What's Good: Thin and light Android smartphone; fast 1 GHz processor; beautiful Super AMOLED display.
What's Bad: Battery life is ok but not the greatest; lightweight body may be considered "cheap" by some.
The Verdict: Despite a few flaws, the Samsung Vibrant is the best Android device on T-Mobile.
While T-Mobile pioneered the Android "revolution" in the United States, the nation's fourth largest wireless carrier hasn't had a high-end, slate-like Android device until now. Enter the Samsung Vibrant, a member of the Galaxy S series, and the one that most closely resembles the European Galaxy S design. With a 1 GHz processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED display, and thin body, it's a feature packed phone - but does it hold its own amidst the flurry of summer phone launches?
Design & Features
The Vibrant ships with the battery, AC adapter, and USB cable (which doubles as the power cord), spare battery cover (purple), and instruction manuals. Measuring in at 4.82 inches tall by 2.54 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick, and weighing 4.16 ounces, it's thin and light enough to stow in a bag, pocket, or purse. With 16.7 million colors, the 4-inch Super AMOLED screen is absolutely beautiful. The Vibrant comes pre-loaded with Avatar (more on that later), and the picture quality is absolutely beautiful. Surprisingly enough, the screen isn't as bad in direct sunlight as the typical AMOLED display.
The left side of the unit houses the volume rocker, and the right side has the power/lock button. The top has the microUSB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack. For the most part, the device looks like a typical smartphone, but one of my favorite design elements on the device is the little "door" that covers the microUSB charging port on the top. Instead of using the typical cover that most manufacturers use, it's a door that slides from left to right. It's easy to use, and you don't have to worry about it falling off after prolonged use.
When I saw the Galaxy S series for the first time at a Samsung event in New York City, my initial thought was "man, these phones feel cheap." And there's no denying it - compared to the hard plastic, glass, and metal found on devices like the Nexus One, iPhone 4, EVO 4G, and Legend, the Vibrant is very plasticky. As time went on, though, I found myself appreciating the build quality as lightweight and clean versus lightweight and cheap. The Vibrant felt great in the hand, and the chrome accents give it a nice look.
Usability & Performance
Complete with Android 2.1, the Vibrant offers a modified version of Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. I'm not a huge fan of the TouchWiz that is installed on the manufacturer's featurephones, but it's surprisingly functional on the Vibrant. Like the iPhone 4, the Vibrant has a bottom "dock" that contains "Dialer," "Contacts," "Messaging," and "Applications" shortcuts. There are seven individual pages to customize, and in a neat feature, Samsung allows you to re-arrange, add, and remove pages. Similar to the myTouch 3G Slide interface, all icons are "boxed." When I initially picked up the phone, I didn't care for the user interface. After a few days, however, it grew on me.
The Vibrant offers Samsung's 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, and in day-to-day use, the Vibrant is speedy. Apps opened quickly, video loaded without a hitch, and I never experienced the occasional lag that other reviewers have discussed. The phone ships with a few T-Mobile goodies like James Cameron's Avatar (full movie), MobiTV, Visual Voicemail, Telenav, and a shortcut to GoGo's in-flight Wi-Fi service. The Super AMOLED display handles Avatar beautifully, and in a few minutes of watching it, I was more mesmerized than I was in theaters.
The Vibrant offers a 5.0-megapixel camera with autofocus, though it's absent of a flash. Pictures taken during the day were rich and full of color, and thanks to the Vibrant's "night mode" pictures taken in low light were surprisingly decent. That being said, I can see instances where the flash would have improved the overall quality of the photo, but after a few days of snapping pictures, I didn't miss the flash as much as I thought I would. The camera takes decent pictures across the board, but after using the iPhone 4, EVO 4G, and Incredible, I was a bit spoiled. The Vibrant offers 720p video recording, and video quality was quite good.
I tested the Vibrant in the Charlotte metropolitan area, and call quality was impressive. The earpiece on the device is incredibly loud, and could be one of the best I've tested in recent memory. I have several phones on my desk, and in several occasions, I found myself using the Vibrant to call people instead of another devices. When testing the device in a T-Mobile fringe area in Charlotte, I was able to hear the other caller, despite some choppiness and slight audio fading. Speakerphone worked well, and I was able to pair two Bluetooth headsets to the device.
With a 1500 mAh battery, the Vibrant offers 6.5 hours of talk time, and just under 18 days of standby time. Given that it uses Android and has a large touchscreen, it's not going to make it through several days of heavy usage, but with moderate use including calling, text messaging, browsing the web, using apps, and use of the Android Market, I was able to make it through a full business day with the unit - it died at about 9:00 PM, 13 hours after I removed it from the charger. The battery charges incredibly slow, though, so those that enjoy a quick charge in the car or in between meetings (read: me) may have to rethink their strategy.
The Samsung Vibrant offers HSPA connectivity, so browsing speeds were very fast. The full CNN webpage loaded in about 16 seconds, and the PhoneDog homepage loaded in 25 seconds. Other data-intensive tasks such as Google Maps, the Android Market, Google Talk, the Amazon MP3 store, and downloaded apps worked well. Though the Vibrant doesn't support HSPA+ per-se, it does benefit from markets that have HSPA+. At present, T-Mobile offers HSPA+ to 85 million people in 50 markets, with the goal of covering 185 million people by the end of 2010.
Despite some minor flaws like battery charging time and a "cheap" feel (for some), the Samsung Vibrant is the best Android device availble on T-Mobile. At $200, the high-end device is a direct competitor to the DROID X, iPhone 4, EVO 4G, and Captivate, and it holds its own with a big Super AMOLED display, thin form factor, and speedy 1 GHz processor. It's available now for $199.99, or $499.99 full retail at T-Mobile.