Hands on with Samsung's Android handset

Samsung's upcoming Galaxy is thinner than Apple's iPhone 3G and HTC's Magic

Samsung Electronics gave the world a first look at its upcoming Galaxy handset, which runs Google's Android operating system, at the CommunicAsia exhibition in Singapore, where I had a chance to try it out.

Clad in a sleek black case with a 3.2-inch AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) touchscreen, the Galaxy has five main buttons and a directional keypad below the display. Like the HTC Magic, the Galaxy does not have a physical QWERTY keyboard. On the back, the phone has a 5-megapixel camera and an LED flash, with volume controls and a button to lock the handset located on the sides of the case.

The Galaxy has the usual features you'd expect from a high-end smartphone: GPS, Wi-Fi, and support for WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) networks and the ability to download data at speeds up to 7.2M bps where operators have invested in HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access). It also has a standard audio jack, which means you can plug in any headphones you want.

Picking up the Galaxy, I was impressed by its slimness. With a thickness of 11.9 millimeters, the Galaxy is thinner than both the Magic and Apple iPhone 3G.

The Galaxy's slim design should appeal to many smartphone users, particularly those who found the first Android handset, HTC's T-Mobile G1, to be clunky and uninspired.

Another nice feature of the Galaxy is the haptic feedback on the touchscreen when typing on the virtual keyboard. As you type, the handset vibrates slightly to let you know when a key has been touched. This could help win over users who've avoided touchscreen handsets.

It's not clear how long users can realistically expect the Galaxy's battery to last, especially if they are heavy wireless data users. But the AMOLED screen, which draws less power than the TFT-LCD screens used on the Magic and iPhone 3G, offers the possibility that Galaxy users will see longer battery life given similar usage patterns.

The Android operating system on the Galaxy was not customized for Samsung and is exactly what you will find on a G1 or Magic. The handset comes preloaded with access to a range of Google services, including Gmail and Google Maps. The Android operating system felt very responsive on the Galaxy.

The handset was also quick to react when its built-in accelerometer detected the phone was tilted 90 degrees, switching the display from portrait mode to landscape.

Android phones are getting nicer. The Magic proved that Android handsets don't have to look like a TV remote control from the 1980s. With the Galaxy, Samsung seems set to prove that Android-based smartphones can be a hit with mainstream users, not just technophiles.

While I don't think Android handsets are really a match for the iPhone yet, Samsung's Galaxy comes closer than anything else.

The Galaxy will be available in Germany and France before the end of this month and Samsung plans to start selling the handset in other markets during the second half of the year. Pricing has not been finalised.

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