By CHONG JINN XIUNGintech@thestar.com.my
The Galaxy Ace is aimed at those who are looking to own an Android phone on a budget.
SAMSUNG is looking to repeat the success of its Galaxy line of smartphones with its latest Android smartphone, the Galaxy Ace S5830.
In terms of design, Samsung's Galaxy Ace closely resembles the Apple iPhone - in fact the two phones look almost identical when placed side-by-side though the Ace is slightly smaller.
But don't get us wrong; the Galaxy Ace is still a good-looking slim and compact smartphone in its own right.
Though it is mostly made of plastic, it has a solid build quality and is ergonomically shaped so it feels nice to hold.
Much like modern touchscreen-based phones, the Galaxy Ace has few physical buttons including a single home button on the front while the rest such as the power button and volume rocker are located on the side.
You'll also find a microSD card slot on the side for easy access. The phone heavily relies on external microSD cards for content storage, as it only has a paltry 158MB of internal memory.
The 3.5in screen is quite decent in terms of brightness and colour. It is also responsive when in use. However, considering that the screen only has a 320 x 480 resolution, it does pale in comparison with Samsung's AMOLED equipped smartphones.
On the positive side, we liked the matte textured rear panel that, unlike the iPhone's glossy surface, provided a better grip.
On the back is a 5-megapixel autofocus camera which is complemented by an LED flash and a tiny slit for the loud speaker.
Adding their own touch
Looks aside, the Galaxy Ace is up to speed with the latest Android smartphones as it runs on the latest Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system.
The smartphone runs Samsung's TouchWiz 3.0 interface on top of the stock Android interface which gives it a slightly different look and feel. Despite the changes on the Samsung driven interface, it still runs like a regular Android smartphone but with a few added enhancements.
Holding down the home button brings up a window showing all applications running in the background. It also doubles up as a handy task manager for killing unwanted applications to conserve battery life.
The customised drag-down notification area also houses handy switches for turning on/off WiFi, Bluetooth, rotation lock and mute settings.
Similar to Windows Phone 7's People tile, the TouchWiz 3.0 address book also syncs with your friends from Facebook, where you can even check and comment on their recent activities directly from the address book.
As a phone, the voice call quality was loud and clear, and the speakerphone mode was sufficiently audible when used in a car.
Text messaging, however, still feels like a chore on the phone's virtual Qwerty keyboard because of the keys that are placed too close together. The auto-correction system is also quite poor and often results in mistyped words. The experience does improve slightly when used in landscape mode but not by much.
The Galaxy Ace does however offer an alternate method for text input using the aptly named Swype. This feature basically allows users to enter a word by sliding their finger from letter to letter.
Admittedly, it does feel weird at first but it is surprisingly accurate at predicting words that you use. In fact, we felt that we could "write" faster using Swype than the regular Qwerty keyboard.
The Ace's 800MHz processor isn't the fastest around but it gets the job done running most basic applications.
Social media buffs that can't live without Facebook, Foursquare or Twitter can breathe easy as the Galaxy Ace can run them without any problems.
However, the phone's limitations really show as there's a noticeable lag even when you perform simple tasks as dragging icons around on screen.
Certain games like Angry Birds even lagged as we played through the levels while more graphic intense games like 3D racing game, Asphalt 5, are not supported on the phone.
The web browsing experience is average at best - even though pages load relatively quickly on the phone, the low-resolution screen makes reading text a little difficult.
But the biggest problem we had with the browser was its inability to wrap text around the screen when zoomed in.
This forces you to constantly scroll from side-to-side to read a full paragraph of text.
Despite running Froyo, the web browser doesn't support Flash but this doesn't surprise us considering it is an entry level phone after all.
In terms of battery life, the Ace managed to last us for at least a full day of usage before needing to be recharged.
Not so great for media
Truth be told, the Galaxy Ace isn't great for watching videos as it misses out on common file formats like AVI and is restricted to playing MP4 formatted files. On the other hand, the music player isn't half bad and does a decent job of keeping your songs in order.
Samsung has also provided an AllShare function that allows you to stream media from the Galaxy Ace to a connected WiFi player such as a computer or network-connected HDTV.
We honestly don't see this feature being that useful aside from streaming music because of the lack of HD video playback and poor video quality from the camera.
The 5-megapixel camera is decent at taking still images that are acceptable for online use. The autofocus speed is quick when outdoors but is slow when shooting indoors.
It comes with several nifty features like smile detection and a panorama sweep mode (which dials the resolution down to 0.3-megapixels) but the picture quality won't blow you away and the colours appear a little washed out.
The LED flash helps illuminate close subjects fairly well in low light situations, but it isn't going to cut it for lighting up a room.
You will probably want to skip using the video recording feature as its only capable of taking QVGA quality (320 x 240-pixel) videos.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace is a very much a scaled-down version of Samsung's higher-end Galaxy phones. Its target definitely isn't the high-end user who is looking to upgrade their Android phone but rather those who are contemplating buying their first Android smartphone.
Despite its name, the Ace compromises on several key features - it doesn't have a brilliant AMOLED screen and the slow processor can't run certain games.
The on-board camera is decent for still photos and it has a few extras like smile detection, but the video recording quality is poor.
However, it does get the job done if all you want to do is to browse the Web, check e-mail and keep you up to date in your social networks.
Another positive is the Swype text input method that makes texting on the small screen easier.
Pros: Affordable; runs on Android 2.2 Froyo; compact and light; TouchWiz 3.0 interface; camera is decent for still photos.
Cons: Slow processor; limited on-board storage; QVGA quality video recording; low-resolution screen.
GALAXY ACE S5830
NETWORK: EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 2.2 (Froyo)
DISPLAY: 3.5in TFT capacitive touchscreen (320 x 480-pixels)
CAMERA: 5-megapixels; autofocus; LED flash; QVGA quality video recording
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi 802.11 (b/g/n), USB 2.0
EXPANSION SLOT: microSD (up to 32GB)
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 421 hours/6 hours
OTHER FEATURES: FM radio, Swype text input, A-GPS, ThinkFree, Exchange ActiveSync
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 112.4 x 59.9 x 11.5mm
Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia Electronics (SME) Sdn Bhd, 1-800-88-9999.