Friday, November 25, 2011

Samsung Galaxy S Plus review

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The first Samsung Galaxy S handset caused quite a fuss for a number of
reasons. Firstly, it was a remarkable device and one that people genuinely
wanted to own. Secondly, though, was how much it looked like an iPhone, down to
the home button and curved, stylish lines. But it also sold incredibly well, and
could be one of the most important Android devices to launch yet.

It is still available, still capable of handling most of what Android offers
and the fact that Samsung have decided to tweak the hardware speaks volumes. At
launch, however, the phone wasn't perfect. Users who pushed the device hard soon
found that lag could affect the performance. Flicking from home screen to home
screen could result in stutter and poor performance and the phone often felt
like it was being held back.

The Galaxy S Plus addresses a lot of these problems, whilst bringing it into
line with many recent rivals. Improved hardware specs mean it has got more power
and the progressive move to Android 2.3, along with more refined TouchWiz software,
has dispatched many of the file system issues that caused that lag. This updated
Galaxy S, then, could be the phone we should have got one year ago.


On the surface, nothing has changed on the Samsung Galaxy S Plus. It's the
same sleek case with a hardware button for home and two soft-keys for the
context menu and the back button. The phone still has that curious kink on the
back cover, something that has all but gone from the newer Galaxy S II.

There's still a daft cover on the USB socket, found at the top of the phone,
next to the headphone jack. Volume controls are on the left of the phone, with
the lock key on the right. We don't like this placement of the most often-used
button on the phone, it makes far more sense for it to go on the top. We found
that, on the side, it's much harder to push, which makes unlocking the phone
that little bit harder and slower.

The Galaxy S Plus is still impossibly light though, and this has to be one of
the most impressive things about this handset. Compare the Samsung to almost any
other Android handset, and you'll be blown away by how the company has managed
to keep this phone feather light. Of course, the extensive use of plastic is
what gives it an advantage over, say, the iPhone and you could argue that it
also makes it feel a little cheap. Samsung has, however, screwed this phone
together well, which means despite its weight, it's still sturdy and nice to
hold - and we still have the original model in use and not showing signs of

More power and more power

If you used the original Galaxy S, there would have been times when you would
resort to Jeremy Clarkson style mutterings about more power. This updated
hardware, however, is incredibly snappy. The move from a 1GHz processor to a
1.4GHz single core alternative seems to have helped hugely. Efficiencies with
Android and TouchWiz that came along with version 2.3 have also helped, you
should see apps load a lot quicker now and far less stuttering when flicking
around the phone at speed.

And it's not just the handset that feels faster, the Internet should too,
with an increased download speed over HSDPA networks. As nice as that is though,
it's worth remembering that most service providers can't give you anywhere near
the maximum rated speed.

The second increase in power is from the newer, higher capacity battery
included with the Galaxy S Plus. This has increased from a 1500mAh pack in the
original, to a 1650mAh one in the newer phone. The good news is the battery life
seems excellent. It's actually one of the better smartphones we've used for
longevity. A full charge will easily get you through the day and if you switch
the phone off overnight, it will probably get you through half the next day too.
That's almost unheard of with Android phones, but it's wonderful to see in the
Galaxy S Plus.

Our phone was connected to mobile networks all day, used for no less than 30
minutes of calls and moderate data use. However, we were on Wi-Fi for most of
the day too, which is more power efficient than 3G data.

As with a lot of handsets, the auto backlight setting is a bit of a
hit-and-miss affair. While it's nice not to have to manually fiddle with the
backlight, when you leave the phone in auto the phone seems to struggle
sometimes. It's not dreadful, but we've caught the phone switching between two
different brightnesses; it's not a deal-breaker by any means but it can be a
little irritating.

TouchWiz frustrations

As with so many Android handset manufacturers, Samsung isn't content to stick
with the standard Android look-and-feel. Instead, it customises the user
interface with its own skin. This is most noticeable with the launcher or home
screen, but is a much lighter touch than something like HTC Sense. There are
some widgets that can be used to add information about weather, stocks and news
to your home screens. These are all nice enough, although there are more stylish
apps available on the Android Market - like Go Weather, which we recently
featured as App of the Day.

Our main gripe, however, are the lock screen and the application tray. The
lock screen is frustrating because it's harder than most to actually get into
the phone. You have to sweep across almost the whole screen before the phone
will let you in, which is far harder than on most handsets. It might sound like
we're grumbling about nothing here, but when you've tried three times to unlock
the phone, and failed, it will give you the hump too.

The app menu is more of a concern though. Rather than stick with the default
menu, that you'd find on the Google Nexus S (also made by Samsung) the company
has aped Apple's design. What works for Apple, however, doesn't work so well
here. For a start, you can't make folders to help you organise your apps
logically. From our testing, the Galaxy S Plus sorts the pre-installed
applications alphabetically, but user-installed apps are ordered by the date
they were installed. This is very confusing and on this phone, more than any
other, we found ourselves hunting for the right app for far longer than we would
on another phone.

Of course, our complaint here can be resolved. The Samsung launcher does
allow you to re-order apps, but it's a tedious process that will take a long
time. There is, of course, also the option to put your most-used apps on the
home screens. Samsung provides seven of these for you to tweak as you see fit.
If you really hate the interface though, there are dozens of great third-party
launchers in the Android Market. These can be installed in moments and will give
you a different visual interface. It's even possible to get a version of the
stock Gingerbread launcher, for people looking for a pure Android experience.

To some extent, we also advise tweaking the Samsung keyboard. Indeed, Samsung
ships the phone with two possible soft-keyboard options. The first is its own,
basic input system. This looks, surprise surprise, like the iPhone keypad. The
second is Swype. The Samsung keyboard is functional at best. It has no error
checking and no predictive options. It works, but it's not going to try and help
you out.

Swype on the other hand works well, and with a little bit of training, anyone
can get the hang of it. We like Swype because it's not just a clever way to
type, but it also comes with a much better regular keyboard too, which has all
the options the Samsung version does not.

If you're happy to tweak, look for "Gingerbread keyboard" in the Android
Market. It's the stock keyboard from Android 2.3, and it's simple and
well-designed. It also does prediction, which makes messages and email a lot
less prone to mistakes.

On the plus side, It's worth noting that, when you play music, miss a phone
call or receive a text message, TouchWiz updates your lock screen with that
information. You can also use these notifications to directly access your call
log, or text messages, which is very handy.

For music, a CD appears at the top and dragging it down allows you to access
the music and change tracks and pause playback. When you unlock the phone, the
status notification dropdown also has music player controls. We find these
extras really useful, and are pleased to see them included as it's an area that
vanilla Android isn't strongest in.

Camera and video

As with the first Galaxy S, the Plus can record video at up to 720p and has a
5-megapixel camera for your still photos. Although 720p is a perfectly
reasonable HD format for video, it is worth pointing out that in the Galaxy S
II, the still camera is 8 megapixels and it's possible to record video at 1080p.

Photos from the phone are pretty good. Outdoors, in good light they look
vibrant, but with plenty of detail too. Indoors, things are still impressive in
slightly more sudued lighting. As with most cameras, low-light photos aren't so
impressive, suffering from the normal noise and blur. There's no flash on the
Galaxy S Plus (as with the original) making it a poor choice for photos of your
trip to the local discotheque.

Video is pretty decent too. Although Samsung claims 720p, this is certainly
not as good quality as a dedicated 720p camcorder. What it is, however, is
convenient and a brilliant way to upload footage to YouTube. Indeed, all of the
sharing options on this phone are likely to be useful, especially if you're a
social person, keen to share your videos with Facebook and Twitter friends.


For sharing media, the Samsung also offers DLNA. It's very sophisticated too.
You can either use the phone to send media to a DLNA device, use the phone to
watch media from a DLNA device or even from one device, to another, using the
phone to manage everything. In practice, with our setup, AllShare (as Samsung
calls it) didn't work at all well with our network. Much was promised, devices
managed to find each other and the right things seemed to be happening, but
video simply would not play on our WD TV Live Hub.

We were, however, able to get music to play from our Windows 7 PC to the
phone with no real problem at all. It is worth remembering that Windows blocks
most devices unless you tell it otherwise. Removing this block got us listening
to music quite quickly. Video, however, was still a no-go area, and we couldn't
get anything to play. The phone kept telling us that the format was unsupported,
even though we know it is.

Playing music from the phone, on our Windows 7 machine also worked well, with
Windows Media Player firing out our selected music. And we were able to send
still images from the handset to the PC too, instantly with no hassle.

For everything but video then, AllShare does a grand job. If you're hoping to
look at video either from your phone, on your PC, or from you PC, on your phone,
you might be in for disappointment. As with all these network-based things
though, it's always worth remembering that your network might be better set-up,
more modern or just be simpler than ours, and with DLNA, that all makes a

Sound quality

In case you haven't noticed, the stand-alone MP3 player is slowly dying out.
These days, it's far easier to sling all your music on your phone and carry one
device, not two, around. Often though, phones don't do music well with horrible
sound quality all too common. Our listening proved that Samsung understands this
well, and the audio quality of the Galaxy S Plus is very good indeed. Perhaps
not quite up to iPod/iPhone standards, but certainly better than almost every
other Android phone on the market.

It's worth noting that music volumes are limited when you're using headphones
(it's an EU rule) and there are times when the Galaxy S Plus just doesn't have
enough power for our needs. We're not trying to deafen ourselves here, but get
on a Tube train and you'll most likely not be able to hear the music at all
well. Still, good, isolating earphones should help with that a little.

The built-in speakers on the Galaxys S Plus are pretty powerful too, which is
good if you want to share music with friends. All we ask is that you don't
"share" on the night bus back to Wimbledon.

Most crucially though, call quality is very good indeed. It's easy to forget
that phones are sometimes used for phone calls in these times of data and apps,
but it's a hugely important part of using the device. The earpiece is loud
enough, even for people will less than perfect hearing, and given a reasonable
signal strength you'll have no unexpected echos or muffled sound.


The Samsung's Super AMOLED screen is quite eye-catching. It's both bright and
stuffed with vivid colours that make it one of the most impressive handsets on
the market, at least at first glance. However, the screen on the Galaxy S and S
Plus are nowhere near as detailed as the iPhone in terms of sheer resolution.
And although we like the vivid colours for doing phone things, when it comes to
looking at video and images, we find the AMOLED to be a little less than

In addition to that, the screen does have a very mild blue hue, which might
annoy some people, but is really barely noticable when using the phone in the
majority of situations.

Outdoor use is possible, even in bright sunlight with the Super AMOLED
putting out more than enough light to be seen. We still did have problems
sometimes, but all handsets with shiny glass screens present problems in very
bright light.

One final word on the screen. We were unlucky enough to drop our review
sample. It fell from waist height onto the pavement and that was enough to
shatter the glass on the front of the phone. The screen is still working fine,
but it now looks a little less impressive. We're not blaming Samsung for our
butter fingers, but phones do get dropped from time-to-time, and it's
interesting to note that this one broke when others would not. If you're buying,
we'd suggest screen protectors or a proper case to protect your handset.

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