Android phones gaining on the competition

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Sep 7th 2010 - by Fix My PC FREE in: News | 0 Comment

Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant. (Supplied)

With all due respect to Obi-Wan Kenobi, this may indeed be the Android you’re looking for.

Smartphones powered by Google’s so-called Android software have been kicking around for a couple of years now, picking away at the market share enjoyed by Apple’s sleek, sexy and ubiquitous iPhone. The first Android phones were heavy, clunky and slow, but each new model and version of the operating system powering its innards has resulted in prettier, faster devices.

Which brings us to the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant, currently exclusive to the Bell Mobility network. (A similar model, the Galaxy S Captivate, is coming soon to Rogers.) While Samsung might be best known for their TVs, they’re getting into the smartphone business in a big way, and their latest Android phone could be the best reason yet to start rolling with the robots.

The Galaxy S Vibrant packs a lot of smokin’ tech in its astonishingly thin and light body, including a 1 GHz processor (for a phone, that’s way fast) and a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen (one of the brightest and crispest displays you’ll find on a handheld device, full stop.)

The full suite of features you’d expect from a high-end smartphone are all here, too. You’ve got your WiFi and Bluetooth and GPS and fast mobile data, your five-megapixel camera with HD video recording (sadly, there’s no camera flash) and 16 GB of built-in memory. The Vibrant also has a few other bells and whistles that aren’t often found on smartphones, like an FM radio and the ability to wirelessly access photos, music and videos stored on your home PC.

But all the acronym-y technology in the world doesn’t mean squat unless a gadget is fun and easy to use. The Vibrant, I’m pleased to say, is both.

Devotees of the Android operating system will naturally like this latest version of the software, but it’s people who have never seen or used an Android phone before who may be most impressed. The phone works well both as a productivity device and a multimedia machine (and, oh yeah, even as a telephone), and it’s all tied together with a slick, intuitive interface. as you’d expect in a phone powered by Google tech, the Vibrant plays especially well with Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Docs and so on.

One of the many things I like about the Vibrant is the optional text entry method dubbed Swype, which allows you to “type” by running your finger from key to key on the screen’s virtual keyboard, instead of tapping each key individually. It’s a little tough to get your brain around at first, but with a bit of practice, it’s the fastest one-handed text entry you’ll ever use on a phone.

Because the Vibrant is a smartphone with a big touchscreen that runs all kinds of applications and widgets, comparisons to the iPhone are inevitable, and possibly useful. There are still some things the iPhone does better – it’s yet to be beat in terms of the variety of applications and ease of accessing them, for instance – but if you’re at all open to the possibility of a non-Apple smartphone that can do just about anything you’d want a phone to do, you need to give the Galaxy S Vibrant a look. it almost puts C-3P0 to shame.

Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant smartphone

Cost: $149.95 with a three-year contract ($499.95 with no contract) on the Bell Mobility network. for more information, see bell.ca/galaxys

Verdict: The best Android phone to date, and one of the slickest smartphones available, period. That is, until a newer, faster and cooler one comes out in a few months.

A few months back we looked at the MagicJack, a tiny box you connect to your computer to allow you to make dirt-cheap local and long distance phone calls from a standard landline telephone. It’s a nifty little device, but the only catch is that your computer has to be turned on in order to use it.

The folks at competitor NetTalk recently released the NetTalk Duo ($69.95 US, including a phone number for incoming calls and a year’s worth of free calls within the U.S. and Canada), which they’ve branded the “MagicJack killer.” The key advantage is that it only needs to be plugged into your Internet router, not your computer.

I had high hopes for this device, but there’s a deal-breaking catch: the NetTalk Duo currently only offers U.S. phone numbers, making it a poor choice for Canucks looking to replace their home phone. it also requires a valid U.S. address to be entered during the activation process. It’s too bad, because the device works quite well otherwise – calls are reasonably clear, and it’s very easy to set up.

If you want a phone number in a U.S. area code to give to your American relatives, the NetTalk Duo could be up your alley. But until it’s a little more Canada-friendly, we’ll have to hang up on this one.

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