Android Phone Review: Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile, After a Week Out of the Box

Samsung has been making phones for a long time, but until recently fell quite short of a worthy phone to run the Android OS. The Behold II and Moment never really took off in the eyes of the consumer and certainly not with developement. The Moment was not too bad, with some decent specs landing somewhere in between the G1 and Droid. Both have since pretty much been abandoned by the community, and for me Samsung was almost written off. With the US launch of the Galaxy S series, Samsung really was pushing hard to gain back some lost followers and pull some of the market away from HTC and Motorola. I decided that I wanted a Samsung Vibrant, and I was even willing to back shelf my HD2 (Android Ported) if I could find one at a decent price. I’m on an “Even More +” plan with T-Mobile which allows me to have unlimited web, texting, and plenty of minutes for a super low price. The downside is that I don’t receive any subsidies on phones, so I scoured Craigslist until I found a Samsung Vibrant at a price I found to be pretty reasonable.

The first week I decided that I would actually run the phone completely stock out of the box. I didn’t even have a screen protector or case to keep it safe. I was a little disappointed that the Vibrant came with Android 2.1 out of the box, but with the speed of the community cooking ROM’s and pressure to Samsung, I figured it wouldn’t be long until I got 2.2 (Froyo) one way or another.

First impressions after unboxing the phone was how amazingly light it was. I prefer a heavier phone like the HD2 that feels solid and rigid, but the weight of the Vibrant is astoundingly light. The super thin phone is pretty much all screen. All the weight of the Vibrant clearly comes from the glass screen and not from the components inside. The plastic trim and back are very cheap feeling, and the only buttons on the sides are a volume rocker and on/off. The buttons creak a little when pressed, but really isn’t a big deal. The touch sensitive buttons on the front of the phone are quite responsive and work extremely well. The rear of the phone is an entire single piece of super thin plastic which also feels pretty cheap and flimsy. The quality of the phone is not what I’m used to with HTC, but it’s not bad enough to make me turn it down as an option. The only ports on the phone are a 3.5mm jack for audio and video (Analog video out with an adapter cable), and a microUSB port that conveniently has a sliding door to keep the port clean and protected.

Modded HomeScreen using LauncherPro

The screen is really where the Vibrant shines. Samsung uses the first Super AMOLED screen in the market, and it clearly blew me away with how vivid and colorful the picture is. I have never seen a screen on anything that looked this good. Ive had my hands on almost every phone out on the market today, and in my opinion, this phone absolutely rivals or even surpasses the iPhone 4’s retina screen or anything else available. The colors really pop out at you, and the fact that the glass and screen are sandwiched so closely together make the screen look simply amazing. I fired up the included Avatar movie and was amazed at the speed and clarity of what I was watching. I ran outside and did the sunlight test, and again I was amazed how well the screen worked in direct sunlight. All the reviews I’ve seen thus far really haven’t done justice to how well the screen performs outside. There is no more shielding the phone with my hand to read it outdoors. This alone was enough to decide whether I was keeping it or not. Since Samsung ramped up production for the whole Galaxy S line, the rest of the mobile world is now feeling the effects, with screen shortages and replacement vendors all together. The Vibrant’s screen is simply the most amazing mobile phone screen I have seen to date, and it should set the standard for all mobile devices.

I’m not at all a fan of custom-built UI’s and often get rid of them as fast as possible. Although some of the added features can be cool, I prefer to run a completely stock version of Android and add only the features I want. The new version of Touchwhiz is not really that bad, and it’s probably one of the least invasive UI’s that I’ve used on an Android phone. The most noticeable feature (and the most annoying to me) is the bottom launcher bar , which is now customizable to show whatever apps you want. I would honestly prefer the older app launcher style with the drawer opening to all the apps. The app screen is now an iPhone-like page that allows you to swipe left and right depending on the number of apps you have. It’s simple to use and navigate, but still not preferred (by me, at least) over the standard top to bottom scrolling pages. However, you can always download LauncherPro or ADW launcher for free to fix both these issues and customize your home screen and app drawer.

There are some other UI changes and widgets that Samsung added, most are used only if you prefer to add them to your home screens, but some standard apps like the calendar were better left alone. One good thing that Touchwiz added were the toggles for WiFi, GPS, BT, and Silence in the notification bar.Takes up a small amount of real estate at the top when you slide the bar down, but not enough to matter and doesn’t take up home screen space. Touchwiz overall is not that bad, especially since you are not forced to use most of it. From what I’m told the Motoblur UI’s are much more invasive forcing you to use their sync and services whether you like it or not.

No matter how great something is, it’s always easy to find some flaws. The Vibrant is easily one of my favorite phones ever used, but it also suffers from some issues that need to be addressed. One of the first things I noticed was a “lag” on occasion when using certain apps and navigating around the phone. This has been well noted and discussed on many forums, and while some homebrew fixes work, nothing yet is official from Samsung. GPS also suffers from random dropouts and loss of signal lock; this again has been addressed by the great community at XDA, and is well known by Samsung. The camera is great, but nothing makes up for a flash. Daylight and outdoor pictures are great, and I have no complaints. The night mode works well, but again — nothing replaces a flash. I used to use the flashlight mod on my HD2 all the time, which I now can only use the Vibrant’s screen. The phone also has no LED indicator lights. Sometimes its convenient to look at the blinking LED to see if you missed a call or got a message.

Finally, the lack of cases and accessories is just downright annoying. Ebay specials are mostly what’s available along with a few brightly colored cases from T-mobile. It’s hard to find a good case selection for anything without an Apple logo on it, and the Vibrant is no exception. So even among all the great things I love about the Vibrant, there are some fixes Samsung needs to implement and some things that could be changed on version 2 of the Galaxy line.

This is easily my favorite phone owned to date. The battery lasts all day on a single charge and can go even longer with a few tweaks if needed. Call quality is clear and volume is as loud as I need it, both on the earpiece and speakerphone. The SAMOLED screen and Hummingbird processor really make the phone shine above the rest. I was pretty disappointed that there wasn’t a front facing camera (FFC) nor was there a flash; even if I probably wouldn’t use the FFC much (if ever), it would have been nice to have it anyway. A camera flash is something I use all the time, but since I knew that Vibrant wouldn’t have one before I bought it, I can’t complain too much. The shipped ROM is somewhat laggy and buggy, but it’s still decent enough for daily use; if you plan on running custom ROMs then it’s really not a problem at all. My data speeds are pretty amazing in the Philadelphia burbs. I average above 5Mb/s downloads and 1.5Mb/s uploads, which is comparable and sometimes faster than my brother’s Evo on Sprint 4G.

Since taking the pictures for this review, I have installed a Clear Coat screen protector, and I am using an Amzer case until something really nice comes out. I installed ADW launcher and flashed Vanilla 2.1 ROM (Vibrant6), a lag fix which makes the phone amazingly fast. I fully recommend the Samsung Vibrant to anyone in the market for a new phone. Since a flavor of the Galaxy S line is available on all carriers, you can pick one up now no matter where you live or what service you have.

The Samsung Vibrant is available from T-Mobile and various other retailers.


What I Like: Super AMOLED screen lives up to its name. Amazing colors, clarity, and outdoor viewing; Gorilla Glass screen, prevents scratching and adds solid feel to the surface; Good battery life, 15-25 hours with usual daily use (*depending on settings); Phone is fast, very fast. (after fixes were applied); 16GB built-in SD card, External slot for additional (comes with 2GB external); DivX Certified, Ships with Avatar; Touchwhiz has some good enhancements; Super Slim and lightweight; A Galaxy S variant is available on every carrier; All hacks available are completely reversible; 3G data is amazingly fast where T-Mobile service is good; Proximity sensor works well and turns screen off when in calls

What Needs Improvement: Shipped ROM is sometimes slow and laggy; Android 2.1, not 2.2 (Froyo); Casing feels plasticky and buttons creak; GPS loses signal lock; Touchwhiz has some annoying features; No Camera flash, (Why Samsung, why would you do that?); No good cases yet for the phone

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