The Galaxy in Review
I’ve had my Galaxy S (the T-Mobile Vibrant model) for about two months now, and I wanted to spell out my impressions.
The screen is gorgeous. Granted, it’s not as bright as the iPhone 4, but I, personally, don’t really notice the difference in the Retina Display that the 4 carries. It’s Super AMOLED screen beautifully renders Avatar that comes on the phone, and the pretty wallpapers that come on the device. Contrary to my wife’s myTouch, I can operate with the brightness at the lowest setting most of the time. I only ever turn it up when I’m outside, and have my sunglasses on. The good thing is, turning the brightness to the max makes it very easy to see everything on the screen while boldly confronting the elements.
It’s also a fantastic 4 inches. Which is, again, great for viewing movies, but also great at viewing websites, or just plain reading. Reading is quite the pleasure on this phone. I’ve picked up a nightly habit of reading from my Instapaper account1 before falling asleep.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t break his stuff: none of my previous phones broke, and I only have a small handful of scratches from dropping my Sidekick once or twice. So, therefore, I don’t have a screen protector. The screen still has no scratches at all. Nothing. According to more abusive readers, it seems to stand up to a lot of punishment.
As with all Android phones since Google turned on multi-touch support, the Galaxy supports it. And from the videos I’ve seen of it on the Nexus One, it seems like the Galaxy does it better. The Nexus showed some issues with tracking multi-touch when your fingers crossed axes. No hiccups here. Pinching and pushing feels like gliding.
So far the touch buttons seem to work out just fine. I don’t have the same issue that Nexus One owners have reported where sometimes touching near the bottom of the screen triggers the touch buttons. My only gripe, is that sometimes, mostly when reading at night, the LEDs turn off after no input for a few seconds, and I need to touch the main screen before they reappear. I fail too often when guessing that I’ve clicked a button when the LEDs are off. But I guess I can’t call that much of a complaint.
Otherwise, they’ve been perfect.
Again, with the 4 inches, it feels great. It doesn’t feel too big; it feels just right. Picking up an iPhone 4 feels just a little too small. I can’t imagine typing on a smaller screen.
It’s also ultra thin, only 0.4 inches. It fits perfectly in my pocket.
The Galaxy weighes a mere 4.16 ounces. According to Apple, the iPhone 4 is only 0.6 ounces heavier, but I recently compared both at the Apple store, and it felt sufficiently heavier. Granted, the iPhone also feels more solid. Some people really like that, but of the two, I enjoy a lighter device, and have no worries about breaking my Galaxy.
TouchWiz is what Samsung is calling their custom UI. While I don’t understand why hardware companies are trying to write software better than a software company, this one isn’t too terrible. They have a cool gesture in the Contacts list to swipe left on a contact to call and swipe right to text. The way the application drawer works is pretty neat as well, where it has multiple pages of apps instead of one giant scrollable view.
That’s all the positive words I can muster. I said it wasn’t terrible, but I almost immediately switched to a different home launcher.2
I’m not the biggest fan of the entire UI being given a blue theme, but I don’t hate it that much either. That’s mostly just minor aesthetic taste. Yet, with their questionable surgery, they’ve ruined some of the core Android applications. Contacts no longer has a Favorites tab. Instead, they have an Updates tab. They also ruined the Calendar app. I mean, it’s not horrible, but the way they show full day events is hard to notice, and in the stock calendar, you could tap on an event in the week to reveal a small tooltip of the title. Samsung decided you should skip that tooltip.
Speaking of the Updates tab, it seems that most manufacturers feel the need to make the Android UI integrate more with social media. It makes me die a little with each new “custom UI”. Maybe less nerdy people than myself will just setup the Feeds & Updates widget to pull in Facebook and Twitter, but I find it ugly and irrelevant. I don’t need my social media bleeding through every orifice of my phone. When I want Twitter, I’ll launch the Twitter app.
They also stupidly took away several of the default widgets in favor of their own concoctions. They suck hard. Most importantly, I miss having the stock calendar widget, which shows you in an attractive way the next event on your calendar. In its place is the abbysmal Daily Briefing, where, alongside your recent calendar events, it also pulls in weather from AccuWeather, stocks from whatever, mobile news from Yahoo, and looks terrible to boot. Crazier still, these widgets are only available from the TwLauncher3. Having switched to ADWLauncher, I still don’t get the stock Android widgets, nor Samsung’s crappy replacements. I had to download a simple calendar widget, and I honestly couldn’t find one that looked similar to the stock calendar widget.
The phone comes with a lot of Crapware installed by default. Some applications are free trials that want you to buy the full version; some are just free apps that I don’t particularly need. None of them can be deleted. And yet, it doesn’t bother me that much , because I’ve found work arounds, and I hardly pop open the Applications Drawer anyways.
Ease of Rooting
For some, part of the appeal of Android is gaining root access and doing whatever you want with your device. This isn’t something that a casual consumer would do, but considering that some phones try vigorously to prevent rooting, it’s worth noting that rooting a Samsung Vibrant is beyond easy. It’s almost as if Samsung was fully expecting people to do so.
Gmail is my portal to all my email; I see all the email from all my various email accounts in Gmail. So I’m very excited that Gmail integrates so well in Android. Gmail’s list view is excellent and looks nice to boot. The email view leaves something to be desired, though. Specifically, the reply and forward buttons are very weird to use: they don’t look or feel like buttons, and tapping them doesn’t feel smooth. Yet, I can’t stress how pleased I am with my phone’s integration with Gmail. My previous phone, a Sidekick 2008, tried to connect through IMAP to my Gmail account. It tried like the Little Engine That Could, or rather, like the Sidekick That Couldn’t. Even with IMAP, it constantly would not sync my read and deleted mail from my computer, so I would have to deal with it on my phone and on the computer. With the Galaxy, even though my phone fetches the email immediately, it also immediately removes it if I dealt with it on my desktop computer. Update : It seems with Android 2.2 and a new version of Gmail, the message view is much more pleasant.
My wife and I share our various calendars through Google Calendar. The stock Android calendar, which my wife gets to use, is great. It has a pleasing aesthetic, shows a tooltip when you tap an event for a summary, and has a decent widget. For mine, however, Samsung seemed to think they could do better. So they inverted the colors (the background is now all black), removed the tooltip summary, and made all-day events harder to recognize. Sigh.
The other Google apps work as expected: I’ve been using GTalk more and more, and had been using Google Voice as my business line for a while. Android offers to easily manage all your regular voice mail through Google Voice as well, and automatically uses Voice if I make an international call. Awesome.
Maps is maps. And, boy, is it maps. I tend to keep my printer dry of ink, just to prove that I don’t need to print as much as I think I do, so I hated having to look up directions, then copy and paste the directions into an email and send it to my Sidekick. Sometimes, my Sidekick wouldn’t sync the new mail until I had painfully found my way to my destination through trial and error. Now with my Galaxy I can get directions to anywhere, at anytime. More importantly, I prefer to look at the map view, since I’m a visually oriented guy. Directions are too abstract; I like to see where I am. Ta-da.
This is really minor, but I noticed it when I was out with some friends that have iPhones. We had gotten a bill after eating some excellent sushi, and they both pulled out their phones to split the bill. They both, in that short minute of calculating, cursed the iPhone Calculator app. In contrast, I pulled out my phone, intrigued by their grief, and checked on the calculator that came with my Galaxy. It was more than I could ask for. I’m used to most basic calculator apps providing numbers, 4 operators, and a single display of the most recently outputted number. To my delight, this app contained a scrolling output area to show previous calculations, and listed the entire equation out similar to when I used a TI-83 in calculus class. Turn the phone horiztonal, and the Calculator goes all Scientific Mode on you.
I think iOS is a great piece of software. The iPhone really is an awesome device. Yet, now that Android hardware can compare to Apple hardware, I’m also glad that my phone runs Android. Why? Is it because of the famed “openness”? Well, not primarily.
The Android platform is certainly more open. Not 100% open, but far more open then the Apple App Store. I like that I can side load apps without jailbreaking or rooting, because Google lets me. I’m glad that developers can create apps that compete with default Android applications, providing me with possibly better choices than default, like a better SMS client, or a browser with tabs. More so, I’m glad that I can write my own software for my phone, and not worry that some overlord is going to deny my hard work, nor do I have to pay a developer license to do it. Yet, as I said, the openness isn’t what I like most about Android.
I actually love how the Android OS allows applications to be used by the user. Here’s the things that really shine to me:
Notifications : Everyone always mentions Android notifications in a good light, and that’s because they work great. They’re out of the way, only in the top status bar, and can be accessed from inside applications by just pulling down from the top of the phone. While I like the red pills in iOS, the notifications in Android let you peek at the title of the notification and clear them out if they turn out to be not as important. In iOS, you have no such liberty.
The Activity Stack and Back : In iOS, it’s up to the application developer to add a Back button to any given screen. And usually, it doesn’t truly mean “Back”, but more like “Up One Folder”. Worse still, is that if an application opens another, like Safari or Mail, there is no “Back” to the previous application4. On Android, the Back button goes to previous applications and Activities. This is because in Android, every action is an
Activity. Activities can start new ones, and they get added on top of the Activity stack, until an Activity has finished. Pressing Back will finish the current Activity and head to the previously active one.
Apps can communicate with Intents : Providing a generic way for applications to send messages to each other via
Intentsmeans that no matter what RSS Reader application you use, and whether you use Instapaper or ReadItLater, they can talk to each other on your phone. So if you use something a little less popular, you aren’t doomed to never having other applications support it.
Real honest-to-goodness multi-tasking : It can really multi-task. No, not that fake crap iOS claims to do. Real multi-tasking.
I love the Galaxy.
I don’t need 7 home screens, so I dropped down to 3, but the programmers determine the middle as screen 4, no matter what. Did no one ever teach them how to find the middle of something? ↩︎
TouchWiz default launcher. ↩︎
In iOS 4, if the application has been re-compiled to use fast-app switching, you can switch back to an app now. ↩︎