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Samsung takes aim at iPhone market

Fans of the iPhone may think nothing comes close to their favourite smartphone, even though many manufacturers have tried giving Apple a run for its money in recent months.

A clutch of Android-based phones are among these potential competitors – such as HTC’s TouchPro2, the Motorola Milestone and Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10. Another is the subject of this review, the Samsung Galaxy S.

All the models mentioned are priced at nearly $1000 and offer vivid touchscreens in excess of 3.5 inches in size.

The Galaxy S’ four-inch display is stunning enough to grab attention as soon as it is powered on.

This is thanks to Samsung’s Super AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) technology. With AMOLED already built to consume less power in larger screens, the “Super” version builds the touch-detecting layer of the screen into the display, rather than placing it on top, the intention of which is to ensure better viewing in outdoor light.

The Galaxy S looks similar to the iPhone 3GS - it is a glossy black candybar with a silver bezel. The main difference is the addition of backlit ‘options’ and ‘back’ icons on either size of the ‘home’ button.

The five megapixel camera’s lens (also capable of 720p video recording) is on the rear, and there is a lip at the bottom that adds little except a strange appearance. What does add to the user’s comfort is that Samsung has kept the device to only 118g, despite it being 120mm tall.

The device runs on Éclair – version 2.1 of Google’s OS, now the second most recent behind Froyo (2.2).

The device is full of features that mark a high-end phone – including fine call quality, 8GB of onboard memory (expandable to 32GB), 3G connectivity, wi-fi, assisted navigation and strong social networking functionality.

Built on Samsung’s 1GHz processor, users can quickly open applications, run several applications at once, and move quickly through web pages. Although performance was mostly without lags, there was an occasional freeze when pressing the back button to get to the home screen after using an application.

The manufacturer has provided 512MB of RAM for operating applications, and 2GB of ROM for installing applications.

The device’s functionality is complemented by some nice touches from Samsung.

The interface — Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 — is intuitive and customisable. The home screen has icons to get to the phone menu and virtual keypad, contacts, messaging and applications, and there are seven home screens to be filled with options of the user’s choice.

Google’s search bar is at the top of the screen by default, and active applications are displayed underneath.

Navigation is made easier because of the responsive and accurate touchscreen.

Other Samsung add-ons are AllShare, for DLNA media streaming to other players and sharing via remote networks.

In addition, Social Hub allows users to view emails and texts, make calls, start a video call, manage calendar events and appointments, view Facebook, Twitter and MySpace content as a single stream, and see friends’ contact information and photo albums, all in one place. Users can also select people from among their list of Facebook and Twitter contacts to link with their Google contacts.

The Swype feature offers strong support to the device’s messaging functionality – it allows users to run their finger across the virtual keyboard to select combinations of letters when messaging, rather than tapping individual letter icons. It is effective once you know how, but takes time to learn.

The devices’ battery is quick to charge and provided nearly two days use from a full charge, with consistent use.

Other bundled software includes Layar – the augmented reality browser that overlays real-time digital information onto the phone’s camera view, based on GPS location. There’s also the Aldiko e-book reader and Daily Briefing, designed to allow busy executives to see the day’s weather, stocks, news and calendar before leaving the house.

As well, there is ThinkFree Office to view and edit documents and an FM radio. The app stores on offer are the Android market - for which developers can offer New Zealand users free apps - and Samsung’s own App Store.

There aren’t too many disappointments with this phone – other than the lag experienced with the back button, the web browser doesn’t support Flash and the camera has no flash.

Because of the top-notch display, videos and websites look great on the Galaxy S. If users can afford the hefty $999 price tag (which comes down to $599 or $699 on a Vodafone plan), this is a genuine alternative to the iPhone.

It doesn’t beat Apple’s offering, but could win some customers’ hearts and spend.