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One of the best things I can say about AT&T's new Samsung Galaxy Appeal is that it's another Android smartphone prepaid option for a carrier that has a limited roster in this area. It's a solidly middle-of-the-road 3G handset, with Android 2.3 as its operating system, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that didn't play nice with my fingers, and a basic 3.2-megapixel camera.
The off-contract price is a reasonable $150 for the smartphone package, which is a more affordable choice for penny-counters who prefer flexibility over contract commitments (compare with often $300 for higher-end prepaid Android devices). The Galaxy Appeal goes on sale June 5 for Wal-Mart, July 15 through AT&T retail channels, and July 29 in AT&T stores.
I'm searching for ways to describe the Galaxy Appeal, and "generic" is the word that repeatedly comes to mind. This is not meant as insulting -- there's comfort in familiarity, and there are only so many designs you can create for a budget-minded device with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. What you get is a rounded-corner design with muted silver sides and a matte gray backing.
The phone measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.56 inch thick. That seems chunky compared with lithe candybar designs, but that's typical for a handset with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The extra hardware also contributes to the 4.3-ounce weight. As a result, the phone feels solid and even a bit heavy for its size, but not burdensome.
Samsung gave the Galaxy Appeal a 3.2-inch touch display, with a 320x480-pixel resolution (HVGA). The screen really is quite small by today's standards. I don't fault handsets that don't have mammoth screens, but less than 3.5 inches really is too small to read without strain, and at this size, typing on the virtual keyboard gets less accurate.
There is the Swype virtual keyboard option in addition to the Android and Samsung keyboards, and the physical keyboard will alleviate the crowded typing since you'll presumably use the keyboard for longer-form composition, but the helpful virtual keyboard should still be large enough to be usable when you don't feel like flipping the phone to access the real deal.
Text, images, and photos look fine on the display, but when you peer closely, you'll find that lettering isn't absolutely crisp and clean. The slide-out keyboard mechanism feels sturdy and secure, snapping open and closed and open again. The four-row keyboard manages to fit in buttons that are fairly wide; some include shortcuts to emoticons, symbols, voice search, and even the www and .com URL prefix and suffix buttons. You'll also find directional arrow keys for navigating around while in landscape mode.
Samsung can make a great keyboard, and is known for tactile, responsive keys with a nice rubbery feel. Those on the Galaxy Appeal rise slightly above the surface and they do snap back. For me, though, the two didn't come together in a seamless typing duo. I found my fingers tiring after composing e-mails, and they got stuck, often on some dead zone between the active part of the keys. Not everyone will run into the same issues I had, but I was disappointed in my halting typing efforts.
Moving on the the rest of the handset, you'll find the Galaxy Appeal's power button on the right spine, the volume rocker on the left, and a 3.5mm headset jack up top. The Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom. On the back, inlaid in that textured and slightly rubbery back cover, is the 3.2-megapixel camera lens. As with many designs, you'll have to remove the back cover to insert a microSD card. The Galaxy Appeal will take up to 32GB in expandable storage.
The Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS captains the Galaxy Appeal, which is also flavored with Samsung's TouchWiz interface. That means you can pinch to see an overview of the home screens and the application screens for easily choosing among multiple pages. Pull down the notifications area and you'll be able to adjust several system settings with a touch.
A 3G data handset, the Appeal has Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth support, plus hot-spot and tethering capability, and Wi-Fi Direct. Social-networking and Google services tie into the Galaxy Appeal as they do with other Android phones, so you get an opportunity to integrate Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In, plus Microsoft Exchange and Google accounts. The odd inconsistencies you sometimes see with contacts and their photos not lining up plague all Android phones, and are something that most people just live with.
Due to Android's uniformity, the combination of apps from the carrier and manufacturer is often the largest variation you see, apart from the camera, which we'll get to next. Of course there are all of Google's services on here, like Gmail, Google Maps and Navigation with turn-by-turn directions, YouTube, Google Place, and the Play Store for more apps. There's the music player as well, and organizer essentials like a clock, a calculator, and a calendar. A voice recorder is also onboard.
Next come some Samsung apps, like AllShare for DLNA sharing, and Kies Air for Wi-Fi content sharing. Social Hub is also Samsung's. Then there are AT&T's branded apps, like AT&T Navigator, social networking, U-Verse mobile TV, and an online music store. Between the two companies, the Galaxy Appeal also has Yellow Pages, Vlingo for voice commands (to complement Android's built-in voice actions), a memo pad, and Quickoffice for productivity.
The Galaxy Appeal comes with a 3.2-megapixel camera lens for photo and video capture, with no flash and no autofocus. As such, even with the typical array of white-balance settings, effects, and shooting modes, you'll still have to use your eyes to judge the right distance and ambient light, or you may wind up at the mercy of unfavorable lighting conditions and your own hands' degree of steadiness.
One or two of my photos came out great, where I got the light and the distance spot on. Others were blurry messes that are sufficient for sharing an idea or moment, but not much more than social-network-site quality. You can compare the Appeal's camera with other phone cameras in our photo gallery.
Even with the correct lighting, video taken with the Appeal was pretty poor. My sample movies were grainy and blocky, reproducing dull color and capturing almost none of my subject's voice in the microphone.
I tested the quad-band Samsung Galaxy Appeal (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco on AT&T's network. The phone's call quality could have been better, mostly because of the persistent white noise that hissed in the background. The audio also sounded "cooler" than that of other phones, though not metallic.
The good news is that I felt comfortable with the volume at its medium setting. More bad news: voices sounded a little staticky, sometimes sounded digital, and never sounded quite clear.
On my chief tester's end, he could hear a little hiss and said I sounded a little distorted, though he had difficulty describing what was off. Apparently, I sounded a tad unnatural at higher volume peaks, and was dogged by general overall muffling. Still, the audio hiccups were just that, minor detractions that didn't make conversation impossible.
Samsung Galaxy Appeal call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone sounded fairly hollow when I held the phone at waist level, but not more so than usual. I did have to increase the volume to hear, and when that happened, the phone buzzed when my caller spoke. It's not uncommon, but it is a little off-putting. For my caller's part, he said that speakerphone sounded OK. There was some of the usual echo, but other than that, my voice quality didn't change much between the standard speaker and when I went on speakerphone. He did say he preferred the usual mic to the speakerphone quality.
Deep beneath the back cover resides an 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7225A single-core processor (based on ARM's Cortex A5 architecture). As such, you're not going to get lightning-fast internal speeds out of the Galaxy Appeal, and I didn't. It wasn't too long ago that 3G speeds were as good as you got. Those seeking the fastest data speeds that the market can offer won't be happy with this handset. If your pursuit of data is more occasional, you may not mind the 30-second wait or longer for graphically intense Web sites to populate. System fanatics will want to know that the phone is provisioned with 512MB RAM and 1,800MB ROM.
Most prepaid lineups aren't dazzling displays of top-of-the-market phones. Rather, they offer practical options for people who are looking to buy a phone at full cost up front, with no monthly or yearly commitment. As such, it's good to see another Android smartphone on offer for AT&T's GoPhone collection.
The Samsung Galaxy Appeal isn't the best or brightest of all prepaid Android options -- it's behind an operating-system version and its small screen and camera can disappoint -- but it does have the redeeming quality of being an Android smartphone on a national carrier's 3G data network, and it is one of few with a physical QWERTY keyboard. Although AT&T has a fair number of smartphones, the Galaxy Appeal is on the lower end of that Android price range, and that is fairly appealing on its own.