Following the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2, the Samsung Galaxy S Advance is aimed squarely at the middle of the smartphone market and, as such, it has ended up decidedly middle of the road. For some the handset’s solidity and design consistency may be charming, however, and anyone looking for no-nonsense functionality is certainly likely to be fully-satisfied.
If you are interested in either design flair, software originality, or just sporting a powerful piece of kit, it probably won’t meet your expectations. The first thing that strikes you about the Galaxy S Advance is how closely it looks like a smaller version of the hugely popular Samsung Galaxy S II.
While the recently released Galaxy S III marked a design departure for Samsung, perhaps indicating where the firm’s design team is headed, the Galaxy S Advance has stuck to the aesthetics that Samsung has developed over the past couple of years.
In fact, it is only the device’s slightly smaller scale and the lack of a coloured rim around the home button that differentiate the Galaxy S Advance in any clear way from the Galaxy S II. That may smack of laziness, but if you consider Samsung racked up more than 10 million sales of the S II in the space of five months, it can be forgiven for hoping that a similar design will pay equal dividends.
Processor-wise, the Galaxy S Advance is suitably capable. With its 1GHz dual-core processor it can handle most tasks without too much hassle, with apps and games loading and running quickly. In benchmarking tests it managed a respectable score, but one which inevitably can’t compete with high-end devices out there.
Indeed most of the competition is from older handsets. The Orange San Diego beats it comfortably, for example, despite being Intel’s first serious stab at producing smartphone processors, not to mention its lower price tag.
Using the Galaxy S Advance you can feel that, while it isn’t struggling, it also isn’t powering through tasks or giving apps the extra oomph you might hope for. Once again, this will appeal to those with little experience of some of the faster handsets out there, but even for those used to the almost 18 month old Galaxy S II, it will come as something of a disappointment.
There also doesn’t seem to have been a huge trade off in favour of battery life, as while the Galaxy S Advance lasts longer than many of the highest-specified devices on the market, it isn’t anything special.
Quality of the 5-Megapixel camera is decent, but again nothing to write home about. Pictures are relatively crisp and clear, in good light, and the flash is effective. The lack of a zoom function as standard is annoying, however, though with the fairly low pixel count it is unlikely that anything you zoomed in on would be recognisable anyway.
The 4-inch Super AMOLED screen shares the same slightly over-saturated look of many Samsung handsets. It is pretty, but its disregard for true colouring can become a little wearing. Nevertheless, colours are vivid and the decent resolution means watching videos is no chore.
Software, however, is still a problem. In TouchWiz Samsung may have created one of the better interface overlays for the old Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS out there, but the mere fact the handset runs Gingerbread lets it down slightly. In a similar fashion to its work on the low-end Galaxy Mini 2, it seems like Samsung has been distracted from getting the latest software on to its lower end devices in the rush to get the S III out.
This is something HTC has avoided, with even the very low-end HTC Desire C sporting the latest version of HTC’s take on the latest and greatest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS. It really could be a deal breaker when customers first experience the different versions of the OS and no matter how soon an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich comes along, it could hinder sales at launch. It just seems a silly choice to release a new device with a two year-old operating system, when something much newer and better has been available for months.
One of the Galaxy S Advance’s redeeming qualities is its call quality. Being able to hear who you are talking to oddly may not be seen as a top priority for smartphones anymore, but it may be more of a concern for those looking for solid functionality And solid and functional is the best way to describe this phone.
For someone wanting a basic window to the connected world, this phone makes be a decent if uninspiring purchase that will allow them to adequately navigate the web, listen to music and make clear phone calls with ease. But it lacks the intrigue created by a new manufacturer, or any standout features to clearly differentiate itself.
While new entrants to the market have the advantage of exoticism to help drive sales and established players are able to innovate in either software or hardware, the Galaxy S Advance may have a little difficulty standing out.
We may be proved wrong and the Galaxy S Advance could fly off shelves, but instinct tells us that the old maxim of Henry Ford – “You can have any colour, as long as it is black” – may not hold true for modern smartphones. The Galaxy S Advance simply won’t create the visceral connection that some other devices – even those priced in a similar range – are able to elicit in prospective buyers.
Those who just want a smartphone may by perfectly happy, but it won’t please those who want something they will take constant pleasure in pulling out of their pocket. And taking a relaxed approach to mid-range and low-end devices wouldn’t be such a dangerous game if it weren’t for the fierceness and sheer quality of the competition.
The likes of Huawei are increasingly focussed on the mid-range and entry-level market, while HTC is making sure to apply a consistent theme that spreads throughout its range. Priced as a competitor to the HTC One V, the Galaxy S Advance could have problems keeping up, as the most affordable of HTC’s One range has both style and a swanky and up-to-date operating system. In comparison, the Galaxy S Advance feels like a half-hearted effort.
Not only is the competition strong, but it is also very price competitive. At just short of £300 SIM-free, the Galaxy S Advance isn’t even particularly affordable. This is becoming a significant problem for Samsung. Having led the way with high-end devices like the Galaxy S II and S III, while also dominating the market across price points, it now appears to be resting on its laurels.
Samsung’s non-premium devices are beginning to look like a sop to the mid-market while it tries to play Apple at its own game, rather than building the base on which the firm can create an increasingly strong reputation. If the firm’s not careful, it could find its foundations eaten away while it it’s distracted keeping an eye on Apple’s iPhone.
Nevertheless, while the Galaxy S Advance doesn’t do enough to stake a claim as the best mid-range smartphone you can buy, it is still a suitably capable effort and worth a look for newcomers to the market.