Product Type: Samsung Smartphone
Newest Review: ... numbers, which I used to like to do on previous phones. But the photos aren't very good in anything but excellent light, and the lens ... more
Galaxy Ace II - Punching Above its Weight
Samsung GALAXY Ace II
Member Name: Nibelung
Samsung GALAXY Ace II
Advantages: Clear screen. Hi spec for the price. Good camera
The new phone in question being a Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, a current model (at the time of writing) and looking so much like an iPhone that you start to wonder whether maybe Apple have a point, although even they can't patent gloss black, despite the case coming to court in Steve Jobs' birthplace.
....are that this phone, for all its 'budget' smart-phone price tag of £163 (including £10 of PAYG credit on O2), punches well above its weight. Its list of facilities makes it hard to justify spending more than that for very little gained. This is where buying a phone outright and seeing what you can get as an upgrade part company. Buying outright forces you to look for the best features at a price, whereas accepting an upgrade, possibly involves a mental dialogue along the lines of "I can have the shiniest new kid on the block and it'll only be £5 a month more than I'm already paying!"
There's a clear hi-def screen of nearly 4" diagonal size and armoured Corning Gorilla Glass to protect it. The front panel has but one tactile switch, the return-to-main-screen button, placed exactly where you'd find it on an iPhone except that this one's oblong with a tiny chrome surround. The only other 'buttons' are a 'back' touch zone, and one for the menu to whichever screen presents itself.
Build quality is a little plasticky - hell it's ALL plastic, but with a rubber 'gel' jacket fitted, you'd never know the difference between it and something costing at least twice as much. As a result, it's appreciably lighter than my mainly metal construction HTC Desire S of a similar size
The dual-core processor cuts out lag and jerkiness from all screen activity and the screen is commendably sharp. Scrolling and 'gestures' work smoothly.
It comes with a reasonable 4 gigabytes of RAM which can be augmented with cheap microSD cards. A lot of Android applications come with the option to run them from the SD card preserving your precious 'finite' RAM for apps that don't.
My first tactic when taking on any new Android device is to get a wi-fi link set up and log back into my Google account of some kind (GMail, what-have-you). This allows you to start reconfiguring the phone with applications from the Google Play Store, all without wrecking your monthly data allowance. In this particular case, the phone was initially locked to O2, so unlocking it was, to quote Frank Spencer, 'anuvver li'l job I'll 'ave ter doo!'. More on unlocking et al later.
Logging into Google also gets you back any contact lists that you may have had the foresight to sync assuming this isn't your first Android smart phone - we're on our third. Likewise, all the calendar entries that you may have already entered suddenly re-sync themselves. My wife's appeared as if by magic although it seemed a little out of date but at least it was a start. In the end, we backed up the previous HTC Wildfire's contacts to its SD card, swapped the cards over and imported them, so you see "there's more than one way to deprive a large lapine rodent of its coat".
You can also do much the same with a PC software suite called Samsung Kies (sounds like a gentrified dock area). This allows for MS Outlook contacts and calendar appointments to be synchronised with the phone either by wi-fi or the USB lead.
It falls readily to hand and has a viewable screen that's just about the right size, being 3.8 inches diagonally. With 800*480 dots in definition, it's pretty clear with vivid colours, better in fact than I'd have expected. The one or two movies pre-installed do indeed look very good.
Most Android phone makers put some overlay of their own onto the barebones of the operating system. With HTC it was HTC Sense, with Samsung, it's Touchwiz 4.0. Whilst these do enhance the basic experience offered by the OS, changing phone makers is a bit like wandering into a room that someone else has tidied up. You know it's there but can't quite yet put your finger on it. For example, we still can't for the life of us find out how to edit contacts.
The rear-mounted camera is a 5-megapixel job with an LED flash and auto-focus. To be fair, it has turned out some good results, especially in good light. There's also a forward-facing lo-def camera suited to video calls via Skype, or checking your make-up!
The rear camera can shoot video at 720p lines HD - I'd certainly advise getting an extra microSD card if you intend doing this as it gobbles memory like it's going out of fashion.
Typing on the screen is best done in landscape format, especially for those with hands like 'York Hams'. Not only do you get wider 'key's' to tap but they are taller too thanks to the fact that the text box is curtailed in favour of keyboard. In 'portrait mode' you get a BIG text box, and tiny keys!
Phone call quality seems fine as does its ability to find a signal - it certainly doesn't seem to be deficient in any area in which the previous HTC Wildfire excelled. The only 'step-backwards' that I can comment on is the lack of the HTC's inherent build-quality, where aluminium features heavily. The Sammy is strictly plastic.
It'll never match an iPhone for build quality, but then at 33% of the price, this could be a Godsend, especially seeing how quickly phones date. Next year, you won't be able to give away mere 3G phones as '4G' becomes more common.
Writing about new smart-phones can tend to become repetitive, especially those that run the Android operating system, which is the majority of non-iPhones. It's a bit like writing about a new PC. After you've commented on cosmetics and how much faster it is, compared to the old one, is there much else to write about? After all, we're running the same applications we had before, just on a newer system. Every now and then, the installed OS gives us extra facilities - not this time.
NOTES ON UNLOCKING
This is not specific to this phone but it's useful to be able to unlock a phone, particularly if you are interested in being able to swap networks whilst keeping the handset. It's common practice for network providers to lock the phone to their own network (probably out of spite, it would seem!). However, once the contract comes to an end, they don't care what you do with the phone. I've found it useful to unlock such phones and insert PAYG SIMs from another network, the phone in question then being kept in my glove box for emergencies which nearly always happen when you have no coverage from your current network (or is that just Three?).
In the case of the new Samsung, bought pre-locked to O2, I paid under £11 to an e-bay supplier who replied by return of e-mail with the correct code to unlock the phone. The process goes like this.
1. Make sure your phone actually NEEDS to be unlocked. You can do this by inserting a SIM from a rival network to see if the phone complains when rebooted. Be warned, SIMs from Tesco, GiffGaff etc use O2 anyway, so they aren't likely to throw up an error message. Virgin use Orange/T-Mobile, aka Everything Everywhere (some hope!)
2. Send phone details like make, model, current network and IMEI number to the unlocking service.
3. Get back the code that you need to input, turn on the phone with the 'wrong' SIM in it and input the code when prompted. Voilą, one unlocked phone.
That takes care of calls and texts, but don't be surprised if you don't seem to have any internet access. This is because unlocking in itself does not do anything about directing your web access to the right server. You need to find out what the correct setting is (e.g. Google "APN settings for Vodafone" or whatever your network is.) Alternatively, you can download an Android app called Tweakker which carries a comprehensive library of APN settings. All you have to do is confirm that it had guessed your network correctly and whether you're 'contract' or PAYG and that's about it. This is a great facility for those rich enough to be able to surf whilst 'roaming' abroad, making flip-flopping between networks merely a matter of seconds. It would have worked in Montenegro, had I been silly enough to let it!
Summary: Android-based smart-phone
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