Gadget Review: Samsung Galaxy i5700

A couple of weeks ago my HTC Touch phone was getting a bit buggy. Even a soft or hard reset on the phone won’t do it. I’m guessing the cracks it got through the past 3 years was too much for it. For this, I thought and discussed it thoroughly with my girlfriend if I should buy a new phone, we decided that we should so that work won’t be compromised. Anyway, I ended up choosing the Samsung Spica i5700 for the price of Php13,500. Why did I choose this and is this good enough for me? Here’s my review.

I really wanted a phone that I can use for work and where it can be reliable when I need it to be. I used to have an HTC Touch for that same reason because it was using Windows Mobile 6.0, I really relied on it on making documents, checking PDF files, syncing my email, contact lists and all, of course games are fun but the HTC Touch isn’t the best of mobile phones to do that. But since the Touch hasn’t been too reliable, I had to resort to a new one. The problem I’m having recently is backing up my data. Ever since I didn’t install Office anymore because I use Gmail and Google Docs more often now it didn’t feel that the phone was getting effective anymore for me. Although the HTC Touch worked well by syncing at Microsoft My Phone, the problem there is that My Phone doesn’t sync with anything else, just the phone. Although MS MyPhone service can sync to other Windows Mobile phones, but it just won’t work for me anymore since I have to check My Phone website and my Google account to email people.

So, it has been decided, look for the cheapest Android phone that I can rely on. Since Android is made by Google, it seems logical that it will sync most of my data without a problem. I was looking at several phones including the HTC Desire, Wildfire, Legend since I rarely see any other Android phones anyway. Suddenly I see Samsung Galaxy Spica i5700. I was surprised to hear that it’s below Php14,000. It seemed like a no brainer for me to choose this phone.

So, after a month of contemplating, here it is. I got it at last. So, first thing’s first, the body of the phone itself is pretty. Originally it had the black back cover, but included in the package is the red back cover which I really liked, seemed sexy to me than the traditional black. The 3.2 inches screen size seems large in comparison with the 2.8 inches of the HTC Touch. Although the big change for me is that it doesn’t have a pen, at first I found it odd not having a pen, but then again, it just shows that it’s been years since I’ve used a smart phone other than HP iPac and HTC Touch which are both Windows Mobile based phones. The small touches of red on the front is nice, and looks elegant for me. The phone itself doesn’t look like a toy or something else entirely. The feel of the body itself is impressive, doesn’t feel like a plastic toy.

The top part has a micro-usb slot which has been a standard for some phones and has a 3.5mm jack for your headset. The right side only has the volume control. The left side has the hold and the camera button and the microphone. The back portion has the speaker output and the camera itself. In the front, there is the usual directional pad key, an OK button, return, menu, call, drop/power, home and search. The position of the keys needs time to get used to especially the call and the drop buttons. Each time I make a call, I keep forgetting how to drop a call, I keep pressing the back button which doesn’t drop the call, it just returns you to the previous menu while the call is still open. It takes a while to get used to but you do get the hang of it after a few calls.

Once it turns on, I noticed that the screen is very bright than I’m used to. Considering that this is not an AMOLED screen, I found it pretty impressive. I immediately set the screen to the darkest and it’s still brighter than my HTC Touch. What immediately stuck me is that the screen can be viewed at any angle, which is not the case with my old HTC. The old phone I had can be viewed properly vertically but once you put it horizontally, it gets this off color display, but that is not the case here with the Spica. The view is perfect on any angle and it looks beautiful.

Now for the OS, it’s an Android 2.1 Eclair, mostly its just the standard fare OS. It’s not as impressive as the one from HTC’s Sense screen which has a wonderful clock and a weather widget by default. Samsung’s Pantheon launcher has nothing. It’s really barebones, but what’s fun about it is that I can play around with the system. Look at the picture below. I started from the basic screen on the left and when I finalized my installs and widgets, I ended up with the one at the right.

Although with the Pantheon Launcher, it was easy to add screens and insert them, the one I installed was LauncherPro which was a lot better to use but harder to adjust when first time using it. Pantheon itself didn’t have much options to play around with and the shortcuts at the bottom are fixed. LauncherPro gave me more options and it was a good thing because it’s free from the Android Market.

What I liked about the Android is the full customization of the screens. You can pretty do a lot of things with it. Set schedules, game news feeds, facebook, twitter and all. Android is pretty much working for you once you get the hang of it. At this point, it has surpassed my expectations for the price that I bought it for. Note that all the widgets I used on the screen above are all free.

The market place itself was impressive, tons of applications to try out. Although what bothered me is that I had no way to access paid applications. Not all the programs I keep seeing on the net was available on the get go. It seems that being in the Philippines is limiting us from seeing everything. Even a simple application called Better Keyboard is not available for us which is I hear a pretty good keyboard alternative than the one preinstalled in the Galaxy Spica.

Synchronization is the major thing why I chose this phone. I wanted a phone that can connect from Phone to Computer, or in this case, Google Mail. Technically, the phone should sync with MS Outlook but I haven’t installed Outlook anymore since I rely on Gmail so much these days. With Android, it keeps the contact list synced which is great since I can add/update it on a computer using Gmail and I get immediate results on the phone. It’s amazing that the phone can sync at a regular basis, showing up new email when something comes up, although I love the feature, I keep it turned off because if I go out the house all types of internet connection will try to turn on (like GPRS, 3G or HSDPA) and get info there. Generally by default, there is no way to turn that off, good thing you can download third party software on the Android Market for free to do that.

Well, since the internet can constantly stay on indefinitely, Google Talk or any other Instant Messaging software works like a charm. If you turn them on your phone, you are virtually online all the time as long as you are in range with your telephone network. It will keep itself online as much as it can, it will switch from one connection to another, whichever is fastest.

Android’s Virtual Keyboard is capable enough, but not enough for my fingers. After trying out so much software out of it like texting, typing and all, it was a challenge to type on it. It took me a while to get used to because I’m pretty much used to using a pen from my HTC Touch. So using the fingers is hard. The standard keyboard on the regular vertical screen is not easy even with a week of using it, I always shift my screen to horizontal mode to get wider keys. The horizontal screen does make me type a little faster but the onscreen keyboard and the preview eats up the entire screen and you could forget that you’re either doing an email or a text message.

Of course, what is a phone without actually calling someone. I’ve tested this by using it on my daily routine, and so far, it works wonderfully. You can make a short cut of who to call or find someone through contacts or just start immediately by pressing the call button. If you type on the numbers on the call dialer, it will try to match it based on your contact list which makes it easier to dial. You can call directly using your Google Contacts and call from there too. I also used my CDR-King B13 bluetooth and it synced quick and perfectly.

Another thing I tested was the GPS, although I was a bit reluctant to use outdoors away from my Wifi I did try it while I was a Dasmarinas. It worked wonderfully. It pinpointed my exact location, as I moved, the position in my Google Maps moved too. I’m not too sure how accurate it is because of Google Maps’ limited resolution of the map in our country, it’s still amazing. This will be helpful in terms of going around places I’m not familiar with.

The gyro-sensor works great too, since if I shift the position of the phone on its left side, the screen shifts, although not as fast as I wanted it to be but it does orient itself properly. Although if I turn it on its right side, it doesn’t work. That didn’t bother me much, but I wish that the gravity sensor also corrects the images I take on the camera software in the phone. I know some cameras that do that already and I kinda expected that since it has the sensor already, I wanted them to auto correct. Now I need a separate software just to do that in the phone. It’s a bit of a hassle to upload them first and edit it from a PC. With this I did test a program using a compass and a leveler, and impressively, it got the details perfectly.

Samsung’s proprietary 800Mhz processor is a fast piece of device inside the Galaxy Spica, the problem is that we can’t compare it with anything since this is my only Android phone. I’ve heard that Android 2.1 has support for Live Wallpaper, but unfortunately, it’s not here on the device I have now. Yes, I can download them from the market but I don’t have the option to use them. From what I hear, rooting (hacking it) the phone can get it working, but the framerate drops badly when animation is turned on. But what’s nice about this system is that it can play DivX/Xvid movies at 720×480 resolutions without any hiccups from out of the box. Most phones rely on software to get this running, but this one stands out. A friend of mine told me that he knows someone who even bought a Php40,000 phone just to get DivX running, makes me think that this phone is really worth it after hearing that. Although if you try anything higher than the resolution I mentioned, it will have a hard time displaying the video.

Although with the 800Mhz processor, I’m not really sure if it can handle some 3D games similar to what Gameloft has done for some high end Android phone like the HTC Desire. Basically Gameloft did a lot of games for iPhone and ported it to the Android, but I doubt that this phone can handle such games as of now. I don’t dare try it since I worry that it won’t work and Gameloft doesn’t come with the refund if it doesn’t work on your phone and anyway, the Gameloft’s website won’t let me. But simple games like Abduction are fun, simple and interesting nonetheless. It won’t have that wow factor though, but still, it’s good plain fun. I did get some games that has some 3D in it but it is very simple graphics compared to Gameloft offers.

Using it as a media player, again it feels like a standard fare, although it does show a little 3D graphic when you shift it to the side, but nothing really interesting. Although it does work and works well. But the sound is clear and for a while, it’s fun to use on certain occasions when you don’t have a descent sound system to use nearby, although it’s not that loud.

I took pictures of TUP Dasmarinas just to see how it can handle some photography. I’m surprised to see that it did very well. The Android stock camera software though is pretty standard fare, but you can download Camera360 for free, although it does have some advertising, it does perform a lot better than the standard software. The problem with the Galaxy Spica is not the camera itself since it does show that it has a lot of potential, the problem is that it doesn’t have flash, so taking pictures at night can be a problem. You can try your best, but it will be difficult indeed.

Regarding the video recording capability, it’s pretty much on the low end side. The recording I did below was the best the phone can do which is disappointing indeed and it saves in 3GP format which I personally don’t like that much. Framerate is slow and choppy and the colors are pretty dull. Well, we can’t expect much from Php14,000 phone, considering that I did have an HTC Touch which was more expensive and had it worse in terms of video capabilities. Anyway, it’s already good on a lot of things, we can’t expect everything to be good.

The battery life is something I still have to try out for longer periods of time. A week or 2 doesn’t justify it since I keep playing around with it since I got it. But it does seem that normal use can last 2 days, normal use means that you don’t play the games and use it really as a normal phone. Checking SMS messages only when needed. Using the internet only when needed. If you keep checking on new programs, installing and uninstalling, the battery won’t last a day.

Overall, for the price that I bought it, it’s pretty good for a smartphone and it did what I wanted it to do and more, although some lower phone has flash or even better video, this is still the best Android phone that I’ve tinkered around with. The amazing amount of applications and customizations I can do is outstanding and my only quirks are the virtual keyboard and video camera, justifies my purchase of the phone.  As of writing, I did hear about the LG GT540 which is a tad lower in terms of pricing, but this is good news for a lot of people look for smartphones at a reasonable price range. Android is getting a lot of ground these days which is interesting to see in the coming years.

And of course we will review the games I installed here, all the demos and free stuff I got on it from the Android Market. Coming soon. Do you think I’ll just end an Android review without the games? Hehe. See you later.

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