While we wait with bated breath for the Samsung Galaxy S III to arrive, we have been sent Samsung's recent addition to the Galaxy S range, the mid-range Galaxy S Advance. Top-ender it isn't, but it's not a bad handset for anyone looking for smartphone telephony on a budget.
The Samsung Galaxy S Advance does a good job in terms of both looks and specifications. It is very definitely Samsung in styling. That telltale single button beneath the screen, the one that's been noted as possibly taking a cue from another well-known smartphone, with the way it depresses to wake the phone up from standby, dropping you into the main home screen.
To the left and right of this physical button are touch sensitive Android Menu and Back buttons. These illuminate if you tap the space they occupy. There's no dedicated Search button, but tap and hold on Menu and up pops the Google Search bar, so it's as good as there, really.
This is a tall, thin handset, in the typical Samsung Galaxy style. It sneaks under 10mm thick, and its curved edges, with their dark sliver plastic surround look characteristically Samsung. Despite the fact that I've seen the styling many times, its clean appearance always pleases.
Meanwhile the slightly stippled back isn't rubberised as it is on some mobiles, but it isn't shiny either. These factors combine to mean there's no great tendency for the back to retain fingerprints, but there is good ‘gripability'.
Samsung does handset screens very well, and the Galaxy S Advance shows this off. The screen isn't the best I've ever seen, but it is yet another example of Super AMOLED in action. It is clear, sharp and bright with good viewing angles. Yes, you can tell that it is recessed, but that is not a big deal, really.
The screen is large at 4in, and displays what has become the standard acceptable resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. I found it a great screen for watching video, viewing web pages and even reading texts. I downloaded the Kindle app and happily read a book - not something I'm always keen to do on a smartphone. You can also opt for Google Books if you prefer.
I'm also a fan of the fact that the main on/off switch is on the right edge, rather than on the top. My smallish hands would struggle with one-handed use if the button were on the top, but manage fine with the right-side location.
It isn't all great news though. Samsung has put the headset slot on the bottom edge. There must be an internal configuration reason for this, and it is better than a side-mounted connector. It is in a good position as far as pocket ergonomics is concerned, it just seemed odd to put the phone into my pocket, upside down.
In specifications terms, the Samsung Galaxy S Advance is pretty well appointed. There's a dual-core 1GHz processor that's supported by a generous 768MB of RAM. There's 8GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, under the back cover. There are seven home screens, and Samsung has skinned Android in familiar fashion, adding a quick launch bar to the bottom of each home screen.
Kies air application for wireless, browser-based management of your mobile phone content
Samsung provides plenty of widgets including lots that offer connected data features. There's its Social Hub for media access, AccuWeather, news feeds, email alerts, various calendars and clocks, and more. You add widgets to a home screen, by scrolling through a carousel of them at the bottom of each screen.
Samsung has thought carefully about letting you make the most of the two cameras that are on board: a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front of the chassis and a five-megapixel main camera, with flash, on the back.
Apart from the shooting app itself, Samsung also provides a photo editor for use after you've taken photos. You can use this to rotate, and crop image, change the colouration and apply a range of effects. It's OK but no great. What I like most, is the interface on the camera itself.
The camera includes touch focus and there are lots of shooting options including smile detection, panorama mode, action shot, and even a cartoonising option. The left-hand column of the screen is devoted to shortcuts, and you can customise this with four features that you use a lot. If you toggle the flash or use geolocation, a lot, use different effects or scene modes, make frequent use of the timer, or whatever, you can make getting to these that much easier. It's a great feature for imaging fans.
Samsung has added a fair bit of software to the Galaxy S Advance. There's Polaris Office for creating as well as editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint compatible files, for example. I have to admit that tapping out long documents on this handset isn't my idea of fun, but sometimes a bit of document creation or editing is a necessity and it's nice to see the facility here.
Samsung also adds a neat memo taker app, an odd diary app that can accommodate photos and geo-stamp entries and AllShare, for DLNA media sharing. The useful Kies air is here too. Go onto the same Wi-Fi network as your main computer and you can access the phone for wireless file exchange.
All in all, then, it is a very nice mix indeed. My main gripe is that the handset doesn't run Android 4.0. The specs could certainly handle it, and the buying public might decide they want it. It is available, after all, for as little as £230, in the HTC One V.
Verdict Samsung has come up with a great mid ranged handset in the Galaxy S Advance. It looks good, performs well, and hits that sweet spot between being too large and offering a big enough screen to really enjoy. It is missing out by not running Android 4 though.
Pros: We wish the headset slot were on the top edge, and that Android 4 was on board
Cons: Neat hardware design a fast; capable processor and a big screen
Price: £322.80 inc VAT SIM-free
Network: HSPA 850/900/1900/2100, GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Processor: Cortex A9 1GHz dual core
Memory expansion: microSD
Display: 4in, 480 x 800 pixels
Main camera: 5-megapixel
Front camera: 1.3-megapixel
FM radio: Yes
Size: 123.2 x 63 x 9.69 mm
OS: Android 2.3