Galaxy S Review
I think that the main benefit is that it runs Android 2.2 instead of Android 2.1 on the Xperia. 2.2 is what gives it USB tethering support without extra software (something I haven’t tested yet but will use a lot if it works correctly) and Wifi AP support. Both phones are about the same size, the Galaxy S has slightly more RAM (reported as 304M vs 280M – which doesn’t really matter) and a lot more main storage (1.87G vs 465M usable after the OS is loaded).
The main down-sides of the Galaxy S is that it lacks a “flash“. I’m not aware of any phone camera having a proper flash, but the limited LED flash is useful for taking pictures at times and there are a variety of programs that can turn it on for use as a torch.
Also I wonder whether the Samsung people actually test their phones in real use or whether they just build them to spec. When you read the specs it sounds nice to have a phone that’s only 9.9mm thick (apart from the bulge at the bottom), but that makes it really difficult to hold. The Xperia X10 is 13mm thick and isn’t as slick so you are much less likely to drop it. I sometimes wonder whether phone companies are designing their products to be broken so that they can sell replacements.
Three Networking Sucks
My parents use 3G broadband from Three as their only connection to the Internet, this is fast enough for viewing Youtube on occasion and generally works well for them. However whenever I try to transfer any data to their system which has integrity checks it turns out to be corrupted. About every megabyte of data transferred has a corrupt packet that has a matching checksum – presumably it’s a bug in Three’s network. Because Three are desperate for customers they have given me a free 6 month subscription to a data SIM . I’ve been using that SIM with my Galaxy S and found the same data corruption problem – and I’ve reproduced it in many places around Melbourne so this isn’t just one unreliable cell tower, it’s something broken in the core of the Three network.
The obvious solution to this is to use a VPN so the corrupt packets will be dropped. So I set up a PPTP VPN only to discover that it seems impossible to make the default route be via the VPN, there has been a bug report about this since 2009 – the iPhone allows configuring whether Internet traffic should go via the VPN, it can’t be that hard .
There is an option to use a proxy for web access, but when I tried that on Android 2.1 it only worked for the system web browser not for things like the Android Market. But there is no option for configuring a proxy for use when the VPN is active, so it doesn’t seem likely that I could run a proxy on the VPN network and direct all traffic to it.
Due to corruption on the Three network and the inability to get a VPN working correctly it seems that I can’t use the Three SIM.
Android isn’t Really Free Software
While Android implementations generally stick to the GPL and other free software licenses that are involved they seem to be a poor example of providing freedom to users.
My Xperia X10 is running Android 2.1 because Sony-Ericsson has locked the boot loader so I can’t install a newer kernel. They don’t care enough to release a new version – this is stupid of them because it means that I am much less likely to recommend their products. If Sony-Ericsson releases a newer Android release then it will be a total OS reinstall, unlike the way I can upgrade a Debian system an application at a time.
I can’t install new packages that replace system packages, so the Email and SMS programs that I’ve installed sit along side the ones that came with the system. Periodically the unwanted SMS and Email programs show up.
I can’t make my Android phones perform basic networking tasks that I’ve done on Linux systems since the early 90’s. Hiding the complexity from the newbies is OK, but they need to make the full capabilities of the system available to experts.
It seems to me that Android effectively gives the majority of users no more freedom than the iPhone does. Even for the small minority of us who are technically capable of rooting phones and installing CyanogenMod etc it’s often limited by technical measures and the amount of time required.
Update: Philipp Kern pointed out that his Galaxy S has a front facing camera. I have checked my phone and discovered that it has one too. When I published this post I criticised the Galaxy S for not having a front facing camera for video-calls based on a misunderstanding of the Wikipedia page (which says that SOME models lack it) and not testing it. Thanks for the correction Philipp and sorry for publishing wrong data.