Samsung galaxy portal

Samsung is playing an odd Android game. Korean rival LG is playing the budget-Googlephone game with the likes of the Intouch Max GW620, and across the water HTC is bringing out better and better Android phones like the Legend seemingly every day.

But Samsung seems to be happy to wander around making basic Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy Portal and then shouting about its new Bada platform instead.

Given that both are based on a Linux kernel you have to question whether Sammy's heart is really in the Google game.

We liked

Performance was robust. Our Portal never crashed or got bogged down with multiple apps open, while the battery lasted significantly longer than this reviewer's ladylike HTC Magic routinely manages.

Turn Wi-Fi and GPS off and you'll easily make it through a full day of semi-pro use.

The capacitive touchscreen is responsive, bright and the phone feels reassuringly heavy and solid. The 3.2-inch screen size is right in the Android 'sweet spot' - big enough to see and use, small enough to slip into the tightest of trouser.

Android 1.5, although visually rather basic, runs fast and does what a smartphone needs to do - and you can, of course, customise the hell out of it through the Android Market.

Plus there's a beta version of Android 2.1 for the European version of the Portal (known as the Galaxy Spica) floating about online, so an official update for the Portal ought to be imminent.

We disliked

While Android 1.5 runs the majority of apps on the Android Market, the lack of a few headline modern tools that require Android 1.6 and above will kill this phone stone dead for hardcore Android nerds.

If it doesn't get an update soon, the Portal will be yesterday's news.

The button layout is a mess. Anyone new to Android will be utterly bewildered by the black plastic nightmare beneath the screen, while the Home button, which is squeezed right into the edge of the case, is tricky to press if you're a right-handed phone user.

Left-handed people will love it, though. Perhaps left-handed people is the mystery demographic Samsung is targeting with this amazingly average phone?

Verdict

There's nothing wrong with the Galaxy Portal, but there's also nothing exciting about it.

Offering the same spec a mid-range Android phone would've shipped with 12 months ago, there's little here to boast about - especially when we've been bombarded by hype regarding dazzling new HTC glamour-phones for the last few months.

Even Samsung itself seems desperate to make the Portal seem more exciting than it is, claiming in print adverts that it comes with a "visual search engine" - when in fact that refers to the Layar app that's comes pre-loaded, and is freely available on every Android phone via the Android Market.

However, the Portal is tough and perfectly functional. The fact it ships with Android 1.5 and Samsung's poor history in offering updates will put off the geeks, but for the average punter looking for an affordable 'in' into Android, it's ideal.

It does come in for £20 a month on T-Mobile (that's for 24 months, unless you want to pay £360 for the phone), but it's the Vauxhall Astra of Android - dull but will get you where you need to be.

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