By April 6, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Ace review

Samsung Galaxy Ace reviewSamsung have already put out countless Galaxy branded phones, most notably the super popular Galaxy S. Running with the popularity of the Galaxy brand name, the newest edition (also known as the S8530) has just been pushed to shelves. Although it may be newer, the Galaxy Ace technically slots in below the Galaxy S, looking to cater for the fierce mid-range smartphone market. Despite having a middling price tag, the Ace stacks up quite favourably in the specs department – an 800MHz processor underneath a 3.5 inch HVGA touchscreen, 5MP camera and Android 2.2 is already sounding good.

Despite being yet another Android phone, it does look to be a hidden gem in the sea of droids currently available and with it’s reasonable pricing, will it continue the Galaxy trend by selling in droves?
Read on to find out.

 

The 10 second review:

  • Device: Samsung S8530 Galaxy Ace
  • Price: £199 on PAYG with All-you-can-eat data
  • Summary: A midrange Android smartphone with plenty of high-end features
  • Best of:  Light yet sturdy, Swype, battery life
  • Worst of: Video recording
  • Buy it now from: Three

 

 

What’s in the box?

  • Galaxy Ace
  • Extra back cover (gloss white)
  • 1350mAh battery
  • Earphones
  • USB to micro USB cable
  • USB wall charger
  • Manuals & documentation

Matt’s unboxing of the Samsung Galaxy Ace can be seen here.

 

 

Samsung Galaxy Ace Specification

  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
  • Dimensions: 112.4 x 59.9 x 11.5 mm
  • Weight: 113 g
  • Display: TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 320 x 480 pixels, 3.5 inches
  • Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
  • TouchWiz v3.0 UI
  • Swype text input method
  • 3.5mm jack: Yes
  • Internal Storage: 158 MB
  • microSD: up to 32GB, 2GB included
  • WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA
  • Bluetooth: v2.1 with A2DP
  • USB: v2.0 microUSB
  • Camera: 5 MP, 2592×1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
  • Geo-tagging, face and smile detection
  • Android OS, v2.2 (Froyo)
  • CPU: 800 MHz ARM 11 processor, Adreno 200 GPU, Qualcomm MSM7227 chipset
  • Radio: Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • GPS: with A-GPS support

 

 

General

On the back of the phone, there’s the camera lens and an LED flash just below it. On the right of it, there’s a little grill for the speaker. The black cover has a dotted and grippy finish to it, whereas the white back has a smooth plastic finish.

Samsung Galaxy Ace review

Over on the left, you can see the metallic-look band than runs along the edge of the phone. This particular side has a volume rocker and  a tiny hole for lanyards and phone charms.

Ace-left

On the bottom of the phone, there’s a little hole for the microphone and a thin indent to give your fingernail a chance at prying off the battery cover – nothing interesting. On the right, there’s the little flap for the micro SD card slot, and the power/wake button further up. On most touchscreen phones, you’ll find this button on the top but Samsung like to be different but don’t worry – it’s easy to get used to.

Ace-right

 

Moving on to the top, there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack so it will work with your own current headset, and the micro USB for sync and charge. Interestingly, it has a sliding cover instead of the usual easily-broken cover. It may not be the first (Samsung made) phone, but well done to Samsung for this clever easy to use design; it eliminates build up of lint and the flimsy flap that everyone breaks.

Ace-top

Finally, dominating the front is a 3.5 inch display, with a silver earpiece above it and a large clicky home button below. There are touch sensitive buttons on either side for menu and back that are only visible once touched. Both are accurate and responsive – no issues with the touch buttons here.

Ace-front

 

 

Highlights

  • Size and design
  • Responsive
  • Unobtrusive TouchWiz
  • Android 2.2 Froyo
  • GPS

Lowlights

  • Video recording
  • Standard TFT LCD screen
  • No zooming when taking 5MP photos
  • Too iPhoney

 

Ace-angled-left

 

Review

The Galaxy Ace is the little brother to the Galaxy S, and you can certainly feel the similarities. Picking up the Ace, the first noticeable thing is how fantastically plastic it is and how light it is. Incidentally, that’s what first impressions of the Galaxy S were, but that’s excusable with the Ace. It may be plastic, but it feels quite sturdy in the hand and it’s probably helped to keep the price down. The back is curved to match the hand shape, so ergonomically it does feel more comfortableand compact than it’s look-a-like, the iPhone 4. While it isn’t supposed to compete with the iPhone, you can certainly see the similarities, right down to some of Samsung’s TouchWiz customisations. While that may not be a bad thing, the Ace is good enough to deserve some unique design touches to make it different.

Save for the sliding microUSB door mentioned earlier, there isn’t much here in terms of design that stand out. All that can be said is that everything works fine and fortunately there’s no major usability issues. Some may find the side located sleep/wake button slightly strange, but it’s very easy to get used to.

One thing that’s worth a mention is the wireless performance of the Ace. Over the past few weeks the Ace has been picking up between one and two bars of signal where I’d usually get none on my HTC Desire, or BlackBerry Bold – only a Nokia E72 could manage to hold onto an (intermittent) signal. In addition, the Ace supports WiFi N as well as b/g. If you’re running a wireless network on the N standard, theoretically you’d be experiencing much faster connection speeds. It’s only just starting to feature on high-end devices, so to see a phone with such a modest price tag include a b/g/n WiFi chip is almost unheard of. Well done Samsung.

The screen is a standard (no fancy S-AMOLED or IPS) 3.5″ HVGA display. If you’ve seen the old iPhone’s display, you’ve seen the Galaxy Ace display. It has no problems with brightness or contrast, even outside, but the 320×480 display does lack the crispness seen on higher resolution displays. Again, it was probably a cost saving decision to go with this screen, but it’s still perfectly usable. Reading a lot of zoomed out text or watching movies won’t be ideal on this phone but for everything else, the screen is more than adequate for a midrange phone.

 

Ace-flat-angle

 

TouchWiz UI 3.0

With so many Android phones around taking over people’s pockets, manufacturers like to differentiate their phones by adding their own software customisations on top of the original Android experience. HTC were one of the first on the overlay bandwagon with Sense, arriving to widespread praise. On the other hand, Motorola and their Blur interface was unpopular to say the least. Samsung’s TouchWiz is somewhere in the middle – some like it and some don’t.

homescreen 1homescreen 2homescreen 3homescreen 4homescreen 5

Five homescreens (default arrangement)

lockscreenmenu 1menu 2menu 3notification tray

Lockscreen, menu pages (default) and the Android notification bar

The idea of TouchWiz is to make Android a bit easier to use and more user friendly. An example of this are the four ‘dock’ icons that sit at the bottom of the screen when you’re looking at either the menu or the homescreen. From left to right, these are the dialer, contacts, text messaging and menu/home. These four are non-customisable, but you can arrange the order of the menu icons by simply holding one down and dragging it to your desired position. Another TouchWiz customisation that will be obvious to seasoned Android users are the icons; Samsung have redesigned many of the default ones which do like a bit cartoony which does take the edge off the smart design of the phone. However, a welcome TouchWiz customisation are the quick access buttons that live in the notification bar, which can be accessed by dragging down from the top. The added toolbar allows you to quickly turn on and off WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, ringer, and auto rotate – much easier than having to go deep into the settings menus to reach them.

Whichever side of the TouchWiz fence you reside on, you’ll be pleased to know that it is much simpler than Sense or Blur – there are few (if any) customisations that are more than just aesthetic. The TouchWiz UI doesn’t actually change much underneath what you see. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is up to you, but if you were after a pure Google Android look and experience, you’d want to consider the Nexus One or Nexus S phones.

Apart from the UI side of TouchWiz, Samsung have also included a number of their own apps with the Galaxy Ace.

Allshare is basically a media sharing application which allows you to share pictures, video and audio. Files can be played from the phone directly to another device supporting DLNA, or alternatively media can be played from another device to the Galaxy Ace (must go through a WiFi router or server that it’s connected to). Almost every manufacturer has their own application which essentially does the same thing, and unsurprisingly, the Allshare app streams just as well as the others. There’s not much to say here as the interface is pretty bare, and buffer times vary depending on your network speed.

Another Samsung application is the Social Hub. Just like Allshare, it’s exactly what it says on the tin; it’s also just as basic. Essentially it’s just a single destination where you can update your social networks. Note that you can’t see updates from here, only update your own. The Social Hub contains just shortcuts to text messaging, Facebook, or Twitter. Tapping on the new message takes you to the messaging app, but the Facebook or Twitter shortcut just takes you to their respective mobile sites in the browser. Even with the mobile apps installed from the App Market, they still just direct you to the mobile site making the Social Hub more trouble than it’s worth.

 

Ace-angled-left

An aspect of Android that is often debated is whether an ‘app killer’ is necessary. The Android system technically manages memory and running applications itself, meaning when extra resources are needed, unnecessary running background apps are closed. However, task killers are very popular in the App Market as you can easily close apps you don’t want running (before Android does) to save on battery life. Samsung have added their own task killer which has a handy widget you can place on one of the homescreens. It displays how many apps are running, and tapping on it takes you to the app itself where you can quickly and easily end running applications.

Although there are many Office suite applications available, ThinkFree Office is preinstalled on the Galaxy Ace, allowing you to view and edit Office documents. It is simple to load documents either from the memory card or from attachments in emails, and you can pan around and zoom using pinch to zoom gestures. As the Galaxy Ace has no hardware qwerty or massive screen and virtual ‘board, it isn’t a phone which you’ll want to do hardcore document editing. However, it works a charm for light viewing and editing on the go.

Finally, another application that is nice to see on phones, yet strangely seems to be getting rarer, is the FM radio. The app looks nice and retro, yet is also easy to use. Turning the large central dial alters the frequency, and there’s four spaces at the bottom for pre-sets. Like almost every other phone with a radio, you must plug in the headphone set before you listen as it’s needed to act as an antenna but once you do, listening is clear and pleasant (though mileage may vary based on location).

allsharetask managerramthinkfree officefm radio

Allshare, Task Manager and available RAM, ThinkFree Office, and FM Radio

As with every other droid in Google’s army, the Galaxy Ace comes with the usual array of Google apps – Market, YouTube and Maps. The Market is your gateway to all the applications that Android has to offer, from games to Tube maps. After signing in with a Google account, you can view categories of apps and games, sorting them by paid for or free. The YouTube app is also what you’d expect; the front page shows you popular and featured videos much like its desktop counterpart, while also giving you the ability to search for specific videos or upload your own directly from the phone. Loading up a video is quick and stress free, leaving you to sit back and enjoy.

The Maps application is something that has always been with Android, and it has been getting better and better ever since the days of Android 1.0 and the T-Mobile G1. Today’s incarnation features more than just a map you can pan around on. Diving a bit deeper into the settings allows you to plan routes with very extensive options, as well as the more social aspects of your location with Places and Latitude. In fact, Google Maps has come so far that they now have free full navigation. You can plan a route and it will guide you with full voice directions. As long as you’re happy with using the Galaxy Ace and it’s 3.5″ display as a GPS, it will certainly do the job.

marketyoutubemaps

Android Market, YouTube application, Google Maps

Keyboard

The Galaxy Ace uses the Swype keyboard, a little company with a keyboard that is growing in popularity. Swype have always had a good relationship with Samsung, and like some of it’s older cousins, the Ace ships with Swype by default. The basic principle of Swype is that you draw a line from each letter on the keyboard, and it will guesstimate the word you are trying to type with frightening accuracy. With a little practice, Swype users can type extremely fast, and best of all, it only requires one hand. If you just can’t get to grips with Swype, you don’t have to use it – being Android, you always have options – simply tap and hold on the compose message box and you can change the input from Swype to the standard Android keyboard, or some of Samsung’s own keyboards, including handwriting recognition. Don’t expect great things from it though, it’s nowhere near accurate enough to be used for anything more than a fun gimmick.

 

swype 1swype 2swype 4

Swype keyboard, with various other symbols and options

 

Camera

The Galaxy Ace sports a 5MP autofocus camera, which while it may not match to the 8MP and 12MP snappers of the high end world, it’s certainly decent enough to take good pictures. The interface is quite simple to use too. There are plenty of camera settings for you to tweak, all easy to find. There are a selection of shooting modes which can come in handy – not sure about the smile shot though; the face detection is pretty slow. There are preset scene modes too which alter picture settings to make your phone look best in different settings like at night or indoor. If none of these are to your liking, you can have manual control of settings such as white balance, ISO etc.

Where the camera does fall down though is the video recording. The Ace can only record QVGA resolution video at a measly 15 frames per second. Not quite what we expect nowadays even from a middling Android device. What this results in, is low quality video which is very shaky and jittery. You’re better off using your dedicated point-and-shoot for videos, there isn’t really any point in a video sample either; at least there’s the sample picture to inspect.

 

camera shooting modecamera scene mode

Camera shooting mode and scene mode

2011-03-30 18.43.32

Web Browser

The web browser again is pretty standard Android fare. I’m sure if you’ve read other reviews on Android browsers they all come to the same conclusion – it’s really quite good. Loading times, being a webkit browser, is quick on both 3G and WiFi. Thanks to the HVGA resolution, text isn’t as crisp as other smartphones but it’s adequate as long as you zoom in. Pages also seem to render correctly with the very occasional minor mishap here and there – nothing to lose sleep over. The browser works in both portrait and landscape modes. Switching between them is incredibly responsive, as is the entire phone; rotating to landscape and back is almost instantaneous on the Galaxy Ace.

 

browser portraitbrowser landscape

Browser portrait and landscape

Battery Life

Although battery life is highly subjective, it’s worth a mention to give a flavour of how it performs. The battery life on Android devices currently range from dismal to quite good. While there is yet to be one that will last more than a weekend away, the Galaxy Ace comes out on the top end of the Android stamina spectrum. Under quite heavy usage – 30 odd emails, 50 or so texts, an hour on the phone and a lot of fiddling with features and apps brought us down to critical battery after 16 hours, so it’s fair to say that the Ace will keep on chugging on for around two full days in medium use. Again, these tests are the definition of unscientific so don’t expect to be able to match the results on the spot.

 

Ace-angled-right

 

Conclusion

The Galaxy Ace could have easily been lost in the ever rising sea of Android smartphones. Even if it isn’t a benchmark blazing superphone, it does have a lot going for it. The interface is snappy, and the phone itself is nice to hold. It may be made of plastic, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart in your hands, and the overall size is just right for most peoples hands. The Ace can pull off nearly all of essential tricks that it’s bigger brothers can, and do so convincingly. TouchWiz doesn’t intrude on the vanilla Android feel, and the solid battery life ensures you can keep feeling that feel for a good while longer than other smartphones. If marketed in the right way, the Ace can go a long way and I can see it being a very popular phone indeed.

 

Posted by: Vince

Posted in: Phones, Reviews
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