Written on: 07/02/2013 by Daniel.Eastburn (11 reviews written)
This review is of the Samsung Galaxy with the Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) upgrade. I’ve had my for a couple of months now and can say that I’m quite impressed. I’ve had about 5 Android phones over the past few years and can definitely say that this is the best of the batch. In fact, I had previously bought an HTC Incredible 4G LTE that had good specs but such terrible performance that I moved quickly from that to this one.
Display: Gorgeous. Colors look great and the display is sharp. Like other AMOLED displays, it can be a little difficult to see outdoors. That’s the trade-off for the accurate and vibrant colors. Samsung could have gone with Super IPS to get better outdoor visibility, but those displays sacrifice color saturation.
Of course, the screen size is what makes the phone a pleasure to use. When sharing photos across a table or when gathered with family and friends it sure makes the iPhone look puny and dull! But what really sells me on this size screen is how much easier it makes it to type! I find myself writing more email replies on this phone than any previous phone with a smaller screen because I can do it more easily. I even use this phone on occasion to remote control my work computer and it really actually is usable for emergency access (using and RDP client or LogMeIn client)!
Size/Design/Layout: I was nervous making the jump to a phone this large. Would it still fit well in my pocket, etc.? All of my other phones had a screen of 4” or smaller. Well, I’m pleased to say that I have had no problems with the size. I think this does about max out the size I’d be willing to carry though. This phone is so thin and sleek too, that it really makes it feel great to hold – very cool.
The phone has a physical home button in the center. That’s different from most Android phones that have a soft-touch key. The physical button is okay, but it makes it more difficult to press if the phone is sitting on a soft surface or on a stand with nothing solid behind it. Also the back and menu buttons, softkeys, one on either side of the home key, are not visible at all when the light goes off. That’s not too bad since you quickly learn which one is in which location, but it’s occasionally an inconvenience if someone else uses your phone and you tell them to press one of those buttons once they are no longer visible. On the up-side, the phone looks clean and sleek once the button lights go out.
Calls and Reception: I’ve been fairly pleased with the call quality and the reception of the phone. When I first got the phone I did think that there were a few areas where it didn’t get quite as good reception as my other phones, but I’m not sure this was really the case. I think reception is slightly (and only slightly) worse than my previous phones though because there’s one spot on a route I travel where 3G/4G data drops out for about a mile where my old phone only dropped for about 30 seconds. I know this because I stream music often on that route and can tell quickly if the data connection goes bye-bye.
As for call quality, it’s fine, about the same as other phones I’ve used. I’ve used the speaker phone a few times and it’s usable, about as good as others.
Camera: The camera has good specs at 8 megapixels with LED flash. But I’ve had HTC phones in the past, which are known for having the best quality cameras. It is good, but definitely not any better than HTC. I’ve not taken tons of flash photos, but those that I have taken have been disappointing, as they have often ended up with a whitewashed subject. I think the LED might also be giving a pretty unnatural color. In fairness though, my HTC phones never did all that well with LED flash photos either. Non-flash photos are pretty good. There’s an anti-shake feature, but I definitely have more blurry shots with this phone than I ever had on my HTCs. Samsung did to a good job at creating their camera app though, as it has lots of options and settings including shooting modes, face detection, panorama, effects, and manual options for white balance, metering, and more. It has a multi-shot mode that will take over 20 photos in rapid sequence, then show them all in a row where you can choose one or more to keep.
Performance: Fantastic. Now that I’ve had a number of Android phones and worked with other ones in my family, I’ve seen the whole spectrum, and this one is definitely at the high end. Everything just works without delay, as it should. I can’t speak to something like gaming performance, but at least for just regular usage, this is nothing like the delays I saw on my HTC Incredible 4G LTE. That phone was proof that even with a good processor and memory, a manufacturer could really mess things up – we’re talking constant screen reloads (probably due to the Sense interface) and even delays in dialing or hanging up calls! In fact I was nervous about Samsung’s Touchwiz interface/modified Android shell after HTCs Sense was so bad. I wondered if I’d regret not getting a Nexus phone to have a “pure” Android experience. As it turns out, I’m perfectly happy with Touchwiz. Some of the tweaks and additions are quite cool. I’ve actually used the one where you’ve got someone’s text message on screen and want to call them you simply put the phone up to your ear and it knows to call.
NFC: This is the “Beam” feature that lets you just touch you’re the back of your phone to another phone with NFC to “beam” over a photo, contact, video, playlist, or open web page. I use the feature more than I thought I would and it works fine with non-Samsung phones. I’ve also used this in a way that most folks don’t: with custom NFC tags. My son bought some of these and programmed them to do things like automatically turn on Bluetooth when you touch to the one in the car, or automatically turn down volume and open the desk clock when touching the tag we put by the bed sides. Neat!
Operating System/Interface: I’ve enjoyed Android versions since version 2.1. It was pretty good then, but it has come a long way recently. The apps available for the OS have also made leaps and bounds. That was probably the biggest differentiator and advantage to iOS just a couple of years ago, but I would not say so anymore. I’ve also used iOS on an iPod and there are iPhones in my family. But my guess is that even big iOS fans would have a hard time going back to iOS after using Android Jelly Bean on a phone like it. For newbies to Android, Samsung included a “simple” mode to make it even easier for those who need to start with the Android basics, but I’m not even sure how necessary that is with the latest versions of Android. Great job Google, great job Samsung.
Having live widgets is one feature alone that can make it hard to see going back to just screen after screen of little square app launching icons on an iOS device. It’s just too handy to NOT have live weather forecast, live view of most recent unread email messages, or live (scrollable) list of current calendar events or to-do lists right there in front of you on the home screens with no need to open an app. My to-do and calendar stare me right in the face every time I unlock my phone. And it’s oh-so-handy to have large tile photos of my most common contacts just one screen to the right for a quick touch-to-dial phone call. Stock quotes, news tickers, and the list of widgets goes on and on.
Voice command: The industry is quickly learning how much better Google Now and Google’s Voice Recognition in general is than SIRI or Apple’s offering. Note that Google Now is a Jelly Bean feature, so earlier reviews of this one didn’t include this and often compared Samsung’s sVoice to SIRI instead. Even without Google Now or sVoice the most useful part of voice recognition is the ability to simply speak your text message or e-mail message. In Android, the standard keyboard is a microphone button on it that launches Google voice recognizer to let you speak instead of type. It works REALLY, REALLY well. I’ve used this in the past couple of versions of Android, but Jelly Bean somehow improved on it even more.
Swipe-typing: Jelly Bean also brings what I consider to be the first really good version of a swipe-style keyboard (brand name app was Swype). This is a method of keyboard input where you keep your finger pressed on the keyboard and just slide it to each letter in the word that you want to type. With this latest iteration it does a very good job at pop-up suggestions that let you stop when you’re just half way through a word. It also gives better guesses even when you don’t get all the way to the letter you need. I’ve found older versions lacking because of the accuracy needed which I found difficult when you can’t easily see the letters with a big ol’ finger pressed down on the screen. If you’ve not tried this style keyboard recently, try it on a mobile! Oh, that brings up another advantage of Android – since it’s not as locked down as iOS, developers are free to create their own keyboard styles and layouts and you can install them to replace the default OS keyboard to your own liking. Lots of choices!
Battery Life: Surprisingly, I get better battery life with this phone and it’s big, bright display than I had with my HTC Incredible 4G LTE phone with only a 4 inch screen. Both being LTE phones, we can’t blame the radio chip for the difference. I easily get through an entire day and often have 25% battery left when I go to bed. I find that I rarely plug in the phone while in the car anymore, whereas I would never do that with any of my three previous phones. Shoot, I’ll even use Bluetooth and run a short route with the GPS on these days without plugging in. Admittedly, running Navigation with GPS is the one thing that will cause me to be almost dead by bed time though if I didn’t plug it at all, but at least I make it! I’ve read reviews with comments about poor battery life, but I have no complaints. Perhaps some people just run certain apps that prevent the phone from sleeping when not in use.
Overall: I can be pretty critical of technology that doesn’t work quite right. I think the Samsung Galaxy is a device that actually does live up to most of the hype and does deserve it’s spot at the top of the list where it has been finding itself lately. It’s no surprise that this phone alone outsells the iPhone.