First Look: Samsung debuts its Galaxy S line of Android smartphones

A bright Super AMOLED screen saves weight and power

Gypsy Rose Lee knew the value of a strategic and gradual unveiling. With the slow global rollout of its Galaxy S line of smartphones, Samsung is showing evidence of a lesson well learned.

Samsung announced its Galaxy S line of Android phones on June 2, gave a sneak peek of them in London on June 15, and held the official debut in New York only yesterday. Worth the wait? Maybe so.

Samsung Galaxy S
The graphics on Samsung's Galaxy S phones are sharp, fast and clear, even at extreme angles.

The phones use Samsung's Super AMOLED screen, first seen earlier this year in the Samsung Wave phone. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology is remarkable for its light weight, low power requirements and vivid color. Samsung says its Super AMOLED (active matrix OLED) screens are faster, brighter and less reflective.

I was able to try out three of the four versions of the phone at the introduction last night. My first impression of the Galaxy S phones is that they're really light (4.2 oz., compared to the iPhone 4's 4.8 oz. or the Droid X's 5.5 oz.) to the point of feeling a little flimsy. They feel almost like plastic mockups of phones, not like actual phones. The Sprint version, the Epic 4G, has a slide-out physical keyboard and therefore is thicker and feels more substantial than the others.

And the 4-in. 800-by-480-pixel screens are indeed impressive. Graphics are sharp, fast and clear, even at extreme angles. If you have to watch Avatar on a tiny screen, this is the screen to watch it on.

The phones are driven by Samsung's proprietary 1-GHz Hummingbird processor, which includes an onboard graphics processor. That processor, combined with the speed and quality of the screen, gives the impression of great speed. And with the graphics prowess of the phone, it's not surprising that Samsung is emphasizing the device's gaming, entertainment and social media value over its enterprise chops.

What's unusual from a business standpoint is that all four major U.S. carriers (and at least a couple of regional carriers) will sell their own variant of the Galaxy S phone. And each version will have its own unique features. Sprint's Epic 4G, for instance, is the only one with a slide-out hard keyboard, and the only one supporting 4G WiMax. The AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant and Verizon Fascinate models will all differ slightly in design and application stack from one another and from Sprint's offering.

The only one of the four national carriers to reveal its launch date at the time of the New York launch was T-Mobile; a company official told Computerworld that it will start selling the Vibrant on July 21 for $199 with a two-year contract.

AT&T also said it would sell the Captivate phone for $199, but representatives did not announce its ship date. Verizon and Sprint did not announce dates or pricing. A Samsung representative said all four companies would have phones by late July or early August. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all said Samsung had not yet told them when they would be allowed to start selling their phones.

The Galaxy S phones are the first in memory to come out more or less simultaneously on all four major carriers. That shows a lot of manufacturing power. But the real test will be whether the screen and its associated graphics power can win over the consumer market. There's a pretty fair chance it can.

Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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