I always wanted a Mongoose BMX bike. But Mongoose bikes were hard to come by – at least for a rural kid growing up in Southern Ontario. A Mongoose was relatively expensive. I couldn’t justify a Mongoose. Instead I rolled through my young life on CCMs and Supercycles (Sears store brand). Adequate and honest bikes to be sure, but Mongooses (Mongeese?) they were not. And by the time I grew old enough to actually have the money for a Mongoose, my mind had turned elsewhere (By then I was busy buying a Yamaha guitar instead of a Fender). Compromise has been a friend of mine for as long as I can remember. Buying the Nexus One phone was like finally buying my Mongoose bike.
But it was not meant to be. And so I lost my Mongoose and had to compromise once again. The day I lost it is the day I once again donned the chains and shackles, signed up with The Man, and walked out with the shiny black Samsung Galaxy S you see below.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve had the Samsung for about two months now. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The phone is both enticing and aggravating. There are times I miss the N1, and yet I’m not sure which phone I’d use if it reappeared on my doorstep tomorrow. I don’t necessarily have a detailed laundry list of items, but there are good and bad things which have stuck out more than others:
Quality and Heft
The N1 felt substantial. That slightly grippy finish around the back and curved shape gave it a bit of that polished river rock feel. The Galaxy S, while very shiny, doesn’t have the same heft. The plastics gleam but looking at them you know it can’t last. And the phone is thin and light. Thin to the point of feeling slightly fragile. Being a featherweight doesn’t do anything to fight off that feeling either. After about two weeks I decided to get a faux carbon fibre snap on case that covers the back and sides. It doesn’t cover any of the screen, and makes it much easier to grip. A nice side benefit of this is the added weight. The phone now feels much more substantial fully clothed.
This is one area in which there is very little argument to be made. The Samsung display is significantly brighter, sharper and easier to read than the Nexus One. Nevermind the fact that it’s slightly larger too. And don’t get me wrong, I loved the N1 screen, but this Amoled thing is significantly better.
If there’s one thing that always nagged at me with the N1, it had to be the alotted storage for applications. There was never enough. I was constantly weighing options on what app “had to go” whenever I wanted to try something new. The Samsung came with 16GB of onboard storage as well as a slot for a microSD card (I have a little 4 GB card in there right now). I’m now the kid in the candy store when it comes to trying out apps.
Speed and Stability
The Samsung is noticeably faster than the Nexus One. But it’s also been significantly less stable. I probably restarted the Nexus One four or five times due to problems while I had it. I’ve pulled the battery out of the Samsung at least 4 times to cold boot it, force restarted it probably 10 times and it’s even restarted a couple of times on its own. Now I’m not sure if this is all due to using Launcher Pro as my launcher of choice (I used it on my Nexus One as well). But it’ll sure take more than the odd stability problem to force me into using Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. The video playback is great. I’ve seen no jitters or stutters and my daughter quite likes using it for watching videos in the car.
TouchWiz – aka Insta-hate
I probably gave the standard TouchWiz UI about 10 minutes before I downloaded and installed Launcher Pro. Maybe 10 is generous – probably more like 6 or 7. I found it horrible. Compared to Launcher Pro on the N1, this was like getting out of a Lotus Elise and into a Ford Tempo. And of course as I’ve previously speculated, maybe LPro is the cause of some of my stability issues. But I can’t bear to use the stock UI long enough to really tell. I’m willing to suffer on.
I’m a big Swype fan. I got in on the beta when I had the Nexus One and always preferred it to anything else including the stock keyboard. I did however go searching for alternatives at one point when they hadn’t put the microphone key on the board and Google had launched it’s Voice Actions. But shortly after the little mike appeared and all was good. Moving to the Samsung, I was happy knowing that Swype came pre-installed. However the microphone isn’t there. And I don’t think it will be in the near future. As some comfort, I keep the Google widget – which has the microphone button – close at hand.
This is a biggie. The N1′s bluetooth was solid. I got in my car, paired it once and enjoyed bliss thereafter. It played all my podcasts over the stereo without issue and handled calls flawlessly. I do a lot of driving (about 60-70,000 km a year). My commute is my solace. Having to wrestle with Bluetooth is something I don’t want to do. Initially, the Samsung paired without issue. But keeping it paired and playing podcasts and music via bluetooth was problematic. One thing that helped was changing my contacts display settings to only show “My Contacts”. For some reason the Samsung’s default setup included my entire Google contact list including anybody who had ever emailed me (including mailing list addresses etc.). This pared it down from roughly 1200 to about 200. I think this sped up the address book transfer and significantly smoothed things out. It’s still not perfect and every once in a while I have to restart the bluetooth on the phone. Not a deal breaker now, but a significant downgrade from the N1 for sure.
Well, it took me about a week before I gathered the gumption to upgrade the OS from 2.1 (which it came with) to 2.2. I had been spoiled with the N1, and expecting to get any sort of OTA upgrade from Samsung for this phone sounds like a pipe dream. So I wimped out and ran the upgrade on my Windows machine at work. It was not simple. It took several attempts to get the phone recognized by their software. A typical windows proprietary software mess. Not unexpected in hindsight but definitely a disappointment over the nice OTA upgrade to Froyo I had with the Nexus One. And let’s not forget that technically speaking the N1 *should* get further upgrades before many other phones. The Samsung Galaxy? Umm. Nope.
This Samsung is called the “Fascinate” by Telus. But apparently this is actually the “Captivate” on Verizon – or something like that. In any case, this phone does NOT have a flash. Now I’m not big on LED flashes, but there are times when it was useful for work peering into some relatively low light situation and reappearing with a usable photo. Not having the flash seems like a big tradeoff. I pondered it for about 10 minutes when buying the phone. In the end I figured that if I had taken any keepers with the N1, they were almost always naturally lit shots anyway. The Samsung camera app is more feature filled than the Nexus One app. It also has tap-to-focus which helps. Overall photo quality? I haven’t done any detailed comparisons, but I’d likely say the N1 camera shots are slightly nicer than the Galaxy S shots. There seems to be slightly less artifacting and they seem slightly sharper. But they’re camera phones. I have a Canon 7D if I want higher quality shots.
A small but not unimportant point. I was never a huge fan of the Nexus One trackball. I used it, but never found it to be a glorious experience. But Joni Mitchell was dead right. I miss that little round thing. The froyo upgrade (I think) brought the light blue editing cursor, but it’s fiddly. Sure the ball was fiddly too, but an order of magnitude less fiddly.
The Galaxy S also has a nice TV out feature. I had a cable that came with my Kodak Zi8 camera (1/8th plug to RGB) that I plugged into the headphone jack of the phone and into my TV. With the TV-Out display option checked I get a nice mirrored display right on the TV. We used this to watch movies on the hotel TV on more than one occasion. Definitely a nice little perk.
And There You Have It
No final scores, no rating. Just my thoughts. Would I take the Nexus One back if it magically reappeared? I’m not sure. Had I not got the bluetooth issues largely sorted, I’d say definitely yes. But after two months it’s significantly less annoying. Tallying up the speed and storage increase along with the improved display and I’d be hard pressed to choose the Nexus One.
So I’d actually take the CCM over the Mongoose. The compromise has been worth it I guess (aside from the 3 year lock-in with The Man). But then again, if I was offered a Kuwahara or a GT it might be a completely different story.
Note: My age grants me the luxury and license to quote or mis-quote BMX bike brands from the 80′s.