The Android market has grown exponentially over the past year and this onslaught has been much attributed to the barrage of devices from hardware vendors worldwide. Samsung has secured itself as one of the major players in the Android device market, battling head on with smartphone giants HTC and Motorola. With a slew of impressive premium mobile products under its belt that include the high-end Samsung Galaxy S smartphone and the 7-inch tablet Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Korean electronics monolith crashes the low-end Android party with a new entry-level touchscreen smartphone – the Samsung Galaxy 5. This little Galaxy 5 runs Android OS v2.1 (Eclair). Shame that it isn’t the much-anticipated Froyo yet but definitely a step up from v1.6 (Donut) being offered by some out there in the market. This pits it head-on with the Motorola Citrus, Sony XPERIA X8/X10, LG GT540 Optimus and HTC Tattoo. For a sub-USD200 (SRP: RM699) device, it packs quite a buffet of features. Which begs the question – is there such a thing as “cheap and cheerful”? Read on.
At first glance, the Galaxy 5 looks strikingly similar to Samsung’s own Corby, except for the additional four hardware shortcut buttons at the bottom. It’s tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand and at a scant 102g, very light, too. The exterior is glossy plastic and overall the phone does feel cheap. Having said that, it’s pretty nice and comfortable to hold and carry around. A 3.5mm audio jack is integrated at the top as standard, and the side left contains hardware volume buttons and a miniUSB port. At the back is a 2MP camera lens sans flash.
To access the microSD slot, you’ll need to remove the back cover. Be careful not to break your fingernails. A 2GB microSD card is included as standard (upgradeable to 16GB).
The screen is a 2.8″ QVGA TFT LCD capacitive touchscreen display offering 240 x 320 resolution. Possibly the smallest screen on an Android phone, like the Sony XPERIA X10 mini. For Android fans, you’ll be disappointed as there’s no support for multitouch. However it does come with Samsung’s Live wallpapers out of the box. Boo. Quality of the screen isn’t much to shout about although it is decently sharp and bright enough, and for the price, a step up from resistive touchscreens on some competing products.
Having a small screen on a touch device can be annoying especially when it comes to typing on the touchscreen keyboard. In portrait mode, the keyboard feels really cramped. Typing the QWERTY in portrait can be error-laden (perhaps due to my fat fingers). This can be remedied in landscape mode, thankfully, where the keys are better spaced out. Users have an option to use Swype for text entry which is pretty innovative or the 3×4 keyboard. I find the touchscreen responsive, if error-ridden with accidental touches. This isn’t the fault of the phone per se, more so due to some UI quirks of the Android OS.
Whether it’s building cars or electronics, the Koreans certainly know how to play the value game. The Galaxy 5 is no different and is simply packed with features. Everything you need in a phone is pretty much served on the plate. A zippy 600MHz processor powers the device. You get high speed 2.5G (850/900/1800/1900 Mhz) & 3G access with HSDPA (up to 7.2Mbps), Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth v2.1, accelerometer, 2MP fixed focus camera which supports video recording, FM radio, 170MB internal memory with 2GB microSD (up to 16GB supported) and A-GPS.
The phone comes bundled with Samsung’s very own TouchWIZ interface and Swype (Samsung’s ultrafast text input function), not forgetting Samsung’s Social Hub application first seen on its bigger brother the Galaxy S. It’s also armed with a HTML5 browser, an augmented reality app from Layar, support for MPEG4, H.263 and H.264 video formats, and Samsung’s AllShare platform which allows for easy sharing of media across a full range of DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance)-certified Samsung devices like notebooks and TVs. You can even use the Galaxy 5 as a remote for your Samsung TV or laptop. Nifty.
Before I even got the phone, I backed up my contacts/calendars from my previous phone and Mac, then synced to Google. I installed the free doubleTwist desktop app to handle all media syncing on my Mac. doubleTwist is very much like iTunes, and even connects to the Android Market. Pay a $1.99 premium and you also get wireless syncing via something called AirSync. You’ll be able to not only download free and paid apps, but also podcasts (limited, but still) and buy music from AmazonMP3. Syncing is surprisingly trouble-free with doubleTwist and it even recognizes iTunes playlists. One of the first things I did when I got the phone was install some of my favorite apps – Twitter, Tweetdeck, Facebook, Opera Mini, WhatsApp, Foursquare and Angry Birds via the bundled Android Market app. I also installed Advanced Task Killer to free up memory manually, as I anticipated the inadequacies of the 170MB base memory. Downloading and installation is seamless and hassle-free.
Having used it as my primary phone for the past 4 days, I’ve found the phone generally pleasant and intuitive to use, if a little slow. The 600Mhz processor copes pretty well in general. It’s no sprint queen for sure, and can sometimes choke and lag when switching and running multiple apps. Typing does have a noticeable lag and scrolling through a long contact list may take a while too. There were instances where the screen is just pitch black for 15-20 seconds while the processor tries to cope with the load of switching in between apps. Without a dedicated GPU, it also struggles with some games including Angry Birds.
One major rant would have to be battery life. While scouring Android forums I read of users getting 2-3 days battery life. Very bold, ambitious claims. No such luck with mine. With 3G on and everything else pretty much off, the Galaxy’s good for 6-7 hours tops before I need to plug in. I constantly have a cable with me just in case. I’m not sure if this is limited to my review unit, but I’m far from impressed. Turning off 3G and running only on EDGE gave me slightly more mileage. I’ve kept running apps to a minimum and even tweaked screen brightness, background data (syncing) and notifications. Tasks include minimal voice calls, tweeting, SMS-ing and messaging via WhatsApp and occasional check on Facebook. A penalty for multitasking? Something to think about.
Apps-wise, everything you need to get started is already pre-installed – Messaging, Calendar, Write and Go (text editor), Maps, Browser, Clock, Email, Music, Gmail, YouTube, Talk (IM), Calculator, Camera and Market. Setting up domain email and Gmail accounts was quite painless. Being a very ‘social’ phone, contacts lists are unified with your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and whatever not you’ve authorized it to sync to. I do appreciate the unified-sync-to-the-cloud-type-thing, and the ability to show/not show contacts based on your preference.
The 2MP camera isn’t anything to shout about. No autofocus, no flash. Teleports me back to old feature phone days. It’s a decent camera, though, just don’t expect award-winning photos. Forget about shooting in low light conditions, as with most if not all cameras with similar spec, prone to major noise and distortion.
Audio quality is above average, and reassuringly loud. No complaints about call quality and reception.
All in all, the Galaxy 5 is a small, lightweight and cheap entry-level Android smartphone. If you can get pass the small, restrictive screen and slightly sluggish performance, it’s quite a good introduction to Android, especially if you’re upgrading from a feature phone. It’s one of the cheapest Android phones out there, feature-packed and offers tremendous bang-for-buck. Telcos could easily give this phone away for free, bundled with a contract. Does “cheap and cheerful” exist? Personally, I’d spend a little more (ok, a lot more) for a higher spec-ed Android device, because I tend to equate cheap to crap; which I feel, ultimately, dilutes the Android experience and brand. Am still not entirely convinced that cheap is the way to go, and I’ll leave that debate for another day. For now, the Galaxy 5 could be the closest to “cheap and cheerful” as you can get.