Written on 2/18/2010 11:52:00 AM by poison_ivy
I never thought Android would grow on me. I've recently given up my Motorola Milestone and been using the Samsung B7610 and I find myself missing the Android interface of my Milestone. It's a good thing that I have this Galaxy Portal to review to get my Android fix. Wow, how about that, iPhone wasn't able to pry me away from my Windows Mobile phones but it seems that its Android who will do that for me. Anyways, until I purchase another Milestone, or unless someone would give it to me freely, I thought I'd review the Samsung Galaxy Portal or Galaxy Spica in other countries while it's Galaxy Lite in some but in Samsung model numbers, this is simply, the Samsung i5700.
I got the white version of the Portal now I'm not really into white mobile phones but there is some advantage to getting the white one: first, it's kinda cute and second, it's less of a fingerprint magnet than most black mobile phones. While I miss the flat square that is the Milestone, the Galaxy with its rounded edges and silver lining with yellow green highlights has its own appeal.
On the front of this mobile phone you have 7 buttons. The upper left button is the menu button, upper right is the back button, lower left is the call button, lower right is the end button, lodged between the menu and call button is a shortcut to Google search while lodged between the back and end button is the homescreen button. In the middle is the ok or select button and surrounding that is the directional button.
On the left side you have the volume rocker, on the right is the lock button and the camera button. On top is the microUSB and the 3.5mm headset jack.
You can take off the battery cover by just popping up the lid. I don't get why Samsung is going the pop-up battery cover way with their newer phones. I hate it. First, I got no fingernails because I have the nasty habit of biting them so I couldn't get the right grip on the cover plus the phone is in danger of being scratched by your fingernail during the times when you fumble to open it. I miss the old days when I have to slide out the battery covers. Samsung, if you're listening, this is a major design flow, bring back the slide-off battery covers!
Now here is something new that I haven't seen in other Sammy mobile phones: The simcard slot isn't at the back of the batterry, instead, it's on the left side. Now that's what I call good design. We're in that age where most users have more than 1 mobile phone numbers so naturally they have more than 1 simcards. I love the fact that I can easily swap simcards without having to take out any battery. Good move here.
The Samsung i5700, like its predecessor, the Galaxy i7500 has 3.2 inches capacitive screen. The only difference is that the i7500 has AMOLED screen while the Portal only has TFT LCD screen.
The Galaxy Portal runs the 1.5 version of Android, similar to that of the previous Galaxy. It's not the updated version of Android like on the HTC Hero since the latter has the Sense UI while the former is just plain old Android. Not that I'm complaining, I mean, plain old Android was okay for me when I got the Milestone so I'm more than familiar with the Android UI.
You get three homescreens with the Galaxy which you can put shortcuts or widgets on. You can delete widgets by holding down an icon then dragging it to the trash at the bottom of the screen and you arrange icons by just holding and dragging the icons around.
You can access the start menu by press the arrow at the bottom of the screen or by flicking/swiping the arrow upwards.
The screen is actually pretty responsive although with an 800Mhz Processor compared with the Milestone's 600Mhz one, I still feel that the latter is a bit faster although it could be attributed to Android 2.1. I don't know how much RAM the Galaxy Portal has but since the Milestone runs a bit faster with Android 2.0 even though it only has 600MHz processor, I'm guessing the Milestone has a bigger RAM. The Galaxy Portal is due for an Android 2.0 update in March so we'll see if it would run much faster. Unfortunately, this phone doesn't support multitouch but again, let's hope that with the upcoming update, it would soon support that much needed feature.
Messaging, Phonebook, Calendar, Applications
The Galaxy Portal has threaded messaging but doesn't show your contacts picture in the conversation, unlike in Android 2.0. You can turn the message into an MMS by attaching a picture or sound. The keyboard is pretty much the same as the onscreen keyboard on the Milestone. I don't know what it is but I find it easier to type on this handset and I have less typos. Also, thanks to the directional pad, you can easily go back on a word and delete the typo. What I love about Android's SMS app is that like the old Windows Mobile 6.1, it has some sort of smart dialing wherein you just type your contact's name and the app automatically searches for contacts that matches what you type.
Email set-up is pretty easy if your mail provider is in the top 20 email providers, according to Android's email wizard. Setting up your email is as simple as entering your username and password.
Unfortunately, like the Motorola Milestone, you can't sync your Outlook contacts directly. Best solution is export your contacts as a csv file and import it via a Google account. Unlike the Nokia N900, Microsoft exchange is not supported unless you cough up $15-$30 for a third party sync software. The good thing about Google contacts is unlike Outlook, you can add as many mobile phones under one name as possible.
You can also sync your Calendar over the air via Google Calendar. If you want to sync your Outlook Calendar, you also need to do the export-import way but recurring appointments can't be synced.
One of the disadvantages of owning an Android handset is that it doesn't have an included document editors unlike Windows Mobile which has Office Mobile. The Galaxy Portal doesn't even have an included document reader but there are free ones in the Android Market for you to download. Document Editors are not free though. Best choice for a document editor is DataViz. There's not a lot of pre-installed apps on the Galaxy i5700 so you can check my must-have Android Apps for your phone.
As I've already mentioned, I really hate the native Android music player. It doesn't have any equalizer, bass boost or anything. I would really recommend MixZing which automatically searches for Album Art for your Music. Audio quality through the speakers is actually good, using the headset is slightly better.
The Samsung Galaxy Portal seems like the only Android mobile phone that supports DivX video playback. Unfortunately, the 800Mhz processor doesn't seem to be doing anything. The Samsung Jet Ultra which also has an 800Mhz processor as well as the Omnia 2 can do a much better job of DivX video playback. The same 356MB DivX video file that I played on the Omnia 2 and Jet Ultra played smoothly but the Galaxy struggles with it. The video runs slowly and audio is TOTALLY out of sync. The solution is to convert the file to a lower resolution, around 320x480 using AlltoAvi. This is just a minor setback, hopefully, the 2.1 Android update would fix this. This is an instance where you need a file explorer because DivX videos can't be accessed through the gallery. If you have a DivX file on your microSD card, you need to open it via a file explorer.
The picture gallery is a joke and I miss Samsung's proprietary gallery here. You can't finger swipe on the pictures. Instead, you have to press on the arrow button to scroll through pictures.
Browser and connectivity
I'm already in love with the Milestone's browser. The web browser on the Samsung Galaxy Portal isn't as fast as the Milestone's but it's definitely better than the browser on WinMo phones. What I love about it is that unlike other browsers, Safari included, there's no checkered board pattern when you're scrolling through pages. The disadvantage about the browser is that it has no pinch to zoom feature since this handset doesn't support multi touch. You have to use the onscreen magnifyer to zoom in and out of web pages. Tap to zoom would have been better but there's none of that. Even the dolphin browser, which allows multi touch browsing on the Motorola Droid, can't bring pinch to zoom on the Galaxy Portal. There's a magnifying glass that lets you zoom in on a particular part of a page when you're viewing a webpage as a whole.
The Samsung Galaxy has a lot of connectivity options. There's 3G HSDPA, WiFi, GPS, MicroUSB, and stereo Bluetooth. I have yet to find a 3rd party GPS application for the Android, if anybody knows something which works, let me know. I have yet to test the layar app which lets you see things such as nearest hotels, highest peaks, Twitter users near you, etc, using your phone's camera.
The Samsung Galaxy Portal has the sorriest camera in a mobile phone I have ever seen. Shame on you Samsung, you've spoiled me with things such as smile detection, face detection, image stabilizers on some of your mobile phone cameras that I was expecting more on this phone. Instead, the only option you have to is change the storage to your microSD card, set video quality, and to turn on the nightmode. Jeez, even the lowest Nokia camera phones offers more option.
However, even though there's lack of camera options, there's autofocus and this mobile phone actually does a decent job of taking pictures especially outdoors. Even without flash, the Galaxy Portal manages to capture some images in low light conditions, unlike the HTC Diamond2 which can't even capture an image in low light conditions. Sample pictures below:
Right now until March, the Samsung Galaxy Portal is exclusive to T-Mobile UK. You can grab it for free with a £20 a month tariff. Samsung's latest Android mobile phone is turning out to be a pretty solid. Thank goodness Samsung didn't go overboard by skinning it with their TouchWiz. Sure, Android by itself without Sense or MotoBlur is pretty boring but its still Android and as a die-hard WinMo fan, I have to say that Android grows on you in terms of its ease of use. Its closes competitor, the HTC Hero, is slightly more expensive so if you're going for an Android handset and you're on a budget, you can't go wrong with the Galaxy Portal. Nice screen, DivX playback, decent audio playback, good browser, a decent camera, and Android 2.1 upgrade, are amongst the things the Samsung Galaxy Portal has going for it, add a very attractive unlocked price and Samsung has done it again and made a handset worthy of your money.