On the software side, everything with the Samsung Vibrant starts with the Google Android OS mobile platform. On this device, v2.1 graces the hardware and offers a nice mix of communication, social, productivity, and entertainment features. An upgrade to v2.2 is in the works.
Overall performance and efficiency were fine — not stellar, just fine. There wasn’t as much heat felt as with the Captivate, but there was some heat – especially when watching Avatar or engaged within longer browsing sessions. It didn’t feel (to the skin) as bad since the rear of the Vibrant is plastic, but it was noticeable.
There have been some reports of the device locking up, or applications pausing, but I did not experience this with my review unit. I’d assume that some of the issue here would be related to the software, and/or network effects on software.
There is a heat issue, though. I don’t know if it is just some of the applications pushing the Hummingbird to a full song, but I’m getting noticeable heat — and not just the battery.
Call quality on the T-Mobile network here (Charlotte, NC) was similar to the E73, which is to say that it was mostly fine, with some cases where 3G would just drop out completely for Edge or no connection at all. There is some updating of the network happening in this area, and so this was expected.
Calls were fine otherwise, with clear voice quality on both ends and prompt sending of SMS and MMS messages regardless of the network speed.
This smartphone can also connect to Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth accessories.
Because you can’t help but to notice the screen on the Vibrant, you have seven (7) homescreens to choose from.
There’s a generic home screen which has the Google Search bar, and primary apps: Contacts, Messaging, Camera, Browser, YouTube, and Android Market. On the landing homescreen you also get the shortcut to the Avatar movie, MobiTV (subscription required), Sims 3 game, and the Kindle application.
In all, there’s more than enough space to customize, but I often wished that Google’s operating system is more intelligent in terms of displaying the screens with the most relevant information for me. For example, I placed the Feeds and Updates widget on one screen, but had to manually navigate back to it whenever I wanted to see if there were updates. It would be nice to have the notification bar let me know there is an update, or even the device would just slide to that screen when something was updated. Also, you always see all seven screens whether you have anything on them or not. When a screen isn’t occupied, it should be hidden.
Texting is a key aspect that the Vibrant doesn’t slack in, however. Threaded messaging is supported, and so is the ability to embed audio and images easily for MMS messages.
For keeping track of your friends and associates, this model functions similar to other Android OS devices in that you are able to combine the contact information for people stored on your SIM, internal memory, or various social services into one contact card. The limitation for this is a max of 5 connections. The contact card screen will show the linked information, history, social activities, and associated media.
I opted to use a Google account that has only pulled in information from my various Gmail and Buzz lists and found it a bit disturbing that I couldn’t identify some people without searching for their full names among my archives — at least this features is handled well by the search facilities of Android.
This Samsung smartphone offers the input keyboard Swype, which lets you enter text by tracing over letters to “write’ the words. After my time with the Captivate and now this model, Swype is fast becoming my favorite input method on non-QWERTY devices.
Other input options include the Samsung keypad and the default Android keyboard. The Android keyboard was the most plain, but it requires almost no learning curve to get started and find all the numbers and symbols. The Samsung keypad was essentially a slightly larger and themed version of the standard Android OS keyboard.
As I alluded to before, the Vibrant is no slouch in the entertainment department. The web browser does a solid job of quickly loading most websites, but there’s no Adobe Flash in this model.
The browser is the stock Webkit-based one from Google, but the Hummingbird processor seems to have a positive effect on the experience. No matter if I was on Wi-Fi or 3G, pages rendered quickly, and most images as well. I did have some slowness when trying to view pages with very large (8 and 12 megapixel) images embedded in them, but this was not a determent.
When it came to music and video, it was impressive to have my 8 GB microSDHC card fully scanned in under 5 minutes of the card being recognized. The 1 GHZ Hummingbird processor showed nice here, loading both tracks and videos without lag (except for longer videos).
The mono speaker was OK, keeping with the mobile tradition of some sharpness and a bit of garbled sounds in the higher volume ranges. This aspect was worse than the Captivate, but with headphones and an acceptable volume level this wasn’t a major determent.
The excellent refresh rate of the Super-AMOLED screen excelled with all of the video streams that I threw at it.
Other Applications/Android Market Experience
The Android Market the the primary means of getting acquainted with other aspects of the Vibrant. There are tens of thousands of applications available, ranging from paid to free.
There’s a T-Mobile tab where you can download T-Moble’s Top Picks. These include applications created by/for T-Mobile as well as some other popular free and low-cost selections.
I took an opportunity to download more playful applications with the Vibrant and wasn’t disappointed in either the download speed over 3G (faster than AT&T/Captivate) or the immersive titles.
Overall, the software aspect of the Vibrant is solid. Some power users who are used to doing a touch more with their devices might end up with a slightly better/worse experience, but most others will find a situation similar to, if not a bit more customizable than other mobile platforms.
Like its Galaxy S siblings, the Vibrant does not have a physical camera button like many phones do. It would also seem here that camera/optics are not the primary draw of this device.
The interface is a bit disconnected from the rest of the device. Upon opening the camera application you see a smattering of icons on the left side, some image information, and then a button on the right which later you find is used to take pics.
There is no flash; you will want to make sure to tap on the screen to color balance your shots properly. As long as you aren’t in a position where you hands need to move after that balancing, you will usually end up with solid photos.
That said, I really wish there was a flash on the Galaxy S models. The dimmer the light, the harder the processor works to sharpen the image, not usually to its benefit.
Shutter speed and saving to a memory card or local phone memory (16 GB of it) takes no time and in moments you are ready for the next snap. Previewing photos after they are shot, in addition to automatically geo-tagging images. can be enabled in the camera settings.
Outside of using Bluetooth to wireless send images to other devices, your other options are MMS and email. You can choose to upload images to Picasa, a service called AllShare, or send an Audio Postcard (also a service).
Google Maps and TeleNav make up the location-friendly aspects of the Samsung Captivate. As with most other Android OS smartphones, the Captivate supports My Location, Latitude, and Buzz (via the latest update). GPS locks were about 10-15 seconds slower than with the Captivate. I’d attribute that to some of the cellular coverage gaps which assist the GPS antenna. Once a lock is had, it stays pretty stubbornly connected.
Others have reported problems with the GPS on this smartphone, but I didn’t run into in. Srtill, Samsung has promised to fix the problem.
TeleNav is a subscription-based navigation service. Unlike the AT&T version of this service, if you choose to try it (30 day period) you must make sure to cancel your account, else you’d be charged for using it. Unless you really need turn by turn directions, Google Maps will probably meet your needs without the hit to your wallet.
I’m always glad to see location being used in other apps such as the social networking widget (location tagging to tweets), geo-tagging to photos, ad the use of location by some websites to serve relevant info.
As with the Captivate, I had a bear of a time nailing down accurate usage statistics. Because I did not travel as far as I had with the Captivate, I was also not subject to longer media or calling sessions. Still, I was in and out of consistent 3G coverage, and had a 2.5 hour movie to play with.
Off of a full battery, in a 3G area, I was able to watch the entire Avatar movie and still have 20% battery life left. It dropped like a rock after that when I called a friend.
After a full recharge, while connected to a mix of 2G and 3G environments, getting email, 2 hours of web browsing, and 2 hours of calls, I made it to the end of the day, needing to charge by 11 pm (day started at 8 am).
I’d say from the use that I have had that this may very well be another case of “just use it till the end of the day.” You won’t see Blackberry-like numbers here, but the Vibrant will hold up to most commuting and workout sessions at the end of the day.