The home screens can also be personalized with live wallpapers, but there are two elements that can't be changed: the pull-down notification tray on top, which now includes wireless manager and profile functions, and the toolbar along the bottom with quick-launch buttons to the phone app, contacts, messages, and applications. Pressing the latter takes you to a nice grid view of all your apps; they're spread out over several pages, which you can swipe from side to side to get to. We much prefer this layout over the standard Android one, where you have to scroll up and down. It feels more natural and easier to navigate.
Admittedly, we missed some elements of the HTC Sense, such as the Leap screen, which provides a thumbnail version of all your home screen panels, but for the general consumer, TouchWiz does a good job of making Android quite user-friendly, almost to the point where it doesn't even look or feel like an Android phone. Also, for those worried about the TouchWiz interface interfering with future Android updates, Samsung has already said that the Vibrant and the entire Galaxy S portfolio will be upgradeable to Android 2.2 and that it has made tweaks to the UI that will make it easier to adapt to future updates. However, the company also noted that without really knowing what Google has planned down the line, there may be a time where updates can't be supported because of hardware limitations or other factors.
The Samsung Vibrant is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging, and the full range of wireless options: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G, and GPS. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), and there's room in each entry for multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, group IDs, photo caller IDs, and so on. You can merge contact information from various accounts, such as Facebook, Outlook, and Gmail.
We had no problems syncing up our Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and Twitter accounts to the Vibrant, but there were a number of instances where contact info for the same person wasn't merged, but to be fair, we've experienced this on every Android phone. Plus, it's easy to link up contacts. Samsung also added a sweep feature in the Contacts app where if you swipe from left to right, you can automatically dial a person's number or if you swipe right to left, you can send a message.
We've already talked a little bit about supported e-mail clients, but to reiterate, the Vibrant works with Gmail, POP3, IMAP, and Exchange accounts and provides a combined in-box and calendar. You can also view each account separately if you wish. The in-box provides a tabbed view of all your folders, but as we found out, it can get a bit unruly if you have a lot of them. Fortunately, there is a search and sort function. One other messaging tool that Samsung throws in is an app called Write and Go, where you can compose a message on a notepad and then select your delivery method, whether it be an SMS, an e-mail, or a status update, so you don't have to find and launch each individual app.
Some other extras included on the Vibrant are a Mini Diary app, the ThinkFree Office Suite, Layar's reality browser, TeleNav GPS, visual voice mail, a calculator, a voice recorder, and a memo pad. Additional apps, both free and paid, are available through the Android Market.
Obviously, all the aforementioned features are important and make up the core of the device, but with the 4-inch AMOLED touch screen, multimedia plays just as an important role and T-Mobile's fully aware of it. Like the HTC HD2, the carrier is shipping the Vibrant with a number of extra entertainment features, including a full-length copy of "Avatar," Amazon Kindle for Android, the Sims 3, MobiTV, Slacker Radio, and a month of free in-flight Wi-Fi access through Gogo Inflight Internet.
As usual, you can also purchase and download songs from the Amazon MP3 store, and the music player offers 5.1-channel surround sound and an attractive Cover Flow-like interface. One area where Android has trailed iOS in terms of multimedia is video, since there isn't any type of video store for Android. However, users of the Galaxy S devices will eventually be able to purchase movies when Samsung's Media Hub is launched later this year; it will include content from "some of the biggest names in entertainment."
Finally, you get a 5-megapixel camera with HD video recording. There is no flash, but you get a number of editing options, including some advanced ones like ISO settings, blink and smile detection, and panorama mode. Without a flash, the picture quality of indoor shots was a bit dull and also slightly blurry. Video quality was respectable for a camera phone. Aside from the traditional avenues of sharing photos and videos--Facebook, MMS, YouTube, and so forth--the Vibrant also has TV-out and DLNA capabilities and offers 16GB of internal memory, plus an expansion slot (supports up to 32GB cards).
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Vibrant in New York using T-Mobile service, and call quality was excellent. The audio on our side of the conversation was clear and rich with little to no background noise or voice distortion. We also had no problem using an airline's voice-automated response system. Our friends were also complimentary of the call quality and didn't report any major problems or complaints.
Speakerphone quality was pretty much what we expected; there was a slight hollowness to the calls, but it was still clear enough and loud enough to hold conversations. We paired the Vibrant to the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones with no problem, but for now, there is no support for voice dialing over Bluetooth. This feature will be added with Android 2.2.
T-Mobile's network provided mostly reliable 3G coverage throughout Manhattan, though it did drop to EDGE several times at CNET's offices in Midtown. However, 3G speeds were good. The full CNET News site loaded in 10 seconds, and mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 6 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos took just a few seconds to load and played back without interruption, and when viewed in high quality, the clips were quite watchable. "Avatar" looked amazing on the Vibrant, as did the MP4 videos we loaded onto the device. The 5.1-channel surround sound enhanced the movie-viewing experience, though we preferred to keep it off when just listening to music.
The Vibrant features Samsung's 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 application processor, and for the most part, it kept the smartphone running smoothly throughout our testing period. Apps were quick to launch, and we didn't encounter any crashes. The only time we experienced a slight delay was when we launched the photo gallery, as it took a few seconds to load up our albums.
The Samsung Vibrant comes with a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.5 hours and up to 18 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests we were able to get 6 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. That said, the day-to-day battery life isn't stellar. After a few hours of browsing, e-mail, and listening to music, battery levels were at a little less than 50 percent, so we'll definitely be keeping tabs on this as we continue testing. According to FCC radiation tests, the Vibrant has a digital SAR rating of 0.89 watt per kilogram and has a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.