Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica review: Stars serving Eclairs
Web browser 2.1 is good but Flash is still missing
Android is the product of the Web 2.0 era and its browser is excellent. With its latest iteration of the OS, the level of usability has reached competitive levels.
The user interface is completely minimalistic (it’s the Google way). All you get on the screen is an address bar and +/- zoom buttons. The address bar is placed on top of the page, so scrolling down moves it out of view and the zoom controls auto-hide – that’s essential for web apps because they need to have the whole screen estate to work with.
The Galaxy Spica browser in its latest iteration supports three zoom methods – dedicated buttons, double tap and one finger zoom. Pinch-zooming is missing, despite the native OS support, but some prefer one finger zoom anyway.
The browser supports text reflow – a moment after adjusting the zoom level, columns of text adjust to fit the screen width. Without text reflow you will either have to zoom out until the text fits (but then it’s too small to read comfortably) or scroll sideways to read each line.
The minimalist UI is quite powerful – hit the menu key and six keys pop up. You can open a new tab, switch tabs, refresh the page, go forward, open bookmarks. The final button reveals even more options (text copying, find on page, etc.).
The bookmark list shows a thumbnail of the bookmarked page and you also get a “most visited” list in addition to the history.
The last castle of the Web that the Android Browser has yet to storm is Flash. HTC worked some black magic to include it, but that hasn’t been included into the core Android system so far.
The Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica relies on the YouTube app to partially compensate for the lack of Flash. Of course, there are plenty of other video sharing sites and sites that use Flash for completely different purposes, but alas those are out of Spica’s reach.
Organizer misses a document viewer
The Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica comes without a document viewer so you have to rely on the Android Market to source one. There are both free and paid versions, but keep in mind that most free versions require an Internet connection to do the job.
The calendar has four different types of view - agenda, daily, weekly and monthly. Adding a new event is quick and easy, and you can also set an alarm to act as a reminder.
The agenda view shows a list of all the calendar entries from the recent past to the near future. It’s a very handy tool when you need to check your appointments for the next few days.
There is also a calculator aboard. It is nicely touch optimized - the buttons are big enough and easy to hit.
The Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica features a decent alarm clock application which allows a huge number of alarms to be set, each with its own start time and repeat pattern.
Samsung have included the My Files app – a simple to use but functional file manager, which also doubles as an image gallery. It can move, copy, lock and rename files in bulk, even send multiple files over Bluetooth. It will only browse the memory card (it can’t access the internal memory).
The Galaxy Spica also comes with an app that allows you to run the good old Java apps – we tried the Opera Mini Java, and it was sluggish but did work, touchscreen and all. Simple games should work well enough. Of course, there’s a native Android version of Opera Mini if you are into it, we just used the Java for testing the Java performance of the Galaxy Spica.
Finally, comes the YouTube app which, as we said, partially compensates for the web browser's lack of Flash support. Its interface is simple enough to let you find whatever you're looking for as quickly as possible.
The Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica comes with a capable GPS receiver, which gets a satellite lock in about three minutes with A-GPS turned off. A-GPS can speed this up quite a bit, but requires Internet access.
It comes as no surprise that Google Maps come preinstalled. Unfortunately, voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation through Google Maps is available in the US only.
Still, even without Navigation, there is some kind of guidance: your route and current location appear on the screen so you'll reach your destination eventually, but you’ll need a co-pilot to read you the instructions for that one.
Quite naturally, the app also sports Street View mode. In fact, this mode is probably the best part of Google Maps. If the Street View is available in the area you're interested in, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the surroundings. When the digital compass is turned on it feels like making a virtual tour of the location!
The Samsung I5700 Galaxy Spica doesn’t come with third-party SatNav solutions preinstalled but you can easily snatch one off the Android market. There are both paid and free options on offer.