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Earlier this month Mobilicity launched the Samsung Galaxy Mini, which made its debut south of the border a few months ago as the T-Mobile Dart. It’s been out in the UK since the spring, but seeing as affordable, smooth Android phones are a rarity up here in Canada, I thought I’d give this one a shot.
The last time I touched a phone from Mobilicity, I was reasonably pleased with what was being offered, particularly the keyboard, and even recommended it to some friends. Since they picked it up, they’ve had to get over quite a few of the device’s “quirks”, so I was at least a little worried about what was sacrificed in the Galaxy Mini to keep its pricetag as low as $170 off-contract.
The exterior of the Samsung Galaxy Mini isn't especially high-grade, but there are some nice lines to it that add a bit of class. The main display is clearly hurting in resolution, which is the biggest visual turn-off of the whole device. A single, solid slate, the phone feels sturdy enough, though, and combined with the entirely reasonable price point, it's not a phone I would be worried about kicking around too much.
The design of the Samsung Galaxy Mini is actually pretty nice. The lines are smooth and curved, the the front face is polished and seamless thanks to capacitive navigation keys. The flap on the microUSB port can be a little bit of a pain to open up, but nothing obscenely difficult (and definitely not as bad as the Sony Ericsson Mini Pro). The side convenience keys are big and defined enough to be easily accessible.
As far as build quality goes, the plastic doesn't feel particularly dense, like it might chip easily if dropped, but didn't go so far as to test out my theory. The screen handled everyday pocketing along with change, keys, and the usual fare without any scratches.
The 3 megapixel camera on the Samsung Galaxy Mini was less than awesome. The lack of flash made it completely useless in low-light, and the fixed focus made it equally miserable at close-ups. Even brightly-lit landscape pictures sometimes turned out heavily saturated colours. The usual options for white balance etc. were there, but I'm not even sure if I would feel good about myself sharing pictures taken with this thing to Facebook.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini runs Android 2.2, which, though reasonably recent, and enabled with the big features like mobile hotspot, isn't the latest and greatest 2.3 Gingerbread. An update is promised for the near future, so that's a good sign, but I'm not too hurt by the older software considering the end user features of Android 2.3 aren't really dealbreakers for me. Of course, this does set the phone a step back for an Ice Cream Sandwich update, if one ever comes for the Galaxy Mini at all.
Samsung's customizations to Android on the Galaxy Mini are modest, the biggest one being a series of power controls embedded in the notification menu. There are a few simple non-stock productivity apps included, but by and large, the OS was wholly tasteful. Swype comes preloaded, which makes typing an altogether enjoyable experience.
Of course like any Android phone, the app Market is full of good stuff, and there are lots of different home screen widgets available to customize your phone however you like. Out of the box, Android plugs into various Google services, like Gtalk, Gmail, contacts, calendar, and with a few extra downloads, can give you mobile access to other services like docs, reader, and podcasts through Listen.
The browser handles Flash after a bit of waiting, but the screen resolution really cramps the experience. Panning and zooming is responsive at least, and ample for casual look-ups, if not extended reading.
I did suffer a few application crashes in my time with the Galaxy Mini, but they quickly receded once I learned to be a bit more patient and not try to do a million and one different things on it at the same time; a 600 MHz processor isn't a lot to play with by today's standards.
Sound quality on the Galaxy Mini was decent, but coverage on Mobilicity in Ottawa is spotty. For data that's not such a big deal, since e-mail and browsing can usually wait at least a little while, but I'm still not sure if I would want to invest in either of Canada's newer networks if making voice calls was a high priority.
Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Mini got me through the day, but barely. I would definitely take a mid-day charge if the opportunity came up. I find this a little odd, because the 1200 mAh battery doesn't have a lot of demands on it - the Galaxy Mini only has a 600 MHz processor and 320 x 240 display, after all.
Performance lags were mostly in the form of app load times, rather than any choppy performance. The delays might be a little much if you're used to immediate responsiveness, but I was happy so long as touch input responded steadily. There are a lot of sacrifices made to keep the up-front device cost down, and as nice as that pricetag may be, you can probably find an older phone with better specs for the same money, given a bit of digging.
Still, phones like this are perfect for people who don't want to invest a ton of money, a long-term contract, or a lot of rooting around bargain bins online to get into the smartphone game. It's simple, it's cheap, and on Mobilicity, you won't be nailed down with commitments. If you've got the money or money to spare, though, I would strongly suggest checking out something even marginally higher-end.