Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
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Review of Samsung Star II S5260
Live photos of Samsung Star II
In the time when the touchscreen phones market was being born Samsung decided to play big. The strategy was simple: to produce as many phones as possible and with a ˆ50 price step occupy all the price range from the cheapest budget phones to flagship phones. Samsung S5230 Star became one of the key models, it had an excellent price to quality ratio and it was also one of the most affordable phones to date. This phone was also a response to the popular on many markets LG KP500.
Starting from May 2009 30 million handsets were sold in just 7 months (data as of December 2010) 15 million of which in Europe. The incredible sales prove that the company got the price right and understood what users need from a touchscreen phone. This model became a bestseller with a maximum lifetime – you can still see it in stores and it is still popular.
A successor to such a popular phone was imminent and Samsung released Star II in March 2011 – almost two years after the original phone release. If you compare the specifications of the phones it may seem as if they were twin brothers: they have almost identical camera, screens etc. The design, however, is different.
And there is actually a huge difference between the phones – it is almost like comparing cars of different generations. They may seem to be alike but the user experience is just better in the new car. Samsung used a trick that will become common to many other phones. They took the Bada interface and some of its features and made them available on regular Samsung phones. They had to lose something: Star phones are supposed to have an excellent price to quality ratio and are not supposed to compete with smartphones so the price must be as low as possible. What it takes? Let's see: cheap hardware, a slower processor, less memory and so on. So the result resembles higher price range phones but it is less functional. You can forget about watching unconverted video and there is no app store or Bada support – all this is logical. Other changes are less important.
If you take into account that many view Bada phones as regular phones you will see that they are not that different. The performance is different and that is practically it. Also, all the basic functions work pretty quickly on Star II – the performance is well optimized to the phone's hardware. It is not the fastest phone on the market but no one is expecting it to be one.
The first Star became a hit because of one of the best prices on the market – there were simply no touchscreen phones this cheap and even if there were the quality was much lower. But in 2011 the situation is different: there is a terrible lot of touchscreen phones in the mid-low price range. Also, today smartphones, e.g. Androids, with similar specs are available in the Star II price range. The competition has got grinding. I do not think that this phone can repeat the success of the original – there is just too much competition. And Samsung understands that – they are also not expecting sky high sales. However, the price is still very competitive for its functionality.
The positioning of the phone is logical – exploiting its famous name. it is a nice set of features for the price. And the functionality is sufficient for an average user – the phone offers all the modern functions. But in the first place, it is a phone for those who call and text more than use the Internet. It is a phone for calls – all the other functions are secondary. The corollary is – a part of the target audience of the phone is a certain part of the youth, school students mainly who will get this phone as a gift from their parents. But the main audience will be middle aged people, who are willing to try a touchscreen phone and do not want to buy the cheapest one but also those who do not want to overpay for something they are not sure they need.
The phone is available in two colors – black and white. In both cases the body is glossy as well as the back panel that looks nice – scratches and fingerprints are not very noticeable on it. The both colors are quite universal but the white model will appeal to women more.
The phone's dimensions are – 107.5x54x12.4 mm, weight 94 gr. / 4.2x2.1x0.5 in, 3.3 oz. The phone is compact and fits well in hand. At the top there is a 3.5mm jack for headsets or headphones, next to it – a microUSB slot that has a retractable cover lid. On the right side there is the power button that also serves as the lock button. Below there is a microSD slot which is also protected by a lid. On the left side there is the volume rocker. On the back there is the speaker hole and a 3MPix camera.
The phone is well put together. If you squeeze it in hand it starts creaking – a drawback of the plastic. The call and end call keys are hard button – which is nice. The central button opens the menu – it is not a navigation key. The key do not have a backlit, but they do not really need anyway.
It is a 3" screen with the resolution of 240x400 (TFT, 262000 colors). The screen is capacitive but it does not support multitouch. The picture quality concerning the price is excellent. The view angles are good and under the direct sunlight the picture remains readable but still fades out.
The screen fits up to 10 lines of text and up to three system tray lines. There may be up to 16 lines in the message reading modes depending on the font. Scaling of the fonts unlike the previous model is not supported. In most cases the preinstalled fonts are quite comfortable.
There is no light sensor in the phone so you can only adjust the brightness of the screen manually. To my taste, the maximum brightness level is not comfortable to eyes – I used the medium brightness. Autorotation of the screen works fine and smart.
There is no VibeZ (vibration response to screen pressing) for unknown reasons and some will consider this to be a drawback.
I have come across an issue: the QWERTY key pad in the landscape mode is not easy to use. The characters in the bottom left corner are not always accessible. Sometimes you accidentally press the wrong key (in case of an SMS you may accidentally send a message). You have to be very accurate – you can get used to it but it is not really convenient.
Another issue really drove me crazy in the first hours of using this phone. When you type in the landscape mode the T9 mode is on by default. If you have a typo it suggests wrong words that you have to delete and while T9 is on the phone becomes really laggy. And this also causes mistyping – a vicious circle that's what it is. The only solution is to turn T9 off.
Unfortunately, with the given screen size and its resolution you cannot expect a good key pad. That is why they usually remove the landscape key pad from similar phones – mainly due to all the mistyping.
The phone is bundled with a 1000mAh Li-Ion battery. The official numbers are as follows – up to 8.5 hours of phone calls and up to 280 hours of standby. During the test the battery worked for about two days with the daily payload of an hour of phone calls, a few SMS, a little of emailing, and an hour of music. You can expect a two solid days of life span or 3 to 4 days if you use it less extensively. If you compare this numbers to modern smartphones you will understand that a fast processor is not always a good thing.
It takes about 2 hours to fully charge the battery.
Bluetooth. The phone supports multiple profiles: Headset, Handsfree, Serial Port, Dial Up Networking, File Transfer, Object Push, Basic Printing, A2DP. Bluetooth version is 3.0, EDR supported. Headset work fine and without any issues.
USB. There is no modem mode in the phone but you can easily use the phone a a modem via Samsung KIES application or by simply installing the drivers.
In the USB Mass Storage mode the phone is instantly recognized without any additional drivers. The USB version is 2.0. the data transfer rate is at 5 MB/s.
When the phone is connected to a PC the USB and Bluetooth cannot function simultaneously – the phone is asking permission to turn Bluetooth off regardless of the current state (whether there is a connection or data transfer going on), which very inconvenient.
When the phone is connected via USB the battery is charging.
There phone features support for EDGE class 12 for GSM networks.
WiFi. Supported protocols 802.11 b/g/n – the connection works fine and without any problems.
The phone has 30MB of inbuilt storage space and all of it is available to the user. The memory card is displayed separately – access to the both directories is the same. There is a file manager that allows you to copy files to and from the memory card. The memory slot supports hot swapping. We have tested a 16GB microSD card – everything works fine.
It is a regular 3.2MPix module with a fixed focus. The camera interface is horizontal – all the options can be selected by pressing the respective icons – the icons are big and handy making camera easy to use. Unfortunately, there is no hard shutter button so you have to press on the screen to make a snapshot.
The camera supports the following resolution:
Sample camera shots:
The camera can shoot video in the mpeg4 format at the maximum resolution; you can set the sound recording on or off. All the settings are comparable to the photo mode settings but the resolution is different and there are also effects available. The maximum resolution is 320x240 (15 fps), the video quality is rather mediocre.
As was mentioned before this phone is using the Bada application capabilities and the TouchWiz interface.
You can unlock the phone with a sliding motion by dragging the jigsaw piece to the empty slot. The jigsaw piece also shows any missed events and by dragging it to the empty slot you automatically launch the application (e.g. you open the SMS directory or the call log). Or if you just sweep to unlock the phone you get to the standby screen.
On the standby screen you see the desktop with widgets, by default there are three desktops. But in the horizontal orientation you can add extra screens (up to ten). So there is plenty of space for all your widgets (or Star II will run out of memory anyway). By default there are about twenty widgets but you can download others if you need them. The widget bar is at the bottom of the screen.
You can get to the home screen by pressing the home button, the home screen is a 3x4 matrix and there are several screens. You can drag and drop application shortcuts or webpage shortcuts on the home screen.
Working with the touchscreen is quite easy. You select the necessary item with a single press. The key pad pops up automatically – no need to launch it. In any menu you can turn the phone to the horizontal orientation which opens the QWERTY key pad.
As well as with the desktops you can add up to 10 menu pages. But considering that you cannot add your own icons or links this is not necessary (it is more a space for downloaded applications from the store). Or you can scatter your icons over these many pages but it would make finding them tricky. It is nice that you can relocate all the icons, except for the Menu icon – the only fixed icon.
Adaptive menu – a cool thing that adjusts the menu depending on how frequently you use applications so that you see the most used apps at the top. It might confuse you if you are used a die-hard order lover. This function is off by default.
In all the menus there is a bar at the bottom. It features context keys and their functions as well as their number (up to 3) depend on the current menu.
Scrolling through lists. The scrolling area on the left works faster than that on the right – a brilliant idea that makes the usability much more comfortable. In alphabetic lists you can jump to the needed letter like, for example, in the picture gallery you can jump straight to the needed location.
There is now a pop up system tray in the menu with three icons: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the sound icon. It also displays all the events like new SMS, mail, calls and so on. It resembles Android. For example, when you receive an SMS you see the address and the name of the sender and the first lines of the message.
The multitasking here is quite ordinary: if you press and hold the home button you see the list of all the active applications, you can also switch between them. The applications are displayed as icons in a 2x4 matrix. You can close particular apps or all of them. There is only one limitation of the multitasking – you can launch any number of preinstalled apps and only up to three Java applications. The video player cannot work in the background – it cannot be minimized. Same applies to the calculator.
When you minimize an application all the data is saved and you can resume the work (depends on the application – it did not work in certain games).
The phone can easily work with a few applications running in background but the browser with almost any webpage immediately consumes practically all the system memory. The widgets are also very memory demanding. If you use a lot of Internet active widgets the browser may ask you to close them. Currently, if you close a network widget it is removed from the home screen and you will have to install them anew.
A review of all the widgets would take a whole new article because the widget library offers about 50 free apps right now and judging by the enthusiasm of the developers there will be soon more than a hundred of them.
So let us just look at the most interesting ones.
Buddies Now – displays your contacts from the Favorites; you can immediately send a message to a contact or call him. You can also follow your friends' activity on Twitter and Facebook. If you click on a message you will see all the recent messages from this contact – simple and handy. I recommend adding a dozen of contacts to make messaging much easier.
Most Visited – a list of the recent web pages opened with the browser – you can open a page directly from the home screen without opening the browser first.
Feeds&Update – a list of the most recent updates on Facebook and Twitter. You can immediately respond to a message or make a post. It is a very handy client that makes the preinstalled clients unnecessary, especially the Twitter client that has a limit of message downloading (from 5 to 8) – which really gets on your nerve since you have to press Show more all the time.
There are about a dozen more standard widgets that are simple and comprehensible like email clients and a single click create message widgets.
The key pad virtual with a consecutive character typing (by default), the keys are well sized and do not cause mistyping.
The first time you turn the phone on you can select any number of languages including typing languages. The keypads are switched in a single click in a cyclic manner. The default language is the first chosen language, then comes the English layout and then all the rest.
You can open contacts from the quick launch bar at the bottom of the screen: then you will see the list of all the entries from the phone memory and the SIM card. There are tabs: the first tab is the common list, the second one – groups and so on.
The list is arranged only by names, to the left of the name you see the contact picture, to see the details on the contact you need to click on the contact entry.
The contact picture can be any image file, your photos or videos. You can assign up to five numbers to one contact (mobile, office, home, fax, other), one of which will be the primary number (the first one by default). The fields are not fixed – you can add extra fields from the menu like email address, home address etc.
There are two fields for the first and the last name (search works only with the first name), the fields are displayed together and the first name is displayed first. For example, Eldar Murtazin. Every field can fit up to 20 characters for any language. You can switch between the languages when entering the name.
Entries in different languages are arranged as follows: first come the contacts on the local language and then all the entries in English. It is quite handy and is similar to PC applications. Together with quick switching between the languages working with contacts in different languages is quite easy in this phone. You can arrange the entries by the first or the last names.
When creating a contact, besides the phone numbers, you can enter an email (or a few of them) and a small text note. You can assign any sound file as a ringtone for the contact including mp3 tracks. You can easily create any number of groups and assign a picture and a ringtone for each of them (by default there three groups and no group sections). You can also change the SMS alert sound.
You can have up to 2000 contacts with all the extra information. If you do not fill in all the fields you will still have same 2000 slots. You can set the directory of default saving of a new contact. You can set up transfer of contacts from and to the SIM card. The developers decided that the best way to sync your contacts is by using a PC or MS Outlook to be precise. You can send any entry to any other device as an SMS/MMS, email or via Bluetooth. There are no problems with transferring the contacts cards.
You can create your own visit card in the phone. It has the exact same format as a Phone book entry.
You can create any number of contact groups and assign a picture and a ringtone to each of them. A group may consist of up to 20 contacts.
During an incoming call the picture is displayed over one half of the screen and is easily readable.
You can even assign a particular type of vibration alert (five settings) to a contact.
You can also import contacts from Facebook and Twitter – you cannot select import all the contacts at once – only one by one. Unfortunately, there is no Gmail syncing. Also all the Bada social networking stuff (Activities, contacts' tabs etc.) is not available in this phone.
The general list has all events, including SMS/MMS/e-mail. From the dialing mode you can only open the general list. I could not find any limitations for the list. It keeps up to 100 events without any problems. You can only go to the list of calls and from the menu you filter them by type – incoming, outgoing and missed. These lists can be accessed from the main menu.
You can quickly move from list to list. For a separate entry in a detailed view you can see the date and time of the call and other communication with the contact. All history is stored in one place. Identical calls are combined with the number of calls given opposite every phone number. Traditionally in this menu you can access the total duration of all calls and their cost (if the service is available).
For separate numbers the black list can be created to block the respective calls. The list for sent messages is available as well.
Similar to other manufacturers Samsung abandoned an artificial division of messages into SMS and MMS: you create a message and then depending on its content the message is considered as SMS or MMS. In the menu you have an option to turn a message into MMS in a compulsory way (when you need to send a text to an e-mail address and avoid the in-built mail client).
There is also a mode of messages view both in a classical way and as a chat. In the chat mode joint messages are not viewed completely. You have to select a message to read it in full, which is not always convenient. Thankfully, you can view SMS and MMS messages in the chat mode.
In the list the messages are sorted by date, name or frequency of message exchange.
The unique feature of the phone is an option to send a message at a stated time. After completing à message you can indicate a date and time to send it to your contact. I think this useful feature will be liked by many.
Text messages can be archived on a memory card.
The phone memory can store up to 1300 messages, the model supports EMS and works with Nokia Smart Messaging. When sending a message you are allowed to choose the contacts from the phonebook, the list of the latest used numbers and groups. Traditionally, you have an option to create a black list for all types of messages and all messages from the appropriate numbers will be deleted automatically. The messages can be moved to your folders. For e-mail the blocking targets not only particular addresses, but the topics as well.
MMS messages are limited to 295 KB, while the incoming messages have no size limitations. Among additional settings we can mention the blocking of ad messages, the type of message receiving in the roaming and in the home network. The messages are stored in the dynamic memory. The same applies to e-mail.
There is also a useful feature of SOS messages. Once activated in an emergency you just have to press a volume control button 4 times and the message "I am in emergency. Please help me" is sent to designated contacts and the incoming calls from these numbers after the message is sent are received automatically. Contacts phone numbers (no more than 5) and the number of times this message is sent can be adjusted, while the text remains the same.
The in-built mail client is quite traditional without anything special. You can customize up to 5 accounts with the number of messages limited to 1000 for each account. Attachments are enabled with the size of no more than 1 MB for outgoing and 5 MB for incoming files. Received files can be viewed with the help of an in-built browser. HTML is supported as well, so the pages can be viewed without problems.
Installation wizard helps to customize the mail settings.
When you open the music player in a standard screen orientation you see the All tracks list and by scrolling the headlines horizontally you access the playlists (your lists and automatically created – frequently played, quick list and recently played). In the same place you have a filter by performers and albums. In both cases you don't have to look at the titles and choose the covers option. Here I have to mention that Samsung adds its own default cover to albums without original ones. It is a bit confusing as the interface gets extremely flashy.
The in-built search helps to find a performer in the lists or a track by letter. For any track you can use an option called "Find similar". The handset gives names of performers and tracks, which you can add to your wish list.
The player looks have 2 variants – with the album cover or the equalizer. I prefer the first variant, because the second one is really too flashy. As to the rest the player is standard for Samsung. Let's look at its characteristics.
It supports random, consecutive and cycle tracks playback. You can download mp3 files directly via Bluetooth or with the help of the synchronization app or through Windows Media Player. Files can have any name or tag, including the ones in Russian. The phone reads them well. Files bitrate is not very important and the model understands all popular formats. WMA, AAC, eAAC and eAAC+ are also supported.
During the playback you see the name of the current track and the overall number of tracks. There is an equalizer, but it cannot be customized. The playback is possible with the stereo headset or in a hands free mode. 14 levels are available for volume. Users may create their own playlists. The player works in the background mode. At least the screen shows tracks titles and tips for controls, which is convenient.
In the standby mode with the player folded only its controls and the title track are displayed.
In the speakerphone mode the sound is not clear enough as the power capacity is weak, though the volume is loud and the phone is heard well.
The quality of music playback with headphones is good. To listen to the music via the headset you can use 5.1 Surround mode, which is an equalizer to make the sound more surrounding. It is an analogue and a rival for Dolby Mobile.
Find Music (earlier known as Music Recognition) is similar to TrackID from Sony Ericsson. The recorded fragment is used to identify a performer and a song. This app has a better choice of Russian musicians to choose from and this way beats TrackID.
FM radio. The phone memory stores up to 99 radio stations with the frequencies ranging from 87.5 to 108 MHz. Automatic tuning of all stations is available, but separate channels cannot be given particular names and are always displayed with the frequency and numbers. Radio also works in a speakerphone mode. Radio works normally and if not all stations can be received in general everything is arranged well and is comparable with other models from rival manufacturers. Radio also works in the background mode.
RDS feature shows not only the station title in the general list above, but displays other information as well. Radio shows can be recorded in the phone memory.
It is a standard player, which enables going to another section of a file by dragging a player icon. DNSe is supported as well. Unfortunately, the phone can play the video only in the resolution of 240õ400. Only standard codecs H.263, H.264 (3GP, mp4) are supported.
Samsung implemented here one of the features from its players, for example, YP-P3. This is mosaic search inside the video piece. You choose the type of search (16 or 32 images) and then the phone cuts the file into equal parts and shows the shot and its time. There is a separate control for the player backlight only.
Pictures are displayed as miniatures; the list opens fast without any delays even if you have many photos and images. The list supports filters, so you can sort the pictures by tags, date or view only the favorites.
As always you can start a slideshow and send a picture to other devices in any way, including Bluetooth. Active users of social networks can instantly download a picture to a particular network.
Social Hub. In one place you have all accounts for e-mail, social networks and IM. You do not have to use different software to manage your activities. Everything is accessible from one menu and by selecting an app you open it. It is a good idea, but what I like the most is that you even do not need this menu. In the phonebook all information is displayed instantly and received messages pop up and you can answer them from the screen. The same works for SMS.
I have to give details on apps for social networks, for example, Facebook. The client is excellent and it can do everything, so I have no complaints here. Everything works on par with the offerings on other platforms.
On the other hand, Twitter is not the best, because the friends list is updated for 5-8 entries, which is not enough. To save traffic this way is a crime against ergonomics. You have to press "update" constantly. In the settings you also cannot specify the number of tweets to display. In the friends list you click a person's name and view his/her profile or send an answer. Names in tweets are not displayed as links, which is sad. The features of the client are average, but they are not enough at times. I found a way out by using an appropriate widget and forgot about the app.
IM client is good enough. You can use Utalk or Parlingo. There is also Google Talk and AIM, while several other solutions will be added soon.
In the phone memory you can save up to 500 entries represented by one type of event – meeting. There are also up to 100 entries for anniversaries. Each entry can be assigned time and date and its end period. You can select a signal and an interval for events. Repeated events option is also available (you set a repeat period and exceptions, which is convenient). The calendar can be easily viewed for a month or a week. Each type of event has a particular color, so everything is quite visible. The calendar can be viewed both in album and portrait screen orientations.
Unfortunately, you cannot add an event just by clicking a day in the calendar and the view of three tasks for a day is also unavailable in the month mode.
Notes are represented by ordinary text notes, but the implementation is admirable.
Tasks can keep up to 100 tasks with customizable priorities.
Time unites several features. There is World Clock to access time for selected locations. On the map you can select a time zone. Alarms, timer and countdown timer are also available.
Calculator is a basic one.
Converter handles different measurement units. The implementation is fine as you can see the entire list on the screen.
Dictaphone. You can record up to several hours of voice notes and the number of entries is unlimited. Technically, users can sets limits, which can reach 1 hour. All entries are stored in a separate folder. You can successfully employ this dictaphone during lectures and round tables. It can replace the digital dictaphone and works while you talk.
Bluetooth. The utility looks original and gives you an opportunity to view the map of devices. Similarly to many PC files managers it allows switching to the usual devices list. All features are supported without restrictions.
Games. Java apps can capitalize on multitasking. Applications can be started or moved into the background. The second start is available from the list. The number of preinstalled games depends on the market.
At this location you get access to all files: music, images, video and sounds. All downloaded files go here as well. On the downside we have to mention that at times files are not displayed in the general list immediately. Leave the list and enter it again.
Files are displayed as the list and icons. You can select one or several files from the list. You can copy, delete or transfer files (phone's memory, memory card). Files can be sorted by time, type, name or size. In the general list files from both types of memory are displayed by default.
As always you can protect any department of the phone with a password. It is possible to set the time for the screen backlight and its brightness. There are no special or unusual settings in the phone. There is a set of wallpapers. Profiles help t change settings quickly.
Traditionally, the font size, style and color for dialing can be selected.
Mobile Tracker: if you select a phone number it will receive messages about the replacement of a SIM card. In the message you will see the number of a new SIM card. This section is protected with a password. After the new SIM card is used an appropriate message is sent once only. Every new card triggers this message. This interesting feature helps to find a phone if it is stolen.
Picsel Viewer can be briefly described as an application to open MS Office files (for example, MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Adobe Acrobat (PDF), graphic and video formats on the phone. The beauty of technology is in its speed: the opening of a 20 ÌB PDF file takes several seconds and then you can easily scroll the pages, scale them, and move them any way you like. The files cannot be edited, only viewing is possible, which is often enough, especially if you take into account the fact that you don't have to convert the files for a mobile device.
System Manager (in the phone section). This utility was obviously borrowed from Android, but its functionality is very low at the moment. It shows the processor load, activities and battery charge level. There is no particular use in this app as it cannot uninstall particular applications. It seems that something will be done in this respect soon.
The quality of connection is above criticism. The ringtone is loud, but the vibro is not always felt.
The model costs ˆ130, which is an impressive value for money. You have not many alternatives. Nokia has Nokia 5228 with better screen, more software options and a price, which is ˆ15-20 lower. On the downside, this ordinary touchscreen model is not very convenient. Among the older offerings a slightly more expensive, but more feature rich alternative is LG Optimus GT540. It boasts a screen with higher resolution, but its operation time is inferior.
Taking into account the price of a new model it is a very competitive handset, which offers remarkable value for money. Not everybody needs a smartphone these days, but many customers would like to have a touchscreen phone without paying premium prices. This product was created for a mass market audience and beats its rivals in terms of features. Among its drawbacks we have to mention weak handling of Internet pages due to the lack of RAM. Another issue is a troublesome behavior of the keypad (its bottom left hand corner) in the horizontal mode. In all other respects this phone was a joy to work with. During one month I could not find any other serious issues.
P.S. If the original Star had a problem with the screen calibration, which was a serious defect, the second incarnation is either free of it or the issue has not resurfaced yet. We carried out a survey among service centers and retail outlets. So far the model has not suffered from returns.
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Published 04 April 2011
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