The plastic chassis is lightweight but sturdy, while the Android Gingerbread interface is only cosmetically modified by Samsung’s light TouchWiz 4.0 overlay giving icons the square, plain look of all its Android phones
Android is as ever simple and intuitive to navigate while Samsung’s Social Hub sets up and links your social networks, email and even text messages
Like a good all-rounder, the Galaxy S Advance has a bit of everything – five-megapixel camera, four-inch screen with bright, clear Super AMOLED display, sat nav with Google Maps and a great browser
The dual-core 1GHz chip keeps it all smooth and fast, with only the odd lag in internet-reliant social apps
Perfectly adequate with about 18 hours of use with internet, GPS, music and video all given some moderate attention
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Samsung’s predilection for naming new handsets after old, popular ones continues with the Galaxy S Advance, an efficient, smart Android that sits between the original Galaxy S and last year’s explosively successful Galaxy S II. But in a bursting market of mid-range handsets, some cheaper, some higher-specced, will this all-rounder be too tough a sell?
On the hardware front, the Galaxy S Advance has a much sturdier build than the Galaxy S or S II. The chassis is still a very lightweight plastic, but increased thickness and a hatchmarked back give this 120g device a more authoritative feel. The touch-screen is coated in Gorilla Glass, but even so, it and the plastic back cover picked up scratches rather easily – though the nicks are not actually that noticeable.
Squared curves, silver trim and a singular Home button give the S Advance an air of Samsung’s previous mid-range success story, the Galaxy Ace – or indeed, the iPhone 4 it was accused of cloning.
Its four-inch screen packs a Super AMOLED display like the Galaxy S; the S II packed a theoretically next-gen Super AMOLED Plus screen. The difference is almost negligible – aside from the Plus version’s slimmer thickness allowing for a thinner phone, what you may notice lacking in resolution is made up for in brightness.
Its on-board storage is 8GB, half the amount you got in the Galaxy S II and expandable by up to 32GB in the microSD slot. Under the hood, a dual-core 1GHz processor and 768 MHz of RAM keeps the S Advance ticking smoothly. Surprisingly, the OS here is Android Gingerbread, despite the newer and more powerful Ice Cream Sandwich having been available for half a year – and on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S III as well as the Galaxy S II in the form of OTA updates.
Skinning the Gingerbread interface is Samsung’s dialled-down TouchWiz 4.0, as seen on the Galaxy S III. There are seven home screens to populate with your choice of app shortcuts and widgets. The square, plain widgets are given all the more brightness on the Super AMOLED display.
The virtual keyboard is fast and accurate with good accuracy on the auto-correct. There’s also a preloaded Swype keyboard that you may or may not find faster – this method involves dragging your finger from letter to letter and you can definitely build up extreme speeds if it works for you.
As with so many of Samsung’s phones, the S Advance has tons of social features. The Social Hub links your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn plus email accounts, while the app itself pulls together all messages including texts and feeds from all your social networks.
The phonebook automatically merges contacts and pulls all communication into each friend’s contact card, including call log, messages, what they write on social networks, plus photos they’ve posted. If you’re obsessed with updates, the S Advance will deliver them in myriad forms – don’t forget you’ve still got your actual SMS inbox, Gmail and Mail apps, plus the standalone social network apps for Android.
We never encountered lags whether in the keyboard, interface navigation or browsing the web, though some internet-reliant social games such as our current obsession, Scramble with Friends, occasionally stuttered a tad when loading.
The five-megapixel camera comes with auto-focus and an LED flash, as well as video recording capabilities. There’s a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera too, and both snappers take great pictures in daylight with true colour reproduction and good clarity. The five-meg lens will of course be your main camera, though it does have the common limitations of most mobile snappers. We found that in situations with high light contrast – for example, in an averagely-lit room with light coming in through the window – the camera tended to overexpose the well-lit areas.
Again, like most mobile cameras, in low light it can’t really capture true colours, tending to overreact to reds. The flash is decent though. There are various scene modes to help you get the best shot in different light situations, including white balance adjustment.
The music and video players support several formats, though not the DivX, Xvid or MKV high-quality formats for HD video that we’ve seen before in Samsung phones. However, when you try to copy an Xvid or DivX file from your computer, you'll be prompted to convert it to a supported format, which is a cool feature – but does mean it takes about 45 minutes to sideload a 90-minute film.
Listening to music with the odd spot of video and all the internet extras going, the S Advance lasted well into the night, making it just about on par with most smartphones about now.
We love the tons of small tricks that Samsung has added to make using this phone feel that much more futuristic too. You can mute incoming calls or other sounds by flipping the phone over, while tilting the phone in the gallery enlarges or shrinks photos.
Our favourite was probably the ability to hold down on a shortcut or widget on the home screen, then panning your hand left or right to move it to another screen. If you’ve ever tried to “hold” on to an icon while you desperately swipe for a screen with available space, you’ll understand how eminently useful this trick is.
Here’s where the comparisons crop up. The Galaxy S II also has a dual-core chip, Ice Cream Sandwich and a higher-res camera, while the HTC One V runs a 1GHz single-core but with Ice Cream Sandwich. If ICS floats your boat, the One V can be picked up for £225 SIM-free, while shopping around online reveals prices as low as £310 for the Galaxy S II. The S Advance clocks in at around £300-£350 SIM-free (£322 from online retailer Clove, who kindly provided our review handset), a very reasonable price for a just-launched dual-core smartphone that’s likely to get its own upgrade to ICS in a few months.
This is a highly capable all-round smartphone with a compact efficient design, and if you don't need to get your hands on the new, more powerful Android OS like-right-now, the S Advance is a decent buy.