In a world of smartphones with ever-increasing screen sizes and disappearing physical keyboards, the candybar form factor is becoming rarer and rarer. There are only a handful of Android devices with a physical keyboard, like the Droid Pro, Samsung Replenish, and Motorola Charm. Samsung has looked to fill in this under-saturated market segment with the Galaxy Pro, a QWERTY device that not only mimics the classic BlackBerry form factor, but throws in Froyo and a 2.8-inch touchscreen for kicks. It's not available in the US just yet, but we still took the UK version for a spin to determine if the Galaxy Pro was finally worth ditching the BlackBerry. How manageable is Android on such a small screen with landscape orientation? Read on past the break and find out.
Samsung Galaxy Pro
Battery life gets through the day
Thin, compact device
Good call quality
Confusing physical keyboard layout
Small, low resolution screen
Poor camera quality
The Galaxy Pro takes its place in the relatively small niche of touchscreen candybar devices -- it's got a 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen up top with a static hardware keyboard below. It most closely resembles the Motorola Charm, but also boasts the same hybrid touchscreen / physical keyboard layout as the Droid Pro and Samsung Replenish. It's crafted of the same plastic that seems to be the material of choice for most Samsung phones of late, but in a dark grey enclosure. Up front there's a row of the four common Android buttons (menu, home, back, and search), which serves as a divider between the screen-centric top half and bottom keyboard. The back has the same textured finish as the Galaxy S II and Nexus S, along with an opening for the 3 megapixel shooter and speaker grate. There's also a chrome silver bezel around the front that's reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS.
Along the left side of the device is a volume rocker, while the power button does dual duty as a sleep / wake button on the opposite edge. Up top has a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a micro-USB connector that's protected by the same sliding cover found on most Galaxy S devices. The bottom of the device is bare except for a small microphone hole and a small indentation that makes prying open the battery cover a little easier.
At 10.7mm thin, it's just over 1mm thicker than the iPhone 4 and a full 3.5mm thinner than the BlackBerry Tour. There's a noticeable difference in weight between the three devices, with the Galaxy Pro being the lightest by far. It feels sturdy enough, but the prospect of dropping the phone became all the more real when we considered the fickle plastic housing. At 66.7mm wide, it's also quite a bit wider than most candybar phones -- even the original BlackBerry Bold. That's not to say we couldn't grasp it comfortably, but it didn't give us the same feeling of security as some other devices we've come to grips with.
The 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen on the Galaxy Pro has a 320 x 240-pixel resolution that's straight out of 2008. We have no idea why Samsung chose to go with such a low resolution screen, but it looks positively antiquated next to newer devices on the market and makes the handset instantly feel low end and cheap.
Viewing angles aren't completely terrible, but are compounded by the screen's poor pixel density. There's also a significant bezel around the entirety of the display, making us wish that Sammy had just gone with something larger or more high-res from the get go. The problem really rears its ugly head when you're trying to read text. At any level zoomed out -- and even with the default font size in the Gmail app -- text does not appear smooth and is almost uncomfortable to read.
One of the first things we noticed on the Galaxy Pro was its use of landscape as the primary screen orientation, which is a major departure from a large percentage of Android phones. There's an accelerometer that'll recognize if you tilt the phone sideways, but the keyboard obviates itself when it's not right side up. The real issues here don't necessarily lie with Samsung, but with Android's use on landscape devices. However, we'll save that bit for the software section, so we'll just have to keep you in suspense for a little while longer.
The big draw to most folks considering the Galaxy Pro is probably the promise of a portrait full-sized hardware keyboard -- a relative rarity on non-BlackBerry devices these days. The keyboard is constructed from a thick rubbery material, and there's a nice satisfying click when you punch in a particular key. It kind of feels like a BlackBerry 8000, but with less angular keys and more square edges, though it does require a bit more force than RIM's handset.
Our main problem with the keyboard doesn't stem from its construction, but from its layout. You see, Samsung decided to to put a set of arrows at the bottom right of the keyboard (not unlike the Droid 2) as the main non-touch navigation method for the device. The "up" arrow takes up a precious key in the third row, resulting in the other letters being shifted one space to the left. Though it may seem like a slight adjustment, we found it much more confusing to type; this resulted in typos galore such as "emgadget." We also weren't particular fans of the placing of certain keys, especially the period and "alt" keys, the latter of which is used to toggle secondary characters. The fact that there's a dedicated questionmark key that throws everything else off by another space is another decision that seemed questionable to us.
Though this device is aimed squarely at current BlackBerry users who want to dip their toes in the Android waters but can't quite depart from a hardware keyboard just yet, hardcore BlackBerry users will be thrown off by the keyboard's layout. The awkward key placement on the Galaxy Pro makes it decidedly less natural to use than, say, a BlackBerry QWERTY. Relying on the arrow keys at the bottom -- rather than a trackpad in the center of the device -- doesn't help matters along any better.
Samsung's "Pro" offering ships with a set of specs that's fairly underwhelming for a device aimed squarely at the business set. For starters, it's running Android 2.2 (Froyo) atop an unnamed 800MHz processor. It's also packing 512MB of internal storage, with a microSD slot that allows that to expand up to 32 gigs. Our unit from 3 UK shipped with a 2GB card, and we're pleased that you don't need to remove the battery to access its dedicated slot. Despite the relatively slow chip, interaction with the device seemed decently swift.
It's got the usual array of sensors, including an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, and a digital compass. Also on the inside are Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity and b/g/n WiFi. We noticed that WiFi performance seemed to be on the weak end of things, with the phone only registering one bar of signal when we were just one room over from our router. We also experienced a decent amount of connection drops due to the network being out of range, even with our iPhone and MacBook Air remaining connected.
The Galaxy Pro offers quadband connectivity for GSM/EDGE but is limited to 900 / 2100 MHz HSDPA, which -- you guessed it -- means no 3G can be had by anyone on the other side of the pond. Again though, this device isn't on the US market so just know what you're getting into.
Speaker / call quality / microphone
The speaker on the Galaxy Pro is surprisingly loud and performs pretty well -- as we first experienced when we loaded up Angry Birds Rio for a quick break from hard hitting tech news items. We also loaded up a couple of our favorite tracks, and were generally pleased with the sound quality. What the speaker lacks in bass power, it makes up for in mids and trebles; sounds didn't even get significantly muffled with the volume at full blast.
Call quality also seemed to be more than acceptable, with folks on the other end telling us that we were coming through loud and clear. We were a bit upset with the weak vibrate though, since we tend to use that quite a bit.
The Galaxy Pro has a 3 megapixel shooter with autofocus around the back, and lacks a front facing cam. It's interesting to note that the camera can't be used without a memory card, which explains 3's inclusion of a 2GB microSD card in the box with our review unit. Though the app doesn't reorient when you hold the device sideways, photos are automatically rotated to the right direction -- even when originally taken upside down.
Stills seemed to be decent quality, but we've definitely been more impressed with some of Samsung's other offerings. There are some basic presets for changing settings like white balance and metering, but the camera app is nowhere near as robust as that of the Galaxy S II. We found colors to be fairly washed out, and white balance to be pretty below par -- and lack of flash doesn't help matters. Though there's a macro mode, you've got to hold the handset extra steady else you risk an unintentional appearance by Mr. Blurrycam. There are various different shooting modes available, including single shot, continuous, smile shot, panorama, and "add me," which allows you to take two halves of a photo separately and then piece them together.
Our personal favorite mode was panorama, which automatically pieces together eight photos shot in succession. While the "panorama" effect worked like a dream in terms of correctly matching up the photos, our end results tended to look blurry and out of focus no matter what settings we tried to tinker with. It was much less of an issue outside than in, but even in good lighting our finished panoramas weren't as sharp as we'd have liked. It's unfortunate, because this is certainly a cool and unique feature out of the box, and would be pretty awesome if photo quality weren't an issue.
When it comes to video, the Galaxy Pro shoots in a measly QVGA resolution at 30 frames per second. There's no focus whatsoever when you're in video mode, and you can't capture at any resolution higher than 320 x 240, so don't be surprised when final results look like something from an LG flip phone circa 2004. There are options to shoot in black and white, sepia, or negative, so if you're trying to be artsy there's always that route.
We used the Galaxy Pro as our main device for a couple of days, and found that we were able to get through the day with regular use of 1350 mAh battery, but by around 7PM it was time to plug back in. We had full Google account synchronization running in the background (2 accounts), as well as regular Twitter use and some navigation with GPS. We also had WiFi turned on and spent some time generally tinkering with the device, but were definitely not using it particularly heavily. Android's battery monitoring app told us that the screen was the largest culprit of power drainage, followed second by cellular standby, which seems to be par for the course with devices these days.
On the software side, the Galaxy Pro ships with Froyo in tow instead of opting for the fresher Gingerbread. It's all topped with a serving of TouchWiz 3.0 UI, Samsung's customized skin that -- for better or worse -- overlays the OS you'd normally find on a pure vanilla Android device. The main change is the addition of four static icons along the right side of the homescreen that allow quick access to the full application tray, messaging, contacts, and dialer. You're given up to seven homescreens of 16 apps apiece to customize to your liking, but so far as we can tell those four on the right are there for better or worse. Like on the Galaxy S II, Samsung's TouchWiz tweaks add some extra functionality to the Android recent apps switcher: with one click you're at the device task manager, which allows you to kill running apps to help save battery and processing power. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the motion sensor-enabled gestures that are present on the GSII -- though to be fair, that's running a more recent version of the TouchWiz suite.
As we hinted at earlier, Android is an operating system designed primarily for portrait use. It works alright in the landscape orientation, but with about half the screen real estate as other Android phones, the UI really suffers in certain regards. There are just too many menus that aren't optimized for the landscape format, and it results in an inefficiency in terms of how precious space is used. Despite Android's idiosyncratic landscape issues, some of the tweaks Samsung has made through TouchWiz make things even worse. Though we appreciate the addition of connection toggles (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc) in the notifications tray, they take up a solid one-third of the screen, leaving not much room for actual notifications. Also, multitouch is nowhere to be found on the Galaxy Pro, eliminating the ability to use pinch-to-zoom in any of our favorite apps at all.
The Galaxy Pro ships with the standard suite of Google apps, including Gmail, Market, and Google Maps with Navigation, all of which suffer in one way or another from the smaller screen size. For example, in the Market app, half of the screen is dedicated to static coordinated Market content, while only the other half lets you scroll through apps and search results. When you tilt the phone sideways and kick it into portrait mode, though, you instantly see how it should display (with the featured content above search results). In Gmail, the smaller screen means that you don't get to see as much of a message onscreen because of the floating toolbar at the top and archive, delete, and next/previous along the bottom. It just serves as another example of unnecessary on-screen buttons for functions that could benefit from the physical keyboard. Google Maps worked well, as did turn-by-turn navigation, but the lack of pinch-to-zoom is a bummer when it now comes standard on so many other devices.
The browser is a stock Android implementation, but the small screen really kills much of the experience. Pages load in the WAP / mobile format by default, and so far as we can tell, there doesn't seem to be an option to change that. Since there's no pinch-to-zoom, you're stuck using the on-screen buttons or double-tapping, which in our experience didn't work as flawlessly as we would've liked. Also, since the resolution is only 320 x 240, text is pretty much illegible unless you're zoomed in. We couldn't find Flash Player available in the Market, and when we spoke to a rep we were told it wasn't showing because it's a UK handset, though it technically supports up to Flash 10.1.
The homescreen itself only functions in landscape mode, and doesn't re-orient when you flip the phone sideways (though we don't know why you'd ever use it that way). However, certain apps only function in portrait mode, and simply will not twist no matter how you contort your wrist. We learned this the hard way when we tried to Shazam a song. Even Twidroyd gave us some weirdness when switching between different views, especially with LivePreview enabled.
The review unit we were testing shipped with all screen animations set to off, which didn't instill much hope for performance with them enabled. Still, we of course flipped the switch to enable them, and didn't notice any drastic change in performance. The same goes for live wallpapers; while we didn't notice a significant change in performance, scrolling through homescreens did seem to slow down slightly. Of course, there's no telling what these fancy transitions would do for battery life, though we can assume it doesn't make your battery last longer.
The keyboard is physically connected, but the OS is completely disjoint from it aside from the text input. For example, in the Gmail app, you can only see three labels up at a time, and you can't even use the letter keys to jump to a particular one. However, in the browser you can use the keyboard to jump to options in dialogs and such, which further confuses the issue. Samsung has added "Quick launch" shortcuts that allow you to quickly launch an app by hitting the search key and a letter, such as search+b to launch the browser. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but we still feel that the ball was dropped. There needs to be more integration with the keyboard at the system level, and that's probably something Google should address in a future revision to Android. The keyboard takes up half of the front face of the device, but its functionality is really limited.
The Galaxy Pro is definitely a unique little phone in a small subset of devices, and it certainly has its pros and cons. Though it has a keyboard, Samsung's layout makes typing on it almost as much as a chore as a virtual implementation. Lack of multitouch along with Samsung's added tweaks make the Android experience even less enjoyable on an already small screen. Its battery life is good enough to get you through the day, and performance seems decent enough, but you're not going to be playing graphics-intensive games on this phone aimed at current BlackBerry users. Overall, we really wanted to love this phone and kick the BlackBerry habit for good, but the drawbacks outweigh the advantages in this particular case, so we'll be sticking to our 'Berrys for now.