BitDepth 776 - April 05

A look at the Samsung Galaxy S...
A Galaxy of potential
Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

The Samsung Galaxy S has learned some useful lessons from the iPhone while leveraging the experience of the industry with Google’s Android operating system.
It’s a curious market that Samsung finds itself competing in. Apple’s iOS is approaching maturity and Android is settling down for the most part, which means that increasingly, having Google’s OS on your phone is only going to be a starting point for the differentiating features and capabilities a successful mobile phone marketer will need to build into their devices.

From the outset, Samsung seems to have understood the need to have their phones not just be brainy, but smart looking as well.
The Galaxy S ships in a matte black box with the branding imprinted on it in spare, glossy silver. Inside, the phone sits, tightly wrapped in protective plastic in a form-fit black cardboard frame.
The overall impression is one of class and care, so actually picking up the phone is a bit of a surprise. Part of the reason it’s so shockingly light is that the Galaxy S has a removable battery and that ships in the accessories compartment.

Even after snapping everything together, the phone still feels surprisingly light to anyone, well me, at least, who’s used to the heft of an iPhone.
The case component that covers the back of the device is made of plastic, which snaps on and off with reassuring robustness, but it remains to be seen what happens when it gets repeatedly tested in the field.

The case back is also gently curved, with a gentle gradient in from the top of the device until an inch or so before the bottom rear of the phone, when it surges back out into a perceptible bulge.
There’s nothing in the phone that offers any rationale for the design, so it must be intended to make the device easier to hold. I found the variation in shape to be an easy way to tell whether the phone was rightside up or not without looking at it.

Talk and standby time was pretty much standard for any smartphone with Internet access active, running for just under two days before it needed a recharge.
The phone as shipped offers a range of useful software, much of it leveraging Google’s cloud services. 
That integration is pretty tight, and because of that, I’m going to look at the Android OS specifically in next week’s column.
The Samsung S is easy to add to a WiFi network, which is critically useful if you want to add software to it from either the Android Marketplace or Amazon’s recently announced AppStore for Android devices.

It’s possible to do this using the Edge and GPRS Internet services from Digicel and bMobile, but really, who’s got the time?
There are some mission critical apps that I need on any smartphone that’s going to be riding in my pocket for any length of time and they were all available at the Android Marketplace.

In short order, I downloaded Angry Birds, Twitter, Facebook and Audible’s software for its audiobooks. All transferred quickly across the WiFi connection, installed without problems and worked immediately.
Irritatingly, there’s no easy way to take screen captures on the device and the options offered on the web either required “rooting” the device, or hacking it to get administrative access or going through painful measures to install bits from the Android SDK, neither of which seemed particularly appealing.

The Kindle app had gone AWOL on the Android Marketplace, but showed up a few weeks later on Amazon’s Appstore, which was probably a strategic move on their part to drive visits.
If there’s one blindingly obvious quibble I have with the Galaxy S, it’s the interface for answering calls. When a call comes in, two buttons show up on the screen, but tapping on either one does nothing, you have to yank the appropriate button to the right or left to actually achieve anything, which seems painfully counter intuitive.

I did spend some time with Samsung’s Kies software for connecting to the phone on your PC, but really, it isn’t necessary. 
I specifically wanted to transfer my contacts to the device using the Kies connection, but the software refused to acknowledge files in VCard and CSV formats, despite claiming to be able to.
As part of that particular bit of windmill tilting, I imported my contacts into my GMail account, expecting that the Google format would be more readily accepted by the software. It didn’t work, but in the background, all those contacts flowed into the device anyway over the web using the GMail link I’d setup to view mail.

Unlike an iPhone, which really depends on a connection to a computer for updates and new software, most of what you’ll need to do with the Galaxy S can be done directly on the device using its connections to Google and the web. If that isn’t smart, I don’t know what is.
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