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Once a pleasure reserved for high-end smart phones, we're increasingly seeing Google's Android operating system trickling down to more reasonably priced handsets. Samsung has well and truly embraced the Android platform, and now we're treated to this -- the Samsung Galaxy Europa GT-i5500. It's yours for around £180 SIM-free, £150 on pay as you go, or free for as little as £10 per month.
Let's start with the look and feel of this Android-toting phone. Measuring 56 by 108 by 12.3 mm, it's reasonably slender, though at 102g it has a pleasing amount of weight to it. Build quality seems sturdy enough -- it certainly hasn't been precision-machined from a solid block of granite, but it didn't feel like it was about to hopelessly fall apart.
On the Europa's face, you'll find a five-way navigation key, 'call' and 'call end' buttons, and two rocker buttons on either side with 'menu', 'home', 'back' and 'search' functions represented. Around the edges, you'll find mechanical volume keys, a covered mini-USB port for hooking the Europa up to a PC, and a 3.5mm socket on top of the phone, where your headphones plug in.
We know not to expect the greatest of displays from mid-range mobiles, but this 2.8-inch panel ain't half bad. It has a resolution of 240x320 pixels, which isn't great, and you'll have to zoom in to make out text on Web pages. On the plus side, it's quite bright and colours are rendered vividly. This is a capacitive screen, which is a huge relief -- capacitive screens generally make for much more precise use, which is essential on smaller displays such as this one.
Using the Europa is extremely enjoyable. This enjoyment is due, in part, to the capacitive touchscreen, which allows for precise and sensitive command over the mobile's interface, and partly due to the Android 2.1 operating system this phone runs.
While 2.1 isn't the most recent version of Google's mobile OS (2.2 at the time of writing), this operating system still feels fresh. In case you're new to the whole Android thing, it's a pretty simplistic but surprisingly powerful system. You'll get five home screens, which you can scroll between with a swipe of your finger. These are populated with widgets, or shortcuts to apps you frequently use. All entirely customisable, you can drag-and-drop these widgets around to your heart's content.
There's a more detailed menu, which can be called up by tapping an icon at the bottom of the screen. You'll have access to the Android Market app store so you can load up your phone with software, games and useful apps like Spotify. The whole interface is impressively nippy -- we often find mid-range mobiles acting sluggish, but swiping and scrolling through the Europa's various menus was impressively smooth and fast.
The Europa is a really nifty little Web phone, thanks to 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Web browser on board works well, though, as noted, you'll be doing loads of zooming in to read text on sites that don't have mobile versions. Still, with access to apps, and with maps and navigation software pre-installed, this is a mobile with real Web potential.
It's worth noting there's no multi-touch support here, so you won't get the pinch-to-zoom functionality when viewing maps and Web pages that you'll find on devices like the iPhone or HTC Desire. Another issue is a lack of Flash support, meaning many online videos will be out of your reach.
There's a 2-megapixel camera on the back of the Europa, but it's a little uninspiring and the shots it takes are quite naff. It'll serve you just fine, however, if you're more concerned with grabbing a quick and dirty snapshot than producing glorious landscape photos. The same goes for the on-board camcorder -- the footage we recorded was pretty shaky and a little blurry. Still, the camera software is fairly intuitive, so that's something.
As for battery life, expect the juice to dwindle more swiftly if you're making frequent use of the phone's 3G capabilities -- downloading data like that tends to put strain on the phone's power reserves.
The Samsung Galaxy Europa GT-i5500 is a fairly unassuming mobile. To look at it, you wouldn't guess that it's running a powerful OS, or that it offers better connectivity than most mobiles in its price range. It won't be troubling high-end smart phones, but for the money, this is a great little mobile capable of delivering your Web-based kicks on the move.
If you're not fussed about all the features of Android and fancy saving yourself a few quid, check out the Samsung Monte.
Edited by Emma Bayly