One of the perks of being the resident geek, is every once in a while a new smart phones lands on your desk and your asked to review it and give it your honest opinion. Just before Christmas , my bosses gave the gift of an Android. In fact Samsung had launched their HSPA capable Galaxy on the Bell network so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put the BlackBerry Storm in the drawer for a couple of weeks and rely solely on some Google Goodness. In this second part of my review, I will talk a little less about the Great Google in the Cloud and more about using the actual device itself.
In fact, I’ve been debating whether I should even bother reviewing the device itself as it’s not exactly a new device except for us Canucks. I was really hoping that the launch of the HSPA network in time for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics would also bring the Great White North in line with all the new devices available south of the border. Unfortunately it seems like we are still the Poland of North America, getting even our own BlackBerry devices 6 months to a year after they are released in the States and most of Europe. So I knew going into this road test that the Galaxy would be running an older version of the Android OS, I just didn’t realise how much of a difference there actually would be between a Cupcake (1.5) and an Eclair (2.0) version. Even on a new hardware, with additional keys and a fast chip inside the phone just did not feel as responsive as my BlackBerry Storm which routinely gets blown out of the water by my iPod Touch. Don’t get me wrong, this phone is still a great device and far exceeded my expectations though out my use of it. However, testing it out just weeks ahead of the lurking Nexus One announcement sure put things into perspective. Our view of what a GOOD device should do changes almost daily, especially in the world of ever connected SmartPhones.
So what does the Galaxy have going for it that would even make you consider picking on up in the first place.
- All of the essential Google Juice: GMail, Maps, Search, and Chat. (Sorry no Google Voice in Canada)
- Great Big & Bright Screen
- 8GB of onboard storage
- microSD card expansion to 32Gb
- 5 Megapixel camera with Flash and video
- A D-Pad this actually usefull
- Dedicate call and hang up keys
- Touchscreen with feedback
- Android app store
- Only running Android 1.5 Cupcake
- Not enough Google Juice:
- No Voice search for Google
- No augmented reality, no Google Goggles
- No Multitouch, forget pinch and zoom, this makes typing with speed a real chore
- Touchscreen and audible feedback not available when typing
- Lack of MS Exchange email support by default
- Annoyingly long unlock procedure
- No Voice Dialing
- Android app store
- Did I mention it only runs Cupcake
At first glance, you would think that I hated it. But that is just not true. The phone experience and sound quality on this device are absolutely top-notch. Samsung has a long history of making some great sounding phones, and the Galaxy falls right in line with that too. The 5MP camera is truly outstanding for a phone as well, I posted a bunch of picture on Twitter using it and they all look great. The phone is light, it doesn’t feel like a heavy BlackBerry Storm or an even heavier iPhone, it feels as light as another Samsung phone I’ve had the pleasure of using. And that is the main problem, I didn’t want to test the Galaxy because it was a good phone, I wanted to test a real communicator. Current smartphones are really handheld computers and communication devices. They are almost tri-corder like in their usage. With all the attention Android has been getting recently, I really was expecting it to be able to take advantage of all the Googley Goodness that was out there, but it failed to even perform the essential voice search that the iPhone does so well. In fact the BlackBerry still doesn’t do it either but I honestly expected an Android device to at least match the Google abilities that iPhone had at launch. The other big disappointment was the fact that Samsung never bothered to update the phone with a newer version. Even the Donut release would have made the Galaxy a much more complete device.
The Cupcake OS also meant that the Android did not support MS Exchange mail out of the box. This meant having to pay an extra $20 to $40 dollars for an app like DataViz’s Roadsync or Touchdown by NitroDesk. I never got Roadsync to work, I even contacted the DataViz team who were working on a Beta and were extremely helpful in the efforts to get my corp working. In the end, time was starting to run out and I opted for Touchdown which worked straight way and even provided and nice interface for all of my work emails, calendars and contacts. Both application offer push email and from what I have gather from a colleague using a Nokia N97, the Roadsync app is really nice to use as well. The lack of out of the box exchange mail can be a real issue for anyone who wants to use this instead of their BlackBerry or WinMO device. For this very reason, most smartphone buyer will overlook all the cool Galaxy features and either get the Omnia ][ with its WinMo 6.1 OS and exchange support or try to convince their bosses to let them get the iPhone.
With all of this said, I still liked the Android a lot. The GMail integration was second to none, even better than using the GMail app for the BlackBerry and light year ahead of the GMail Exchange solution for the iPhone. It was very simple to Archive, Label, and follow conversation threads in it. In fact the GMail integration is so good on the Android that when you have to SMS or send corporate mail, you wince a little. Google Maps with Street View was very cool and very fast as well. The best part of the trial was that most of my favourite apps where also available for it. I had recently written about the Evernote app which truly is wonderful on the Android, you read more about that here. I discovered other apps like Twitdroid for Twitter and got to try a few Flickr app that would change your background on the device for own of your Flickr shots. And although YouTube was not as slick as the iPhone/iPod Touch version, it was still usable. Foursquare has a very good Android application that was written for them by an independent developer and they like it so much they made it the official version of their app. Which is pretty much what sums up the Android community, if you have a service that offers an API, you van almost be sure that someone will develop an App to use it. Which is not the case for many other mobile computing platforms. I have it on pretty good authority that Foursquare actually had to hire a BlackBerry developer to meet pressure being put on them from the CrackBerry user base. This says two things really, that Foursquare has their game plan set and is in full motion and that the availability of developers for RIM’s aging platform is as bad as we all thought it was.
So would I recommend this device to anyone looking to try an Android phone? No. Does this make the Samsung Galaxy a bad device? Certainly not. But if you’re looking for a Maple Syrup flavoured Droid or Nexus ONE, you should hold out a little longer. Will there be a third part to this article? Most likely not, however if I ever manage to get my hands on a Nexus ONE from Google, you can expect me to use it for a lot longer than Three Weeks.