Samsung's Vibrant and Captivate, the first two of five Galaxy S line of phones that run on the 2.1 version of Google's Android operating system, have recently launched. I spent a day using press samples of both phones, which I found quite fast, and their touch-screen displays seemed responsive. However, I did find some minor drawbacks.
The Vibrant is available from T-Mobile, while the Captivate is on AT&T. Both phones, which cost $200 with a two-year contract after rebates, are identically equipped even though they have slightly different casings (the Vibrant has iPhone 3G-style rounded corners trimmed with a chrome-like bezel, while the Captivate has sharper edges reminiscent of a thin BlackBerry Storm).
Standout features of both include an ultra-sharp super 4-in. Super AMOLED touch screen, a speedy Samsung 1GHz Hummingbird processor, a 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording, and, like the iPhone 4, a 6-axis, motion-sensing accelerometer that, in theory, should turn the phone into a highly responsive gaming controller.
Here are some of my other first impressions. My observations apply to both phones, except where noted.
Great interface. Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface does a fine job of bringing out the best features of Android 2.1 (no word yet on when either phone will get the upgrade to version 2.2, aka Froyo). Thanks to a responsive display that can interpret advanced gestures, it's easy to quickly access the phone's many applications. Dots at the top of the screen let you quickly jump to any of seven customizable home screens. A Feeds and Updates widget shows not only your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts on one screen, but allows you also to simultaneously update all three with a single post. Another cool widget presents all important contacts on a virtual Ferris wheel that you can "rotate" by swiping your finger up or down. And, as with Palms, you can see appointments from multiple sources (Exchange Server, Facebook, etc) on one customizable calendar.
Multiple keyboards. Both phones give you a welcome choice of three types of virtual keyboards for data entry. There's a no-frills Samsung keyboard along with an Android keyboard that adds unrivaled predictive-text options and the ability to perform voice searches and message dictation, and a Swype keyboard that allows you to type words quickly and accurately without lifting your thumb off the screen.
Bluish display. In general, the phones' 4-inch 480 x 800-pixel displays were more than sharp enough for viewing text, photos and Web pages, though they were not quite as sharp as the screens on the iPhone 4 or the Motorola Droid. What's more, Web pages and photos seem to have a bluish tint—even after I turned off the phones' default power-saving setting.
Also, at the risk of being a nitpicker, the phone's default display timeout setting of 30 seconds is way too short. In fact, the phone's display seems over-eager to shut off, often blanking out while I was in the middle of an operation. And when I revived the display from the off position, it would shut off again within seconds if I didn’t launch a program or perform some other task. Adjusting the timeout period to a minute seemed to solve most of these problems without any noticeable effect on battery life.
One cool visual extra: The Vibrant came preloaded with the blockbuster movie Avatar, which looked great on the phone's generously proportioned screen.
Versatile camera. I'll leave it to CU's image engineers to scientifically assess photo and video quality. In the meantime, I can report that the 5-megapixel digital cameras worked well, with plenty of controls, such as tap-to-focus and a bevy of shooting modes to make the most of your efforts. Ditto for the video camera, which has the ability to shoot in 720p at 30 frames per second (fps).
The cameras offer plenty of options for distributing your pictures and videos. Besides sharing them via e-mail or multimedia text messages or posting them on Picasa, you can beam them to a computer or printer via Bluetooth or wirelessly stream them to any HDTV that supports the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard. (On Samsung products, this feature is called Allshare.)
Using the Vibrant, I was able to successfully beam the Avatar trailer to a Samsung TV in our labs. The video quality of the clip was comparable to what you'd see on YouTube. Videos we shot ourselves, however, sputtered to a halt after a few seconds. I couldn't get the Allshare feature to work at all with the Captivate. But these glitches are probably isolated to these pre-retail models.
Bottom line: The Galaxy S line appears to be a worthy competitor to the high-scoring Android models from Motorola and HTC in our Ratings. I'll have more on these Galaxy S twins as they make their way through our labs. In the meantime, check out our recently updated Ratings of smart phones (available to subscribers)