Living with the Samsung Galaxy SmartPhone

Several new phones are making quite a name for themselves, one of the most prominent is the Samsung Galaxy, an Android based smartphone that has developed a solid fan base.

I put my old Blackberry in the desk drawer for the last 6 weeks and migrated my life into the Galaxy, far, far away from the Blackberry universe.

The heart of the Samsung Galaxy is the Android Operating System. Unlike the computer world where 2 (okay, 3) operating systems dominate the landscape with Windows, Mac OS and Linux as the only real contenders, the Smartphone world is a crowded space. A horse race led by Apple and RIM being hotly pursued by Google with the Android OS. Farther back comes Microsoft with Windows Phone 7, the Symbian OS — and soon the we will see a hard push from HP with their new toy, Web OS (acquired in the Palm deal).

This was my first long term test of an Android phone, and from my perspective, it gets mixed reviews.

It is an impressive piece of technology, and as far as horsepower and sheer wow appeal, the Galaxy is a real star. Samsung has made sure it has all the bells and whistles. A gorgeous 4” 800 by 480 high res touchscreen is at the heart of the Galaxy, and a HD camera with video, built-in WiFi, GPS and accelerometer ensure that the phone is up to most any task.

The software that comes pre-installed in the Galaxy includes all the standbys including the (now standard) Google Mobile Apps, social networking tools and a fully licensed version of Vlingo. Vlingo was probably the nicest surprise on the Galaxy; it is a superb voice recognition system for mobile devices that really performs. I have tested out many voice systems in the past but none comes close to the accuracy and functionality of Vlingo.

The Android OS itself took a very short time to get comfortable with. In a word, it is powerful, but like all the Google tools, it is not refined.

I kind of feel like the good people at Google raced ahead at 100 mph, building incredible functionality and power into their tools, and then lost interest at somewhere around the 85 to 90% mark. And this is where Apple and RIM excel — in the last 10%.

Case in point: in the texting tool, there was (is) a glitch in the software that made all my incoming text messages have the wrong time stamp on them, a frustrating problem. I puzzled for several hours till I found a fix (involving downloading a hack) — far too geeky a process for the average person to attempt. I simply can’t imagine Apple or RIM releasing a product with this sort of fault.

The touch screen on the Galaxy is very responsive and for the most part the main tools — email, phone, texting, calenders and contacts — are all easy to access. There is a nice user interface feature that causes a slight vibration to occur each time you press a button, giving you positive feedback. The on-screen keyboard works well and you can use any one of several predictive text entry techniques or typing styles.

As far as negatives on the user interface, I miss the single purpose buttons found on the Blackberry. To make a phone call on the Galaxy, for example, you need to perform no less than 3 or 4 taps or swipes just to get to the phone screen. Battery life was awful, especially if you leave on any of the abundant wireless services such as WiFi or BlueTooth. Seldom did I get a full day’s service out of the phone and several times, on busy days, it left me in the lurch with a dead battery, something that almost never happens on my Blackberry (although many iPhone users will commiserate)

Conclusion: I think the Samsung Galaxy is a tour de force for geeks. Powerful, with loads of possibilities, it is a perfect match to the Android OS —  it is just not a refined phone for the rest of us. If you tinker, don’t mind troubleshooting and need to have cutting edge wireless at your fingertips, it is worth consideration. For the rest of us, there are more elegant solutions to be had.

Steve DobbsSteve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.