine and it isn't going down when it shouldn't be so I'm not that worried. Plus any personal data on my phone is encrypted thanks to another app.
When I want to delete anything important on the phone or it's memory card I connect it to my laptop via USB and mount it as external drives so my military-grade file eraser software can make darn sure those files are not recoverable.
Another good tip is to take advantage of a free service from Samsung where you can register your phone so you can track it if stolen and remotely wipe any data on it.
The Galaxy S comes with the usual smartphone screen-lock options, which make ICE pointless. Remember ICE? It stands for In Case of Emergency and it's the number someone should call if they find you in trouble and need to call your next of kin. Basic mobile phones come with a two or more unlock key combo to unlock the phone. With smartphones you need to protect your data so the phones are locked with either a PIN or pattern.
Remember how in the movies the criminals would spray a security keypad with an aerosol and then with the use of gloves they can repeat the PIN the last user of the keypad used? Well, grab any smartphone and hold it to the light and tilt it and sure enough you will see the finger smudges of either the PIN or pattern combo. The longer the PIN the harder it will be to guess the right combination, but the unlock pattern will take two guesses, or one of there is a cross-over as it makes it easier to work out the start and end points. I recommend a long PIN, just not your phone number or birthday.
I'm addicted to Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons and Rio. I also have a few other games installed (all freebies) along with Solitaire. Whenever I have a few spare minutes of downtime I get in some game time.
One of my favourite apps is Google Reader. I used to have a heck of a lot of bookmarks on my home PC but a while back I visited each bookmarked web site and just selected their RSS feeds and added them to Google Reader. I sorted everything into categories and now I can get my daily fix of information from one place in a very organised layout. I also installed apps for both Facebook and LinkedIn so I can access them from anywhere and find out what my friends and colleagues are up to.
The camera is great and has all but replaced my digital camera and video camera. There are a few annoyances such as no flash and no editing software so you can't edit or crop before you upload to Facebook or eBay. It's 5mpx, which meets my needs as I'm no David Bailey and the photos seem fine. I've even had a few printed at a store and they came out ok.
GPS and SatNav
I tend to leave GPS off most of the time, only turning it on when needed such as when trying to find somewhere nearby. I tried the SatNav a few times but it loses the signal a lot and then plays catch up telling you about a turning you made ten seconds ago and about a roundabout you already went over.
Maybe I'll use it more next year on my mountain bike as I plan on getting a little fitter in 2012 and have installed the Endomondo app in preparation. I find that I meet my goals more when I compete with friends or can compare progress.
Music and Video
The Samsung Galaxy S plays most popular music and video formats and supports most codecs. It's not great at pausing though. With video you can bookmark where you are up to but if you delete a video file in the "My Files" app, for some reason any bookmarks associated with that file are now associated with the next video. Weird.
I haven't found a way to pause music that will allow you to switch to another app and back. You can switch to another app with the music left playing and then you can return to it, but if it is paused you have to start the music player app again.
You can create playlists and mess with the effects (which disables 5.1 Dolby so reset the effects to the defaults if you want the 5.1 output.
The Galaxy S comes with a set of headphones with a jack that has three rings rather than two. If you plug the headphones into another device you usually don't get the vocal track, and if you plug an ordinary headphone jack into the Galaxy S it also won't work as expected.
Plsying with the Desktop
Like your desktop phone you can customise the Galaxy S. You can change the background picture. Either download a 960x800 image or resize one. Or you can have live (animated) wallpaper, but they do consume battery power.
You can move your icons around and you can order your favourite apps. You can add and remove apps just not those that came with the phone for some reason, which I found annoying. I have two versions of the Aldiko eBook reader installed as I like the app, but you can't update the pre-installed copy.
I ended up using the phone a lot more than most would, plus with AVG running in the background and using Task Manger a lot to kill stubborn apps that just won't close. I don't have much free space left on the phone's internal memory or external memory card and I have quite a few apps installed, and that's after adding and removing a lot over time. (I wonder if there's a defrag app?) So I guess I'm not your average user
Anyway, in summary the phone has survived being my all-in-one multi-media portable computer. True, it has crashed a lot and applications hang far too often (espercially the Facebook app), but it has saved my ass quite a few times. Like the time I needed to email a Word document and I was on a train station platform in the back-end of nowhere. I quickly used ThinkFree Write to edit the DOC file and Gmail to email it with only one bar of reception!
The phone was never designed to replace a laptop but that's how I used it for four months and it did a pretty good job. Ok so I tended to rely on Wi-Fi a lot but that was down to the rubbish data allowance that mobile phone companies give you these days. It did everything my laptop could do, only in miniature and a tad slower.
The Samsung Galaxy S is a great smartphone and I found it adequate as a palmtop computer (remember PDAs?). The battery life is not bad, better than my laptop anyway and the huge range of apps means that you can easily find an Android equivalent of your favourite desktop applications. The screen and picture quality is suburb, the sound is great and the touch response is almost on a par with iOS devices, although probably not as smooth.
I'm now planning to upgrade the phone to the latest version of Android, which I'm guessing might fix a few of the issues I've e xperienced. It does mean having to use Samsung Kies but I'm hoping they've improved it by now.
I'll post an update to let you know how it went.
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Article date: 16th December 2011