Samsung has been wowing the world with its impressive top-of-the-range Galaxy S II, but the company’s mid-range offering also has a fair bit going for it, including its cut-down size, good battery life and relatively low price.
But is that enough to help it stand out in a crowded market? Let's find out...
Design and build
The Galaxy Ace's casing has the classic Samsung gloss black look, with shiny plastic on the front and chrome-look banding on the sides. It looks good, and could easily pass for a more expensive phone.
The lightweight back features a contoured, grippy plastic rather than the smoothness you’ll find on many of its other handsets – it’s not as nice to the touch as, say, HTC’s tactile rubberised plastic, but at least it shouldn’t slide around too much on a table.
It measures a modest 112 x 60 x 12mm and is fairly lightweight at 113g. The 3.5in LCD touchscreen sits above a single hard Home button.
When you press it, however, touch-sensitive controls on either side light up – Back and Menu, though there’s no Search button. On the sides are a slim volume rocker and power/sleep button, with a microSD card slot hidden beneath a plastic grommet, while there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB power/sync port on top.
The 3.5in touch screen offers 320 x 480-pixel resolution and looks decently bright and clear, though it’s a step or two behind the Super AMOLED models of the pricier Samsungs such as the Galaxy S II.
It’s covered by tough Gorilla Glass, which is reassuring, though it’s not the best in sunlight, being a little overly prone to glare and reflection.
Interface and OS
Android 2.2 Froyo is the operating system, so not the very latest from Google, though the update is likely to be on its way in the next few months, bringing SIP calling, video chat (which you can’t use because there’s no front-facing camera), and NFC, though of course that requires an infrastructure around it, which is only starting to take shape at present.
Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 interface gives the basic Google stylings a bit of an aesthetic lift, with three home screens that you can increase to seven if needs be.
The 800MHz processor may not be state of the art but it places the Ace’s capabilities firmly in the midrange level, and several steps ahead of the budget crowd – there was little sign of any lag, except when we had a whole bunch of apps running at once, though it’s still a breath or two behind the big boys in the dual-core brigade.
Samsung offers its own keyboards as alternatives to Android’s own, and the Swype function is on board, which allows you to type without taking your finger off the screen. You can get quite a bit of speed out of it, though it takes a bit of getting used to.
Samsung knows how to make a decent camera, and while the 5-megapixel version on the Ace may not be the last word, it offers a decent range of features and reliably good quality pics.
Shooting modes include smile detection, panorama and multi-shot, plus a range of scene optimisation settings, as well as the rather harsh LED flash.
Colours are generally bright and vibrant, and in decent light you can get some impressive levels of sharpness.
Video recording however is a bit of a disappointment at just 320 x 240 pixels, below the level you might expect from a 5-megapixel snapper, and the results can all too easily look jerky and blurred.
Incidentally, you can send your vids (and pics, and tracks) straight to a networked TV via Samsung’s AllShare DLNA capability.
Apps and browser
The standard Android browser displays pages and text well, with a good set of menu features lurking beneath the touch-sensitive menu button. It doesn’t support Flash, though, so streaming video is a no-no for most sites, including BBC iPlayer, though there’s a YouTube app on board.
Samsung’s task manager is on board, which is always handy with multitasking devices so you can make sure you shut everything down that you’re not using, to help your battery life.
A version of ThinkFree Office is here too, allowing you to view Microsoft Office docs like Word and Excel, but not create them and there’s also the Social Hub, which pulls together your Facebook, Twitter and MySpace (remember them?) updates.
There’s also a Wi-Fi hotspot feature that allows you to connect up to five devices to the internet using the Ace’s 3G connection.
You won’t be blinded by the speed if you have all five connected, but it’s good to know you can if you need to.
The Samsung Apps feature usually has a few interesting alternatives to the Android Market but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Ace, with just a few, mostly niche apps available – Persian calendar, anyone? Vietnamese dictionary? You get the picture.
Media and connectivity
The screen’s resolution doesn’t offer terrific conditions for watching films, and it can look a little blurry with lower-res videos.
There’s no option to stretch films to fit the screen, which is a shame, and the native movie player seemed quite unforgiving of formats – we could only get MP4s to play. Fortunately other players are available from the Android Market.
We like the Android music player for its functionality and simplicity but it would have been nice to see an equalizer on there to adjust the sound. There’s an FM radio, but the headphones feel cheap and sound tinny.
Syncing your media as well as your contacts and calendar is done via Samsung’s Kies software, which is versatile and easy to use.
Performance and battery life
There’s only 158MB of storage on board, but it comes with a 2GB microSD card and you can bump that up to 32GB in total.
The battery did fairly well but not outstandingly so, giving us around a day and a half of fairly heavy use.
- Pocket-friendly size
- Stylish looks
- Fast(ish) processor
- Strong battery life
- Screen could be sharper
- Video recording not as good as it could be
- Samsung Apps seems a bit pointless
- Not the latest version of Android
Verdict: The Galaxy Ace is a decent little mid-range Android handset with a reasonably powerful processor, but it doesn’t really have much to make it stand out from the crowd.
More info: Samsung Galaxy Ace spec
Price: From free on contract; £230 SIM-free