Of all the gimmicks that phone makers use to sell smartphones, preloading a copy of Avatar may have the least impact. Indeed, the Samsung Vibrant from T-Mobile doesn’t need the sci-fi flick to catch one’s eye: it’s a beauty all by itself.
The Vibrant is part of Samsung’s Galaxy S line-up of Android phones that are starting to appear at all major U.S. wireless carriers. The Samsung Vibrant is sold at T-Mobile for $199 after contract, but I recently spotted a Web special for $99. It runs on version 2.1 of the Android operating system, features a 4-inch screen, 16GB of internal memory (upgradable with a MicroSD card) and a 5-megapixel camera. Oh, and a full copy of Avatar.
Other phones in the Galaxy S line-up include the Samsung Captivate at AT&T, Samsung Epic 4G at Sprint and the Samsung Fascinate at Verizon. (Check carriers for pricing and availability.)
The Galaxy S phones operate by touch and feature what Samsung calls a “Super AMOLED” screen; a very sharp, very bright screen that does, indeed, show movies like Avatar in startling clarity.
The tech community adores Samsung’s new touch screen for good reason. The screen is thinner because touch sensors are integrated into the screen and that results in brighter colors because the special layer needed for the touch sensors is gone. Here’s a video that shows how the screen works (there is no sound, it was meant to just watch):
Much of the praise surrounding this year’s great crop of Android phones has revolved around the HTC Evo, the HTC Incredible and the Motorola Droid X. Samsung had not garnered any attention, until now.
The Samsung Vibrant I’ve been using belongs in the same class as the Evo and the Droid X as phones you want to play with and use. It’s lighter than those phones — in part because it has a 4-inch screen, not 4.3 inches like the Evo and Droid X — and slimmer than just about any touch-screen smartphone I’ve ever held.
My wife adores the Vibrant. I let her have first crack at the phone when it came in for review as she’s actively looking to move away from her BlackBerry. She did think the Vibrant was slow at times, a notion I agreed with based on my tests. T-Mobile’s 3G network is not entirely reliable around our Chicago home, as the phone often switched to the older Edge network.
After I gave her an HTC Incredible to test so I could give the Vibrant a spin, she sent me a note the next day. “I don’t like this as much,” she wrote. “The screen is not as bright and it doesn’t have Swype.”
The Vibrant uses Swype for messaging and my wife’s complaint rings true once you have used this new method for typing on a touch-screen phone; you don’t want to go back to simple touch typing. (Here’s a piece I wrote about the Droid X and Swype; the link includes a video demonstration.)
In some respects, Android phones are all the same. You download apps and you can move them about several screens, arranging them in the order you like. You can do that on the Vibrant as well, but Samsung also put a button called “applications” on the home screen dock along the bottom of the phone. Tap applications and you go to a series of screens that offer an alphabetical arrangement of all the apps you’ve put on the phone, as well as those that were preloaded.
This application layout is strikingly similar to the iPhone’s layout. Indeed, at a glance, if the Vibrant was next to an iPhone, you’re hard-pressed to tell the difference. It is a pretty strong visual cue, and an obvious nod to Apple, as to how far Android-based phones have come this year.
There are a few things I don’t like about the Samsung Vibrant.
One, the screen on/off switch is along the right side of the phone and its very small. So small, in fact, that I often have to take a second look at the phone to make sure I’m hitting the right switch.
Second, the camera has been sub-par in my tests. It suffers from slow shutter speed (typical) but worse, the focus can be hit or miss. It’s a similar problem I’ve had with other Samsung phones. I also thought the photo gallery app was slow to load with content, a problem I never had with an iPhone or the Droid X.
Overall, however, I think the Samsung Vibrant is a fine choice if you’re considering an Android-based phone. It should be a winner for T-Mobile, as I suspect the three variations will garner similar success from the other wireless carriers.
Now, movie time.