First published on NZ Techonverse
So I have owned this phone now for six weeks. It has been one of the very few times I have bought a phone that was a completely new model, but it was offered on special at just the right time when I needed to replace my existing phone and had the right combination of performance and price (I will never pay more than $400 for an Android phone).
Generally the phone is very good. There are various good or bad points with it, but it has worked out quite well. So what are some of the standouts with it? Here they are in no particular order:
- Battery life is extremely good, it can go almost a week on standby (the Nexus 5X would often only last a day).
- However, battery charging is relatively slow, even with its 15 watt fast charge capability and USB-C port. With a power pack it will be slower still as I don’t think even my fairly new one will be able to supply more than 5 watts.
- Unfortunately for us mere mortals, wireless charging remains off the spec list for a phone in this price range.
- The inbuilt memory of 128 GB has made it unnecessary to use an SD card just yet, and this model has dual SIM slots (I only use one).
- The phone is easy to hold and the body is nicely designed and fitted together.
- The side mounted fingerprint sensor (incorporated in the power button) is quite fiddly to use, the main problem being how easy it is to touch accidently with resultant lockout after a certain number of failed reads. Getting your finger precisely on it when you do want to unlock can be tricky as well. A step down from the rear mounted sensor on the Nexus.
- This phone has far fewer mandated apps installed than any other Samsung I have ever owned or used. There are no social media apps of any kind installed on it, which is OK for me as I have determined not to use them on a mobile device.
- Samsung’s built in power management can be set to sleep any apps that are using too much battery. A recent example it flagged was Google Maps and I willingly had that put to sleep as I despise the forced installation and data collection from Google’s mandatory apps.
- The sound levels tend to be a bit quiet compared to other Android phones I have used. It is easier to miss texts and other notifications.
- Reviews have panned the performance of the MediaGX chipset on this model, but I haven’t seen any issues with apps running slow or anything like that. In my opinion the phone’s overall performance is very good.
- “Do Not Disturb” still has the same glaring design bugs in it as has been an issue for me since I first owned the Nexus, and which has let me to use a third party app to ensure DND is always properly disabled at a specific time. I use the “Auto Do Not Disturb” app, which has explicit settings for DND status, volume and other important controls. It has been a big problem with the Android DND interface for years that it is too easy to accidentally override a time rule when checking if DND is on, and inadvertently leave DND permanently turned on.
- The biggest letdown with the phone is the much touted quad camera. Don’t expect to be able to take any kind of photo that can be zoomed in to any extent on viewing. Even with the alleged 48 megapixel resolution, in practice it takes very little zooming before starting to see loads of really hideous artifacts that won’t be obvious when taking the photo. I changed my mind about getting a camera app for this phone, something I was glad to invest a few dollars in for the Nexus. GSM Arena’s review suggests the 48 megapixels spec is just hype and does very little for overall camera results, and their comments generally back up my assessment. Given the result I have seriously thought about going back to carrying a real camera with me all the time, but that isn’t a high priority at the moment.
So there you have it. A few bouquets and brickbats. I would say the camera performance is the biggest letdown, given the effort Samsung has made to provide wide angle and macro capability rolled into normal camera function.
One last point: are you better to have a phone that runs standard Android, or is a manufacturer’s customised version better? I have owned two phones (the Nexus and a Moto) that used standard Android, and two Samsungs that had a custom user interface and apps on top of Android. The reason I chose to buy Samsung again after the Nexus with vanilla Android is because Samsung can be relied upon to include apps and functions that limit Google’s total domination of the platform. An example is the power management function specified above which is provided by Samsung. Power saving is a good thing when it has the effect of crippling Google’s unwanted spyware by forcing it to shut down when desired, which the Ultra Power Saving function on my old phone did very well. The new phone has similar functionality although it’s not clear how much spyware it can limit. I have yet to actually use maximum power management because battery life is so good out of the box with the use I make of the phone, but there is still this option if I end up with battery running low and away from a power source.