The version of the Samsung Galaxy Apollo we had to review is the Galaxy Apollo i5801 model – which is exclusive to Orange in the UK. Don’t confuse this with the regular Galaxy Apollo i5800 – the i5800 version doesn’t feature the i5801’s fancy silver bezel, but apart from that, they’re the same phone, internally speaking.
The newly resurgent Samsung, fresh from the rampant global success of its Galaxy S Android phone, is now scaling down its touchscreen ambitions for those who can’t quite stretch to the top-of-the-range phone’s tariff demands.
Externally, the Samsung Galaxy Apollo is what you might call a phone of two halves. The back of the handset is a depressingly cheap, contoured slab of unkempt black plastic, with a single hole for the camera (SPOILER: no flash) and an Orange logo. It is not a sexy back.
Thankfully, the front of the Apollo is very stylish indeed, with the entire surface of the phone formed from one piece of glass. There’s no plastic bezel here, with the only break in the glass being the hole for the Home button.
The other two buttons on the front face of the Apollo are the Android standard Back and Menu options, and they’re not physical buttons – Samsung has made them touch-sensitive icons that beam out through the silvery surround beneath the glass front.
Thankfully there’s a bit of haptic feedback attached to them both, so your presses are acknowledged in a physical manner.
If you want to navigate through your text messages to correct typos, that has to be done through ultra-precise cursor placement with the touchscreen alone.
But what a touchscreen it is. The Galaxy Apollo’s capacitive screen is amazingly sensitive – in fact it’s one of the most responsive we’ve yet used. A tiny, gentle touch is all you need to register your input, meaning you can be super-precise when required for touch-typing.
There’s a slight downer for us in that the screen surround is backed by a mirrored silver finish, meaning you often catch a glimpse of yourself in the reflection.
But if you don’t mind seeing your crumpled face staring back at you when doing your first tweets of the day from bed, it’s not a deal breaker. You will spend a lot of time polishing it, though – that finish is a smudge and fingerprint magnet.
Elsewhere, it’s a very simple exterior – the USB socket, power button/screen lock and 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the top edge, the volume toggle switch on the left and… nothing else.
There’s no physical camera button, with the only other blemishes on the Galaxy Apollo’s all-glass front panel being a tiny proximity sensor near the earphone.
It’s a classy exterior, as long as you always keep it facing up.
For some bizarre (and no-doubt extremely tense) political reason, the Samsung Galaxy Apollo ships with two entirely separate Android launchers, along with a custom app that lets you switch between the pair of Android skins at will.
There’s the Orange Home screen design, which presents the phone’s Android 2.1 OS skinned in a general Orange way complete with some rather clunky widgets, plus there’s an alternate Samsung Home screen layout option, which gives users a totally different skin that incorporates many of the TouchWiz 3.0 features that helped win the Samsung Galaxy S its high-scoring review.
This move will surely utterly bewilder Android newcomers, who will find themselves greeted with the option to switch launchers – and the entire look and feel of the phone – each time they navigate from an app back to the phone’s Home screen, should they fiddle with the launcher selection tool at any time.
We favour the Samsung OS skin option, which brings across the same icon tray system found in the Galaxy S, also putting four quick launch icons – phone, contacts, messaging and apps – along the bottom of every screen in a convenient and stylish floating dock.
It’s much cleaner and brighter than the darker, orange-coloured Orange skin.
The Samsung version of the Apollo’s desktop system also gives you seven separate Home screens to place your icons and widgets on, while the Orange one only sports five – two of which arrive pre-filled with massive and rather ugly picture and messaging widgets.
So we’ll stick with the Samsung TouchWiz launcher. Its two most impressive features are its extra large widgets, which offer you a social network aggregator in the form of its Feeds & Update toy, which pulls in status updates from (and only from) Twitter, MySpace and Facebook, presenting them all in one unified mega-timeline just like Sony Ericsson’s Timescape feature found in the Xperia X10 range.
There’s also a large “Buddies Now” widget which offers you a visual, flickable interface for quick access to selected contacts.
Sadly these data-hungry apps are a bit of a hindrance to the phone’s operation, with the Home screens often crunching up a little when you swipe your way from screen to screen past these complex widgets.
It’s a shame, because using the Apollo is usually a pretty glitch- and slowdown-free experience. Bin the few fancy widgets and the phone operates just fine.
Many of the OS features and widgets are shared across both the Orange and Samsung skins, with the Orange widgets available for installation on the Samsung-themed Home pages and vice versa. You can create your own little mash-up combo of TouchWiz and Orange’s Android 2.1 skin if you so wish.
But we can’t help but worry about the poor average consumer, though, who’s going to be utterly confused about the way his phone comes with two wildly different visual styles.
It seems like a very, very silly way of doing things, but it presumably kept the pen-pushers at Samsung and Orange happy.
The Contacts system is basically the default Android option and is therefore a little bland. There’s a big list of everyone, complete with a photo if you can be bothered to assign one from the Gallery, with Samsung-specific options to break this list down into more manageable chunks.
You’re able to allocate users to Family, Friends and Work sub-groups for easy access, plus there’s the option to create your own custom collections of contacts if you want to make this simple thing needlessly more complex.
Text messaging has been given a bit of a visual overhaul, with messages now appearing in threaded speech bubbles, making it a little easier to keep track of unfolding conversations, and this system is used in both the Orange and Samsung implementations of the OS.
Email is another area where the Galaxy Apollo suffers from there being too many cooks (developers) involved – the phone comes with three separate ways to set up external email accounts.
As well as the standard Gmail app that you’re pretty much forced to use on Android – at least, if you want to access the Android Market – the Galaxy Apollo features the standard Android POP email tool which automatically sets you up to read your other accounts with only your email address and password required.
The way the Android email app automatically sets up accounts is impressive, but its handling of email is less so.
Messages with attachments take an age to draw on screen, and copying text from mails is impossible. As a simple sending and replying tool its fine, but it’s no match for desktop email clients.
Finally, Samsung has put on its own Samsung Email tool, which sits on the phone under the icon “Mail” and handles Exchange support if you’d like to keep certain work-based emails separate from all your other internet identities.
If you’re not keen on using Google’s Gmail syncing options for whatever reason, Orange has provided its own Contacts syncing tool in the form of Contacts Backup, plus there’s the same Write and Go app that featured on the Samsung Galaxy S.
It’s a clever little memo app that, once you’ve written a note, lets you hit the Update Status button and automatically post it to several social networks at once.
The dialler is the model of simplicity, popping up a huge keypad with your call log, favourites and contacts placed in tabs along the top. After hanging up a call, you’re able to add the number you’ve just called straight to the contacts, which is handy.
Call quality was good, with a nice loud reception, good handsfree speakerphone volume and nothing in the way of digital crunchiness. It’s always nice when one of these pocket internet machines also works as a telephone.
The Galaxy Apollo’s browser is the regular Android 2.1 device, which features many, many usability tweaks and updates over past WebKit browsers. And past WebKit browsers have been great, the perfect model of simplicity ideally suited to mobile use.
The screen layout is uncluttered, giving you maximum browsing real estate, with only an address bar and icon to bring up your bookmarks and history beside it visible on the browser window. Everything else is shuffled out to the Menu screens.
The copying and pasting tools, which were so complex as to be virtually non-existent in previous Android versions, are updated and very welcome here, with the option to copy text to the clipboard, share URLs via email or social tools.
Long-pressing on a URL in a web page enables you to bookmark it, open it in a new tab, share it or copy the URL to the clipboard for later use.
The browser also integrates RSS support, with any sites that offer a feed pinging up an icon and “Add RSS feeds” menu option, which will automatically copy across RSS data to your Google Reader account for easy aggregation.
Oh, and there’s multi-touch for page zooming, just as there was in the Samsung Galaxy S. Scrolling and resizing isn’t lighting fast and can grind to a halt occasionally, but slowdown is a rare enough event not to put you of the idea.
Switching screen orientation for portrait to landscape is quick, with pages redrawing themselves virtually instantly.
Despite all the popular and well-reported alternate browsers out there, the standard Android WebKit one remains the best. And that’s what you get on the Apollo.
The camera is the same advanced tool found in the Samsung Galaxy S. Options are everywhere, with users able to select the brightness balance and pick from numerous scene shooting modes and setups. Hours of fun.
You’re even able to stitch together your own panorama shots through the handset, with the phone popping up a guide square over the image on screen that tells you where to take the next picture.
Panorama shots come out as disappointingly small super-super-widescreen images, but they are at least stitched together quite seamlessly.
PANORAMA: Tiny end results, but you do get a good 180-degree composition of your surroundings
There’s a Continuous Shooting option that fires off nine (massively reduced size and resolution) shots in quick succession, plus Smile Detection, a Night Mode, a Sports option for fast-moving things and much more. There’s even a digital zoom on here, although picture quality suffers as a result.
It’s a proper camera, basically, albeit one with only a 3.2-megapixel sensor.
MAGIC: Macro mode isn’t the greatest, but image results are remarkably sharp for a 3.2-megapixel mobile camera
Sadly there’s no flash, and the macro mode auto-focusing is rather slow and doesn’t let you get particularly close to your target, but it’s still an impressively well-featured camera for a smartphone.
Video files emerge from the camera as 3GP files in a slightly disappointing 324 x 240 resolution, which is nothing like the awesome 720p recording offered by the all-powerful Samsung Galaxy S, but at least picture quality is acceptable.
The Galaxy Apollo is no HD movie production powerhouse, but the resulting video footage is bright and sharp, it copes well with movement, and faces aren’t reduced to a pixellated mess. It’ll do.
Our first call, as ever, is the YouTube app to watch a few Kylie Minogue videos. As you’d expect, the app is a rock-solid experience. Skipping through to our favourite costume moments and camera shots was easy, with nothing in the way of clunkiness or glitching.
The music player in both the Samsung and Orange versions of the OS skin is the very nice TouchWiz player, which is a big improvement on the stock Android music tool.
As well as looking great, the TouchWiz player has a nice little on-the-fly playlist editor, which enables you to click on track names and add them to a simple playlist called the Quick List, with extra auto-generated menus full of your most played, recently added and recently played tracks, helping you get to what you want with minimum fuss.
The cleverest feature by far is another TouchWiz enhancement that also features on the Galaxy S – the extremely cool Lock screen music playback icon.
Even when your Apollo’s on its Lock screen, you’re able to press the Home button and pull down a little CD to skip through music tracks without bothering the main app. It’s a great touch.
The Galaxy Apollo’s video playback app also clones that of the Galaxy S. We threw a 720 x 400 Xvid-encoded AVI file at it and it played perfectly, plus the player itself is fully DivX-compatible according to Samsung.
The player was a little slow to skip through the file, but that’s not really a deal breaker in a phone in this low price bracket.
The fact you can thrown pretty much any video file at it and expect the Galaxy Apollo to just work, is a rather marvellous and reassuring feature. Plus it’s slightly wider/longer than average 400 x 240 screen, making it ideally suited to widescreen material.
As well as headline-grabbing mobile apps like Layar and Google Maps, the Galaxy Apollo i5801 features a rather odd collection of software stuck on by its exclusive network friend Orange.
So you get Orange Maps on here, plus Orange also provides its own custom App Shop for browsing apps, although the latter has been spectacularly hobbled by only working when the phone’s connected via a mobile network – it refuses to let you give Orange money when connected via Wi-Fi. That’s just madness.
Work-based “productivity” is taken care of via the ThinkFree Office suite, which is compatible with Microsoft Office documents if you need to pretend you’re going to be using this phone for work in order to swing the deal and monthly expenditure.
Orange and Samsung also provide a crushingly boring weather and news widget called Daily Briefing, plus there’s a custom photo display widget simply called Photography.
It’s a handy way to share and leaf through your pics from the Home screen, but its rather ugly styling is hardly the sort of aspirational feature that should be beaming out of a new Android phone in 2010.
Your first 30 minutes with this phone will be spent binning the uninspiring Orange apps and installing some smarter alternatives from the Android Market.
As for the physical act of writing your tweets and texts, the Galaxy Apollo is another handset to benefit from third-party keyboard Swype – the odd, line-drawing typing tool that speeds up text input. As long as you’re prepared to put in the groundwork to learn how to use it.
The Apollo also features Samsung’s own keyboards, enabling users to select a numeric keypad or handwriting recognition tool, but Swype’s by far the best and quickest option – even if you only use it in standard pressing-the-letters mode.
Google Maps is here and in its usual fine form, with the Galaxy Apollo having more than enough processing power to whizz maps around with ease.
Elsewhere you get Voice Recorder, which outputs yours memos-to-self as AMR files which are sharable through email or apps using the regular Android social menu.
Orange has also grafted in a simple file manager tool it calls My Files, the Orange Wednesdays film promotion app, a few game demos and that’s about it.
Basically, the Orange apps are rather rubbish – but you’re not forced to use any, since the splendid Google alternatives are all on here as well.
The Samsung Galaxy Apollo features a large 1500mAh battery, and we found it to be a very long-lasting performer. The Apollo easily achieved a full two days of uptime under heavy reviewing use, with moderate (once an hour) email syncing and a good hour or two of Wi-Fi use each day.
Obviously battery life depends heavily on how much browsing you do and whether you’ve got the GPS radio enabled so you can tell everyone which shop you’re currently standing in – but with a little care the Apollo will stay active for longer than most Android phones. Very welcome, that.
The Notification area provides shortcuts to a few of the usual power strip options where you can enable or disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, or stick the phone into silent mode.
On the hardware side of things, the phone comes with Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n for connectivity, and we had no problems keeping it connected via home Wi-Fi without any drops at all during our time with the phone.
Samsung’s main customisation here is the inclusion of AllShare, its DLNA sharing tool that lets you share any compatible media you may have on your PC with your mobile. If you can be bothered with any of that.
There’s also an FM radio onboard, plus all the usual set-in-stone Android hardware features – GPS and Bluetooth 3.0, along with a microSD slot that supports cards of up to 32GB capacity. GPS connections were relatively fast, although, as ever, there’s a good long wait while getting your initial fix.
There’s a heck of a lot of power, style and performance in the Samsung Galaxy Apollo, a phone that’s supposedly aimed at the cheaper end of the market.
It has great battery life, a very good screen and is powerful enough to cope with apps and browsing easily. But how does it stack up against the vast number of competing Android phones in its price range?
The touchscreen is extremely sensitive and smooth to the touch. Navigating menus and typing is a joy thanks to its superb responsiveness, plus the processor flings menus around without any chugging at all.
The idea of capacitive front buttons is initially quite a worry – but they actually work. The addition of a touch of vibration feedback each time you press one makes them feel like… buttons.
Many of the great features of Samsung’s Galaxy S have made it across through the TouchWiz user interface. The camera’s great, the music player a joy and the video player handles most popular types of media. It’s also a great PMP.
Why on Earth would Orange and Samsung not have a meeting and decide on one OS skin for the phone, rather than squeezing in two? Newcomers to Android are going to be utterly bewildered by having two differing skins to work with at first.
The custom suite of Orange apps is disappointing, with some ugly widgets and bizarre shopping tools that don’t work via Wi-Fi. The Samsung skin and widgets are much, much better and really should’ve been the only option.
That said, the phone struggles to display Samsung’s feature social widgets – its Feeds widget and the Buddies visual Contacts app often bring the Home screen to a shuddering halt, so you’re best sticking with a Home screen free of complex widgets.
The Galaxy Apollo is currently available on Orange contracts starting from £20 a month, and at that price its classy (Samsung) UI and superb capacitive touchscreen obliterate the competition.
The phone’s 400 x 240 display offers a better resolution than that of the competing HTC Wildfire, while the capacitive touchscreen is a massive enhancement over the resistive screen of the Vodafone 845.
If you’re after a new, cheap Android phone that runs Android 2.1 with ease, the Galaxy Apollo’s the best there is at the affordable end of the market.