Now that the sun has set on the Nexus One, T-Mobile customers looking for a high-powered superphone need something to sink their teeth into. Yes, the myTouch 3G Slide is a good device for keeping organized, but it's hardly a media powerhouse. Enter T-Mobile's new flagship phone, the Samsung Vibrant. A member of the Galaxy S series, this device is ready to challenge the likes of the Evo 4G and Droid X with a blazing fast 1-GHz -processor and a stunningly rich 4-inch Super AMOLED display that's one of the best we've seen on any mobile device. In addition, Samsung includes its custom TouchWiz interface, a host of new applications and widgets, plus exclusive entertainment content. Samsung's Media Hub for video downloads isn't ready yet, but even without that perk the Vibrant is the top Android phone for the carrier.
At a glance, the chrome-like border, edge to edge glass display (overlying black plastic), and curved candy bar shape of the Vibrant could easily be mistaken for the iPhone 3GS. But that's not a bad thing. The Vibrant is a really sexy device. Measuring at 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches, the Vibrant is larger than the iPhone 4, but lighter (4.2 ounces to 4.8 ounces). Its 4-inch display is wedged between the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 and the 4.3-inch screens of the Evo 4G and Droid X. The Vibrant's svelte profile makes it easy to slip into a pocket.
Composed mainly of plastic, the Vibrant doesn't have the premium feel of the metal-and-glass iPhone 4, but it still oozes quality. Most of the phone's front is occupied by the large display, with the familiar Android touch sensitive buttons (Menu, home, Back, and Search), and is framed by a plastic chrome-looking bezel. The edges are more rounded than the Captivate, its AT&T cousin.
On the left is a volume rocker, and on the right is the power button, which doubles as the lock key when the phone is in use. On top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB port (concealed beneath a sliding cover, which seems a bit unnecessary). The back has a 5-megapixel camera lens with a noticeably missing flash. Also missing is a HDMI output like those found on the Droid X and Evo 4G, but the Vibrant can use DLNA over to stream HD content over Wi-Fi. Unlike the international Galaxy S, the Vibrant also lacks a front facing camera.
Super AMOLED Display
The Vibrant's stunning 4-inch Super AMOLED display shows an amazing sense of depth when displaying HD video content and high resolution images. When we snapped an image of a flower pot in a park, the colors literally popped off the display, and the high definition-video we recorded in Times Square looked incredibly smooth during playback.
The iPhone 4's display may seem small compared to generous screen estate of the Vibrant, but Apple's device has a higher resolution (960 x640 pixels vs 800 x480). We also noticed that when placed next to each other, the Vibrant seems to have a faint bluish tint compared to the iPhone 4; the flower pot image had slightly more accurate colors on the iPhone 4, and web pages with the same images appeared slightly brighter on the iPhone 4 as well.
While Super AMOLED technology has made improvements in direct sunlight compared to the past, it was a bit more difficult to see what's happening on the Vibrant's display while roaming the streets of Manhattan during the day compared to the displays of the Droid X and the Evo 4G.
Keyboard and Swype
The Vibrant features a custom gray keyboard with white letters on a static black background. We immediately disabled the haptic feedback, which seemed to slow the phone down. Once turned off, the large display made it comfortable to type accurately and quickly.
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Tired of tapping? The Vibrant also features a Swype keyboard, where you draw a path between letters for text entry. Swype has a learning curve, but it works well once you get the hang of it. We wish there was a faster way to switch between keyboards, as your only option is to change it in settings.
The Vibrant features Samsung's custom Touchwiz 3.0 interface, a much more polished version than previous iterations. At first glance, the UI looks quite similar to iOS. The phone icon in particular looks nearly identical to the one in iOS, and the application screen has a static black background (which saves battery life) where you swipe left to right to view your installed apps like the iPhone, instead of the traditional vertical scrolling for Android phones. By default, the main home screen has a Google search button (which can be removed or added to any home screen), and icons for Avatar: The Movie and The Sims 3 (more on those later), plus a row of icons (phone, email, browser, and applications) that permanently occupy the bottom of the display.
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Look a bit deeper, however, and you'll realize that the Vibrant is customizable in ways that iPhone users can only dream of. A total of seven home screens (a lot, but still a smaller number compared to the iPhone 4's 11), can be customized with a combination of useful widgets, folders, and shortcuts. Swipe to the left, and you're presented with a Feeds and Updates widget that displays the last 16 social networking updates from Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. From here, you can reply to messages and even edit retweets before sending. It's similar to the custom widget on the Droid X, though some may want to use standalone applications instead. A buddies widget allows you to see specific contacts' social networking status, and their history of text messages with you as well. The Daily Briefing feature provides stock info from Yahoo Finance, news from AP Mobile, and weather updates.
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The Vibrant manages to differentiate itself from the Android pack with the little touches that Samsung added to its interface. For example, the notification drawer will allow you to toggle Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and it also features a silent/vibration button. We also like the gestures implemented into the contacts where you simply swipe left to send a text message, or right to make a call. The activities tab within each contact will display their social networking status and history, similar to the Feeds and Updates widget.
Specs and Performance
The Vibrant packs a punch with Samsung's 1-GHz Hummingbird processor and 512MB of RAM. You also get 16GB of internal storage, and the device accepts microSD cards up to 32GB in size. T-Mobile was generous enough to pack a 2GB microSD card in the box, so you're treated to 18GB of storage from the start. Performance was quick for the most part, though some delay occurred when switching between apps (when exiting the browser) and sometimes swiping between home screens. It wasn't enough to detract from the overall experience, though.
Considering it has the same specs as the Captivate, we weren't surprised to see the Vibrant turn in practically the same scores on our benchmark tests. In FPS2D (which measures 2D performance), the Vibrant scored 54 frames per second, the same as the Captivate. In An3DBench, which measures 3D performance, the Vibrant's score of 6,637 was 20 points higher than the Captivate, and bested the Dell Streak by about 4,200 points. However, the Droid X's benchmark scores were pretty much equal to the Vibrant across the board.
A six-axis accelerometer is incorporated into the Vibrant, which should enhance gameplay. Unfortunately, there aren't any compelling titles on the Android Market to take full advantage of the technology yet. Racing games could really benefit from this, so we're hoping a boom in the gaming section of the Android Market is on its way.
E-mail and Messaging
Like every Android phone, the Vibrant has a dedicated Gmail client and a separate mail application. The mail application isn't as polished as the Gmail client (it seems a bit slower), which is a bit frustrating when you're in a hurry. Business users will appreciate the built-in Exchange support. The messaging app takes a cue from the iPhone, wrapping messages in a bubble (though not color-coded) and works fast, even when attaching pictures to send via MMS.
Browsing on the Vibrant was speedy over T-Mobile's 3G network. Though not a true HSPA+ device, T-Mobile claims that the Vibrant is enhanced by the faster network in supported areas, and it shows. The Vibrant loaded ESPN.com in 7 seconds compared to the 9 seconds on the Captivate and 10 seconds on the iPhone 4. It also outpaced the others, loading Yahoo.com in 6 seconds, compared to the Captivate and iPhone 4's 10 and 13 seconds, respectively. Laptopmag.com site loaded in 19 seconds on the Vibrant, compared to the 25 seconds of the Captivate, and 27 seconds of the iPhone 4. Over Wi-Fi, the Vibrant loaded ESPN and Yahoo in 5 seconds, and Laptopmag.com in 13 seconds.
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The only downside we found is that T-Mobile's network was spotty as we traveled in various buildings throughout NYC. When 3G is available, it works great, but other times the signal was so weak that browsing would slow to a snail's pace.
The pinch-to-zoom function on the Vibrant was smooth and nimble, but double-tapping to zoom in and out stuttered (a common issue with Android phones). With the default Android browser, there is no way to force desktop versions of sites to load; thankfully, browsers like Dolphin (available for free in the Android Market) remedy this issue.
Sadly, the Vibrant lacks a mobile hotspot app, so you're not able to utilize it as a mobile hotspot like the EVO 4G or the Droid X. Samsung did announce that Froyo (Android 2.2) will come to the Vibrant, bringing the ability to tether the phone to your notebook via USB.
Apps and Gaming
With 80,000 (and counting) applications in the Android Market, the Vibrant can easily become a Swiss Army knife. All of the apps we tested worked great, including Twitter, Facebook, Slacker, The Sims 3, and Amazon Kindle. Another unique Vibrant application is Write and Go, which lets you enter an update (even when there is no signal present) and post to Facebook and/or Twitter, or send as a text message later on.
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T-Mobile landed the The Sims 3 as an exclusive for the Vibrant, and we were very impressed. The 3D graphics were detailed and animation was smooth. The full scope of the game is comparable to the console and PC offerings, and it really sets the bar for gaming quality on the Android platform. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for gaming on Android devices.
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Unlike AT&T's Captivate, the Vibrant is light on bloatware. MobiTV, a live and on-demand media streaming service, costs $9.99 a month (the first month is free). Kindle for Android works well--there are many free books available, and most mainstream titles cost on average $10. Slacker Pro is also installed and you're given a free one month subscription. After that it costs $3.99 per month. (A free version of Slacker is available in the Android Market, but it doesn't offer unlimited skipping and song caching).
Music and Video
Samsung has a long history of making portable media players, so it's no surprise that the Vibrant excels in this area. The interface is more along the lines of a high-end PMP, a major step up from most Android phones. Album art is large and takes up the majority of the screen in portrait mode, and in landscape mode, albums are shown in a cover flow-like system. Press the menu button in portrait mode, and you can scroll even more quickly through your music using a circular wheel.
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When used with the proper headphones or speakers, the Vibrant supports 5.1 audio. Speaking of which, the earbuds bundled with the Vibrant are quite good for a bundled pair. They have crisp highs, and just enough bass when listening to music. Comfortable gel tips prevent the earbuds from slipping out (although only one size tip is offered). The speaker on the back of the Vibrant delivered good volume, though it was a bit tinny when cranked to the max.
T-Mobile landed another exclusive and packs a copy of Avatar with every Vibrant phone--much better than the Transformers exclusive on the HTC HD2, in our opinion. Everyone who watched the movie on the phone was blown away at how well Avatar's colorful world is replicated. It's a testament to the richness and clarity of the Super AMOLED display.
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Unfortunately, Samsung's iTunes-like Media Hub Service isn't implemented yet, leaving it way behind the iPhone 4 on the video front. It remains to be seen how well the service, which will provide premium TV shows and movies, compliments the phone. We will update this review once we've had a chance to test this service.
The Vibrant also has AllShare, which lets you share files using DLNA technology over Wi-Fi. With the Vibrant, you must select the media you want to share first, and then connect the device. It's more of a nuisance when trying to switch between pictures and videos. The Droid X approach is better in our opinion, as you can connect the device first, then decide what to share.
Camera and Camcorder
The Vibrant's 5-megapixel camera features a 4X digital zoom, and has a lot of functions you'd find on a traditional point and shoot, such as Panorama mode. There are also dedicated shooting modes, including Night, Portrait, Sports, and more. However, functions don't equal functionality: While outdoor photos had plenty of detail, with great color clarity and minimal blur, photos in low-light suffered, as the Vibrant lacks a flash. You'll want to engage the Night mode for sure.
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Indoor video suffered the same fate in darker conditions, but the 720p footage we captured of midtown Manhattan traffic in broad daylight looked exceptionally smooth. We could make out store logos way in the background.
Maps and GPS
Google Maps Navigation worked fine on the Vibrant. TeleNav Navigation is available as well, and offers other functions such as traffic delay alerts. This all comes at a price, however--$9.99 a month, making the free Google Maps Navigation a better value if you don't need those features.
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Call Quality and Battery Life
Click to enlargeIn our testing, callers informed us that we came through clear on the Vibrant, and sound was good on our end. Unlike the iPhone 4, we didn't notice any degradation of signal loss no matter which way we held the device.
During our first round of testing, we unplugged the Vibrant at 6 p.m., surfed the web, responded to emails, played a few card games, and streamed Slacker on our 1-hour commute home, then left it on overnight. We still had about a quarter of battery juice left over before plugging it back in the next day, around 9 a.m. Under normal use, you should be able to get through a day worth of work on a full charge. We will updated this review once we've run our full battery test.
Like the Droid X and Captivate, the Vibrant costs $199 with a two-year contract. T-Mobile's $79.99 Even More plan gives you 500 whenever minutes, unlimited mobile to mobile usage, unlimited nights and weekends, and includes unlimited talk, text, and web.
The Android faithful on T-Mobile finally have a phone worth boasting about. The Samsung Vibrant's Super AMOLED display is a great showcase for content and apps, and it's a swift performing phone with a good amount of storage. We wish the Vibrant had a flash for its camera and mobile hotspot capability, but overall it's a fantastic device.