After a long and happy relationship with my dear old Samsung slider, we realised that our text-life had become dull and predictable (or should that be "predictive"?).. As our children had grown up and moved away we took the decision to separate. Yes it's sad, but my eye had been turned by a sleek, sexy young model and, as we're both adults, we were able to make the move with the minimum of fuss. Now I can honestly say that my life has turned a corner - I've never been happier and my new model has opened up wonderful new vistas. Our text-life is wild and exciting and I feel several years younger myself...
OK. Being a cheap g!t, I bought this Galaxy Ace on the basis of a cheap network provider package. I was initially worried that I was therefore getting an equally cheap and nasty smart-phone but I couldn't have been more wrong. Well, to be honest, what I actually know about smart-phones could be written on one side of an micro-SDHC card, so for all I know the Galaxy Ace could WELL be extremely cheap and nasty. However, looking at it, holding it in my hand, actually using it, it doesn't feel or look bad at all. It has a nice heft to it (I find it ironic that mobile phones and other electronica have been getting progressively smaller over the years, but then, all of a sudden, with the iPhone, they started getting bigger again!) and it's glossy and sleek. With only one visible button on the front and one on each side it has a clean minimalist look to it and it sits happily in the palm of the hand. Externally, there's nothing to suggest that this isn't a top-of-the-range generic smart-phone.
Pretty much the only other stipulation I had when making my choice was that I wanted a Samsung/Android phone for familiarity's sake. I've been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab
for several months now and I have a good understanding of how to interact with that device: the Ace is pretty much a smaller, cut-down version of the same thing (a huge simplification, I know, but not too far from the truth). That makes it so much easier for me to use, but there were still a few surprises. Nevertheless, after only a few days of use, I did get the hang of it...
The screen is clear, sharp and vibrant but it can be tricky to read in full sunlight. The virtual keyboard (for text entry) is dauntingly dainty for someone with fat chunky fingers like mine, but it works surprisingly well and the touch screen function is nicely responsive. The numeric dial pad is much bigger and even easier to use. Do bear in mind that the "user guide" that comes in the box is pants. Utter pants. Downloading the full manual from the Samsung support site is a real must.
The controls, as I've said are minimal. That big button on the front? That's simply a "Home" button: it does little more than take you to the home screen (or a long press calls up the Task Manager). Either side of it is a hidden touch screen button, one of which accesses a dynamic menu and the other is a "back-to" function. There's a volume button on one side of the casing and an on-off on the other. All other controls are via the main touch screen: look out for the swipe-down shortcut menu at the top which allows you to access notifications and some of the main functions (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS etc).
There's also a MicroSD card
slot (you don't need to take the cover off to access this - result!) and a microUSB port for charging and data transfer.
The 5MP camera is pretty good and I've taken a lot of piccies with it. It includes a useful "panorama" facility and a fairly decent flash. It's simple to use too.
Operating the Ace as a phone (surely that's why you're going to buy it? Surely?!) is simple. You can access the dial pad or text message functions from the widgets at the bottom of the main screen. Alternatively, go to the contacts list and swipe across the contact you want to call to autodial. You can also text or email your contact from here.
As for connectivity, phoning up the internet is obviously going to be slow (and potentially expensive) so the phone will default to your local wi-fi (if one is available) to save draining your network data plan. If you have the air-time, you can also use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot in its own right to the benefit of your other, non-3G devices (a function that is called "tethering"). However, I've tired this a few times to connect my Wifi only tablet and I'm not impressed - the data speed is carp. Bluetooth works fine too for local file transfers. And GPS. Did I mention GPS? This little thing, about the size of a box of Swan Vestas, speaks to satellites! Kewl!
The world of apps may be a little bewildering to you. This isn't an app review, but I will list a few exciting (and free) opportunities...
- Did you throw away your trusty calculator many years ago? Download RealCalc for a decent scientific electronic abacus.
- Do you jog/cycle/ski to work? Sports Tracker will record your route, time and log your run and calculate the calories you have burned. It'll even share it to Facebook.
- Sudoku freak? Try Andoku. A stylus might help though.
- Bookworm? Kindle for Android is your friend. You will need good eyesight to read the print!
- No friends? Log on to FaceBook with Facebook for Android app (or Twitter, or Google+, or FourSquare).
- Never get lost on the London Underground, or indeed anywhere in the UK again. There are various map and navigation apps available for free download.
- Beware! The preloaded mp3 player won't play all formats of music file (wma seem to be a problem). I downloaded the Poweramp player app which copes with all formats and is a pretty good player to boot. There's a fre version but I splashed out a couple of squid for the full version. Niiiice.
Do bear in mind that all these apps eat up your phone's memory and it may start to creak at the seams if you install all of those.
Battery life is pi$$-poor. This is the only down-side to the device - I'm guessing that it's a standard issue with any smart-phone - and you'll be charging the phone pretty much every night. You can extend it's life by switching off GPS, wi-fi and various other bits and bobs but even that will only improve matters a little bit. Download a power management app to help out yet further (Juice Defender, for instance) but beware! it may switch off certain functions (the 3G signal for instance!) in its bid to save electrons and you will then have to remember to switch them back on again when you need them. Alternatively, buy a car charger - they're dirt cheap - so that you can use GPS in the car without losing power half-way through your journey.
All in all, I am dead chuffed to have made the move to a smart-phone and this is as good a place as any to start. Cheap but not nasty, entry-level but not tragic. Functional but simple.