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Hands-On with Samsung's Galaxy S Phones for the US

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Jun 30, 2010, 12:22 AM   by Rich Brome & Eric M Zeman   @phonescooper

Hands-on with the new Samsung Galaxy S series phone, including the Captivate for AT&T, Fascinate for Verizon, Epic 4G for Sprint, and Vibrant for T-Mobile.

Galaxy S series 

Announced over the past few days, Samsung on Tuesday officially unveiled the Galaxy S series of high-end Android phones for the US market at a press event in NYC: the Captivate for AT&T, the Epic 4G for Sprint, the Vibrant for T-Mobile, and the Fascinate for Verizon.

It's unprecedented for a manufacturer to launch a high-profile phone for all four major US cell phone carriers at the same time. Sure, some phones like the RAZR made it to all carriers, but it took a while. And while these four phones do have differences, a close examination reveals enough similarities to make the Galaxy S heritage clear. They may not be identical quadruplets, but fraternal, perhaps.

The Vibrant for T-Mobile will ship first - in July - followed by the models for other carriers "in the coming months". That makes sense, since the Vibrant is the US model most like the Galaxy S model for international markets.

All four phones sport a huge 4-inch "Super AMOLED" display, which is a fancy way of saying Samsung's latest generation of OLED displays. (Unlike most other manufacturers, Samsung does actually make it own display components, which gives them a distinct advantage.) It's big and gorgeous. Samsung claims 30% better color reproduction compared to LCD and a 50,000:1 contrast ratio. Indeed, colors are amazingly saturated and really pop.

The other key feature shared by all four models is the 1GHz "Hummingbird" Cortex A8 processor. This should offer impressive speed. Together with the phone's GPU capabilities, it can encode and decode 720p video at 30 frames per second, meaning HD video can be captured and displayed smoothly.

All Galaxy S phones are remarkably thin and light. They're also all plastic, which combined with the light weight, makes them feel a bit "cheap", at least compared to some competing phones that are clad in more metal and glass. But that's not to say the Galaxy S phones feel poorly-built; quite the opposite, they feel well-made.

The Galaxy S phones for the US all have a row of four touch keys below the display. That's not unusual, but we'd much prefer physical keys. Unfortunately, all four US models lack the one big physical key on the front of the international Galaxy S; it's a frustrating omission.

Also on the hardware side, all four have Bluetooth 3.0, a first in the US. They also sport Wi-Fi 802.11n plus DLNA for streaming HD video to your HD TV wirelessly. You'll also find a memory card slot and GPS navigation on all four, plus a six-axis motion sensor, enabling advanced motion-based gaming.

All include standard connectors on the top, including a 3.5mm audio jack for your favorite headphones, and a micro-USB jack for charging and transferring data.

All include a 5-megapixel auto-focus camera. Not all include an LED flash or dedicated camera button. However, they do all include Samsung's most advanced camera software to date. It's easy to use and has every feature you can imagine plus the kitchen sink, including touch-to-focus, face detection, smile detection, and blink detection, where you pose for a self-portrait, blink when you're ready, and it takes the photo a second later. There's also an advanced automatic panorama mode where you just press once to start the panorama, then sweep the camera to the right. As you sweep, a big green box and yellow arrows help you line up the next photo, but as soon as it's lined up, it automatically takes the photo and you just keep moving the phone to take the whole panorama. When it's done, it stitches them all together for you.


Galaxy S Interface

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

All Galaxy S phones run Android 2.1 from day one, and are upgradeable to the brand-new Android 2.2 OS software from Google. They all sport Samsung's interface customizations on top of Android, which include some social-networking widgets and a main menu with pages of icons that you swipe side-to-side exactly like an iPhone. Each model has its own unique unlock screen. The Vibrant has a very cute one where you put a puzzle piece in place to unlock it. Most other parts of the interface seem to be relatively standard Android.


Of the four, the Vibrant for T-Mobile is most like the Galaxy S for international markets. The design is nearly identical; it looks very much like an iPhone from the front, has a very thin profile, and a little lump across the bottom of the back. The only real difference is the layout of buttons below the display. It has 16 GB of built-in memory, plus the memory card slot.


Vibrant body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Really, the Vibrant is just the Galaxy S for T-Mobile USA, so we'll use that as a baseline to discuss what's different about the other US models.

The Fascinate for Verizon is very much like the Vibrant. The design is similar, but just a tad larger in all dimensions. Not by much, but just enough to be noticeable without measuring. There's no lump on the back, though; it's a very smooth, rounded phone.


Fascinate body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Like the Palm Pre, Verizon will offer a mobile hot-spot service with the Fascinate, meaning you can use the Fascinate as a Wi-Fi hot-spot for another device - such as your laptop - to get on the Internet using the Verizon network. Sprint will offer the same service on its Galaxy S, the Epic 4G. The Vibrant and Captivate won't get that feature, but that seems to be a function of which carriers are comfortable offering that service.

The Fascinate also adds an LED flash for the camera, although it only has about 2 GB of memory built-in; you'll need to rely more on the memory card with this model.

The Captivate is AT&T's version of the Galaxy S. It's certainly the one with the most distinctive design of the four.


Captivate body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Captivate we tried didn't have final software, but we were disappointed to find it lacked Swype, the great text-entry software that lets you enter whole words in one motion. The Captivate does, however, come with apps for the major instant messaging networks, and voice memo, which not all of the other Galaxy phones come with. Like the Vibrant, it has 16 GB of built-in memory, plus the memory card slot.


Captivate vs iPhone

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The Captivate feels exceptionally thin, but even at it's thinnest, it's thicker than the iPhone 4.

The Epic 4G is only the second 4G phone Sprint has announced. 4G means it includes support for Sprint's faster WiMAX data network, in addition to its standard CDMA 3G network.


Epic 4G body

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Like the EVO 4G, the Epic sports a front-facing camera for use with video-chat apps like Qik. Unfortunately, the early version we tried didn't offer a way to use the front-facing camera to take simple self-portraits with the included camera app.

The Epic also sports a slide-out QWERTY text keyboard. This naturally makes the Epic thicker and heavier than the other Galaxy S phones, but it still feels thin and light for a sliding-keyboard phone. The keyboard itself works well. The keys feel flat and slippery, yet we had no problem typing quickly on them.

Like the Fascinate, the Epic has a mobile hotspot app for sharing the Internet with other devices over Wi-Fi. Also like the Fascinate, the Epic has an LED flash for the rear camera.

Curiously, the Epic 4G is the only one of the four with a dedicated camera button on the side. Kudos to Sprint for requiring that, but shame on Samsung for not including it on the other three models. A dedicated key makes it faster to start the camera - so you don't miss that fleeting special moment - and also makes it much easier to snap the photo once you get it framed. Fiddling with an on-screen "take photo" button is cumbersome.

Oddly, the early unit Epic we tried lacked a voice memo app. It also has relatively little internal memory (less than 500 MB available to the user,) so you'll be relying on the memory card for storage.

Of the four, the Epic 4G is the most different, with its slide-out keyboard. But in the end, they're all quite similar, with their best features in common. It's hard to go wrong with a huge screen, fast processor, good camera, and thin body. With one for each carrier, the Galaxy S phones are sure to give the iPhone a run for its money, and may provide a notable boost for the Android platform in the US.


Samsung's Social Hub software:

Epic 4G for Sprint:

Fascinate for Verizon:

Vibrant for T-Mobile:

Captivate for AT&T:

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Forum Options

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Subject Author Date
Captivate availability @ AT&T BarnettJr2 Jul 10, 2010, 5:24 PM
Captivate 130 Jun 30, 2010, 12:15 PM
Oh hey, T-Mobile gets a good Android we can actually **sell**! justfinethanku Jun 30, 2010, 8:41 AM
T-Slowble ? davidvisser Jul 1, 2010, 4:55 PM
So Impressed with Sprint! DE 2 Philly Jun 30, 2010, 1:02 PM
Pre order for Vibrant start today - July 1 2010! ConceptVBS Jul 1, 2010, 9:30 AM
Beautiful hardware... muchdrama Jun 30, 2010, 7:22 PM
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