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Review of the Samsung Vibrant (Galaxy S) on T-Mobile

by on July 30, 2010
in Phones and Mobile, Phone Accessories, Cell Phones, Guides & Reviews

Samsung Vibrant frontThe new Samsung Vibrant (Galaxy S) smartphone, which launched on July 15th with T-Mobile, has stiff competition from other recently launched Android phones—MyTouch 3G Slide (T-Mobile)HTC EVO (Sprint), and the DROID X (Verizon)—and, of course, the Apple iPhone 4 (AT&T). But in my hands-on testing of the Samsung Vibrant over the last few weeks, it more than held its own and became my phone of choice for day-to-day use.

How it feels in the hand

samsung vibrant sideThe Vibrant is deceptively light for its size, weighing in at only 4.2 ounces. The low weight, combined with the slim profile (4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches), makes the Vibrant very comfortable to hold, especially when compared to thicker and heavier phones, such as the MyTouch 3G Slide, DROID X and EVO. Though the glossy finish and rounded corners of the Vibrant did not give me the same sense of security as the textured finish of the DROID X.

Display and video content

The Samsung Vibrant really shines in the display department. It has a beautiful 4-inch display (800 x 480) with incredibly vibrant (yes, it lives up to its name) colors and terrific brightness. While not quite as big as the DROID X or EVO's 4.3-inch screens, you really don't notice a difference in day-to-day use. And compared to the iPhone 4, I would choose the Vibrant's larger screen (4 inches vs 3.5 inches) over the iPhone's higher resolution (960 x 640).

To showcase the Vibrant's multimedia prowess, T-Mobile is shipping the Vibrant with a full version of Avatar pre-loaded. It's a nice freebie, but Avatar was meant to be seen on the bigscreen, and 4 inches just doesn't cut it.

Web browsing

The 4-inch screen and vibrant colors make web browsing a pleasure. But the Vibrant does not have Flash and we don't know whether it will be included when (if) the Vibrant receives an update to Android 2.2. Verizon has already announced that the DROID X will be updated to Android 2.2 and Adobe Flash Player 10.1 later this summer. 

Camera and video recording

Samsung Vibrant backThe Samsung Vibrant has a 5MP camera, 720p video recording and TV-out output capabilities. Unlike its competitors, the Vibrant does not have a flash.

Overall, I found the shots on the Vibrant to be very good, even in low-light conditions. I didn't see the lack of flash as a big drawback since most cell phone flash pictures look terrible, anyway, and the Vibrant has a night scene mode that helps with low-light shots. Colors were more pronounced and there was less noise than on the DROID X with its 8MP camera. Though Apple still rules the roost in cell phone picture quality.

The camera menus were not intuitive, with similar functions perplexingly divided into different navigation menus. The variety of shooting modes and scene options, as well as some fun cartoon effects, were great once you found them.

The 720p video recording was also slightly better than on the DROID X, but I would still opt for a standalone camcorder if I were filming anything I wanted to save for posterity.

TV-out is of limited use—the phone will stream personal photos and videos, YouTube and the Internet  to a TV, but not purchased movies or the included Avatar (Updated to correct that YouTube can be output to the TV)

Unlike the iPhone 4 and EVO, there is no front-facing camera, so no video chat for the Vibrant. Given the limitations of video chat over 3G networks, mobile video chat over 3G may not be in the iPhone 4's future either, so the 4G-capable EVO is the current winner in this game.

Keyboard and Navigation

The large display of the Vibrant allows for a nice, big virtual keyboard. I found the keyboard very easy to use and the built-in Swype made virtual typing a breeze. If you need a physical keyboard, then the MyTouch 3G Slide would be a better choice. But once you get used to Swype I don't think you'll miss having real keys.

Navigation was very similar to other Android phones, with seven panels, each customizable with various widgets and apps. It's an intuitive system and was quite responsive to my finger movements. There are some minor quirks with the Samsung customization, such as separate menus for Samsung widgets and Android widgets, but nothing earth shattering.

The Vibrant's touch-sensitive main navigation buttons—for Menu, Home, Back and Search—were a little hit-or-miss. Usually they registered on the first press, but occasionally needed a second or third attempt. Since they are part of the glass, there is no physical identifier to tell you where they are, so you can't find them without looking at the phone. In this regard, I like the physical buttons of the MyTouch 3G Slide and DROID X better.

Following an annoying trend of adding bloatware, Samsung and T-Mobile are bundling in some apps, such as MobiTV and Layar, that take up storage space and cannot be deleted from the phone. While this isn't unique to the Vibrant, it's a shameful practice we feel should be stopped immediately.

Mobile hotspot capability

Not on the Vibrant. If you need it, go for the DROID X or EVO.

Storage

The Samsung Vibrant comes with 16 GB of on-board memory and will support up to a 32 GB microSD card. Plenty of room to store your library of songs, videos and photos.

Battery life

Like every smartphone I've used the Samsung Vibrant sucks energy like its going out of style. Under normal conditions with occasional calls, web browsing and app usage, I was lucky if it lasted more than 24 hours.

Pricing and availability

The Samsung Vibrant is available at www.t-mobile.com and in T-Mobile and Radio Shack stores for $199.99 with a new, two-year customer agreement. And Amazon currently has a special offer of only $49 with a two-year agreement. (Updated 9/2/10 to reflect new Amazon price)

Should you buy it?

The Samsung Vibrant is the best phone on T-Mobile and, possibly, the best phone on the market. While other phones offer features the Vibrant does not, the overall combination of slim form factor, beautiful 4-inch screen and decent camera make it a winner for me. 

That said, if you need mobile hot spot capabilities, you should look to the DROID X and EVO. And if you are in an area with solid AT&T coverage, the iPhone 4 offers the best camera, simple syncing of music and video through iTunes and the (limited) ability to do mobile video chat over WiFi through its FaceTime app.

The problem today is not finding a good phone, it's deciding which great phone to choose.

Detailed Specs

Talk and Standby Time Talk time: Up to 6.5 hours Standby time: Up to18 days standby
Band/Modes: 850 MHz;900 MHz;1800 MHz;1900 MHz;UMTS: Band I (2100);UMTS: Band IV (AWS);UMTS: Band IV (1700/2100)
OS: Android 2.1, update to Android 2.2 late summer
Weight: 4.2 oz
Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches
Battery: 1500 mAh
Display: 4.0” WVGA AMOLED (800 x 480) 
Video: 720p HD Capture, HD Playback via TV-out or DLNA
Camera: 5.0 megapixel, Digital Zoom, Auto Focus
Processor: Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Application Processor
Memory: 16 GB on-board, 2 GB microSD pre-installed, supports up to 32 GB micro SD – total memory expandable up to 48 GB



Discussion loading

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Just a couple of notes

From John P. on July 30, 2010 :: 11:35 am

Just a couple of notes to your article about Samsung Vibrant:  First, I believe you can watch youtube video with TV out, at least, I was able to…in addition, you can use google maps, surf internet and google earth with TV OUT…but you are correct that movies do not work or SIMS3, which is a big disappointment.
Second, It is worth clarifying that after the 2.2 Froyo update, tethering and mobile hotspot should become possible based on what I have read…Thanks!

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@John Thanks for the post.

From Josh Kirschner on July 31, 2010 :: 10:24 am

@John Thanks for the post. We reached out to T-Mobile to see if we can get confirmation on when the 2.2 update is coming for Vibrant and whether T-Mobile will allow tethering/hotspot capabilities.  Will update the story when we hear from T-Mobile. Also will correct YouTube info.

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@Josh I was able to

From Justin Gann on August 06, 2010 :: 11:48 am

@Josh I was able to download and use PDANet (a wifi tether app) very simply and within minutes of downloading the app to my phone and laptop (Win7 x64) and applying the correct settings on my Vibrant. Works solidly.

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@John P. I was able

From Josh Kirschner on August 07, 2010 :: 9:37 am

@John P. I was able to get an official response from T-Mobile yesterday that there is no timeframe determined for 2.2 Froyo on the Vibrant and that they are unable to confirm whether it would provide tethering/hotspot when (or if) it is released.  Note that there was recently an issue with Verizon saying that tethering/hotspot would not be available for the Droid with the 2.2 release, so a lot of this stuff is still up in the air (frustrating for all of us).

@Justin. There are third party apps that will let you tether and create hotspots for almost any of the new smartphones.  But in most cases, it violates your terms of service (TOS) with your cell phone provider - this is the case with T-Mobile and the Vibrant.  So while you can do it, we don’t include it as a “feature”.  Much as the features you gain from jailbreaking an iPhone we would not include as official features, either. We would love to see this functionality “officially” unlocked!

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RE: Battery Life - if

From LGHORN on November 03, 2010 :: 4:29 pm

RE: Battery Life - if I could get anywhere close to 24 hours of minimal-moderate use from my Vibrant I would be thrilled.  I unplug mine from the charger when I leave home in the morning, and by lunch time it’s often down to 75-70% remaining.  NOTE: that’s with maybe 2-3 <5 min phone calls and checking email a couple of times.  There have been numerous days when I’m heading home from the office after a typical 9-9.5 hour day and my Vibrant is telling me it needs to be charged because it’s under 20%, and that’s after very light use.  Maybe I just got a bad seed, but the battery life on the Vibrant is simply pathetic!  Worse than any phone I’ve had including the iPhone 3GS, which I found quite lacking as it had to be charged every evening.

I like the Vibrant in other respects, though the build quality could be vastly improved by Samsung using lightweight metal (at least on the back) vs. cheap plastic.  A case is mandatory.  Why can’t T-Mob get a QUALITY HTC-manufactured Android phone like the rest of the carriers?  Instead, we get HTC phones like the HTC Magic, MyTouch Slide, and bulky G2 with its funky hinge? Give T-Mob an EVO like Android phone!  HTC even builds nice WP6.5 & WP7 phones for T-Mob, but not for Android?  I find it ridiculous.

Battery life on the Vibrant is just unacceptable of a daily use smartphone in 2010/2011; if it can’t provide a full day of juice under moderate use, then it’s a gonner.  Oh, and don’t trust the built-in/Android battery meeter in the notification bar, it’s plain wrong. Mine will stay at what looks like 90-80% for hours, then jump right down to under 50%.  I’ve installed two other battery meters and the OS-based one is always 10-20% higher than reality.

Due to the above, I’m seriously considering switching to the new MyTouch 4G.  I’ll miss the Vibrant’s beautiful screen and speed (esp after applying the lag fix), but it’s quickly being outpaced by the new breeds…

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@LGHORN Something is definitely wrong

From Josh Kirschner on November 03, 2010 :: 4:49 pm

@LGHORN Something is definitely wrong with your phone - either the battery is defective or you’re running something that is draining the battery.  I can easily get through the day on my Vibrant, with normal usage, and it will go more than 24 hours if I just use it occasionally.

Chances are you have GPS, bluetooth, Wi-Fi or something else running constantly that is killing the battery.  You shoud always turn these features off when not is use.  There are some other tips you can try here: http://www.techlicious.com/tip/9-ways-to-make-your-cell-phones-battery-last-longer/

If you do go for the HTC myTouch 4G, I think you’ll ike it a lot (I did): http://www.techlicious.com/review/t-mobile-htc-mytouch-4g-review/

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true....but

From someone on October 01, 2011 :: 2:54 pm

the battery sucks but still has a nicer finsh
avatar movie looks ah-mazing and it comes with my sims 3

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