Samsung Galaxy 5 Review: The Small Android Your Non-Geeky Friends Will Love

The story with Android has been quite similar these last few years: manufacturers seem to always be on the run to deliver bigger, faster, better, devices with more specs inside than anyone can humanly memorize. Dual-Core processors, 4.3″ screens, 3D displays, HD video recording… are all interesting, except they target what? maybe 5-10% of the users. The rest, well, they get very confused and somewhat overwhelmed with these features. They want a phone, that’s it. Maybe they want Facebook in there, a camera of sorts, and email would be a nice plus. For those, the Samsung Galaxy 5 is perfect.

The Galaxy 5 is the smartphone brother of the iconic Samsung Corby, a device with a simple design, dedicated keys for calls, quite limited features in terms of camera and other hardware, but it packs Android Eclair 2.1 instead of Samsung’s dumbphone OS. But the question is does this mix work?

In a word, yes. The Galaxy 5 has everything in it to take the average Joe phone user, seduce him, and introduce him to Android and smartphones. Below is a list of 5 things to love about the Galaxy 5.

1. It runs Android Eclair 2.1: while being a bit old, Eclair is miles ahead of Donut 1.6. Some markets, specifically in South America, have shipped Froyo 2.2 for the Galaxy 5, making it quite a modern offer in terms of software. And despite all the hardware limitations, the software is the full Android version, with the Samsung TouchWiz UI on top.

2. Samsung TouchWiz: although many people prefer the vanilla experience of Android, TouchWiz can easily get out of the way, letting you enjoy an almost plain experience. Yes, there is a set of Samsung-specific widgets, like Accuweather, Buddies, Feeds and Updates, but you can opt out of these and customize the homescreen as you prefer. The application menu is divided into pages of 16 applications each scrollable horizontally, which fits more on a small screen like this. The TouchWiz Gallery and Camera UI are really great to look at and use. Also included are many of Samsung’s specific applications like Type and Go, Files, but the notable ones are Layar and Swype. Swype specifically makes a nice difference as that keyboard is a lot easier and more convenient to use than the default Samsung keyboard, in both portrait and landscape.

3. D-Pad: when you have a screen as small as the 2.8″ one on the Galaxy 5, finger selection gets a bit complicated, no matter how small your fingers are. In the browser, while typing text, in selection windows, basically all over the phone, precise selection is quite difficult at least at first, so the D-Pad helps a ton with that. You can scroll through lists and text, select the items you want, move easily around the browser, point to and click a link, without a lot of trouble.

4. Dedicated Call/End Call keys: while everyone is moving away from physical buttons, a lot of people still look at these new smartphones and wonder how to call or end a call. The Galaxy 5 outcomes that by including a regular set of calling buttons, allowing anyone who picks it to know how to initiate a phone conversation or end it. It’s also one of the elements that make it look more like a regular phone and less like a smartphone.

5. Battery life: thanks to its small screen and less resource intensive processor, the Galaxy 5 is one of a rare breed of battery champions when it comes to Android devices. The battery will easily last a day, with moderate to intense use, and if you install something like Juice Defender, it will even get to 2 days with that amount of usage.

But the Galaxy 5 isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, and there are many limitations to its use. Here are the 5 things that we hate about the Galaxy 5.

1. Small touchscreen: the main hamper on the Galaxy 5’s use is its 2.8″ screen. If this wasn’t a touchscreen device, the size would have been more than enough, but going below 3″ on a touchscreen is quite unforgivable. A bump to 3″ or 3.2″ would have been greatly appreciated as there are some instances where the screen is just too tiny to be of use, and many applications won’t look decent on it, or are simply not available for it.

2. Non-TouchWiz’ed Music Player: everything on the Galaxy 5 is quite pimped up, UI-wise, thanks to TouchWiz, except the music player which is the default Android one. This sort of makes it look out of place on the device, and leaves the experience a bit inconsistent with the rest.

3. No GPS: while I do realize that something had to give in order to lower the price of the Galaxy, omitting a GPS chip and relying totally on network location is a bit sad in a day and age where voice navigation is becoming free, ubiquitous, and one of the selling points of smartphones.

4. Very limited Camera: this is another factor that had to be compromised to fit the price and size range of the Galaxy 5, but a 2MP camera with no AutoFocus is quite ridiculous. There are 3.2MP cameras around and even 5MP modules that could be a much better fit than this.

5. Tiny Memory: while the target demographic for the Galaxy 5 is not those who want to install hundreds of applications and games, it was still a bit sad to see the memory low warning with around 30 apps installed on mine. That warning gets a bit more frustrating if you’re running Eclair, since you can’t move some applications to the SD card to free space.

As you see, the Galaxy 5 is a phone that brings many of the regular phone features: with the D-Pad, dedicated call keys, small and pocketable size, and great battery life. It will lure the unsuspecting non-smartphone user into buying and trying it, thanks to its quite reasonable price, and then will present them with a smartphone experience. With Eclair, TouchWiz and the Market, users will find themselves attracted to trying new applications, fiddling around, arranging homescreens to fit their needs. There are very few limitations on applications that the Galaxy 5 can run, and while the hardware isn’t up to par, it will offer a full Android experience from the software side. I was personally able to load it with what I wanted, in terms of apps and personalization items, make it fit my needs, and get quite satisfied with it.

Except that there will come a time when the limitations will start annoying the user. After being attracted to Android, they will want a bigger screen to see more information and have better control over things, a faster processor, a better camera, GPS to use with voice navigation and augmented reality apps, and more memory for all their apps. The Galaxy 5 will be like a stepping stone, a transitional device of sorts from the non-geeky average usage for its owner, to a more involved and smartphone-aware owner who will start looking for more.