Introduction

19 Mar 2012

After a somewhat disappointing experience with Nokia E72, it was time to get something a bit more modern. Having been surrounded by various incarnations of iPhone (3GS, 4S), I did not have any desire to get one of those. Just a bit too proprietary for my taste. So, an Android was a natural choice...

First impressions

The phone feels much larger than the previous generation of smartphones and although I had reservations about that, I have to say it is not a problem. It is also exceptionally light and thin, which is also not an issue for me, although I expected that it would be.

The screen is absolutely fantastic, so here I concur with what you'll find written about this on the web. The phone is amazingly fast. Everything that I do with it happens immediately. Just brilliant.

At first, coming from a physical keyboard device, I thought I would hate the touchscreen typing. But, as the weeks rolled on, I started liking it more and more. These days, I wonder what that fuss was all about.

Battery life is, well, short. Especially if you push the phone a bit. I guess a common failing of the new breed of smartphones (although there are signs that manufacturers will start shipping 3,000 mAh batteries in many devices soon, so that's good news). So, to mitigate this problem to a degree, I have gotten myself an original Samsung 2,000 mAh battery. This gives the phone an extra 20% of life, or one to two days of use on one charge for me.

Both the earpiece and the speaker are not loud enough. It is very hard to hear the other side in a noisy environment.

One major source of disappointment is the Android firmware that shipped with the phone, version 2.3.6. It is rebooting the phone randomly. I even had the handset replaced by a new one, to eliminate the possibility of faulty hardware. All to no avail. Let's hope that Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) can fix that (update: looks like it did, see below).

Functionality

Built in e-mail application is nice for Exchange (over ActiveSync) and it supports S/MIME (although ActiveSync proxy support disregards the port setting and always uses port 80 - issue reported to Samsung). However, folder support for IMAP is not the best. Open source K-9 Mail to the resue. It is great in that regard. This little app also features some stuff that most e-mail clients don't, like bottom posting, for instance. Nice.

Lack of built in SIP VoIP in this phone is something I cannot understand. It was dropped from Gingerbread (Android 2.3) by Samsung for reasons known only to them, I guess.

As of 20 Aug 2012, an update to CSipSimple delivered the goods. Headset, bluetooth, speaker, volume control and DTMF all work now. Sound quality appears to be rather good and the calls appear to be reliable. Specifying the proxy only works by IP address or if ";hide" is appended to the DNS name of the SIP proxy server. The contacts support is rudimentary, unless you want CSipSimple to register with the SIP provider every time you enter native dialer. Longer calls tends to develop echos and distortions, especially when G729 codec is used.

ZoIPer appears reasonably feature full and mature. It is very similar to what CSipSimple can do. Long calls appear to be more stable, with echos and distortions developing much later than with CSipSimple. It does open unnecessary connections to its own STUN servers. DTMF only worked for me when I specified RFC-2833. Has some UI quirks (one has to go into config to exit), but overall it is usable.

I used to use Linphone for this, which seems to be more reliable on long calls than Sipdroid (older versions of Linphone were not very good in this respect). Headset, bluetooth and speaker all work. DTMF works too. Contacts are accessible. Unfortunately, in version 1.3.2, the volume controls are broken. And the call quality is not the best (people on the other side often complain that they cannot hear me properly).

Sipdroid is not very reliable. I often get dropped calls after about ten minutes or so. The rest works (contacts, DTMF, headset, bluetooth and speaker). The call quality is better than with Linphone.

3CX can handle the headset (which CSipSimple was unable to do before the last update), but has weird contacts support. This area could use some improvement.

Web browser is excellent.

Camera is fast and appears to be taking decent pictures.

Navigation with it is better than with the GPS I have in my car right now. :-)

Updates

26 Apr 2012: Update to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3) went without a hitch. The only settings that were lost were the layouts of the home screens, which I had to redo by hand.

The system is obviously slower, especially the wake up of the unlock screen. Not to the unusable level, but applications do take longer to start and the phone is using around 150 MB more memory than before, on average. Higher memory usage may be contributing to the slowdown as well.

Battery indicator on the status bar does not seem to be keeping up with the real charge any more. So, the battery can now have significaly less charge than what the indicator is showing.

Many annoyances have been fixed. For instance:

All of the above changes make the phone better, so they are welcome, despite some loss of performance. Whether the random reboots will continue, I cannot say yet. It will take a while to tell for sure... It has now been a week since the update and I haven't had one spontaneous reboot. I'm sure that after I publish this, I'll get one right away. :-)

After using Android 4.0.3 for several months now, one issue crops up from time to time. If WiFi is turned off and than on manually, the device may reboot after a few minutes.

Another issue is related to Exchange 2010. It may become necessary to remove existing Exchange accounts defined in the mail app and recreate them, if the back end is upgraded to version 2010. Otherwise, Exchange services will drain the battery very quickly.

24 Sep 2012: Update to Android 4.0.4 went smoothly. Generally speaking, things are marginally prettier and somewhat more fluid. The lock screen once again pops up almost instantaneously, like it did with Gingerbread. Nice. Everything I use seems to work just like it did before.

WiFi now appears to detect multiple access points with the same name and picks the one with the strongest signal automatically.

The web browser in this version of the firmware lost the gesture to get to the address bar and associated buttons (quick pull down). Not sure why, but it is annoying.

Unfortunately, I had to perform a factory reset of the phone in order to get Kies to back the phone up again. With Android 4.0.3, the backup would come to the very end and then fail with an unexplained error. With 4.0.4, it would get stuck in preparation phase of the backup and the phone would then display: "Unfortunately, wssyncmlnps has stopped." So, make sure you do your backups before any upgrades, followed by a factory reset, followed by restore. Inconvenient, no doubt. I used an evaluation version of My Backup app to get some of my stuff to the SD card before doing the factory reset.

This firmware is vulnerable to recently discovered USSD attacks. There are apps available, such as Auto-Reset Blocker, TelStop, NoTelURL and Dialer One, that can prevent the attack. It is also recommended to disable "Service Loading" (set it to Never) under "Push message settings" of the Messaging app.

I have recently disabled several services: "AP Mobile" and "Social Hub" (2x), which I do not use. This has significantly improved my battery performance.

When browsing the web over 3G for a long time, the browser and the whole phone will sometimes just hang. The fix is to either press the power button for a very long time, which will reboot the device, or take the battery out.

23 Mar 2013: Update to Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.2) went smoothly. Although, I must say, Samsung Kies is the worst software ever created in the history of man kind :-).

Generally speaking, things are more fluid. Everything seems to work like before, just a little bit quicker when it comes to graphics. Battery life is reduced when compared to 4.0.4 and the most likely cause that I can see appears to be auto brightness. When turned off, battery life is extended.

Just like with 4.0.4, when using multiple WiFi access points with the same SSID, the connection will sometimes just hang. WiFi will be shown as up, but it won't actually work. Occasionally, there is also a WiFi slowdown. WiFi on/off works around both of these problems.

I do not know whether I was simply blind before, but with this update, there is an option to set up SIP based VoIP accounts for internet calling. It works, but the voice quality if pretty poor. So, no additional software is necessary for this functionality.

Backup worked without hard reset this time.

Conclusion

Overall, great phone. Light, fast and with tons of functionality. A few minor annoyances, but nothing fatal. No wonder it was Samsung's flagship device for quite a while.

Copyright © 2012 Bojan Smojver, Rexursive.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the licence is here
.