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Samsung Galaxy S Series Wiki

Samsung's Galaxy S has had a fabulous run - over ten million devices sold across the world - and has made an appearance on every major carrier here in the States


 This review will cover at&t's variant, the SGH-I897 (or "Captivate," as Ma Bell and Samsung have decided to brand it.)
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General Overview

Samsung has positioned the Galaxy S as a top-end, premier device to rival Apple's iPhone, and the Captivate does its best to live up to that. All of the Galaxy S devices share some common traits like the 4" 800x480 Super AMOLED display, covered with a generous layer of Gorilla Glass. They also run on a custom Samsung Hummingbird processor at 1GHz, 512MB of RAM, and a PowerVR SGX540 GPU that'll natively decode 1080p H.264 video (though there's no HDMI port here, so you'll have to either stream it over DLNA or watch it on the phone, both of which are less than ideal.) The Captivate launched with Android 2.2, but has since been updated with most of its Galaxy S cousins to Android 2.3, which brings UI and speed enhancements to the platform.

Some of the most surprising details about the Captivate are what it's missing. There's no front-facing camera like the one found on the international Galaxy S, Galaxy S 4G, or Epic 4G. A camera flash is also conspicuously absent, which hurts the 5 megapixel shooter's low-light performance. There's no HD video output other than DLNA, so even though the graphics silicon is technically capable of pushing out a 1080p movie, it's not easy to get that somewhere to be displayed at that resolution. If it weren't for these shortcomings (which we'll get more into in a bit,) the Captivate could have been at&t's flagship device.

Hardware - Build Quality

The Captivate is definitely a Samsung device. What does that mean? It means there's a ton of plastic here. That's not to say it isn't solid - mine has already taken a few tumbles, with nothing but a few small scratches to show for it - but it just feels cheap. At 188g it's a little on the light side. The battery back, which is metal covered in a soft-touch carbon fiber lookalike, is a nice touch - but the plastic retaining clip mechanism creaks a little when you grip the phone firmly. The entire front of the device is covered in Gorilla Glass, so it's not going to scratch easily, but it does get covered in fingerprints and smudges pretty quickly. Keep a microfiber cloth handy - you'll need it. There's also a small gap between the edges of the glass and the plastic body of the device where dirt and sand can get caught.

Hardware - Performance

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how the device runs, you should know what kind of horsepower you're dealing with.

CPU: Samsung hummingbird ARMv7 @ 1GHz
GPU: PowerVR SGX540 at 200MHz
RAM: 512MB
Display: 800x480 4" Samsung Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with up to 5 touch points
Radio: 802.11 b/g/n with DLNA support, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP (stereo sound,) quad-band GSM 800/900/1800/1900, tri-band HSDPA/HSUPA 850/1900/2100 supporting up to 7.2mbps downloads and 5.7mbps uploads
Sensors: ambient light, proximity, accelerometer, compass
Camera (still:) 5MP (no flash) with auto-focus and face detection, geo-tagging, and touch-to-focus
Camera (video:) up to 720p at 30fps
Dimensions: 122mm tall by 64mm wide and 10mm thick, 118g

We weren't able to run benchmarks on it in time for this review, but Laptop Magazine did - their results are here. If you don't want to click through, here's the skinny:

It's powerful, and it's fast. High CPU and GPU benchmarks are only slightly offset by low file system benchmarks. Samsung uses a proprietary file system on their devices that periodically slows, which drops the benchmark and causes periodic lag when accessing large files. There are several unofficial fixes (such as the "Voodoo lagfix") that fix this, but those are community-supported and not endorsed by Samsung or at&t.

The Captivate supports 7.2mbps HSDPA and 5.6mbps HSUPA on at&t's 3G network, and where available, the speeds did not disappoint. Samsung's Galaxy S has a reputation for hanging on to a signal, and even in fringe areas, we were normally able to hang on to at least one or two bars of 3G service. Speeds ranged from a little over 1mpbs to over 5, though that's more due to at&t's varying coverage than any fault of Samsung's.

Samsung's now-infamous GPS issues are in full force here - it takes over a minute to acquire a good GPS lock most times. There are quite a few third-party community solutions to this, but still nothing concrete from Samsung or at&t.

Battery life is just okay - with normal usage (WiFi on an connected, Bluetooth off, push email on one account, Twitter and Google+ push updates, and periodic browser usage, calls/SMS, and music) it lasted right around ten hours. Not BlackBerry good, but not terrible. Keep a charger handy.

To be honest, though, the reason you buy a Galaxy S is the screen. At 800x480, it's the same resolution as most Android devices, and is fine for both media consumption and browsing. The PenTile pixel arrangement does contribute to some slight pixelation and color banding in certain circumstances, but most of the time is not a problem. The Super AMOLED's real strength is color - because the screen has no backlight, the parts of the screen that are black are actually off, making those blacks positively inky. Colors actually look a litte oversaturated sometimes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Samsung included their Super AMOLED screen here, which is upgraded over its standard AMOLEDs by merging the screen and touch layers. Basically, it's beautiful.

Software Experience

Android 2.3 absolutely flies on this thing. There's little lag anywhere in the OS (aside from the periodic file system issue,) apps launch quickly, and switching between them is usually painless. There's the usual at&t bloatware here (at&t Nav among others) that you'll likely never use but can't remove. The camera app is standard Samsung fare - which is to say, pretty great. Quick shutter response and a plethora of options are the norm among Galaxy S phones, and the Captivate doesn't disappoint. Where it does disappoint in still picture quality - they're not bad, per se, but the results from the 5MP shooter are just okay. Low light shots are grainy, and there's no flash to help it out here. In adequate light the shots seem slightly dull, and sometimes the autofocus will focus on the wrong part of the image, leaving your intended target blurry. 720p video was of acceptable quality - there's still the wobble issue when panning quickly like most phones, but as long as you and your subject don't move too quickly, the camera will do an admirable job for satisfying those spontaneous videography urges.

The browser is pretty much the standard Android browser with a few Samsung customizations - some welcome (like the independent brightness setting,) some not (a four-window limit.) It does support Flash, and most videos played well enough (the quick at&t 3G connection helps with that.) Flash games, predictably, don't fare as well.

Final Thoughts

Probably the most frustrating thing about the Captivate is what it could have been. Samsung has silicon here that can decode 1080p video in real time, but gave us no way to consume that content in 1080p. They gave us a camera that's not too great in low-light situations, but no flash to help compensate. The screen flaunts amazing color depth, but the subpar pixel arrangement makes edges look slightly jaggy. There's no front-facing camera, which is quickly becoming standard for high-end smartphones. In the end, the Captivate isn't a top-end device like Samsung would like it to be, but then, I get the impression that maybe this is at&t's doing (I'm sure they don't want to cannibalize iPhone 4 sales.)

Rating: 70/100

The Good
Fast processor and GPU, ample RAM
Latest Android 2.3 build
Gorgeous screen (mostly)

The Bad
No flash or front camera
No HDMI output
PenTile subpixel layout

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