Samsung Galaxy S: It's All About Choices

Now that the proverbial dust is starting to settle around the Samsung Galaxy S and its six known variants for major US wireless networks, how does the latest smartphone stack up against its many Android rivals–and against Apple’s iPhone 4, for that matter?

It all depends on who you ask. With smartphones getting announced in such rapid-fire succession, it seems to take less time than ever for opinions to start flying. Samsung only officially launched the Galaxy last week, at a press event I attended in New York City. Granted, a lot of details had already leaked out even before the launch. Already, though, the phone is getting analyzed and compared across every conceivable dimension.

In a presentation at the start of the launch on Wednesday, J.K. Shin, president of Samsung’s Mobile Communications Business, tried to keep things simple by citing three key differentiators for Samsung’s phone: screen, speed, and content. If onlookers were asked to put together the same list, they’d undoubtedly come up with all kinds of answers.

Personally, I’d keep the three factors Shin mentioned on my list, because the Galaxy S does have merits in all of these areas. But I’d also add two other factors–freedom of choice in wireless networks and smartphone form factors–and I’d place these two way above the other three.

Choice of Networks

Although Apple is widely rumored to be readying a version of the iPhone 4 for Verizon Wireless, that hasn’t been confirmed at this point. For now, iPhone users in the U.S. have only one choice–AT&T–and not all of them are exactly thrilled about that.

If you just want to get any sort of Android phone as an alternative, choices are available across all major wireless networks. Even before Wednesday’s launch of the Galaxy S, Verizon offered eleven different models of Android-based phones. Even AT&T had a couple of Android models.

The Galaxy S, however, is unprecedented because it’s already set to come in different flavors for six different networks: the Sprint Epic 4G, Verizon Fascinate, AT&T Captivate, and T-Mobile Vibrant, plus still unnamed models from regional carriers US Cellular and Cellular South.

So if you decide that you do want this phone, you’ll be able to buy it from whichever carrier you prefer (whether for reasons of good coverage where you live, or anything else.)

Choice of Form Factors

Well, admittedly there are fewer options for form factors than for wireless networks with the Galaxy S. In fact, there are only two form factors – but still, that’s one more than you’d get with either the iPhone or any of the other Android phone models.

Although all of the “Big Four” carriers have made customizations to the phone, the changes from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are virtually all in the very minor areas of pre-loaded applications and SD card storage capacity.

In the basic decision adopted by those three carriers, the Galaxy lacks a hardware keyboard. On the camera side, it comes with just a five megapixel rear-facing camera.

Sprint, however, has customized the Galaxy S by adding both a slideout QWERTY keyboard and a front-facing camera for videoconferencing, along with support for 4G Wimax.

Screen

At the Galaxy S launch, Omar Khan, chief strategy officer for Samsung Telecommunications America, pointed to the brightness, high refresh rate, and high contrast ratio of Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology.

Similar claims have been made, though, for the iPhone 4G. PCMag.com conducted a test of the brightness, contrast, color depth, and color accuracy of the iPhone 4G, Motorola Droid S, HTC Droid Incredible, and HTC EVO. Results showed the iPhone to be the winner for brightness, while the Droid Incredible got the top score on contrast.

PCMag’s PJ Jacobowitz noted that the Droid Incredible’s OLED-based Amoled technology offers better contrast but less brightness than the iPhone’s IPS LCD or the TFT LCDs used in the Droid X and the Evo.

Although the Galaxy S wasn’t included in the test, Jacobowitz suggested that Super AMOLDED might reduce the reflectivity of AMOLED technology and thereby increase the apparent brightness.

In a guest post on Technologizer, Dr. Ray Soneira, founder of DisplayMate Technologies, later noted that while the iPhone 4’s Retina display has s much lower contrast ratio than OLEDs, this isn’t particularly relevant for mobile displays because they are usually viewed under bright ambient lighting, rather than in the dark. So evidently, the jury is still out on screen quality issues.

Regardless of whether the iPhone 4 or the Galaxy S turns out to be brighter, both screens measure only gour inches, in comparison to the 4.3-inch screen size of Verizon’s new Droid X, for example. So is the size of the screen or its brightness more important to you?

Content

As I saw at the launch, the Galaxy S-based phones offer a slick interface for communications and social networking called Social Hub. One feature, My Buddies, lets you keep communications with your main contacts separate from other social networking contacts.

Samsung also announced plans for a Media Hub, which will offer downloads of movies, TV shows, and other content customized for display on the Galaxy X’s Super AMOLED screen.

Yet beyond that, c’mon, Samsung, give us a break. The Galaxy S runs the same apps available for other Andoid phones–and the numbers of apps available for iPhone are still much larger.

Speed

Speed can refer to different measurements. Running at 1 GHz, the Samsung phone’s Cortex A8 Application processor runs fast. But Motorola’s Droid X sports a 1 GHz OMAP chip, for example.

In terms of network speed, the Galaxy S offers a more definite benefit. With its support for Wimax, Sprint’s rendition of the phone already runs on 4G networks in 30 US cities, with more to follow by the end of the year. By the way, in a recent survey summarized in PCWorld by JR Raphael, British Columbia-based Vision Critical found “the option to use 4G” and “a physical keyboard” to be two of eight “missing elements” prospective buyers wish the iPhone included.

Unlike either the iPhone or the other editions of the Galaxy S, the Sprint Epic 4G will offer both of these. Sprint’s already released HTC Evo 4G also supports 4G WiMax. But the Evo has been beset by some problems, including screen leakages and short supplies. The Sprint Epic brings another 4G alternative for Sprint users.

Choice Is Really What It’s About

Regardless of its particular specifications or pre-loaded apps, which could quickly get outmoded anyway, choice is really what the Galaxy S is all about. Where Samsung is pioneering most markedly is in offering a single phone which is customizable to multiple networks and form factors. Here’s hoping that Apple and the rest of the smartphone industry pays attention and eventually follows suit.

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