This month we see Samsung stepping into the world of Android, Sony Ericsson trying to win back its supporters with a brand new smartphone and Motorola going back to basics with a budget bar phone.
Samsung Galaxy Portal i5700
Samsung has become one of many manufacturers who are trying to introduce the mainstream mobile consumer to Android and its latest effort is the Galaxy Portal, or the i5700 if you are not into odd nicknames. The Galaxy Portal uses Android 1.5m but Samsung will be making an update in the near future that should bring at least Android 2.0 to this phone to boost its capabilities. The phone looks like a pretty standard Samsung mobile on the outside, with a large 3.2 inch touchscreen, several physical buttons for navigation and menu access and a rear-mounted digital camera. You will be impressed with the thin profile of this phone, as it is only a hair over 1cm thick. This does make it feel modern and it looks sleeker than some of its rivals.
Connectivity stacks up well, with Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS all onboard. There is limited onboard storage, but the retail version of the phone comes with a 1GB microSD memory card, which you can then replace at a later date. Media playback is handled by decent software that can cope with everything from MPEG to DivX formats and a 3.5mm headphone jack will accommodate most headsets out there. Since this is an Android-based smartphone you get access to all of the Google services you would expect, including Maps and Mail, but the Android Market will attract the most attention as it is Android’s answer to the App Store found on the iPhone.
If the Galaxy Portal has not sounded interesting enough so far, then the inclusion of the Layar application might change your mind. Layar is an augmented reality application that uses the Galaxy Portal’s camera, web connection and GPS locator together in a way that will impress first time users. The idea is that you point the phone’s camera at the world around you and it will then overlay what it sees with information about local services and events. For example, Samsung has pre-loaded a Layar function which lets you find out where your favourite sports team’s game is being shown in your local drinking establishments. As time goes on, Layar’s functions should become incrementally improved and for now it is one feature that allows the Galaxy Portal to trump the iPhone.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz is a smartphone that offers high definition thrills for those obsessed with image fidelity. It has an integrated camera which can capture still images at 8 megapixels, but it also has the ability to record video in 720p. It is not the first smartphone to offer HD video capture, but it is much more attractive than its major competition. Videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube once they have been recorded, but it also has a video output to allow you to view the videos in high definition on your television set, which is a great way to share them in the home.
Since the Vivaz is a smartphone rather than a cameraphone, it also has advanced connectivity options to enjoy. The Symbian S60 operating system is powering the Vivaz, but Sony Ericsson has taken the sensible step of applying its own interface over the top. This gives you an attractive homescreen and menu system which is very easy to manipulate using the touchscreen interface. Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity are present, as is GPS and all of the other bells and whistles that no self-respecting smartphone can do without.
Whilst HD video recording is very much the star of the show, the Vivaz is able to capture excellent quality pictures for sharing with friends. The Sony Ericsson Satio impressed with its 12 megapixel camera, but the Satio’s 8 megapixel alternative is just as capable. Any photography fan will know that megapixel count rarely indicates whether a camera is actually able to produce decent quality snaps. The Vivaz’s camera has an LED flashlight for darker situations, but its performance in poor lighting conditions is actually robust without the flash, with less digital interference than its immediate rivals.
With a 1.5 inch screen and a simple bar design, the WX180 is a Motorola mobile that keeps things simple. The screen does have the ability to display full colour images, which makes the menu screens and wallpaper backgrounds look good, but its small size might put some people off. In comparison with the Vivaz and the Galaxy Portal it looks positively puny, but then its price point and performance are never intended to be seen alongside these expensive smartphones.
The WX180 has a tiny amount of memory onboard, so you will not be using it to store MP3s, but it makes up for this fact by having an integrated FM radio receiver. You can use the phone to automatically tune into your favourite radio stations wherever you go and the included headset acts as a signal booster to improve the reception. There is plenty of space when it comes to text message storage, as 140 SMSs can be held comfortably in its memory.
The benefit of owning a low cost mobile phone is that the amount of talk time you are able to squeeze from its battery will be considerably more than the heavyweight phones. The WX180 allows the user to chat for up to 8 hours in a row and it can remain in standby for up to 20 days. Basic productivity features are included, with a calculator, calendar and alarm system all present. There is even a currency converter for those holidays abroad. A selection of MIDI ringtones is included in the retail version and you can change the volume and tone to match your tastes. Inbound calls can also be handled intelligently, with the ability to put callers on hold, transfer their call elsewhere or even initiate a group call.