Well folks, it’s here. The T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant is the first of the four Samsung Galaxy S devices to hit US shelves, and the manufacturer’s first Android Superphone. The standout feature of the Vibrant is its gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED display. Accompanying the display, the Vibrant sports a 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor with a GPU beats the hell out of any smartphone GPU today, a 6 axis motion sensor, and a nifty take on the TV-out method that’s unseen on many smartphones today. How does the Vibrant stack up to the competition? Will that screen send others running? Read on to find out.
T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant
Available July 15th for 199.99 w/ 2-year contract
Specifications (Specs – sheet)
- 4-inch Super AMOLED capacitive display (800×480)
- 1Ghz Hummingbird CPU
- 5-megapixel camera
- 720p HD recording
- 3G data connectivity
- WiFi (b/g/n)
- GPS (aGPS)
- microSD card slot (supports up to 32 GB)
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Android 2.1 with S-Life / Touchwiz 3.0 UI
- 16GB internal memory with 2GB microSD card included
- Gorgeous screen that makes videos pop
- Thin and sexy design (extra back cover comes in the box)
- Samsung provides some pretty cool widgets with its S-Life UI.
- Kick ass GPU performance
- Unique sliding door cover for microUSB port
- Hot-swappable microSD card slot
- Feel in hand is somewhat cheap
- S-Life / Touchwiz 3.0 UI will delay upcoming Android updates
- A little too similar to iPhone in UI representation
- TV-out quality could be better
- Side-swiping app tray
The Vibrant is the only variant that doesn’t have a completely different hardware design from the original Galaxy S. I like that the Vibrant remains close to the design aesthetic of the original, but that’s just my personal opinion. That said, the Galaxy S device looks painfully close to an iPhone 3G. Coming in at just 9.9mm thick, with the exception of the hump on the bottom of the backing, it almost looks thicker than it is. It’s when you pick the Vibrant up that you get a sense of how thin it is. It may not be the thinnest smartphone, but it does the job very well. The Vibrant is about as thin as the Motorola Droid X, but thanks to its curved edges, it’s easier to get a grip on and looks thinner. The Vibrant is completely void of hard lines, and goes with curves throughout the whole design.
The over all feel of the Vibrant is very plastic-y. It’s so slippery, in fact, that I dropped the thing twice in my first two days playing with it. You can thank the plastic battery cover for this, but it’s actually very easy to slip the Vibrant into and out of your pocket; probably easier than I’ve seen on a device before.
Something you won’t find a lot of on the Vibrant? Physical buttons. The only real buttons you’ll find on it is the volume rocker and the power/lock button. All other functions are handled by the capacitive touch buttons on the front face. The Vibrant, along with all other Galaxy S variants have had their button configurations modified from that of the original, to the standard set of Android buttons, menu, home, back, and search.
The volume rocker finds a home on the left side of the handset, and the Power/end button resides on the right side. It took me a while to get used to the new location for the lock button, but I eventually got used to it; though I’m still not in love with its placement. On the bottom of the Vibrant, you’ll only find the hole for the microphone, because the charging port is on the top, next to the 3.5 mm headphone jack. Instead of the plastic cover you have to pull out every time to charge the phone, Samsung has replaced it with a small slider that is easy to open and close. Why it took so long for someone to think this up is beyond me, but it’s a great implementation.
The Vibrant comes in at 4.82” x 2.54” x 0.39”, and weighs 4.16 ounces. This thing is light, and may surprise you the first time you pick it up. You can thank the heavy use of plastics for the light in-hand feel. Having owned the Samsung Behold 2 for a couple of weeks – one of the most unfortunate experiences I’ve ever had on a phone – I was worried that the Vibrant would suffer from a very small quirk. The haptic feedback on the Behold 2 was horrible, it made the whole device vibrate, making the device sound hollow all the way through. This is somewhat present in the Vibrant, but it’s much better than the previous, failed T-Mobile Android phone.
Let’s not forget the star of the show. The Vibrant sports a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, which is much thinner than standard AMOLED screens. Not only that, it provides a crisper picture, is even more energy-efficient, and suffers less reflection and glare in sunlight. Upon first site, you’ll notice that the display is very bright and and the picture sharp, but it’s when you start watching videos on the Vibrant that you really start to see what the fuss is all about. It’s easy to see why T-Mobile threw Avatar on the device, the Super AMOLED display is a truly stunning, gorgeous screen.
The Vibrant comes with Samsung’s customized user interface, called Touchwiz 3.0 / S-Life that runs on top of Android 2.1. It’s no where as scary as the unfortunate TouchWiz UI that we saw on the Behold 2, but some residual Touchwizadry (if you will) still remains. The new Touchwiz 3.- UI is scaled back, and fairly convenient to use – coming with a handful of handy and useful new widgets and applications. It may not be as sexy as the Sense UI, but from a usability standpoint, Touchwiz 3.0 does the jobs well.
The first notable change you’ll see on the Vibrant is the lock screen. There’s no bar that you slide to the right like you see on Eclair or Froyo. Instead, the entire screen is a slider. You simply touch a part of the screen and move it in any direction to unlock it. It’s different, and not in a bad way at all. If you want the more traditional Android lockscreen, you can find a lockscreen replacement in the Android Market.
After unlocking the screen, you’ll immediately notice more changes. A non-customizable application dock lines the bottom of the screen, with the Dialer, Contacts, Messaging, and a button to launch your application drawer. The application drawer has also undergone a makeover. Instead of the long list of applications that you scroll vertically, Samsung chose to go the iPhone route – making you swype horizontally through your applications. It works well, but it’s not for everyone. Samsung also added different view types – a list view, an alphabetical grid view, and a customizable grid view – which will allow you to uninstall applications right from the app launcher. That’s right, you can uninstall apps right from the app tray/homescreen.
[UPDATE: It looks like you can customize the dock on the bottom of the screen, but only the two icons in the middle. To do this, you much go into your app launcher, and make sure the View Type is on Customizable Grid, which you can change by hitting Menu > View Type > Customizable Grid. While still in the Application launcher, hit Menu > Edit to change the two middle dock icons. Not the most intuitive, but we're glad we have the option! Thanks welshy992 for the tip!]
Speaking of homescreens, you have 7 homescreens panes to play with. A line of dots along the top of the display that indicates what homescreen you are currently on. Furthermore, you can just tap on of the dot to jump to a specific home screen, instead of swiping through multiple panes to get to your desired homescreen. You can also delete homescreens when you hit menu>edit, which will allow you to remove or add homescreens as you choose.
The custom UI also comes with many nice widgets, like the Daily Briefing widget, AccuWeather Clock, Buddies now, Calendar Clock, Days widget, Dual Clock, Feeds and Updates, and a Yahoo! Finance Clock. You’re likely not going to use all of the available clocks, but with a decent number of options available, you’ll find something for you. The Daily Briefing widget shows you the current weather, a specific stock from Yahoo! Finance, and headlines from AP news.
The Vibrant also comes with a handful of preloaded applications from Samsung and T-Mobile. The list is rather large, and some applications are unneeded. You’ve got an AllShare applications for DLNA, Audio Postcard, redone Calculator, and a revamped Calendar that doesn’t look as nice as the stock Android calendar (but provides some pretty cool additions, like automatically syncing all Facebook invites in a list). You’ve also got a GoGo application, Kindle, Layar, Media Hub (which doesn’t work at the moment, but will allow you to rent or buy movies), Memo pad, Mini Diary, MobiTV, nicely redone Music player, T-Mobile My Account/Device, Slacker Radio, TeleNav GPS, Sims 3, ThinkFree Office, Visual Voicemail, Voice recorder, Video Player, Write and Go, and let’s not forget the preloaded Avatar movie. Many of these applications will be useless to some, and I have a hard time believing many people will actually use all of the preloaded applications frequently.
While the Vibrant comes with many needless applications pre-installed, the UI looks to be one of the better custom user interfaces for Android; balancing somewhere in between functionality and aesthetics. If you don’t like it, you can download one of the many home replacements available in the Android Market. That said, from my experience, adding a home replacement significantly slowed down the entire device to the point I just had to uninstall it.
Speaking of slowdowns, I’ve experienced a lot of lag with the Vibrant, both before and after I uninstalled my home replacement. Hitting the home button can take a few seconds more than you’d imagine, and some applications seem to suffer greatly. Google Finance took almost 20 seconds to open for me at one point. Sometimes you’ll launch an application, and it will open up to a black screen and sit their for a while before actually giving you the application’s content. I have yet to hear anything like this from any other Vibrant user, so hopefully it’s just my review unit. Also, as many others I have heard from, the Vibrant can suffer quite badly with its GPS. Thankfully, there is a fix for that, and Samsung is working on the issue and plans to address it with the next update.
Web Browsing, Multimedia, and Camera
The Samsung Vibrant comes with optimizations in the web browser, multimedia playback, as well as the camera. Some modifications are merely subtle changes, while others are much-needed tweaks. The Web browser sees some small upgrades, where the Music Player and Camera have been redone for the better.
You won’t notice much change at first glance of the Web Browser. For the most part, it looks like the stock Android browser. But, when you dig into the menus, you start to see the changes. On the stock Android Browser, when you hit the menu, you can access your bookmarks. Samsung has replaced this with a built-in RSS reader that will allow you to add feeds to Google Reader instantly. You can still access your Bookmarks easily with the small icon found on the browser’s progress bar.
One feature that was surprising to find, since I had yet to hear Samsung ever make mention of was Flash Lite. Flash Lite is found on a couple of Android devices, namely HTC Sense phones, but it has very little use. Still, a little Flash is better than no Flash at all, depending on how you look at it. This will change when the device gets updated to Android 2.2 Froyo.
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but the browser comes with a dedicated brightness setting that you’ll find only if you hit Menu, and then More. I can see where this could be helpful, but I’m just not sure if it’s necessary.
The Music Player for the Vibrant gets it all right, providing a slick UI that’s superbly easy to use. Gone is the ugly stock Android Music player, and even some of the best media player replacements in the Android Market can’t compare to Samsung’s implementation. When held horizontally, a cover-flow esque, rotational wheel appears; only albums appear as CDs, with the album art on the face of the CD. You can easily access the Now Playing screen from any menu in the Music Player while in portrait mode thanks to the dedication button at the bottom of the screen. Also, when you’re listening to music and doing something else on the device, not only is the song that’s playing in your notification bar, but you also see controls to skip or pause playback. Nice touch. The one gripe I have about the Music player is that you can’t turn the volume up or down is the phone is locked, something that I and many other will probably miss.
The Vibrant also comes with a built-in video player that supports DivX playback. I was able to watch a handful of episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia without any hiccups. Videos looks gorgeous on the display, and after watching the last part of Avatar on the phone, you can easily see how stunning the screen is. The display is nice to look at on its own, but the real selling point for it is its media capabilities.
The Vibrant also has a Video Out option that uses the 3.5 mm headphone jack. You need a special cable to do this, a 3.5mm to RCA, which will run you about $30 if you get one at Radio Shack. You can also find them for under $5 online. The first thing I wanted to do once I got the cable was to play Avatar on my TV. That didn’t work. The output to the TV says that the video can only be played on the phone. You can thank the DRM copy protection on Avatar for this, but any video that you have downloaded should play back just fine on your TV.
One thing this video out option can do that you won’t see on devices like the EVO or Droid X is that the entire UI is shown on your TV. Yep, you can search the Android Market, write-up an email, or play games without a problem. Since the Samsung UI does not allow for landscape view on the home screen, I downloaded a home replacement so that the screen would fill up the TV in landscape mode. The quality isn’t great, though, and no where near the quality of the HDMI ports found on other devices. If you can deal without having the bestTV-out quality, you’ll have plenty of playing games on the big screen with your phone as the controller.
The Vibrant’s 5 megapixel camera performs quite well, even without a flash. From the short time I spent with the Behold 2, the one feature of the device I could sing praises for was its camera. This goes the same for the Vibrant, yet I do wish a flash was included.
Shot to shot performance is decent without having to turn the multi-shot mode on. The camera software allows you to tweak your photos with a handful of shooting modes such as Beauty, Smile shot, Continuous, Panorama, Vintage and more. There are also your standard filters, such as Negative, Sepia, and black and white. The camera also comes with a Face detection mode, but only seems to work when the Outdoor visibility mode is turned on.
Video capture performs well, but the playback is sometimes slightly choppy. Still, it records in full 720p HD resolution, and performs admirably. All shooting modes are also present with the camcorder, and the outdoor visibility mode does make a difference. The Camera as a whole performs very well, with some decent features thrown in. Now if they could have used an image sensor with larger pixels, like the iPhone 4, we’d be very happy.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Call Quality on the Vibrant was pretty solid, only sometimes could I hear white noise in the background of calls. I experience no dropped calls, and friends I was talking with said they could hear me loud and clear.
The speaker could stand to be just a little bit louder. When I tried to talk to a friend via speakerphone mode with the phone laying on its face, I got only decent performance – even with the speaker facing upwards. This isn’t a deal breaker for me in any way, since I never use speaker phone, but some would probably be happier if it was just a tad louder.
The phone dialer takes cues from HTC’s smart dialing feature that allows you to spell out a name with the dialer to pull up a contact. The phone app is quite snappy, and I experienced no lag.
Battery Life will easily get through a day without having to recharge it with moderate usage. If you wanted to watch Avatar a couple of times on a single charge, then you’d be out of luck. The battery performs decently with some heavy video playback, but it would be advised to keep a charger with you. Just in case. For a 1500 mAh battery, the Vibrant utilizes the juice pretty well, but a bigger battery would always be helpful, especially when the phone is being pushed as a multimedia device.
Summary and Conclusion
Overall, the Vibrant is the best device that has ever hit T-Mobile. It’s not just the best Android phone to ever hit T-Mobile, it’s the best smartphone to ever grace the Magenta network. Samsung has taken so many cues from its competition, namely Apple, that the similarities start to become obvious after a while. From the way your apps are displayed, to its media player, right down to the design of the phone, someone could easily mistake it for an iPhone 3G.
If you’re not hung up on those things, you’ll find the Vibrant a very pleasant device when it’s not getting bogged down and laggy (I still believe that the lag I experience is limited to my particular review unit, as I have yet to hear a single complaint from anyone else with the device).
Most importantly, the Vibrant sports a feature-set that T-Mobile desperately needed. The stand-out feature is obviously the Super AMOLED display, and to tell you the truth, after seeing its power, you could take out half the bells and whistles and the phone would still be great. Is this the smartphone for you this summer? If you’re looking for an Android smartphone on T-Mobile this summer, the T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant is as good as it gets!