So here starts the most interesting part for the readers and most challenging part for myself, A long time Symbian user’s take on Android from the first impression to the finer details.
I’m calling it Most interesting because many of you out there really want to know if Android is worth trying or not. What are the WOW things in the Operating System and what lies beneath.
So, A layman’s take on Android for people completely new to Android becomes much more necessary than it was for Symbian^3. Making a decision to leave an ecosystem is never going to be easy and trusting only expert reviews isn’t enough.
Note: Most of the views expressed here will be in reference of out of the box Galaxy S experience, so I would not be able to comment on variations and features of Android versions out there. Also, I am also new to Android like most of you are.
Are you ready for Android?
First start with some pre-requisites.
If someone wishes to come into this side then he really should be prepared for it, as this is just not the another phone purchase, but it is change in habits, change in privileges and change in routines. Trust me, it’s still nowhere that scary now as it might have been a few years back with older Android versions.
It takes some time to get used to, but once things get going, everything would just fall in place and would be fine. That’s Android for you.
Android is not for you if:
You feel disgusted, if battery goes kaput without doing anything, when you had just left it on the table overnight.
You are not aware of data plans and become hysterical after watching the phone bill at the end of month.
You cry foul on privacy concerns when you haven’t fiddled much with the settings and things went online.
In short, Android is all about Apps (a majority of them working only with the Internet). So, if you are entering the Android ecosystem, you must already be an active user of many of the internet based services like Orkut/Facebook/ Twitter, Gtalk/Gmail, Foursquare etc or at least should be aware about things related to these and be ready to get started with a new account in some of these to enjoy the experience.
You must be aware of the fact that all of these services make use of the Internet and so you are actively downloading\uploading mb’s per day and will have to pay heavily if not on some suitable data plan from your service provider.
You must also know the fact that Android experience is at its best when you get proper internet connectivity, and that would require you to need an APN based service, (Like Airtel Mobile Office, Vodafone Mobile Connect, Idea Internet) rather than using the default WAP service from your provider (like Vodafone Live, Airtel Live, Idea Fresh). With weak or frequently breaking connections, the Android experience might get as screwed as any other internet experience would, but it’s almost same for all high end Smartphones.
Android is for you if:
You know that your mobile is much more than the old landline phone you used in childhood.
You know the power of social services and aware of the world made of internet apps.
You know exactly what services you are using and what are the implications (battery, data, privacy)
Note: I am not saying that Android is a disaster for battery, data, privacy etc. Each one of these will be under control at your fingertips and can be heavily customized, it’s just that you need to be warned and prepared for the things. Will come over these points in rest of post.
Symbian Vs Android
Right from the first screen, you’ll start feeling why Android started scoring higher over Symbian these days. Even if you leave the bigger reasons like already established services of Google (Gtalk, Gmail, Picasa, Google Contacts, Google Calender etc) in comparison to Ovi Services aside, there are some other reasons as well.
One of the reasons behind Symbian’s failure has been lack of fresh take on the touch paradigm as when it comes to touch, it’s not all about just mapping non-touch elements over touch. It certainly is not all about inputs via tapping “buttons” and haptic feedback. Touch is an entirely new ground and one HAS TO ADMIT IT rather than trying to find the intermediate path.
You have a larger touch screen and you have to make use of that, the input system has to be more of sliding and pinching rather than showing off menus and buttons.
Same goes for the hardware as well. Obviously, resistive touch was never even meant to be even a decent TOUCH experience, even to begin with. A touch registered should never go blank even for seconds, no matter how heavy the multi-tasking is in the background. Think if some call comes and your phone rings after 6-7 seconds. (it’s actually not like this on Symbian, but still it is almost this way for apps).
If you think that you can get away with some 128-256 MB of RAM and a 480-600 MHz processor, then you are making a big mistake, BIG BIG MISTAKE Nokia.
Android ensures that every tap gets registered instantly and whatever app you tap, it should be opened up literally within a second. Flashy animations, velvet like touch and speed of operation never misses to make you believe that it is indeed beyond a smartphone, it is a superphone.
Okay, let me get started with the real review here! That’s it with my initial impressions, the first screen is here.
Samsung Galaxy S: The standby screen
While you have already seen the device specific customized animation for the startup, after the usual account setup (Google account for storing necessary data), here comes the very intuitive and productive standby screen.
While sometimes, it feels rather unproductive to have the necessity of sliding the screen lock (up/down/left/right or anywhere, like peeling off), one will surely praise the functions it provides, either be it the awesome multi-functional drop down notification bar (only when Music player is running) or the SMS/Missed call notifications which are placed in some Jigsaw like pieces, which on joining to the right tile, fires the respective app. Yet another small but useful feature out there.
As you can see, the resolution really helps a lot to show off things or provide more room for the creativity. Such a standby screen might look a bit rigid in nature if compared with fluid Nokia Bubbles, but works much better.
I failed to understand that why there is no way to unlock the screen via some button. I understand that it can be customized via apps, but still …
Samsung Galaxy S: The Home Screen
You must have seen a lot of photos of this home screen in many reviews, but what this actually makes for a long standing Symbian user?
First of all, you are greeted into a world that is free from the legacy two menu system which Nokia borrowed from their non-touch devices, but is that enough? You could have gotten the same from any of the theme or SPB Shell. But No.. there is much much more than just persistent bottom bar.
There are five main elements of the Android Home screen.
Home screen base
Very flexible and variety of widgets
Persistent bottom bar containing four basic options
1. Notification Bar: As you can see one of the biggest difference is the drop down notification bar, which is a different approach than Symbian’s “tap to go settings” approach, but not only looks awesome and fluid but comes as a blessing for the limited multi-tasking model of Android. The most astonishing part is the way, its accessible to third party apps. Availability of notifications from most of the common apps makes the experience so integrated into the OS itself.
There are limitations as well. The 5 icons, you see here can enable/disable wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, Silent Mode and Auto Rotation. The rest of parts show detailed notifications and takes you to respective apps, but the top 5 icons work as toggle switches only. It should have been like rest of notifications but …
This is not vanilla Android as comes from Google itself, so the criticism goes to TouchWiz (the UI Layer over Android UX) of Samsung.
Though it would have better to find an easy way to toggle 3G/2G than going for an app, but again, these “limitations” do not affect the practical sense of use for most of time. I must say that alone this notification bar grows this much over you that you find it hard to live without it on other platforms and I am really not praising heavily, one must use it to see.
And by the way, don’t remember the old Éclair, it does the Bluetooth file sending with even more ease than Symbian not any lesser. Not only the visuals are cool, but I was never needed to reconnect my Nokia N8 with it again.
2. Navigation dots: Seven different home screens!! when you start scrolling through them then its easy to get bored, even if you might have loved to have as many home screens as possible. Strange but true.
Its lovely to see that how Samsung TouchWiz has cared for both of the elements: Eye candy and usability. For Eye Candy part, you can see the smooth and continuous sliding between home screens as shown in second screenshot above and for the usability part, you really praise the fact that tap any of the dot takes you directly to the particular home screen than going by some order, makes it easy to jump through home screens without sliding.
I might have complained that why the sliding doesn’t go circular. Moving to first screen after reaching last screen would have been better than current situation where it stuck at last. But as far as jumping to home screens via dots is here,I don’t think anyone will care for that limitation.
3. Home screen base: I am not sure that how it goes in lower resolution and smaller screen Android handsets, but with Galaxy S, the wider space works very well.
Hold a widget and you get option to move or delete a widget/ icon and visuals of this all action go really cool with a without border or rectangular approach like free fall.
If you thought that only this was cool, then try to do a pinch on screen with two or more fingers and you get a screen like above showing all the home screens together. You can move screens or even add\ delete screens (seven screens max) from the same screen as shown above.
Isn’t it a lot cooler than going through menus to add screens?
Later on holding your fingers in some empty space brings the rich “Add to Home screen” menu to provide you four different set of customizations. While folder and shortcut options are a nice welcome for user coming from any background, flexible and very interactive widgets hold a complete new world like the world of apps, but there is something very small that caught my eyes and stunned me; the live wallpaper.
One will say, having a kind of gif as wallpaper changes what? You might call it just another Eye candy but it means a lot for users, specially when these live wallpaper actually are interactive (respond to actions) and there are many to choose from the Android market. For example try a Bubble one or 3D Fish pond one. You will believe that even wallpapers would be fun.
Oh! yes .. for traditional two menu lovers, there is actually a bottom panel which pops out, when you tap the option key in the left bottom.
4. Very flexible and variety of widgets: First a total of seven possible home screens then a screen space of possibly 16 widgets (80×100 pixels) on each of them, the widgets game just touches the peak, when it comes to Android (And I have heard that HTC Sense widgets are more cooler than Samsung ones). Though not a fan of so many widgets on the screens (drains battery and personally I feel a mess), but think of a maximum of 112 widgets possible ….
Again, you are not out of options here and find widgets of each size. Some taking one of the four possible rows, some half of a row, some taking two rows (like shown above) and some even taking whole of the four rows (like Plume’s widget). Still its just not about the size alone.
While you see excellent example of such a larger widget in form of pulse widget (with side scroll and refresh), there is another basic one like Facebook for Android as given below.
Note: The keyboard shown above is not the default one, but is ported from upcoming Gingerbread. Available in market.
Though there is still photo upload option missing in this particular widget, you can yourself see that how an interactive widget and portrait qwerty changes the entire experience. You really can’t hold your words that its not only about UX always.
Yes! you can drag a widget from one home screen to another easily. If you add a widget of some inappropriate size on a page, then it asks you to get added on the next available screen or for adding another home screen, though if you are just dragging one of inappropriate size to a home screen then it keep the location of widget unaltered than asking you anything. Hmm… smart.
If wanna know more about Android widgets, then for techies, there is a worthy read from Android developers itself about the design principles and guidelines. One can easily get an idea of possibilities there.
5. Persistent bottom bar containing four basic options
Four basic options, which I think all of us need on daily basis; Phone, Contacts, Messaging and Applications. Though I would have also loved options of customizing this bar, but interesting is to note that the home key itself doesn’t takes you into Applications like usual Nokia devices do. May be a design decision, but I hardly see a point in it.
Under the application menu, while the bottom bar goes non-transparent, you also find the Applications icons changed to Home icon now. With Samsung Touch Wiz, apps get arranged in form of horizontal scrolling pages (as shown by the numbers on the top, similar to home screens). Though the pinch gesture effect goes a little different than it was on home screen and a little slower too (obviously because apps get stored in mass storage and multiple icon rendering might be a bit less efficient), but it has the same wow effect. Again, you can jump to any of the page either by visual gestures as given below or by tapping on numbers on top center.
I think though SGS or Android will have a max limit due to the Application Memory size about the number of apps but the implementation of Application grid allows you to keep on adding pages (happens automatically) though still I am not sure if its limited to a max of seven pages.
A good job, I must say though there were some better points in iOS and still I am finding Folder implementation of Android a little less familiar, but that doesn’t take the credits from the Android design.
Though it took me a little to find out the options, but its actually possible to customize the persistent bottom bar to suit apps of your requirements like shown above.
By default apps get arranged by the order they got installed in, its also possible to rearrange them as per your choice and similar to home screen widget arrangement, its actually possible to move one app to another “page” by dragging.
One more interesting thing I noticed with touchwiz of Samsung that its more and more portrait oriented. Even if you rotate your phone to landscape in home screen mode or application menu, it stays in portrait only. I might know some people, who wont like it but I actually liked it a lot.
Samsung Galaxy S: The Basic Communication
Nokia Telephony been a myth since decades and sure it should be expected as they hold most of the GSM related patents and been the pioneer of the industry in the same regards. Many of the users always preferred and will prefer Nokia only on the basis of the same reason. But is the same really holds true now?
Again, UX wise, you will find even lower end Symbian handsets giving decent and effortless experience, when it comes to telephony related tasks and others showing messages like this (when handling USSD codes like *141#, even Nokia N900 with Maemo did so).
Such actions should be transparent from users.
But that doesn’t take the credits from others for the part of the evolutions, they have developed in their telephony solutions. Android does the job perfectly at every level of telephony. Though I found the loudspeaker volume of SGS a bit less, but in rest of all parts, it worked flawlessly. No issues related to signals even when I tested in worse areas. Went head to head with my Nokia N8 all the time.
On top of that, the ease of use, that Samsung touchwiz + Android has brought in, will astonish you at every second step.
As you can see, it searches a contact by any part of the name or any part of the number. For example, you have a number like xxxxxxxx343xx and it will show up if you just typed 343.. or if you have a name like Jahangir.. you just tap 4-4-7 on T9 and you reach to the same contact or get a list of contacts matching the rules.
For minor details, you can also notice the fact that it searches the names first and then searches for numbers. Blue highlighting of search terms is sure cool. Also notice the visual button for Video call, which is always available for single tap.
But the awesomeness doesn’t end with intelligent contact search only, there are many other features beneath the interface for hardcore users or geeks. (I yet to see the implications of the two added options: pause, wait).
You can find distinguished icons/ symbols for outgoing/incoming/video/missed called here and for the people, who were asking about the same, yes! you can view the duration of each of the calls. It stores the history contact wise as you can see in the second screenshot.
“Favourites” been a section that I loved on Nokia S40 handsets and always been sad that they didn’t implemented similar in their Symbian^3 yet. On Galaxy S though, I find a rather evolved form of the same. The list shown above is auto generated, when I have not marked any contact as favourite yet. The counts shown against the name includes received\dialed\missed calls and SMS.
The fourth tab takes you to contacts and while kinetic scrolling etcs goes so superb with integrated contacts (Skype, Google contacts etc), portrait QWERTY just come handy in such usages specially. You can even see online/ busy status of Google contacts from contacts only (something like Maemo, Bada and recently Symbian after Ovi Chat integration) and this integrations goes up to SMS modules as well.
Integration of Android with various third party services will keep on amazing you throughout the journey and the above screenshots are just a small example. There are reasons that services and developers preferring Android over Symbian (though I am not sure that UX wise, how secure this open model is).
*Screenshot from GSMArena
In Addition to stock Froyo goodies, Samsung Touchwiz also contributes well in the easy telephony part. Swype right on a contact and it makes call to default number associated with the same contact and swype left on the contact and it will take you in the SMS messaging part. Borrowed from Bada, the other OS of Samsung, the same feature is quite intuitive.
What I found very strange here with Android that it doesn’t support VOIP/ Video calls via Google Talk app or contacts. Yes! you can do the same with Skype etc, but that again buried under layers of contacts not directly (correct me if I am wrong). Google will support theme with Honeycomb, but when these features will come to Galaxy S users, I am not sure.
As I said earlier, you will love the deep down integration of various services in the OS itself. Contacts shows with status icon here too. You find the conversation type messaging and noticed the folder kind of icon in the third snapshot, its there for notifying the draft with the draft preview under the name.
What more I liked about Android is the portrait QWERTY that Symbian^3 users literally begging from Nokia now days. Portrait QWERTY not only exists there but is available with lots of options as well.
Samsung Galaxy S, like other Samsung Androids models, comes with Swype pre-installed on it (though I have not tried the latest beta available from Swype Inc yet) though default Samsung Keypad is equally nice for the people, who find Swype little uncomfortable for them.
Apart from that one can easily find many paid\free variations of the touch keypad from Android market easily, like the one I am using emulates upcoming Gingerbread Keyboard. And yes, all of them have portrait split qwerty. Oh! did I told you that it has a CAPS LOCK key as well (tap and hold shift for few sec to activate).
Though what defies all logic here, is the landscape QWERTY. No complaint with typing etc but no split QWERTY here like portrait view? Was Google only targeting Symbian’s flaws or they thought mobiles don’t need landscape operations? At least upcoming Symbian update a.k.a. Anna gonna get it, not sure about Android Gingerbread though.
Samsung Galaxy S: IM and Emails
Its not long time ago when mobiles were meant for just calls and SMS… who would have thought that there will come a day when people might be basing their purchase decisions of the instant delivery of mails and IM on their mobiles. But that’s a reality now and accounts for half of the growth of Blackberry, I guess.
Let’s see what Galaxy S doing with it or in general how Android does it?
The first screen already greets you with two icons for the Gtalk and Gmail respectively. Probably the most popular and reliable mail and IM services in the world. Home ground for Google, I guess.
Gtalk here looks similar to Desktop client or like we would have seen with recent WRT Gtalk clients on Symbian (though Gingerbread might add send file, voice\video talk, but its not there as of now), but as wise men say, looks are not enough.
Each of the contact is linked with the contacts in your phone already and so tapping on any of them will bring the usual menu that facilitates mailing, call or SMS. Moreover, there is an “Add to chat” button for group chats (though it invites only online friends of yours) and Chat off record options as well. You can switch between multiple chats by sliding the finger left or right or by choosing the switch chat button. More Menu shows the blocked people list and also your pending invites and treat is to see the smileys as well (though I would have loved it if it was accessible more easily than being buried under menu).
Similar to native Gtalk client, though Gmail apps works just good enough to satisfy one’s need, its not without its limitations.
First see the profits: Push mail delivery is top notch, the sync is integrated well within the system, HTML rendering goes perfect, starring, labels, priority inbox all are here with the similar feel as web client. The kinetic scroll already picture perfect throughout all Android apps (which is definitely not true with all Symbian app even though contacts, Conversations, Gallery etc do it superbly). You don’t find room for attachment handling here.
But the negatives are.. its Gmail… no support for other mails like corporate etc. Then there is no pinch to zoom in mails and obviously no text reflow.
But why that should stop you when Galaxy S includes two additional email clients for taking care of rest?
The Email app provides you a combined inbox with most of options that the last Gmail app might have missed. See the tabs for different labels of your Gmail account on the top.
HTML rendering, pinch to zoom, Text reflow are just perfect and actions are more thumb friendlier. But do you know what you missed here? It’s the push mails. Now??
The search for the perfect Email client on Samsung Galaxy S ends over the Samsung Social Hub Premium (unfortunately not shipped out of the box but could be obtained from the Samsung Apps Store), which also brings you a new IM client for combining services like Live Messenger, Gtalk, Yahoo IM.
Personally for me, there are not enough words to praise this particular app, when it comes to Emails. Either it be its being light weight, perfect HTML rendering, Pinch to zoom, text reflow, kinetic scroll, combined inbox, contact integrations, options, premium looks or whatever, it ticks all the boxes comfortably. Working superb with my corporate emails as well and I am very satisfied with delivery timing.
I have heard even more praises about HTC Email solution and wonder that what better they might have done.
And for people missing the Facebook chat or file sending options etc.. one can always find more options from the amazing Android Store like the above one: IMO Beta.
So, more or less, this concludes the first part of the Android OS walkthrough of Samsung Galaxy S here (with more than 4350 words, I guess my biggest till date) and I really do want to know if you liked it. The next part review will cover most requested parts like Android market experience, App mania, Media support, battery performance etc. Gingerbread is already around the corner so.. things will improve than this for sure.
There is still much to write about that remains due over me but that will depends on your feedbacks, so do tell me that what you liked or what you wanna hear about next. I am waiting