Samsung Vibrant Review| By Hillary Borrud
Samsung's new touch screen Galaxy smartphone is one of the handsets in the pack still chasing the iPhone. And despite innovations on Apple's new iPhone, the Galaxy is an example of how some phones are getting more competitive with the iconic device. The Vibrant reviewed here is T-Mobile's version of the Samsung Galaxy, and AT&T is also offering it as the Captivate. Verizon's version is called the Fascinate and Sprint's, the Epic.
The highlight of the Vibrant is its combination of a beautifully sharp and glare-resistant screen, with the speed of a 1-gigahertz Hummingbird processor. The touch screen is also highly responsive and this, along with shortcuts and applications that take advantage of the touch screen, make this handset fast and easy to use. With the Vibrant, Samsung appears to have attempted to create a well-rounded phone for a wide demographic, with solid technology and features that have become standard on touch screen smartphones. This handset could serve a variety of users, from business people to those who want a solid multimedia touch screen phone.
In many areas such as touch screen and video technology, the Vibrant is on the same plane with Apple's iPhone. When it comes to cameras, however, the Vibrant's 5-megapixel camera lags behind the HTC Evo 4G and Droid Incredible, which have 8-megapixel cameras. In addition, the Vibrant takes photos and videos with a slight grey-green color and lacks a flash, which many other competitors have.
Of course, the Android Market with more than 65,000 applications is still a long way from challenging the iPhone, with its more than 200,000 applications. The Vibrant runs on Android 2.1, and Samsung says this will be upgradeable to Android 2.2. T-Mobile is selling the Vibrant for $200, after a $50 mail-in rebate and after you sign a qualified two-year voice or data plan.
The highlight of the Vibrant is its brilliant Super AMOLED screen, which displays amazingly detailed and colorful images and sharp HD video. The sleek and simple design of the phone keeps the focus on the screen, which is probably Samsung's best selling point. On the exterior, the Vibrant takes its cue the iPhone. A metal band encircles the top of the phone, just like Apple's smartphone, although the gunmetal color is darker than iPhone's bright silver detail and the Samsung is obviously larger. Two interchangeable back panels, in maroon and dark green patterns, give the Vibrant a trendy look that is more colorful than the iPhone.
One possible design shortcoming is that the Vibrant feels very lightweight in the hand, and while not flimsy, does not seem to be built as solidly as the iPhone 3G or 4. Samsung designed the Vibrant to use 20 percent less power, according to the company's website. Although the back of the phone must be removed to install or remove the microSD card, this is relatively easy to do because the back pops off with only gentle prodding from a fingernail. Simply use a notch at the bottom of the phone to pry off the back cover.
Removing the cover also reveals the battery, which is rated for up to 13 hours of talk time on 2G networks and up to 6.5 hours on 3G networks, according to Samsung's website. The Vibrant is rated for up to 750 hours of standby on 2G. The phone is lighter than the iPhone and slightly larger as well.
The sleek Vibrant gets by with minimal physical buttons, instead relying mostly on touch screen keys at the bottom of the display and the user interface. It's not quite as elegant as the iPhone, but it's close and the physical buttons have their benefits. Samsung relies upon a single power/lock key on the upper right side of the handset to take it out of locked mode. A quick touch illuminates the phone and prompts you to "swipe screen to unlock," while a sustained touch gives three quick options: silent mode, flight mode and power off.
The unlock function is similar to the iPhone, where a click of the physical "home" button at the center bottom of the screen prompts you to swipe the screen to unlock it. But the iPhone relies on a separate on/off button at the top of the phone to power the phone on and off, and to dim or illuminate it. The 5-megapixel camera is located on the back of the phone, on the upper left side. The four touch screen keys are at the bottom of the display, and the phone vibrates subtly to confirm your selections. On the left, the menu key brings up easy commands including search, settings, wallpaper and "add," which allows you to edit Android and Samsung widgets, shortcuts and other items on the home screen.
The second touch key in from the left is the home key, which brings up the home screen. At first, this takes some getting used to if you've become accustomed to the iPhone's single home screen button. From the initial home screen, you can swipe left or right to page through up to seven home screens they can create, delete and rearrange. The "back" touch key second in from the right allows you to navigate backwards after making selections, and there is a quick search touch key on the far right.
There is a physical volume key on the upper left side of the phone, a charger and USB port at the top of the phone and a headset port at the right top corner of the phone. The phone can be charged either using a wall outlet, or by using a USB cord to charge it on a computer. Out of the box, the Vibrant comes with a USB cord and adapter so it can be converted into a charger that plugs into a wall outlet. It also comes with a 2-gigabyte microSD card, microSD adapter, two back panels that allows you to pick a dark green or maroon design, ear buds and a basic guide to the phone.
The Vibrant features a 5-megapixel camera, with zoom and auto-focus, and it does not have a flash. The result is generally beautiful, sharp and realistic photos when the lighting is good, although some photos taken at night and in the dimmest indoor light were almost black. Minimal indoor light, such as from an incandescent lamp, seemed to be enough to produce decent images, although a flash might help better capture true colors in some shots. One shortcoming is a grey-green tint in photos and videos, which means light-colored areas are reproduced less realistically than with the iPhone.
In other aspects, the Vibrant camera provides a similar quality of shots as the iPhone, which also has a 5-megapixel camera. However, the iPhone's LED flash is a plus. This camera is also a step behind the 8-megapixel cameras on the Motorola Droid X and HTC Droid Incredible and Evo 4G, all of which also have flashes. You can adjust many aspects of still camera shots with the Vibrant, including exposure, image quality, ISO, resolution, white balance, contrast, saturation and sharpness. There are nine shooting modes, from action shot to cartoon shot, and a timer. The Vibrant also allows you to touch the screen to focus the camera.
The 720p HD video recorder is on par with the iPhone's HD video camera, save for the color issue mentioned above. The Vibrant and iPhone have the same video resolution, and the Vibrant's overall video quality was decent for a phone camcorder.
The Vibrant's speedy 1-gigahertz Hummingbird processor makes navigation a breeze, as there was no noticeable delay in response on the touch screen. The accelerometer also functions very well, providing a smooth transition from portrait to landscape orientation for easier typing or Internet browsing.
One of the applications included on the Vibrant is Write and Go, which allows you to write messages to post as text messages, updates or emails, without launching individual programs. There is also a Mini Diary to record photos and thoughts, the ThinkFree Office Suite to view and edit Microsoft Office documents, Layar's browser, a memo pad, a calculator, a voice recorder, TeleNav GPS and visual voicemail.
As mentioned above, the Vibrant and other Galaxy phones run on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. A major difference between the TouchWiz and iPhone's interface is that TouchWiz navigation relies largely on the back touch key, whereas the iPhone's navigation centers on a series of swipes and the home key. Both interfaces have their upsides. The iPhone is intuitive and takes a minimal amount of time to become second nature, while the Vibrant is easy from the start because you can simply select applications and then press the back button whenever you want to exit. Despite the Vibrant's greater reliance on touch buttons in comparison to the iPhone, you can navigate with most of the same actions you would use on an iPhone -- touches, swipes, dragging items and pinch-to-zoom.
The rest of the TouchWiz also closely resembles the iPhone interface, so it will be easy for Apple aficionados to use. There is a row of widgets along the bottom of the screen -- dialer, contacts, messaging and applications -- in a layout similar to Apple's phone. A touch of the finger on the applications icon brings up a grid of apps that you can flip through by swiping horizontally.
Two convenient widgets on TouchWiz are Feeds and Updates and Buddies Now, both of which allows you to track your friends' and contacts' updates on social networking sites. Feeds and Updates allows you to update your status and upload photos on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, while Budddies Now displays recent updates from select friends on these sites and lets you respond to these posts, or call or text contacts.
Samsung's screen technology sets the Vibrant apart from many other touch screen phones, including the iPhone 3G, and makes it a serious competitor to the iPhone. Apple claims the iPhone's Retina display is small the pixels are indistinguishable, and the Vibrant's display creates a similar result. With 16.7 million colors and a resolution of 480-by-800 pixels on a 4-inch screen, the Vibrant earns its name. Resolution is higher on the iPhone, at 640-by-960 pixels, but the Vibrant's resolution is on par with other recently debuted Android handsets, such as the Evo 4G.
Samsung's Super AMOLED, or active-matrix organic light emitting diode, technology creates a thinner and more responsive touch screen, and the company claims it also means a 20 percent brighter display, with 80 percent less glare. Glare in bright outdoor light was reportedly a problem with earlier AMOLED technology, and Samsung calls these new Super AMOLED screens "anti-reflective." The display reproduces colors realistically, and showcases multimedia with sharp videos and still images. The touch screen is highly-responsive and allows advanced touch commands, such as pinch-to-zoom and swiping a string of letters with the Swype application. It features an ambient light sensor and proximity sensor.
The single speaker on the pack of the Vibrant produces decently loud and balanced sound, although it sounded a bit tinny and seemed to lack adequate bass. At the top volume setting, sound was slightly scratchy and improved on lower settings. The music player on the Vibrant is simple and attractive, and allows you to sort audio files by playlists, albums and artists. You can purchase new tunes on Amazon MP3, and the apps come loaded on the phone. The Vibrant supports the following file formats: MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+ and WMA.
The touch screen keyboard is similar to the one Apple uses on the iPhone. It's generally easy to use, although with the phone in a vertical position the keys are narrow and it takes some time to figure out the right touch to select the correct key. To make this easier, simply turn the phone on its side and the keyboard will shift to a landscape view with larger keys.
The Vibrant also boasts the Swype text entry program, which allows you to quickly write words by swiping a finger across the keyboard to select a series of letters in a word, instead of tapping out each individual letter. This cool program does seem like a time saver, once you get to the point where the quirky steps to capitalize letters and select double letters become second nature.
The Vibrant has a combined inbox for email from Gmail, POP3, IMAP4 and Exchange accounts. Under applications, you can access email by tapping the combined account "Email" icon. Or, if you only want to see Gmail messages, there is a specific icon for that. Samsung incorporated a handy shortcut that allows you to easily text message any contact by swiping left across the person's name. A swipe to the right initiates a phone call to the contact. Chat options supported include AOL, Google, Windows Live and Yahoo.
The powerful combination of Vibrant's colorful Super AMOLED screen and fast 1-gigahertz processor makes the handset a good choice if you frequently watch videos and use other multimedia on your phone. Video also gets a boost with sharper images from mDNIe, or mobile Digital Natural Image engine, technology, also found in Samsung's televisions. Perhaps to highlight the sharpness of video replay, the Vibrant from T-Mobile comes with the movie Avatar loaded on an included microSD card.
Entertaining applications that come installed on the handset include Amazon Kindle for Android and MobiTV, which gives you access to 35 live channels such as ESPN, NBC and Bravo. There is also the T-Mobile exclusive The Sims 3 Collector's Edition, and YouTube. To add to this collection, you can access more than 65,000 gaming, business and other applications on the Android Market.
Vibrant owners can download files and browse the Internet with Wi-Fi or T-Mobile's high-speed HSDPA network. The Vibrant comes loaded with Layar Reality Browser, a full HTML browser.
The Vibrant comes with 16-gigabytes, which is enough storage space for casual users to keep about 2,000 songs or hundreds of videos on the handset. The iPhone provides a choice of 16- or 32-gigabytes, while the Evo 4G has 360-megabytes and the Aria has 384-megabytes. By contrast, the Droid Incredible and Droid X only have 8-gigabytes of memory. The Vibrant also comes with a 2-gigabyte microSD card, but can accept cards up to 32-gigabytes.
The Vibrant connects to other devices either with the included USB cord, or using Bluetooth 3.0 technology. You can connect to Bluetooth headsets, or take advantage of dial-up networking to use the phone as a modem for a computer. With Bluetooth, the Vibrant can also be used to remotely control other devices such as TV's and stereos and people with compatible headphones can listen wirelessly to music playing on the handset.
The Vibrant is an enjoyable and easy-to-use smartphone that should please most users with its responsiveness, great screen technology and speedy processor. The camera is good, but not quite great when compared with the ever-advancing technology now available on other smartphones. Sound quality also was not a high point of this phone. The amount of storage is decent, less than some other competitors and more than others. Expandable memory up to 32-gigabytes could make up for this.
Positives include the intuitive -- especially for iPhone owners -- interface, the included apps and access to the growing Android Market. Overall, the Vibrant shows Samsung is getting closer to producing some of the features -- responsive and beautiful touch screen, simple interface -- that make the iPhone so popular. ♦
Super AMOLED (Gyroscope / Accelerometer / Compass / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
Categories: Android | Business | Fun
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