Editors' note: We have updated the review and ratings since the original publish date to reflect new devices on the market.
Samsung admits that it hasn't really attacked the U.S. smartphone market as aggressively as it's done with basic handsets, but the company's planning to change all that with its Galaxy S series. Launching with all four major U.S. carriers, as well as a couple of regional providers, the Android-based Galaxy S models come with impressive stats, such as large Super AMOLED touch screens, 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex A8 processor, and an entertainment content store. But is it too little, too late? Well, after spending some time with the Samsung Vibrant for T-Mobile, we don't think so.
Sleek, fast, and packed with entertainment features, the Vibrant shines as a multimedia device and beats T-Mobile's other top Android offering, the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G Slide, in that department. However, battery life is a concern; if you plan on taking full advantage of the Vibrant's multimedia capabilities, you'd be wise to carry an extra battery or charger with you at all times. The Samsung Vibrant will be available from T-Mobile starting July 15 for $199.99 with a two-year contract.
Out of all the Samsung Galaxy S series models, we'd have to say the Samsung Vibrant is the sleekest and sexiest one of the bunch. The look is rather familiar, but the combination of the slim profile, clean design, and rounded edges is really pleasing to the eye. Also, at 4.82 inches tall by 2.54 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick and 4.16 ounces, the Vibrant makes for a nice travel companion, slipping easily into a pants pocket and feeling lightweight in the hand. That said, the handset feels plasticky and slick. We wouldn't say it's fragile, but it definitely left a lot to be desired, especially compared with the solid and durable Nexus One.
Glancing at the Vibrant's 4-inch Super AMOLED touch screen, it's easy to see how the smartphone got its name. The display supports 16 million colors and has a WVGA resolution, making it sharp and yes, vibrant. Images look amazing, text is easy to read, and you can actually see what's on the screen in the bright daylight. When compared with the iPhone 4's Retina Display, the Vibrant's screen definitely looks more saturated, showing richer colors and deeper blacks, but on the other hand, the iPhone's display is a tad crisper. We'll be running more-precise tests to measure the screen quality of these phones, so definitely check back for those results.
In the meantime, we can say that the Vibrant's touch screen was quite responsive during our review period. It always registered our taps, and the scrolling experience was smooth and fast. In addition, the built-in accelerometer was quick to change the screen orientation when we rotated the phone. The Vibrant comes with multiple input methods, including Swype, a standard Android keyboard, and Samsung's own keyboard.
There are four touch-sensitive buttons below the display: menu, home, back, and search. You won't find too many physical buttons on the Vibrant, but you do get a volume rocker on the left side, and a lock/power key on the right. The top of the device houses the Micro-USB port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The camera is located on the back as usual, but alas, no flash.
T-Mobile ships the Samsung Vibrant with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an alternative back cover, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phones accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Like the rest of the Galaxy S series, the Vibrant runs on Android 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface. The latter is definitely improved from previous versions, with some enhanced functionality and a more polished look.
To start, there are new widgets, including one called Feeds & Updates and another called Buddies Now. Feeds & Updates streams updates from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and you can choose to display content from one, two, or all three of the social-networking sites, as well as set the refresh rate, ranging from 30 minutes to once a day. Buddies Now is like a favorites list and allows you to immediately call or text those contacts, as well as comment on any of their updates. There are a number of other Samsung widgets, as well as Android widgets and other shortcuts, all of which can be added to one of seven home screens.
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.