Reviewed July 21, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The aptly named Samsung Vibrant sports Samsung's new Super AMOLED display and it is indeed more vibrant, rich and colorful than any other display technology currently on the market. While the iPhone 4's Retina Display may cram more pixels per inch, making it the sharpest smartphone display, I'll take the wonderful colors and plenty sharp enough Super AMOLED any day. The Vibrant is T-Mobile USA's version of the Samsung Galaxy S, and variants will eventually hit the 4 major US carriers (AT&T's is out as the Samsung Captivate). T-Mobile was the first carrier to offer an Android smartphone in the US (the T-Mobile G1), but this is their first superphone; a phone with absolutely cream of the crop specs. Goodies include the aforementioned 4" 800 x 480 capacitive multi-touch Super AMOLED display, a 1GHz Hummingbird CPU that's the fastest mobile CPU at the moment, 16 gigs of internal storage, a 5 megapixel autofocus camera that can shoot 720p HD video, 3G HSDPA 7.2Mbps and the usual trio of GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. The Vibrant runs Android OS 2.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 enhancements.
Since the Vibrant and Captivate are both Galaxy S phones, their internals are identical other than 3G bands since AT&T and T-Mobile use different bands. Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 and bundled software are identical, and thus our reviews will share some copy. Carrier customized software is different, with AT&T loading on their usual bloatware (and some useful software too), while T-Mobile rocks the house with Kindle for Android, the movie Avatar on the included 2 gig microSD card, The Sims 3 (full 3D goodness), TeleNav, Layar, GoGo in-flight WiFi and Slacker Radio. Granted, you can download some of these apps from the Android market yourself, but we like T-Mobile's pre-selected apps and they're helpful to newbies. You can install non-market applications on the Vibrant, unlike the Captivate.
We like Samsung’s customization of Android. This is not the over the top cartoony TouchWiz of old and gone are the intrusive side-bars. TouchWiz extends the home screen to 7 panels and provides indicator dots up top to clue you in as to which screen you’re on. You can put shortcuts anywhere and everywhere, just as with any Android phone, and Samsung adds 4 permanent ones at the bottom for contacts, email, the web browser and Applications. Speaking of applications, instead of the infinite up/down scrollable list of icons, Samsung breaks them into separate pages, ordered alphabetically and they’ve put backgrounds behind each icon (watch our video to see it in action).
Samsung includes custom applications like the Daily Briefing (news, weather, stocks and calendar appointments in one large widget), a social networking widget that handles Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, Write and Go (a note taking application that you can use to send updates via messaging and social networking), My Files (a file manager), AllShare (a DNLA client for streaming multimedia files over your WiFi network) and Samsung Media Hub (not yet ready, but it will offer movie rentals and purchase). Samsung has also customized the otherwise deadly dull Android music player and tweaked the video player, calendar and contacts. Lastly, Samsung provides several on-screen keyboards including xT9, Swype and handwriting inputs.
Slim pickins: The 9.9mm think Captivate and Vibrant, and the even slimmer iPhone 4.
The Vibrant sticks with the original Galaxy S design, while AT&T had Samsung do a redesign for the Captivate. At first glance, the Vibrant looks like a thinner iPhone 3GS, complete with curved plastic back and a front face dominated by glass and a black surround. But the Vibrant's back, despite featuring Samsung's interesting reflective pattern, looks a bit cheap given the phone's high end status. It's also slippery and mars with fingerprints in minutes. The edges are very thin, and the front bezel is edged in also slick faux gunmetal chrome, making it slippery like a bar of soap. The Vibrant is an attractive phone, but we prefer the ergonomic and stylistic improvements of the Captivate.
Like the Captivate, the Vibrant has four touch-sensitive buttons up front that work well. They handle the usual Android menu, home, back and search functions. There are no hardware call send and end buttons. Again, like the Captivate, these are very lightly masked and are hard to see unless backlighting is on: form won out over function. There's a side screen lock button on the right, volume controls on the left, and the micro USB port up top along with the 3.5mm stereo jack (a stereo earbud headset is included). We love the sliding cover over the USB port, but wish that port was at the bottom since it's awkward to talk on the phone with the charging cable sticking out the top. There are no LED indicators on the phone-- bummer.
Phone and Data
The Vibrant is a quad band GSM/EDGE world phone and it has 3G HSDPA 7.2Mbps on the 1700/2100MHz bands. That means it works on T-Mobile's US 3G network and it will work overseas where GSM network 3G service is available. Reception is weaker than average according to the db (decibel) info provided by the standard Android phone status applet. It's also quite jumpy and the db and bars hop around in areas where T-Mobile reception is stable. Standing in one location, the phone sometimes jumps from -111 to -105 to no signal in the course of 2 minutes (the phone is sitting on a desk and not being subjected to a death grip). We suspect the phone needs a software tweak for more stable reception reporting, since it sometimes reported 0 db signal yet we were able to make calls and access data. That said, the phone reports a weaker signal than the Motorola Cliq, HTC HD2 and BlackBerry Bold 9700 on 3G. If you're in an area with excellent to moderate coverage, the Vibrant still works well. But in weaker coverage areas the phone's data slows down from 3Mbps down to 1 Mbps down as measured with Ookla's Speedtest.net app and voice quality takes a hit when bars are at 2 or less (-111 db or worse).
Voice quality is good, particularly outgoing voice thanks to the Galaxy S line's noise canceling hardware. If the signal is weak, voice quality does degrade, but calls are intelligible on both ends. The Galaxy S family are among the first mobile phones to sport Bluetooth 3.0. We had no trouble pairing with a variety of Bluetooth headsets, and voice quality was good with the Jawbone 2, Jabra Stone and Plantronics Discovery 925. The Vibrant also works with Bluetooth stereo headphones and headsets, and it supports Bluetooth file transfer, though we found the built-in functionality was quirky while 3rd party file managers with Bluetooth transfer built in worked better.
Samsung phones are often a little weird when it comes to USB. Perhaps due to added profiles like MTP (media transfer protocol, that makes it act like an MP3 player for Windows Media Player) and more recently Samsung Kies. Kies is a syncing protocol for Samsung desktop software that handles Outlook syncing, using the phone as a modem over USB and media transfer and conversion. We could only find this desktop software on overseas Samsung websites but not on Samsung Mobile USA. When we tried mounting the smartphone in mass storage mode (like a hard drive or flash drive), we had no luck in Windows 7 or Mac OS X. MTP protocol didn’t fare any better. Then we enabled USB debugging mode under Settings/Applications/Development and voila, both the 16 gigs of internal storage and our microSD card appeared. Be sure to go to the Android status bar up top in the home screen after connecting the cable to actually start the USB connection.
We also found the Vibrant, like the Captivate, crashed when we changed advanced browser settings in the Android browser. When we used the “about:debug” command in the URL bar to show advanced browser settings and selected either desktop or iPhone mode rather than the default mobile mode for page rendering, the browser crashed and we couldn’t use the browser again until we did a hard reset and wiped out the phone.
Here's our 14 minute video review of the Samsung Vibrant. We compare it to a variety of Android superphones as well as the iPhone 4 and HD2.
We take a look at the Samsung software, video playback, web browsing and more.
The Galaxy S smartphones are currently among the fastest Android phones on the market when it comes to hardware. And they'll get faster when Android 2.2 is available (perhaps in September 2010). The Vibrant and Captivate benchmark faster than the EVO 4G, Motorola Droid X, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10a and a variety of significantly slower CPU phones like the MyTouch 3G Slide and Cliq XT using Softweg's Benchmark. Quadrant's benchmark application showed our Vibrant to be faster than these phones except the Droid X, which came out faster (1127 for the Droid X vs. 890 for the Vibrant).
The Hummingbird CPU is an ARM Cortex-A8 family processor that’s basically equivalent to the custom A4 chip used in the iPhone 4 and it has the same PowerVR SVG graphics processor. The Captivate is a very fast phone, and we saw only an occasional pause when quitting an app. As with the Captivate, the first minute after boot up from power off is slow because Samsung’s multimedia software indexes all music and video files on the SD card and internal memory at boot (and provides status info so you know what it’s up to). Video playback is very good, though we noted some intermittent AV sync loss on very high resolution, high bitrate videos (2,000 kbps, 800 x 480 MPEG4 video). The phone did well with the limited selection of heavy duty 3D titles available on the Android market.
The Vibrant has 16 gigs of internal flash memory and a microSD card slot located under the back cover. A 2 gig card is included (1.5 gigs used by the movie Avatar), and you need not power down or remove the battery to insert or remove a card.
The built-in GPS got a fix quickly and held on just fine in suburban areas and drives at highway speeds. The GPS works with Google Maps as well as TeleNav. TeleNav requires a monthly subscription fee, but it does offer the best spoken turn-by-turn directions (Google Maps directions can get a little iffy).
The Galaxy S family has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera that can shoot video at 720p. Picture quality was very good when lighting conditions were adequate, but noisy in dim settings since the phone surprisingly lacks a flash. The smartphone has night mode and that does help, but not as much as a flash. Again, under good lighting, video quality at 720p was quite good and overall, the Vibrant’s camera compares well with the iPhone 4 (except that nagging lack of a flash). The camera is very fast to focus and save photos compared to most autofocus camera phones.
The Vibrant has a 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery and Samsung's power management tailored to their Hummingbird CPU and GPU combo. Battery life is better than average for a very large screen, fast CPU touch screen phone, though oddly it wasn't as good as the stellar Samsung Captivate. It might be the cell radio has to work harder to tune in T-Mobile's high spectrum bands, or it might be that our local HSPA+ network squeezes more power from the phone. Nonetheless, the Vibrant had no trouble making it through a full work day with Google and Exchange sync turned on, a few short phone calls, and a few hours of total data use.
We applaud Samsung and T-Mobile's first carrier-offered Android superphone (T-Mobile USA never directly offered the Nexus One). It's very fast and slim and the display is fantastic. We like Samsung's customizations of Android, and we like T-Mobile's bundled applications and media. We'd like to see improved reception and a more stable cell radio, but the phone does a decent job with calls and data as it is. Though we prefer AT&T's added metal and fresh lines, the Vibrant is an attractive phone. If you're a T-Mobile customer looking for a high end smartphone with a good camera and lots of apps, the Vibrant is a great choice.
Price: $199 with a 2 year contract, $499 retail without extension