One Year Review: Samsung Galaxy Ace

One year. Three-hundred and sixty five days. Eight thousand and seventy-six hours. This is the amount of time I've spent with my Samsung Galaxy Ace. This isn't a review so much as an assessment of the device after an extended period of time. One year is plenty of time for phones to come out and eclipse the Ace. Yet... here I am, still, with it. It's running Android 2.3; an official update, and the only one the phone has ever seen.

The Ace should reasonably be outgunned by plenty of different phones now, though strangely, it's still holding its own in the low to mid-range market. It has also been more popular than I had expected; I have seen a surprising number of Galaxy Ace owners, and I also know some of them personally. With these other sources I've been able to learn more about how my own Galaxy Ace stacks up compared to others, in case there are even marginal differences between the devices.

Take the time to embark with me on a review of the first smartphone I have ever owned. Along the way expect a few comparisons with other devices. As the phone market changes I feel it is worthwhile to include occasional references and comparisons with other devices. After all, some readers may have weighed up these devices for themselves, or they might even own them. Sit back and enjoy the review; it's been a year in the making. It's a long one; over 9,000 words about the Samsung Galaxy Ace. Enjoy.

Exterior

Samsung's model code for the Galaxy Ace is the S5830. Those of you familiar with Samsung's product line-up will notice the similarity with one of Samsung's older feature phones; the S5230 'Star', or 'Tocco' as it was known in some parts of Europe. The design is reminiscent of the S5230 with a few changes made here and there. The obvious changes come in the form of the metal band running around the side of the phone, and the redesigned frontal facia with a different button layout.

The Galaxy Ace is also larger than the S5230. Having only had an S5230 to compare the size for a few moments I did not have a chance to get a picture of the comparison. The S5230 is a bit smaller but also lighter, and the rear of the phone is not as well textured. Like the S5230, you can take the battery cover off of the phone and remove the battery should you have a replacement or need to for other reasons. It is inevitable that we must also touch on the similarities in the Galaxy Ace's design to the iPhone, since it was one of the more controversial Samsung phones of the past year.

Apple's design means you cannot remove the iPhone 4 or 4S' battery, you can remove the Galaxy Ace's, and you can change the battery cover. I'm not so sure about the appeal of that, though. It's a piece of plastic intended to cover your phone's battery, and the Galaxy Ace comes with two, in white and black. Some Galaxy Aces in the UK came with a purple cover instead of the white, though mine did not. Nokia's Lumia 710 also comes with the replaceable battery covers, and this is normally seen as a feature of a more budgeted phone.

The only problem is that picking anything other than the black cover is inviting disaster. The black cover is textured, and the white is completely smooth. I'd rather have something textured in my hand instead, for the assurance you won't be able to drop it as easily. As soon as I unboxed the device it came with the black cover attached, which is how I still have it.

The black cover isn't fully black. It's more of a dark gray in appearance, with a texture that seems to be made up of tiny diamond shapes. Even if your hands are sweaty it manages to help keep the phone grippy, and the chances of dropping it are slim at best thanks to this. Obviously this invites a slow build-up of crumbs and small residue in the pattern though it is easily removed again with some warm water (and by taking it off the phone, obviously).

For a short period of time I used the white cover on the phone, since it occurred to me that I may as well assess it since it comes with the device. So, for a few days I found myself risking the Ace with a white cover during the spring season. The positive thing is that spring in Ireland is fairly mild; rainy, but mild. I found the white cover much less suited to the phone. It clashes with the darker metal around the side of the Ace, and really wouldn't work unless the front of the device was also white.

I'm not a fan of white mobile devices in general. I find they look cheaper, and that their style is lost. White computers don't bother me though. Apple's iMacs are probably the best looking all-in-one computers on the market, but a white iPhone just leaves me disinterested. The same holds true for the Ace. Maybe I'm unusual for that, but I find that a black phone is just more sleek looking, and projects a more premium appearance. The white cover is useful for modifications. Users on the XDA Developer forums have modified the white case with paint and primer, giving themselves a rear faceplate unique to their phone. Other than this I can't find a reason to use the white cover instead of the textured black one.

For a low to mid-range phone, the Galaxy Ace manages to look appealing enough. The front of the phone is attractively styled, with the two touch-based buttons left invisible when the device is not activated. The home button is also very appealing looking due to the silver lining. The lining is part of the button and not actually a lining as such for this reason, though it passes most inspection and looks good while doing so.

The button is flat but easily located, for the silver outline is ever so slightly raised over the rest. This means you can slide your finger along the area beneath the screen and still find the button. The silver gives it a nice textured outline. With the screen on full brightness though, you can still identify the button without this, for the screen does a good enough job of illuminating the top half of the button. In short: it's well designed here, and manages to look more high-end than the internals would suggest.

Around the side of the device there are three buttons in total. The sides of the phone seem to be made from a type of metal I do not recognise, though it is aesthetically pleasing. It is a slightly darker metal than the iPhone 4's, and the shape is different. The iPhone's metal band appears more as the middle part of a sandwich, while the Ace's is more of a stylistic feature.

Due to the shape of the battery cover, the metal is not entirely flat. It curves, allowing the battery cover to clip into place nicely. Without the battery cover the effect is more obvious, and you can follow the curvature of the metal allowing the battery cover to click into place. It's a nice touch, since it makes the battery cover to sit in place more securely.

On the right hand side of the device is the power button, and a microSD slot capable of accepting anything up to a 32GB card. I am really fond of where the power button is located, since it makes flicking the display off quick and easy to do. I am not sure if I have large hands or something, but the way the phone rests in my hand means that the power button is never too far away from my index finger. It also makes it very easy for me to slide my finger over the power button. This seems to be a muscle memory I have developed with the Galaxy Ace. Due to its relatively compact nature everything is closely located.

The one issue I have noticed with the power button is that it seems to make a little creaking noise when it is rubbed or moved. Maybe it's testament to how close it is to the metal, in which case fit and finish are impressive. Whatever it is the squeak can be annoying or bearable, but it doesn't seem to happen with all the handsets. If I had to guess the button has some kind of membrane base because it doesn't feel like it has much travel to it, and the general feeling for it isn't astounding. It's alright but the click isn't incredibly satisfying. It's no mechanical keyswitch, but the obvious gain from that, for a phone at least, is that it's quiet enough.

There isn't much to say about the microSD slot. It's there, it works, and I like it. Like a lot of phones, it is a pop-up gate style, which then swings around so you can get the microSD slotted in. From my experience Samsung tend to use this design a lot. My D600e also had the same cover for the microSD slot. The fact it is flush with the metal is a nice touch though, because I'm not sure how durable it would be. otherwise. I prefer the internalised approach, where you have a slot in the phone's internals for the memory card, since damaging a microSD card slot is a lot harder when there is none.

Closer inspection of the microSD slot indicates that it is a piece of plastic moulded to fit into the metal banding. The color is lighter than the metal, though it has to be said, not by much. It's visible enough if you look for it, but other than that it seems consistent enough. It also seems slightly more reflective, and I'm trying to work out how the microSD logo is affixed. It seems to be laser etched or using some other such wizardry, because it doesn't scratch, and is still as bright as it was when I took the phone out of the box.

On the left hand side is the volume rocker. I call this two buttons, but it is one continuous button, which I'd guess to be slightly over an inch in length. Looking closely you can also see that the button is ever so slightly concave. This is a neat little design touch since it stops it from feeling like a clunky extension to the phone's body. The widest points are the area you're most likely to feel and therefore use. It all seems like very sound reasoning. I have no problem with that since the increase and decrease location is clearly defined by this point which does not move with them.

This is the top of the Samsung Galaxy Ace, with the charging slot exposed. You can also see the curvature of the battery cover.

Along the top you have the most obvious slots: the charging slot, and the headphone jack. The charging slot is covered by a sliding piece of material in the same style as the band running around the phone, sliding away to expose the USB slot. Pop the USB in and on you go. It couldn't be easier, and the cover provides adequate protection against the elements, or anything you might find in your pockets for that matter. Despite being slightly inset from the rest of the exterior band, the cover is easily moved thanks to the lip at the side. You don't have to use your nail or anything like that; you can move it with the tip of your finger, though it closes tightly enough that it won't open or move in your pocket.

Along the bottom of the phone is something that looks like a pin-prick. It isn't, actually. It's a microphone, and I put it to the test. See the "Camera and Recording" section of this review for the audio recording if you're interested. The rear of the phone, as I have already mentioned, is notable mostly for its battery cover. In the upper left of the cover you have the camera and its flash, as well as the opening for the speaker. Like the camera, the speaker is covered later in this review. For now though, I'll point out that the silver ring around the lens also allows the lens to be inset and slightly more well protected from damage. The silver ring around it also creates a pleasant uniformity with the main button on the front of the device.

Hardware

The hardware in the Galaxy Ace is most definitely not at the cutting edge. You won't find a quad-core here, nor should you expect to. Inside you'll find a Qualcomm MSM7227 chipset, which is 2009-era. The CPU is an ARM 11 running at 800MHz, and the GPU is a lowly Adreno 200. If you're unaware, the MSM7227 first saw service in the Snapdragon S1, so it really isn't new at all. The phone is able to support WiFi on the 802.11b/g/n frequencies, DLNA, and WiFi hotspots. The phone offers Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, and 3G speeds of up to 7.2Mbps via HSDPA.

Closer than you'd expect: the Desire and the Ace aren't all that different.

Going by specifications alone, the Galaxy Ace is actually quite similar to the HTC Desire, which is a full year older. Both devices have an Adreno 200. Both devices have 5MP cameras, accelerometers and all the other stuff which seems to have become a general minimum for anything other than budget Android handsets. With the year's difference the Galaxy Ace really does typify the concept of technology trickling through the market. The Desire was a high end device, and by the time the Galaxy Ace had released the hardware was affordable enough to be used in more middle-range phones.

The CPU of the Ace runs at a lower clock though. Where the Desire uses a 1GHz Scorpion, the Ace falls behind with an ARM 11 at 800MHz. According to Wikipedia, the ARM 11 seems to be used in a variety of Samsung's cheaper devices. The Ace, Europa, and Spica all have the ARM 11, which had ARMv6 architecture. The Desire's Scorpion is ARMv7, and runs at a higher speed, so outpaces Samsung's Ace.

The Spica is one of the Ace's brothers in ARM.

Reportedly the Ace has a longer battery life than the Desire. On 2G, GSMArena states that it would survive for up to 640 hours. Not a chance. The Ace is my first smartphone (coming from a Sony Ericsson K800i), and the battery life is schizophrenic at best. I've had it exceed all my expectations before, and I've had it burning through charge like it's a NASA rocket ship on take-off. It's nothing short of impossible to predict what mood the battery will be in. If it's in a good mood you can use it all day and come home with a little charge left. If it's not, expect to be looking to charge as soon as you get out of work.

Of course, with the Ace having a 1350mAh battery, this might well be the reason for the problem. One of my friends also has an Ace purchased around the same time, though his battery life surpasses my own by a considerable margin. Again, this could come down to the variety of apps installed on the phones and his Wi-Fi usage. The battery life is passable, but I'm not sure it would be ideal for enterprise or anything which demands long battery life. It's a good bit more expensive, but if you're weighing up your phone purchase based on its battery life there is only one answer; Motorola's Razr MAXX.

If you're planning to play Grand Theft Auto III or 9mm on the Galaxy Ace though, you're going to be left very disappointed. To my knowledge nothing from Gameloft is lowly enough in its requirements to work with the Galaxy Ace, ruling out gaming on the phone almost immediately. This might disappoint some people, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest, since I've never really been into mobile gaming in any significant way. I never bought the Galaxy Ace with the intent of playing games on it though.

Size matters, up until an extent. The Ace's lower pricing is displayed most obviously in the screen, which has some interlacing if you look closely at it. At the distances people normally hold their phones it's no problem at all, but if you're looking at it you'll pick up on the problem. Still, with a screen being the major sacrifice it means the rest of the phone manages to maintain decent enough hardware.

Those who have used Apple's Retina Display swear by its quality. For this reason it is perhaps better that I have had relatively little experience with iPhones, for the Ace's screen falls far behind. It is perfectly serviceable, but it isn't going to be a screen famed for its quality or resolution with devices like the Galaxy Nexus and iPhone on the same market.

I have no doubts that the screen will be durable due to its Gorilla Glass protection, though I still prefer to avoid taking chances. Tests with the Galaxy SII and iPhone 4 suggest that Samsung's phones are pretty durable, but I still wouldn't take a chance or drop it intentionally. There's also the argument the drop tests aren't the most scientific things in the world since they're more or less just "drop phone, watch results", and your mileage may vary.

While not strictly hardware, the phone comes boxed with a mini USB to USB charger, a charger with a plug, and earphones. As you'd expect the earphones aren't astoundingly high-quality or particularly comfortable, but they do have a microphone built in. Again, it's not going to blow anyone away, but at least you'll have a microphone. It strikes me as odd that it comes with two chargers, instead of a mini USB to USB and a plug adapter. I can't complain though, for both cables work and that's all that matters. It might not be as environmentally friendly as a plug adapter and a cable, but the difference made to the earth's resources are that minescule I can't see Greenpeace being too frustrated.

Performance

Look elsewhere if you're seeking performance, or you're liable to be slaughtered.

Performance and hardware are not as closely linked as they once were. In the past the phone with the most power had the fastest performance. We're seeing a change from that though, as operating systems are refined around their hardware. Windows Phone has shown that it is possible to have a very snappy experience on a device with less extravagant specifications than some of its competitors, and Apple's iOS has always invited positive comments about its performance due to its restrictive hardware.

The Galaxy Ace comes with 278MB of RAM according to its spec-sheet. This is probably why it won't be getting Ice Cream Sandwich, but it's enough RAM to work as an everyday handset. Certainly, it'll feel more sprightly than a feature phone, so it will make a worthy, pocket-friendly upgrade for those who are wanting to move into the smartphone realm with something that won't break the bank and won't break speed records. For most applications the 278MB of RAM in use is more than sufficient, though there are obviously some which won't feel so great. The prime example of this comes in the form of games like Angry Birds. While Angry Birds will not struggle in the slightest on a powerful phone, I noted a few dropped frames here and there on my Galaxy Ace. I'm not going to blame it on the phone or on the game though, for I was using the free version.

My best guess is that the ads were responsible for some of the performance hit. I was using the free version of the game, and my best guess is that these ads were responsible, in whole or in part, for the reduction in performance. Studies do suggest that advertisements in applications can impact on a phone's battery life. Keeping in mind the type of ads which appear when playing Angry Birds, I'm not all that surprised that some frames dropped here and there. Draw Something operated smoothly enough on the Galaxy Ace, and worked well enough to actually play the game smoothly. Even so I found myself uninstalling it because I had no interest in drawing anything. The important thing is that the game will work on the phone, though, and it'll work well enough for you to have some fun with it.

If anyone is wondering which application I chose to benchmark with, I selected to use Quadrant. Quadrant is seen as one of the better applications for testing phones. I previously tried AnTuTu, though later read that it was not the most reliable choice for getting an accurate result. For this reason I decided to scrap the result it came up with in favor of one people tend to prefer seeing. Hopefully the image provides a clear enough example of the phone's performance. Gaming on the Galaxy Ace is less appealing than on more expensive phones, and those results make it very clear. Some applications do feel a little laggy on the limited amount of RAM in the device, though these tend to be applications known for their resource-hungriness in general. The obvious example here is the Facebook app. Improvements have been made to it, but it still can chew up 40MB of RAM without a second thought. Normally I see the phone using around 220MB of the RAM it has, though I do have a couple of applications running in the background and this does factor in.

My Ace's RAM usage with everything closed.

The specifications mean the Galaxy Ace can be prone to sudden freezes or slowdown. Applications occasionally hang on the phone, and the number of freezes outweigh the number of actual app crashes considerably. In all my time with the phone I've had one freeze which forced me to pull the battery, so I would say the chances of these happening regularly isn't high, even considering the specifications.

Web browsing on the Galaxy Ace is passable, and the TouchWiz browser isn't half bad actually. It bears a passing resemblance to Chrome's UI, though obviously has a few Samsung alterations bundled in. Tab management relies on windows, instead of tabs. If you want to open another website you have to tap the menu button, then Windows, then select the site from a cover flow-esque horizontal scroll. With the phone's limited RAM you can't hold plenty of windows open in limbo at the same time. Doing so can cause pages to drop out of memory, and when you return to them they will have to reload.

The browser's pace is agreeable enough, but it isn't ideal for loading desktop versions of websites. The combination of a lower resolution and older hardware means scrolling is often choppy when trying to handle these pages, and larger pages can continue to bog the phone down. Naturally they'll also drop out of memory extremely quickly due to their size, so minimizing the browser will mean having to reload the page again.

One issue I've noticed as becoming more prevalent is slowdown with the Twitter app. For anyone who didn't know, I use the official Twitter app purely for its notifications. After typing a tweet, I've found that the application won't update on how many characters are left in the limited for a notable delay. It wasn't an issue with the much older version of the app, and it wasn't so bad before the current update, but now you can definitely tell there's a slowdown with it. This is quite annoying since you cannot submit the tweet until it gets around to checking to see if it's too long or not. I can't tell whether this is an issue with Twitter's own application or if the phone simply isn't cutting it to deal with the newer versions of apps as smoothly.

It's only an issue with the standard Twitter app though. I don't have the same issue with Twicca, TweetDeck, TweakDeck, or Plume. Maybe these apps aren't expecting everyone to have the most high-end phones while Twitter themselves are; I'm not too sure.

There is some slowdown with the Facebook app as well, but that's the only way to know you're using Facebook. I've opened the Facebook app and been greeted by a white page, forcing me to close the app via the task manager and re-open it. I don't know for sure if that's the phone's hardware trying to handle the application or if it's just the sheer quality of the Facebook app being too much for the phone to handle. Either way, Facebook Messenger is about a million times more responsive.

Performance is acceptable enough for the majority of uses, though the phone was clearly not designed with gaming or heavy web browsing in mind. While the phone will handle heavier stuff it never really does it with a great deal of confidence. It feels like it is struggling with things that are fairly basic. The slowdown can be irritating, but for the most part it is bearable. A restart every day or two tends to help keep the phone from feeling as bogged down at times.

Display

Neowin's mobile front page in 320x240 resolution.

Display-wise, the Ace has the same resolution as older iPhones, at 320x480. The display is HVGA, and comes with Gorilla Glass for protection. In spite of this I have a screen protector on my Ace. Comparing with HTC's Desire again, the screen resolution falls behind. It is smaller , at 3.5", while the Desire's screen clocks in at 3.7".

The screen is probably the first place you'll pick up on careful budgeting with the Galaxy Ace. It isn't mindblowing, and the low resolution does indicate the phone's position in the market. This is by no means a competitor for the finest screen on the market. If money is no object and the display is the primary concern, skip right on over to the HTC One X. At a stretch the Galaxy SIII will also do, but be aware it uses a PenTile subpixel layout. The viewing angles on the HVGA display aren't bad. I was expecting them to be worse. Tilting the phone from a comfortable viewing angle, you can reach about 70 or 80 degrees (estimated) before you can detect the screen's clarity decays. This is most obvious with text, such as tweets on the Twitter application. When angled the text visibly thins out, and is reminiscent of Microsoft's font rendering in Windows XP. Every glyph looks a little thinner and sharper than the actual font is intended to be. It's lucky that you shouldn't be holding the Galaxy Ace like this. It can't hurt to point out that this is using the standard Droid Sans font and not a FlipFont at this point, as mileage may vary depending on the specific font used.

YouTube fans will probably be a little disappointed with the screen, but the color reproduction isn't bad for what it is. Alright, so there is a lack of finer distinction among colors, but the screen is usable enough for most purposes. Photography on the device isn't bad, but with the lacking resolution panning around and determining whether the picture is worth keeping or not is a difficult job. Blacks in particular are probably the best looking color the screen can display , though it won't keep up with Nokia's ClearBlack display. The darker the color, the more likely the HVGA display will reflect it faithfully. Brighter colors are alright, but not nearly as pleasing. For a budget display color reproduction is just fine. It's passable and probably would remain so right up until the Samsung Galaxy R's spot in the market. The Galaxy R, for those wondering, uses a 4.27" WVGA display, and is also not PenTile.

Camera and Recording

A year ago, the 5MP camera the Galaxy Ace boasted was the standard for Android devices. Since then the boundaries have been pushed again. Now you can get phones with 8MP cameras with reasonable ease and decent pricing, and the 5MP shooter is quickly becoming seen as a lower-end option. Mind you, even higher end phones are still sticking to the 8MP camera at present. Among others, the iPhone 4S, Galaxy SIII, and Galaxy Nexus are all packing 8MP shooters. It goes without saying these cameras have to be better than the Galaxy Ace's, for it is not designed to compete with these phones.

The Galaxy Ace's camera isn't revolutionary. It won't offer incredible snaps but it'll do just fine for the majority of people. Being 5MP, the pictures come out at a higher-than-1080p resolution (2560×1920), so you could capture your next desktop wallpaper with it. It's not half-bad as a camera, but I wouldn't rely on its auto focus. At closer ranges the auto focus struggles to focus sometimes, so it isn't always excellent.

The Galaxy Ace features an LED Flash, something some other phones with similar cameras do not. The flash is very, very bright, and definitely not something you'll want to leave on by accident. If the camera detects that the shot is dark the default setting can determine whether or not the flash is enabled or not. This is convenient if you're using the camera regularly.

Regular photographers might not be entirely satisfied with the Galaxy Ace though, for the simple reason it doesn't have a dedicated camera button. The button might not be needed by everyone, but for those who would like it, it's a serious oversight. Couple this with the fact there's no camera button in the default lock screen and you have a phone where pictures are much more planned than spontaneous.

There's another problem which is highlighted by the camera; the complete lack of onboard storage space in the phone. With 158MB of space for the user, you'd expect to store some pictures. Yet you can't. Trying to use the camera or video recording facilities without a microSD results in an error message. If you're a happy snapper you're going to need more than the 2GB card you're supplied with if you're planning to carry music, images, videos or other media in any large quantities.

The phone's video recording is limited to 24fps. While this works for films, a film isn't recorded in VGA quality (640x480). In other words, this isn't the phone to go for if you're planning on recording any significant video either. It's lucky I'm not, since the video recording isn't incredible by any stretch of the imagination.

The phone comes with a voice recording application built-in as well, but the file type is something nobody has ever heard of before, and therefore can't really embed on Neowin. Instead I downloaded an app from the Play Store and decided to record a quick voice clip, so you can get an idea of what voice recordings on the Galaxy Ace sound like.

This recording was made holding the phone with the microphone facing towards me from six inches (15cm) away. Nothing about it has been altered or enhanced, right down to my tone of voice. I'm quite surprised actually. It won't blow away a professional-grade microphone but it isn't bad for a phone in this end of the market. Note that there are a few moments of silence at the start to allow for listeners to identify any static in the microphone. I have to admit I didn't hear much myself, but depending on your headphones you might pick up on more than I did.

Software

As I said, my phone runs Samsung's own build of Android 2.3, Gingerbread. This means it comes with Samsung's built in apps, and therefore more bloat than it honestly needs. It comes with a 2GB MicroSD memory card, which is seemingly the norm for phones now. It's the memory card I still use in the phone.

By standard the Ace comes with Android 2.2 Froyo, but using Samsung's Kies software the phone can be upgraded. The Galaxy Ace won't be getting Ice Cream Sandwich it seems. Previously an upgrade was a possibility, but since Samsung has remained silent about it since it seems probable that no update is forthcoming. There are ROMs such as a build of CyanogeMod9 for the phone, but I haven't rooted my device.

Android on this phone comes with Samsung's own TouchWiz skin dropped onto it. Some people hate that, but I admit it adds some positive new features. Beauty is subjective, but TouchWiz isn't hideous. Samsung's version for ICS, TouchWiz 4, is almost elegant. I say 'almost' because Google had to provide Holo, and thereby void the UI improvements of any manufacturer. Improving on the best Android UI of all would be a challenge and nobody has shown themselves capable of rising to the task just yet.

Included on the phone are various applications. O2 have been good enough to only give me one piece of crapware, called 'Priority Moments'. Samsung haven't been so good in that respect though, with two or three applications that have no value. The two blatantly obvious ones are their own email client, and Samsung Apps. Android phones come with this thing called 'Play Store' (or 'Play Shop', depending on your region), as well as Gmail baked in.

Every bit as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Want to know when I use Samsung's email app? When I'm in bed, and I have my lights off. That's the only time I use it, because it has a black background so it won't set my retinas on fire. Otherwise the official app is just as good, and probably better. Samsung's own app doesn't add anything to the phone but does manage to rob you of some more storage space. With the phone running Android, it isn't like you need a second email client you don't get a say in installing. You can find an alternative on the Play Store for just about everything.

 As for Samsung Apps, it's an app store which is incredibly limited. Always good to have on a device with access to one of the largest application stores in the world, right? I have no idea what it exists for but apparently it does. The only fix is to root the phone and remove it, or let it remain on the phone.

There are already alternatives to the official Google-provided Play Store, and you can find apps via the XDA Developers forums, Amazon, or others. Twenty seconds consulting the mighty Google would be enough to turn up plenty of alternatives from any corner of the globe you fancy.

Contacts is a good example of TouchWiz improving an application. Now, it has a few quirks I'm not so fond of, but the application itself is pretty good, really. It's an improvement over what it could be. The clearest example comes in the form of gestures. When looking at a contact or SMS message from a contact, you can making a sweeping gesture over it. Sweeping to the left will open SMS communications with that person. Sweeping to the right immediately will call them, thereby being one of the fastest methods of getting in contact.

The music app isn't too bad though. It doesn't have any of the features that some people love, such as the Equalizer, but it offers a quick method of playing MP3s. That isn't the feature to die for though. Instead, it's the little strip in the notifications dropdown, which allows you to control your music playback. While it isn't fully comprehensive. The music navigation strip in the notification pulldown is a godsend. Not all phones come with that, unfortunately. Forgetting that feature ought to be criminalised, for those buttons are wonderful. Samsung might be derided for their TouchWiz interface, but it's a travesty that so few alternative applications will offer the same.

The stock music application won't blow you away with its feature set, but it is usable and functional. I like it a great deal. Even now, a year after having the phone, I'm yet to find an application which I prefer for playing music. It isn't so wonderful for podcasts, though, since there is no differentiation. I don't listen to podcasts regularly though, so for me this is a minor issue. The layout is slick and fast, and also simplistic enough for most people to browse their music. By default it sorts by artist, with the artist list expanding into their album list when tapped. Select an album and you can see the songs on it. While it isn't made clear, the songs are listed by their track number if specified in the ID3 tags. When you look at the songs from an album you also get a nice looking effect over the album artwork, while tracks listed are superimposed over it. I like that.

The app is crippled, in one critical manner. This problem also pervades other loaded applications that come pre-installed on the phone. When you have the phone loaded with applications or music, opening the app doesn't always work. The error message is the oh-so-clear "Not enough memory". What kind of memory? Is it RAM? MicroSD? Internal? I'm simply not sure because the only solution seems to be to uninstall apps. It doesn't seem to matter where these applications are installed because the phone doesn't care. You have too much and it doesn't want you to.

From chatting with a friend who owns a Galaxy Ace and a 32GB microSD card, he doesn't encounter the same problem. Yet when the problem occurs I can install applications on the microSD card, even if they're for the same purpose as the standard music app. It would seem the phone has some kind of cut-off limit for these applications, which is ridiculous. The limit doesn't need to be there and considering these apps are installed on the phone, the microSD usage shouldn't cause them any hindrance.

There are some things about TouchWiz that I am not so fond of. The standard keyboard, for one. The keyboard is reminiscent of one used in a mobile device designed in Cupertino, but simply not as good. It doesn't have autocorrect, which can be a blessing for some people and a curse for others. The virtual buttons are quite small and I found hitting them to be difficult. The lack of autocorrect means that spelling anything takes longer than with any other keyboard, unless you're accurate. For someone who types with both of their thumbs like myself, it has its flaws. Coupled with a miniature space bar, every.sentence.looks.like.this.

A glimpse at the built-in Memo app, and the standard keyboard.

Swype is also baked in as standard, but it isn't my main choice either. I simply couldn't adapt to it. It's a keyboard that people seem to find hard to move away from once they are familiar with it, but I've found that I was happier with a conventional virtual keyboard. Instead of using the Samsung keyboard or Swype, I use Binary Bulge's ICS Keyboard. I find it's a lot easier to use due to the improved prediction it offers. I can't say it with any certainty, but I expect that any keyboard would work well enough on a higher resolution.

TouchWiz is also notable for including support for FlipFont files. Most Android builds do not include this functionality, requiring a root in order to change the font family on the phone. With Android 3.0 and below, the official font is Droid Sans, which saw a refresh to Roboto with Android 4.0. With FlipFonts you can get Roboto running on older devices, as well as other fonts. You can also compile your own, though there is one issue that prevents FlipFonts from achieving their fullest potential: no different typefaces. If you install Roboto there is no bold version of Roboto, nor is there the italicised version. From what I know this is due to how Android is built and system permissions.

With the root you can override these permissions since you have superuser access to the device and all its most advanced settings. Without, FlipFont is a limited tool and suitable only in a small number of cases. There's also the issue of the fonts being expensive from the Google Play Store, though developers have released fonts on the XDA Developers page and there is a method of creating your own. Even so it cannot circumvent Android's nature by design. It's a nice feature to have as standard but it's hard to say whether anyone will use it or not.

There  is one peculiarity in the software that immediately comes to mind. Had the phone been released with Gingerbread instead of Froyo I would never have noticed it, but it was not to be the case. For a reason unknown to me, Samsung removed some features from the TouchWiz SMS application between 2.2 and 2.3. The features weren't killer must-haves, being mostly themes, but it caught my attention.

When the phone was running 2.2 there were SMS themes, such as a corkboard. Now, it uses blue and yellow text bubbles instead. Even on Froyo you could use the blue and yellow theme, but you had a choice, I found it unusual that the functionality was removed. I won't say it was a needless removal since there might have been some bugs present with specific themes, but the most obvious reason is memory.

One thing the TouchWiz build does not include as standard is a data monitor. While Android 4.0 was the first version of the OS to include this as standard, some Gingerbread devices include a monitor (the HTC Explorer, for one). Since the OEM skins are all about one-upping their rivals in terms of looks and functionality, I'm surprised Samsung's TouchWiz UI doesn't include something like this itself.

Like all Android builds, Samsung's TouchWiz-zed 2.3 includes Google's voice search. I'd be lying if I said I used it regularly. From my experience it works, but it isn't as accurate as Apple's Siri. The technology is there but I don't think it's as good. Siri is remarkable. While I didn't have much success with it when I tried it on a friend's 4S, I have seen enough of it to know that it works incredibly well for those familiar with it. Voice search on the Galaxy Ace works but I have found that it has the power to misinterpret words some of the time.

PC Software

This is a necessary evil to discuss, since it's one people are going to encounter. Once you've got your shiny new Android phone, you will probably have to install some software on your computer in order to upgrade the phone if you're not getting the update over the air. Probably the best known software for managing a smartphone is iTunes, since it'll manage your iPhone for you.

Samsung's equivalent is Kies. I was really, really hoping to find out that Kies was good software. I was hardly surprised to find out that it isn't fantastic, though. It works but there's nothing about it to really impress. My experience with the software was that it was quite slow on my older laptop. Alright, so my laptop's specifications are not cutting edge but iTunes is nowhere near as lethargic and it contains a lot more music.

Kies is available for Mac as well, but I wouldn't hazard downloading it. I encountered a few issues with it, such as the software refusing to acknowledge the phone connected to it. Apparently it didn't want to be phone management software at the time. Odd considering it decided it was going to be phone management software about twenty minutes later. It's temperamental at best, and the only reason to install it is to upgrade the phone to Samsung's official 2.3 Gingerbread build.

If you have that done you may as well uninstall Kies, enable USB Debugging and add music or media manually. For a program designed to make things easier it isn't as easy. The bottom line is that it isn't excellent software, and it's the sort of thing people use only because they don't know of an alternative. It's more bloated than it needs to be as well, weighing in at more than 100MB for software designed only to help manage your media before loading it onto your phone. iTunes isn't as bloated on Windows and yet gets the same reputation. iTunes' negative reputation is legendary and yet Kies manages to encounter the same issue.

Media Playback

The speaker on the Galaxy Ace is neatly placed on the rear of the phone behind an innocuous looking opening. Looking closely at it, it's not a large speaker by any stretch of the imagination. It works, but it's not going to compare to HTC's Beats Audio, even with its DNSe sound enhancement. If you're looking for something to pipe music through at a reasonable quality, the Galaxy Ace will fit. I wouldn't recommend going beyond two-thirds of the volume because the music will lose a lot of its clarity and expose some tinny tones.

Since the speaker is on the back of the phone, it means you can't use it discretely to listen to something without earphones. If you've forgotten earphones and you have a confidential voicemail, then you're going to have to rule out  listening to it without sharing it with those around you, unless it's at an almost inaudible volume. It's not going to set the world on fire, but the positioning of the headphone jack means that earphones can get into the phone easily. One thing I'd have liked to see is a lockscreen widget for music control. While there's a convenient toolbar in the notifications dropdown, it means unlocking the phone to change your music or pause it. Other applications offer this functionality but without the options in the notifications pulldown so you have to pick and choose which matters more to you. In an ideal world you'd have both, but you can't.

Problems Encountered

No phone is perfect, but my initial experiences with my Galaxy Ace could have been a lot better. For some reason the phone would turn itself off with no warning at all. It could go from being on to off in moments. I could have picked it up, read a few tweets, and set it down to reply to a message on Skype. By the time I had responded to the message, the phone could have been off. There was no shutting down screen, and there were no physical defects with the phone.

I still have no idea what caused it, but having tested it, the bug was not exclusive to Froyo. It continued even with the Gingerbread update having been installed as well. The eventual solution was to send the phone for repairs under O2's provided warranty. This meant being without a smartphone for ten days or so, using a Nokia C3-00 that was in the house.

Another issue I had with the phone was that sometimes it decided not to use WiFi, despite being connected to WiFi. It never made this too obvious but it was a recurring issue that also stopped when I had the phone repaired by O2. It could have been a software issue, but since it happened even after a software upgrade I would not be sure of that. It may well have been a hardware issue but I did not see any physical defects with the phone. I'll never know for sure but it threw the overall reliability of the phone into question for me.

These issues leave me pondering the reliability of the Galaxy Ace to an extent, though this marks the first negative experience I've had with Samsung devices. During the past few years my family has owned roughly ten different Samsung phones, though the Ace marks the first device where something has went awry from the onset instead of from age and wear. For anyone wondering the device that encountered problems from usage, it was the U600, with screen problems common to the model. Other than that, the Ace was the first device my family has had among them to encounter problems.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this is probably going to be the smarter option now.

The Samsung Galaxy Ace may not be the best smartphone on the market, nor is it be the worst. It really does hit a point in the market where it can be the best of its kind. The HTC Wildfire S is slower and is the main competitor. The HTC Desire C could take over the Wildfire S position, with initial impressions placing it above the Galaxy Ace in terms of performance. It'll also boast a newer version of Android running the most elegant version of Sense yet.

Stylistically the Galaxy Ace is a condensed Galaxy SII. I can't fault that. The SII is a great looking device and it has the specs to make the go match the show. The  design clearly shows that the Galaxy Ace is a little brother to the SII. It resembles the bigger, more powerful brother, but it offers less in the way of performance. It's serviceable for everyday usage and looks premium without the aura of desirability some more high end devices would inevitably attract among less scrupulous individuals.

Samsung's Galaxy Ace has served me well over the past twelve months, and I expect it will continue to do well in the following twelve months before the contract ends. Do I feel that it is too long for a device which won't see Android 4.0? Yes. The phone has satisfied my expectations but I'm not sure if it has the longevity to continue to. With my 24 month contract on O2, upgrading isn't available until next May.

If I was going in for a contract tomorrow, I'd go for the Nokia Lumia 800 without a doubt. The contract is the same price, but the Lumia 800 simply offers more bang for your buck. If you can live with Windows Phone it's the better value device at the moment. I've had my eye on the Lumia 800 since its release. There are two ways I see it.

If you're going by operating systems alone then it's a toss-up between Android and Windows Phone 7.5. The WP7 build is newer but the Lumias will not be receiving upgrades to Windows Phone 8 it would appear. If you can cope with Windows Phone 7.8 then it's an option. Android 2.3 is outdated but will continue to have relevance for as long as people can go out and buy a 2.3 phone from the same retailer that stocks 4.0 devices. Android is more customizable, and Windows Phone offers Metro. There are arguments to go either way, based on operating system alone.

The other way to look at it comes down to specifications, and here the Lumia 800 simply beats the Galaxy Ace out. Camera? The Lumia 800's is an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss. Resolution? 480x800, compared to 320x480. Storage? 16GB; considerably more than the Ace's internal storage. CPU? Faster by a considerable margin. I am not arguing that the Galaxy Ace is a bad phone. This overall review has been too positive to simply call the phone bad. It isn't bad, but the phone market looks radically different since I bought into the contract.

New technologies have arrived on the scene, Android 4.0 has released, Nokia's Lumia line has made its splash, the specification boundary has been pushed further by the One X and SIII, and all this trickles down the product lineup. People expect more from their phones than they did this time twelve months ago, and the same process will continue to have people striving for more bang for their buck.

Am I saying the Galaxy Ace is a bad phone, or am I generally being much less positive about it at the moment? I don't think so. The phone is still relevant enough in today's market to remain a viable purchase, but nowhere near the same level as upon release. Samsung even feel the Galaxy Ace isn't so significant in their line-up anymore. This is evidenced by the Galaxy Ace+ and the Galaxy Ace II; two phones nobody expected or particularly needed. They all go to show that Samsung aren't expecting longevity in their mid-range market.

The Galaxy Ace manages to offer reasonable specs for a reasonable price, but the longevity isn't as reasonable. It won't set the world on fire but it is a competent introduction to Android. It'll outspec the Galaxy Y, for example, but it isn't intended to be a dominant phone either. It does everything well enough to satisfy, and I cannot fault it. If anything, this phone will always have its importance to me since it is my first ever smartphone. I just wish its relevant lifespan had been longer, but such is life.

If you're looking to buy a smartphone from this part of the mobile spectrum then I would save the money, just for now. If you're set on buying Android I would go for the HTC Desire C. Otherwise? I'd suggest trying everything available to you and seeing what appeals to you. The Lumia 800 really does have my attention at the moment and I could see myself trying to find one at a good price in the near future. While some people can be introduced to a mobile OS and then love it, I'm still transparent in my company loyalties. I'm probably the worst person to sell a phone to, because I have no qualms with switching sides if it makes sense for me to do so. Even so my first smartphone will potentially be the device all others are compared to in the future.

The Galaxy Ace 2, which looks like a Galaxy Mini and will run 2.3 anyway.

I'm giving the Galaxy Ace the score below based on its performance relevant to its sector of the market at present. Therefore it's maybe not as high as it should have been at release, despite me clearly saying that I am fond of this phone. Do I recommend buying a Galaxy Ace? No, not any longer. At present I'd suggest you hold out for a month or two longer and pick up the Desire C, or try and find something else. Even in Samsung's own eyes the Galaxy Ace's lifespan seems to be over. A depressing reality, but considering there are three newer Galaxy Ace models to supersede the S5830 (the Galaxy Ace+, Ace Duos, and Ace 2), it seems like the only way to interpret Samsung's own action.

It's a solid phone for its position in the market, holding off its competition, but its position is slipping. Due to the lack of internal memory, the phone I have been drawing comparisons to the HTC Desire with is also hampered by the same issue. Even among fans of the Desire, the lack of internal memory included is a known problem. The same happens here, but with the smaller development community based around the Galaxy Ace it doesn't have the same minds working on expanding the space as much as possible.



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