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Smartphones are the item to be seen with these days, they are as much a fashion accessory as they are an essential communication aid. It represents the convergence of phone, PDA and computer technology into a simple user friendly unit that does everything you need plus some things you don't need. From the early market dominance of Windows Mobile platform consumers were ripe for the picking until the arrival of the uber stylish Apple iPhone which single handedly revolutionised communications and made the smartphones market into a turf war. A combination of style, pedigree and usability made the iPhone the handset to aspire to and it had an ace in the form of a massive Apps store so users could tweak their phones to the nth degree.
Skip forward and Google enter the market with an open source mobile operating system called Android which debuts on high end phones and also has an apps store by the name of Market. Market is emerging from the shadow of the iTunes store and is growing rapidly, so much so that now it is the number one selling platform in the massive US market. Since these handsets are high end they command a high price for the technology that goes along with them and you can realistically expect to pay between £400 and £600 for the privilege and this effectively prices many out of the market. Until now.
Samsung have released the Galaxy Spica i5700 for a couple of hundred pounds or it is available for free on a cheap monthly contract. The Spica (Named for the American market) or Portal as it is over here ran Google's Android OS at version 1.6 but now has a free firmware upgrade to 2.1. Available in black and white/lime with the latter versions having both white and lime rear panels to compliment the white fascia the Spica is full blooded smartphone with all the bells and whistles.
A large 3.2" capacitive touchscreen dominates the front of the phone with several buttons below which are aesthetically a little crammed in. The left side has a two way volume control and the opposite side houses a dedicated button for both lock and camera functions. The top has a hidden power/data slot which is a proprietary Samsung design and also a 3.5mm headphone socket so you can use any headphones. A basic 3.2m camera is on the rear and has no flash. There is also a distinct lack of a front facing camera for video calling or VoiP.
The selling point of the handset itself is it's operating system which offers three basic home screens which are fully customizable and also the ability to run Samsung and third party apps and widgets simultaneously. Being a Google OS there is a direct live search box on the main screen and also an option to use voice search though this is a bit redundant really as it struggles to understand simple words.
A good example of live services is the Facebook app which runs in the background and posts messages and updates to a pull down tab which has one touch access. SMS and MMS are displayed this way also so you have a live feed as opposed to an inbox and outbox which although initially confusing is much more efficient.
The Android Market offers downloads through various categories for apps some of which are free. It is nowhere near as big as the iTunes store as of yet but I understand that it has broken 50,000 apps and is adding globally around 8,000 daily on average. Since Android is now the leading platform in the US I would expect the Market to grow even more rapidly.
There are far too many apps to relay to you what Android can do so I will just use a few examples:
Augmented Reality: is a genre which overlays digital information over real time video using your phones camera. The app Layar uses built in data and more layers can be added. To use it I chose the option of finding somewhere locally to eat, then using the camera I scan the local area and data is displayed on screen of local diners and cafes. Layar tells you which direction they are in, where they in relation to each other, the distance and also contact information. Very useful indeed. It can also be used in tourist areas to identify points of interest and in a whole host of other ways.
Shopping: I downloaded Barcode Scanner which again uses the phones camera to scan a barcode and identify a product. It will then tell me where I can buy the product and compare prices so that I don't have to visit lots of different shops and waste time looking for a bargain.
Social: An utterly useless but fun app is ASBOrometer. It uses GSM and GPS data to identify your location and tells you what the incidence of anti-social behaviour is in your area and also displays graphical data for such things as eviction notices and served orders. As I said a bit useless really (unless you are thinking of moving) but an example of what can be achieved nonetheless.
Essentially smartphones now bridge the gap between phones and netbooks and do so successfully. With the addition of apps however you are able to push way beyond what is capable of on a standard netbook PC. Like a PC the Spica uses a dedicated CPU which running at 800Mhz makes the interface responsive and fast. Wifi and A-GPS are standard fare on high end phones but are also present here at a substantially reduced price. You may be interested to know that Market now has an upgraded version of Google Maps which now gives you FREE voice guided, turn by turn navigation. I read a recent article which actually placed Google Maps Sat Nav as the best and was actually quicker than Tom Tom, (and rival phones software) which is my GPS unit of choice.
I love this phone dearly. When I first got it I had a few problems working stuff out which is to be expected of course. What floored me though was that fact the battery lasted for four days with a fair bit of use. If you really cane it heavily with net access and power hungry GPS you can kill it in a day but average use I would expect 2 or 3 days between charges. Most top end handsets require charging daily!
There are seven buttons on the bottom of the handset and there have been criticisms of this detracting from the look of the phone. Personally I think not and it actually adds to the user experience. I much prefer the phone in the white casing as it is more striking.
The screen is responsive and of good quality but as it is not AMOLED it is very hard to see in direct sunlight. The resolution makes watching video very easy on the eye though and the screen icons are clear to see.
I haven't really used the camera much but it seems quite reasonable for just 3.2m but the lack of a flash of any kind is a glaring omission which makes night time shots poor quality.
What the i5700 gives you in essence is the experience of high end ownership in the mid price range. Android is a dream to use and I never get bored of looking for different apps to try out though you really ought to get a sizeable memory card as you soon run out of space! The phone in general use is excellent with good call quality, (I am on the 3 network) and stable reliability. I am struggling to put it down at the moment which says something about the high level of features and the all important 'fun element'. I love the funky design of the white model as the black looks very generic. It is an excellent phone that I cannot recommend enough.
Originally on Dooyoo as Icetsunami - original work