The world is full of Android smartphones, but you generally get two “levels” of hardware. On the higher level you have monsters with large screens and fast processors like the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S. On the lower levels you have the phones such as the HTC Wildfire and Legend with their 320x240 screens and 528MHz processors. But there’s nothing in the middle – until now. Here we have the Samsung i5700 Galaxy Portal/Spica (Depending on where you’re getting it from). This Galaxy Portal has an 800MHz processor and a 320x480 screen, and seems to fit quite conveniently between these two groups.
The device has almost identical physical dimensions to the HTC Desire, even though the latter's screen is 0.5 inches larger. The extra size comes from the mess of buttons on the front. The globe on the left hand side brings up the Google Search box and the home button on the right takes you to the home screen. We've also got the call/end call buttons on the bottom of the group, and just above them there's the return and menu buttons. This mess of buttons surrounds a red accented D-Pad and select button. While a D-Pad is a good idea, the layout of the buttons around it certainly isn't; you will find yourself searching for the correct button, which just doesn't make sense when compared to something with fewer but easier to understand buttons like HTC.
Along the left hand side we've got a volume up/down rocker, and on the other side there's a camera button for taking the photos, and a lock button which is usable but seems slightly superfluous when you could use one of the many buttons already there. On the top there's the micro-USB connector and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the back there's the 3.2MP camera which produces reasonable results when compared to other phone cameras, though without a flash of any kind it does have some trouble in anything but bright light. The box also includes a red back if you find the black one a bit boring.
Also included in the box is a mains plug, a micro USB cable, a copy of the Samsung PC Suite software, a 1GB SanDisk MicroSD card and a whole manner of manuals and information sheets.
With a 3.2" inch LCD, but 320x480 resolution it's quite a bit more usable than other 3.2" screens of the Hero & Wildfire. There is a noticable amount less scrolling required than on the lower resolution competitors, which should make web browsing a more pleasant experience...
However, before you start thinking this is a good phone, there is one big problem with the i5700 Galaxy Portal: It's stuck on Android 1.5 if you get a carrier locked version, and doesn't have multitouch even if you have a 2.1 update. This seems to be because Samsung haven't bothered to write a multitouch driver for the screen, meaning that although the software is now capable, and the hardware most definitely is, they have no way to communicate these facts to each other. This one fact actually makes web browsing a relatively painful process, with seemingly little control over how zoomed in you are on a page, and with few means on changing that. If you want to click on a small link or textbox on a page you’re going to need fingers that can be compared to pinheads or you go through a process of pressing the menu button and then selecting that you want to zoom in, then moving the page, the repeating the process. It’s hardly a great user experience is it.
The default android keyboard is included, although it is very laggy and can be up to a whole word behind what you’re typing once you become relatively skilled with its use. This can cause some rather annoying errors that you only notice once you’ve finished typing the thing, and this problem is compounded by the lack of any kind of autocorrect or word suggestion facility. The Galaxy Portal also comes bundled with the "visual search" app, Layar. As it's a free app anyway, all it does is save you from downloading it yourself from the market (and it is a pretty good app).
Having 256MB of RAM means the Galaxy Portal can't accommodate huge numbers of apps, but will get you through with most of what you need. User files such as photos and videos taken by the camera and any music transferred to the phone are put on the MicroSD card (which is very easily & cheaply upgradable from the 1GB included in the box) which means that RAM is used exclusively for apps and system storage, meaning you don’t have to worry about the number of photos on there. The battery life is reasonable due to the more capacious battery and the lower power processor than the higher end phones such as the HTC Desire. However, more pain comes when you plug it into the computer. The software (Samsung PC Studio 7) is the usual combination of bad design, flaky stability and slight mistranslations, and unfortunately you need to use it to update your phone if you can get the 2.1 update. Thankfully you can just mount the phone as a flash drive to access the MicroSD card. The Samsung Galaxy Portal is no longer available from T-Mobile, but is still available from eBay for around £120, which actually looks like quite a good deal compared to it’s less well specified competitors like the HTC Wildfire & Legend.
The Samsung i5700 Galaxy Portal looks like a good contender on paper, but unless you don’t mind about multitouch, 2.1 or particularly good usability, I wouldn’t recommend this to be the phone for you. So close and yet so far.