Samsung Galaxy S Shines: First Impressions

It may or may not turn out to be the game-changer Samsung says it is, but the Samsung Galaxy S, now in four flavors for four carriers, is indeed a top-shelf smartphone with an astoundingly vibrant screen that puts it in a class by itself-for the moment.

At a press event in New York Tuesday, Samsung showed off four versions of the unit: the Vibrant for T-Mobile, the Fascinate for Verizon Wireless, the Captivate for AT&T, and the Epic 4G for Sprint. Unlike the first three, which offer only a touchscreen, the Epic also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Omar Khan, chief strategy officer for Samsung Mobile, modestly called the Galaxy S, "the most significant achievement in the smartphone market... We're introducing a new standard to beat in 2010."

The phone features a brilliant 4-inch Super AMOLED screen that is indeed stunning, providing a bright, sharp, and clear display even in bright sunlight. In dark rooms the colors are rich and the contrast excellent without turning blacks into grays. According to Samsung, the unit's display offers a 50,000-to-1 contrast ratio.

In hands-on tests at the well-attended press event, the on-screen keyboard on the Vibrant for T-Mobile and the Epic 4G for Sprint were responsive and quick. Especially welcome is the Swype application for the on-screen keyboard. Instead of tapping keys, with Swype you keep your finger on the on-screen keyboard and drag it from key to key. Predictive software guesses at the word you're trying to spell. In anecdotal testing at the press event Swype came up with the correct word more often than not. In case of confusion, you're given a choice of words.

Like the Motorola Droid, the Samsung Epic's slide-out keys are flat, but the Epic's keys are spaced and thus easier to find when touch typing. The Epic's case also slides opens further than the Droid, exposing enough real estate for five rows of keys, including an all-number top row. The Droid has four rows of keys and requires the Alt key to access numbers. The Epic, at 5.46 ounces, also lacks the Droid's 6-ounce heft.

Thanks to the brilliant display, using the camera on the Galaxy S is a breeze, even on a sunny rooftop, as was the case for part of the New York press event. The subjects are viewed in HDTV-like quality, making composition of the photo easy. In dark rooms the bright display is clearly an asset.

The Vibrant for T-Mobile will come with the movie "Avatar" on a removable memory card. The movie-viewing experience is easily one of the best available on a smartphone. Avatar, with its subtle shadings and rapidly changing scenes, ran without the hint of jitters on the Vibrant and was impressively sharp.

"In short, we are making the smartphone brilliant," said JK Shin, president of Samsung's mobile communications division.

While each carrier tweaks the Galaxy S home screen for its own needs, Android phone veterans should have no problem with any of the four Galaxy S varieties. Instead of a drag-open application tray, an "Applications" key sits innocently on the bottom right of the home screen. The Galaxy S comes with version 2.1 of the Android operating system, but will be upgradeable to version 2.2, which will allow for the later addition of Adobe Flash support.

T-Mobile's Vibrant will be available July 21. Preorders via T-Mobile or Radio Shack start July 1. Sprint, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have not announced release dates for the Epic 4G, Captivate, and Fascinate, respectively. None of the carriers have announced pricing. The T-Mobile preorder requires the purchase of a $50 gift card to be put toward the cost of the phone.

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