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Samsung Galaxy Pro review: Samsung Galaxy Pro

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The Samsung Galaxy Pro is an Android phone with a BlackBerry-style Qwerty keyboard, as well as a touchscreen. It's pretty affordable too, so it could appeal to those who hanker after physical buttons.

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5.5

Samsung Galaxy Pro

The Good

Excellent Qwerty keyboard; lightweight; decent camera.

The Bad

Terrible screen; doesn't run latest version of Android; incompatible with some apps and games.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy Pro's keyboard is undeniably fantastic but, otherwise, this Android phone is disappointing, with its screen being particularly poor. Its low price and half-decent camera are some compensation, but there are better phones to be had.

The Galaxy Pro is available for free on a £15-per-month contract, while it will set you back around £130 on a pay as you go deal. SIM-free prices start at around the £200 mark.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Pro?

Manufacturers of Android smart phones know that not everyone wants a touchscreen-only device. There are still millions of people who value good old-fashioned buttons. To that end, we've see a few BlackBerry-style Android handsets, including the lacklustre Acer beTouch E210 and the excellent, but expensive, HTC ChaCha

But the Galaxy Pro's biggest rival is still to be found among RIM's range of BlackBerry devices. Given the Pro's low pay as you go price, its closest challenger is the BlackBerry Curve 8520, which some stores are selling for around £120 on pay as you go.

There's no question that, despite the lack of 3G and RIM's often outdated method of doing things, the Curve represents a much better choice if you really demand physical buttons. It's a phone that's built around the keyboard, while the Pro feels like an Android device that has had a keyboard forced upon it, with occasionally unpleasant results.

Still, if you're a fan of buttons but wish to try a new operating system, the Pro may prove a cheap method of making the transition from keyboard to touchscreen with as little trauma as possible.

Software

Like its siblings, the Galaxy Mini and Galaxy Fit, the Galaxy Pro runs Android 2.2 Froyo. This isn't the most up-to-date version of Google's mobile OS -- that distinction is reserved for Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which is loaded onto the flagship Galaxy S2 -- but it's hardly light years behind, either.

You can still access the Android Market, connect seamlessly with Google applications such as Gmail and Maps, multitask with several apps open at once, and do all sorts of other neat tricks. This iteration of Android also offers the ability to store app data on your microSD card, freeing up storage space on the phone.

Samsung likes to install its TouchWiz user interface on the phones it sells, but the Galaxy Pro rocks a fairly stripped-down version. You won't find any of the unique widgets and custom menus that make the Galaxy S2 so appealing. What you have here is an almost vanilla version of Froyo, with only very minor concessions to the TouchWiz aesthetic.

There's the usual Samsung app store, which essentially offers much of the same content that's available in the Android Market, and a pre-installed file manager that helps you keep your phone's SD card in order. There's also Samsung's Social Hub app for keeping up-to-date with your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Still, you're better off with the official apps for those services.

Out of the box, the Galaxy Pro sports three separate home screens, but you can add four more if you wish, bringing the total up to seven. These can be packed with shortcuts, live widgets and other time-saving devices, such as toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other system settings.

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You can have up to seven home screens (left), and Samsung's file manager is also included (right).

Android's famous drag-down notification bar is included too, and Samsung has added a bank of buttons that allows for quick access to certain important elements of your phone's functionality.

Interface

Possibly the most notable aspect of the entire phone is the four-tier Qwerty keyboard that takes up over a third of the Galaxy Pro's front. Thirty-nine individual buttons have been packed into this tactile treasure trove, and, while we're not convinced that it will give Swype-loving touchscreen typists any sleepless nights when it comes to text input speed, it's certainly one of the most comfortable keyboards we've seen recently.

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The Galaxy Pro's 39-button Qwerty keyboard is definitely its most appealing feature.

Each button has a sloping shape, and, although there's scant space between them, you're unlikely to press two simultaneously once your fingers become acclimatised. There's a pleasing degree of travel to each button too. The only negative we can offer up is that the spacebar is a little small.

Although deactivated by default, you can enable the on-screen virtual keyboard if you wish. It's ultimately a pointless gesture, though, as the keyboard takes up almost the entire screen. This is possibly why Samsung has chosen to omit the trace-to-type Swype keyboard, which has been an ever-present feature on most of the company's Android devices.

Design

The challenge of fitting in a decent Qwerty keyboard has forced Samsung's designers to make the Galaxy Pro a seriously wide handset. At just under 67mm wide and 108mm tall, it feels rather dumpy, although it's still eminently pocket-friendly. While not pleasing to the eye, these dimensions do at least make the handset easy to hold. There's no danger of the Galaxy Pro slipping from your grip due to its size.

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It's not as thin as its sibling, the Galaxy S2, but the Galaxy Pro is still pretty slim.

Despite the abundance of shiny chrome, the Galaxy Pro is made entirely of plastic. This keeps the weight down to 103g, but it also makes the phone feel slightly cheap when you pick it up for the first time. Having said that, it's not as if the other members of the Galaxy family are hewn from expensive materials either.

The battery cover has a ridged texture that makes the Galaxy Pro easy to hold, and there's even the slightest hint of the Galaxy S2's lip right at the bottom. As well as bonding the phone with its more highly-esteemed relation, this makes it even easier to grip in your palm.

The trademark lip seen on the Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 is in evidence here, too.

Sandwiched between the screen and the Qwerty keyboard are the traditional Android command buttons -- menu, home, back and search. The last choice is usually omitted on Samsung phones, so it's surprising to see it here. Another surprise is that these are physical controls rather than touch-sensitive.

Touchscreen

The Galaxy Pro's dinky and dismal 2.8-inch touchscreen is arguably its biggest weakness. It looks washed-out and dim, and its 320x240-pixel resolution is almost laughable when compared to the screens on other devices in this class.

The 2.8-inch screen is woefully inadequate for viewing detailed images, and the lack of pinch-to-zoom support is a killer.

As you might expect, browsing detailed Web pages is a nightmare with such a low-resolution display. Text is heavily pixellated and images are hard to discern. To make matters significantly worse, there's no support for multi-touch pinch-to-zoom gestures, so you have to use virtual buttons in order to zoom in and out.

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The lack of pinch-to-zoom support also means that games like Angry Birds are very difficult to play.

The absence of such a key feature is puzzling when you consider that the Galaxy Pro's touchscreen is of the capacitive type, so there's no technical reason why multi-touch shouldn't be included. It's a sorry omission.

Gaming

The lack of multi-touch support also has severe ramifications for the Galaxy Pro's suitability as a gaming device. Many mobile gamers have a simple test when it comes to selecting their next mobile device -- can it play Angry Birds?

While the Galaxy Pro is certainly capable of hosting Rovio's million-selling smash hit (and its landscape display is actually well-suited to the game), no multi-touch means that you can't zoom out to get a better view of the action. This renders the game almost unplayable, as you're essentially shooting blind and can't accurately plan the fall of your shots.

It gets worse as you attempt to play other popular titles. Grand Prix Story defaults to a portrait view, forcing you to hold the phone sideways, and recent hit They Need to be Fed refuses to allow you past the title screen when played on the Galaxy Pro, for a reason we can't fathom.

There are positives to consider here, however. The Galaxy Pro's landscape screen and physical keyboard make it a worthy candidate for retro gaming. Android emulators such as Snes9x EX and MD.emu are easier to use in conjunction with this phone's buttons than they are on touchscreen-only devices.

Camera and movie capture

At first glance, the Galaxy Pro seems to lack photographic clout. The phone's camera can only muster a humble 3 megapixels, and it lacks an LED flash for low-light shooting.

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It's a shame that the camera lacks a flash, as it's a pretty decent shooter for the price.

But it does pack in an autofocus and a macro mode. The latter is surprisingly adept at capturing detail at close quarters, although it is rather annoying that you have to manually trigger the macro mode by delving deep into the camera app's settings.

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The 3-megapixel camera offers a surprising amount of functionality (left). You can enable the on-screen keyboard if you wish (right).

The camera app is one of Samsung's unique creations and comes packed with scene settings and other modes. For example, you can shoot a continuous stream of images or stitch several together to create a panoramic shot.

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Photos are slightly washed-out, but still decent for a phone of this price (click image to enlarge).

When recording a movie, you're restricted to VGA quality, so the clips themselves won't look all that brilliant if you view them on a computer or television.

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Macro shots are particularly impressive, thanks to the autofocus camera (click image to enlarge).

Samsung has decided against including AllShare, its custom DLNA application, so streaming live images to other DLNA-compatible devices is only possible if you download a replacement app from the Android Market.

Internal hardware

With many entry-level Android phones sporting processors of 600MHz or less, it's pleasantly surprising to see the Galaxy Pro pack an 800MHz variant. Unfortunately, the CPU seems to make a real meal of any task you set it. Scrolling through menus is sluggish, and even core apps like the gallery viewer run at a depressingly slow pace.

The Galaxy Pro’s Quadrant benchmark scores are predictably unimpressive.

Compared to the likes of the HTC Sensation and LG Optimus 2X, the Galaxy Pro is rather weedy. If you're on the hunt for a phone which has the technological clout to dazzle your iPhone 4-owning mates, you'd best look elsewhere.

Internet and applications

Although it features an 800MHz processor, the Galaxy Pro still falls shy of the technical power required to support Adobe Flash. This means no support for Flash content in the phone's Web browser, and it also prevents the device from hosting the brilliant Kongregate application, as well as any other app in the Android Market that requires Flash to function.

The physical keyboard and touchscreen do come in handy at some points -- filling in Web forms is a breeze with all those lovely buttons -- but ultimately the Galaxy Pro's small screen and lack of pinch-to-zoom support conspire to make the phone a real pain to surf the Web with.

That awkward screen also means the Galaxy Pro doesn't always play nicely with certain apps available in the Android Market. Many applications are designed to function on a portrait screen rather than a landscape one, and these require you to hold the phone sideways, which just feels odd.

Connectivity and expandability

Like almost every other Android phone out there, the Galaxy Pro has Wi-Fi, GPRS, 3G and Bluetooth connectivity as standard.

The phone comes with 512MB of internal storage space, and there's a microSD card slot. A 2GB card is included in the box, but you may wish to replace that with a slightly larger variant if you want to use the phone as a camera and music player.

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The 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the phone allows you to use your own headphones.

There's a standard 3.5mm headphone socket on the top of the device, next to the micro-USB charging and data socket. This socket is protected by a sliding plastic door, which we heartily endorse and hope will be a regular feature on future handsets.

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The USB slot is covered by a sliding door, which protects it when it's not in use.

Battery life

It's par for the course for Android phones to average about a day's worth of moderate usage before requiring a trip to the wall charger. The Galaxy Pro's 1,350mAh battery manages to keep the phone ticking over a 24-hour period too.

Heavy use will see battery performance head south, but the lack of Flash support and the phone's unsuitability as a gaming device mean it's unlikely you'll use it for much more than texting, phone calls and sending emails anyway.

Conclusion

While the Samsung Galaxy Pro's keyboard is a joy to use, the rest of the phone feels like an exercise in compromise. The low-resolution screen makes small text almost unreadable, and the handset's overall performance is anything but sprightly.

Arguably, the most successful Android Qwerty phone is the Facebook-focused HTC ChaCha. The ChaCha offers better software, looks and build quality than the Galaxy Pro. It's also more expensive, but the additional cash is worth it if you're absolutely hell-bent on having the BlackBerry feel with your Android phone.

If you're shopping on a budget and still crave those lovely buttons, then the Galaxy Pro is one of your best options, but we'd recommend you seriously consider jumping fully into the realm of the touchscreen. Even physical buttons aren't enough to justify the concessions you're forced to make with a phone like the Galaxy Pro.

Edited by Charles Kloet