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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Samsung Galaxy Premier review: A droid of stature (Our Rating-8/10)


Introduction

Spreading the Galaxy S III magic to as many market segments as possible is what Samsung is actively trying to achieve these days. After the power users were treated to the Note II and those looking for a premium experience in a compact shell got the mini, it's now time for the mid-range market to get some attention.
Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260
Samsung Galaxy Premier official photos

The Samsung Galaxy Premier specs sheet is familiar with the 4.65-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen and the dual-core TI OMAP chipset immediately bringing the Galaxy Nexus to mind. However, calling the Premier a Nexus refresh is wildly inaccurate - the Nature UX adds so much character that you'll hardly be able to tell there's so much in common between the two smartphones.
Let's take a look at what the Galaxy Premier is all about.

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM and quad-band 3G support
  • 21 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA support
  • 4.65" 16M-color Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen of HD (720 x 1280 pixels) resolution; Corning Gorilla Glass 2
  • Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean with TouchWiz launcher
  • 1.5 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU, PowerVR SGX544 GPU, TI OMAP 4470 chipset, 1GB of RAM
  • 8 MP wide-angle lens autofocus camera with LED flash, face, smile and blink detection
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30fps
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n
  • GPS with A-GPS connectivity; GLONASS support, Digital compass
  • 16/32 internal storage, microSD slot
  • Accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity sensor
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • microUSB port with USB host and TV-out (1080p) support, MHL, charging
  • Stereo Bluetooth v4.0
  • FM radio with RDS
  • 1.9MP secondary video-call camera
  • NFC support
  • Document editor
  • File manager comes preinstalled
  • Extremely rich video and audio codec support
  • Relatively large 2100 mAh battery

Main disadvantages

  • No dedicated camera key
  • Dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU usually belongs to a lower market segment
  • All plastic body
  • PenTile matrix screen of relatively low brightness
Sure, the Samsung Galaxy Premier doesn't have the most exciting specs sheet around, but it takes a formula that was already proven to work and improves on it in a number of key areas. Building on the most popular Nexus smartphone so far, the Premier addresses just about every complaints users had about it.
The mediocre camera is replaced by a more capable 8MP shooter, the chipset got a speed update and a more powerful GPU, while the uninspiring styling got spiced up with a dash of Galaxy S III. There is also an ampler battery to take care of the relatively short endurance and a microSD card slot for cheap memory expansion.
Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260 Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260 Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260
Samsung Galaxy Premier at ours
And yes, the stock Android looks are gone, but they are replaced by the Nature UX, which is not only way more functional, but also the best looking TouchWiz version so far.
Let's see if all those tweaks actually look as promised - the hardware inspection starts right after the break.

Display

The display on the Galaxy Premier is a 4.65" Super AMOLED unit with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels, resulting in a density of approximately 316 pixels per inch. The specs might be identical to what we had a year ago, but this still remains the most pixel dense AMOLED screen out there.
Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260
The Samsung Galaxy Premier display
As usual for AMOLED display, colors are vibrant and contrast is impressively high. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, the Galaxy Premier offers three display modes, which lets you tune down the colors if you don't like the default oversaturated look.
The brightness of the screen isn't particularly impressive, but the Galaxy Premier is still brighter than the Galaxy Nexus, so it's definitely a step in the right direction. And given that Super AMOLED displays are pretty resistant to reflections, the sunlight legibility of the Galaxy Nexus is pretty good.

Handling

Overall, the handling of the Samsung Galaxy Premier is a very pleasant experience. It's just big enough to remain comfortable to hold in one hand. The plastic finish is of high quality and is quite enjoyable to the touch.
Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260 Samsung Galaxy Premier I9260
Samsung Galaxy Premier held in hand
There's a certain charisma to the Samsung Galaxy Premier - it's both good looking and solidly built. Samsung seems to be adopting the premium design of the Galaxy S III in both its entry- and mid-range products and the result is an elegant device, which is done just right, without being overdesigned.

Gallery has some great extras

The Samsung Galaxy Premier comes with a new eye-candy-rich Gallery app. It opens up in Albums view, but photos can also be sorted by Location, Time, Person (photos with tagged faces), Group and Favorites.
You can also switch between three view modes - rectangular grid, a grid that's spread out in 3D space and a 3D spiral (which is the least useful of all). In each of the three view modes, you can pinch zoom to make the thumbnails bigger. Unlike Sony's gallery, you only get two zoom levels here.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
The new Gallery app
When viewing a single photo, you'll find Star, Share and Delete buttons above the photo, while below is a line of small thumbnails of all other photos in the album. You can tap those small thumbnails to move to other images or you can just swipe to the side.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
The Gallery interface • Viewing a single photo
We also found that unlike other droids, the Galaxy Premier lets you select folders from several different folders for batch operations.
The list of features goes on. There are a couple of photo editing options and a crop tool. Contextual tags display labels with the location, who's in the photo and the date (if there's a GPS tag and you've taught the Premier about what your friends look like). Then there's the print option, so you can print out photos without going through a computer first (but you'll need a Samsung printer).
Samsung Galaxy Premier
Contextual tag
When viewing a photo with people's faces in it, the Galaxy Premier will try to detect them automatically (and you can manually highlight faces where it fails). Buddy photo share will use your contacts' profiles to try and recognize who is who automatically.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Putting a name to the face • Manually marking a face
Social tag makes sure that whenever a face is recognized in the photo, their status message appears and you can easily call or message that contact.
Another option allows you to OCR a photo and copy the text. This is very handy if you often work with documents but don't have a scanner and a computer handy.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Printing requires a Samsung printer • The OCR app needs to be downloaded before the first use
And if you thought that Samsung didn't include the kitchen sink, the option to add weather tags to a photo (a feature courtesy of AccuWeather) should change your mind. We still can't figure out what the use for that may be, but it's there if you need it.
Samsung Galaxy Premier
Adding a weather tag

TouchWiz music player gets an overhaul


The Samsung Galaxy Premier uses an updated version of the TouchWiz music player. Samsung has enabled equalizer presets (including a custom one) along with the sound-enhancing SoundAlive technology, which features 7.1 channel virtualization. Samsung uses SoundAlive in some of their MP3 and Android-powered media players.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
SoundAlive options • Custom equalizer with extended settings
Music is sorted into various categories, but the most interesting one is called Music square - it's quite similar to the SensMe feature of Sony Ericsson phones. It automatically rates a song as exciting or calm, passionate or joyful and plots those songs on a square (hence the name).
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Music square creates automatic playlists based on your mood
From here, you can highlight an area of the square and the phone will automatically build a playlist of songs that matches your selection.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
The music player has benefited greatly from the TouchWiz UI
You can swipe the album art left and right to move between songs. You can also put the phone face down to mute the sound or place your palm over the screen to pause playback.
The Galaxy Premier player is DLNA-enabled, so you're not limited to tracks on your handset - songs on devices connected to your Wi-Fi network are as easy to get to as locally stored songs.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
On-device music library and DLNA

Video player has it all

Samsung has put what is easily the best default video player on the Samsung Galaxy Premier. It offers several view modes - grid, list, folders and nearby devices (which accesses DLNA devices).
The grid view is our favorite as it is a true quad-core tour de force - the visible video thumbnails (all eight of them) are actually playing the videos instead of being static images. They play at a reduced framerate and generating those previews takes a couple of minutes the first time around, but it's an awesome preview and it's impressive that we can see this on a non-quad-core device.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Two of the view modes available for browsing your videos
The video player lets you choose between three crop modes for how the video fits the screen. The same SoundAlive audio-enhancing technology is available here too.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
The video player has a simple interface but is quite capable
The video player lets you squeeze the best viewing experience out of the large, high-res screen. You can adjust video brightness, color tone and enable outdoor visibility too.
Samsung Galaxy Premier
Plenty of settings available
The video player had absolutely no trouble with any of the files we threw at it - starting with .WMV, through .AVI (DivX and XviD) and .MP4 to .MKV (H.264). Resolution wasn't a problem either - the Samsung Galaxy Premier played FullHD files and larger files seamlessly.
The Samsung Galaxy Premier made another good impression when it offered us a list of subtitles and let us pick. It scans for all subtitles, so the file doesn't have to have the same name as the video file.
Samsung Galaxy Premier  
Picking the right subtitle file, the easy way
The video player on the Premier has a feature called Pop up play - it moves the video in a small floating window and you can use other apps on the phone while still watching the video. With Jelly Bean, you can use pinch zoom to adjust the size of the video - we're once again impressed at how well this worked on such a midrange-spec'd device.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
The pop up play can be resized

FM Radio with RDS, broadcast recording

The Galaxy Premier is equipped with an FM radio with RDS too. The interface is simple - there's a tuning dial and you can save as many as 8 stations as favorites. You can also play on the loudspeaker, but the headset is still needed as it acts as the antenna. You can record radio broadcasts as well.
Samsung Galaxy Premier  Samsung Galaxy Premier  Samsung Galaxy Premier  Samsung Galaxy Premier
The FM radio app

Decent audio output

The Samsung Galaxy Premier did quite well in the first part of our audio quality test. When connected to an active external amplifier the smartphone got excellent scores all over the field, with no weak points whatsoever.
When headphones come into play the distortion levels rise a bit and the stereo crosstalk spikes, but the rest of the readings remain pretty good. Still, volume levels are no better than average in either case, so the overall performance definitely has some room for improvement.

Full connectivity capabilities

The Samsung Galaxy Premier has a long list of connectivity features. Let's start off with the basics - quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and quad-band 3G (AWS is missing though). The 3G connectivity is backed by HSPA (21Mbps downlink, 5.76Mbps uplink).
The Wi-Fi support covers a/b/g/n, with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz band compatibility. Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA are part of the package, of course.
There's also Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which incorporates Bluetooth 3.0, but also includes the efficient Low Energy mode. It also supports the high-quality Apt-X audio codec.
The Premier lets you share all sorts of media via NFC by simply touching the devices back-to-back. You'd need two S Beam-enabled devices to get this to work - while not many models support it, there are plenty of Galaxy S III's around.
You can share with other NFC devices as well, but the functionality is limited to what is provided by Android Beam - Android's stock NFC tool.
The AllShare functionality is now split into two: AllShare Play and AllShare Cast. The first is for transferring and sharing data and multimedia files to your notebook or PC. AllShare Cast on the other hand provides streaming content to and from different kind of devices (TV or computer) over DLNA.
And finally, for wired connectivity we have the MHL port. By all appearances it is a normal microUSB port and works as one (a charger port as well). But the MHL port enables video output by using a MHL-to-HDMI dongle. Sadly, there isn't one included in the retail box.
The MHL port has yet another feature - it enables USB On-The-Go. You'll need an adapter for that too (there isn't one in the box) but this one is fairly straight forward - you plug it into the Galaxy Premier and plug a standard USB cable on the other end.
Just about every USB thumb drives and card reader we tried worked and reading all sorts of cards was problem-free - it even worked with a big CF card. Connecting phones worked pretty well too - we were able to access the memory of a Nokia 808 PureView we had laying around straight from the Galaxy Premier.

Awesome web browser

A new Android version always comes with an improved web browser and the Jelly Bean browser running on the Samsung Galaxy Premier is no exception. Samsung has put its own spin to it too.
The browser interface is almost non-existent - just a row at the top of the screen for the back and forward buttons, the URL bar with a refresh button, the tab switching key and the bookmarks key.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Browsing GSMArena.com on the Samsung Galaxy Premier
The browser supports both double tap and pinch zooming along with the two-finger tilt zoom. There are niceties such as text reflow, find on page, save for offline viewing, request desktop site and so on. A neat trick is to pinch zoom out beyond the minimum - that opens up the tabs view.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Page options and settings
The Web browser comes with Incognito mode, which lets you surf the web without the browser keeping track of your history or storing cookies.
Another Samsung feature in the browser is the Print option, which lets you print out web pages straight from your phone. Unfortunately, this only works only with Samsung printers.
Quick controls are our favorite feature of the Android browser and they've gotten even better with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. In case you've missed it, Quick Controls is basically a jog-dial menu that replaces the buttons on the top and appears when you place your finger near the left or right edge of the screen. It's even more minimalist than the regular UI and it's very comfortable to use single-handed.
You get five controls, but as you highlight one with your finger, it fans out into further options. Tabs, for example, bring out the tab switcher by default, but it also brings out options to open a new tab, a new incognito tab or close the current tab.
Brightness and colors gives you four different presets to adjust the display. Automatic brightness is an option, too, and works only within the browser.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Web browser sports incognito mode • the new and improved Quick controls
Adobe do not officially support Flash on Jelly Bean, but you can side-load it if you like (1080p YouTube videos worked fine once we did). Still, you'd be better off sticking to the HTML5 versions of web sites - YouTube works and there are even a number of HTML5 games.
Samsung Galaxy Premier Samsung Galaxy Premier
Flash on Jelly Bean is possible (but not available out of box)

Conclusion

All the rumors that the Galaxy Premier will be the next Nexus phone didn't pan out, but you can still think of it as an upgraded Galaxy Nexus with S III styling. It doesn't run stock Android and its update schedule will be slower, but it's off to a good start with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
The Samsung Galaxy Premier is holding middle ground between the company's flagship, the Galaxy S III, and the compact S III mini. On a second thought, raw performance aside, the Galaxy Premier isn't that far behind the Galaxy S III - its 4.65" SuperAMOLED screen and 8MP/1080p camera are virtually as good as what the flagship has to offer.
And even though the Premier is not quite the benchmark champion, its scores suggest that it can provide a pretty smooth ride and wouldn't choke on resource-intensive apps. Overall, if you're handed a Galaxy Premier and told it's an S III, you might need some time to realize that you're being fooled.
Now let's have a look at the alternatives and see if the shared DNA will allow the Premier to hope for the success of the Galaxy S III.
If you were interested in the Galaxy Premier for the Nexus connection, you should look at the Google Nexus 4 - it has the most powerful quad-core processor of all droids and will get fast updates to the latest stock Android. It's dirt cheap too - $350 for the one with 16GB (sadly, non-expandable) storage.
Or you can go with the LG Optimus G, the phone on which the Nexus 4 was based. This gets you more (still non-expandable) storage, but software updates and affordability are another matter.
LG Nexus 4 E960 LG Optimus G E973
LG Nexus 4 E960 • LG Optimus G E973
A RAZR HD from Google-owned Motorola offers a 4.7" 720p Super AMOLED screen, a big 2500mAh battery and cool Kevlar back. That one is bound to offer longer battery life than the Premier, but it's also likely to cost significantly more.
A Sony Xperia T bets on 4.55" TFT and a 13MP camera. The Bond phone, however, just like the Motorola RAZR HD has ICS at launch and will have to wait for an update to catch up with the Galaxy Premier.
Motorola RAZR HD XT925 Sony Xperia T
Motorola RAZR HD XT925 • Sony Xperia T
If you like what you saw on the Galaxy Premier, but would rather try a difference size, the two obvious alternatives are the Galaxy S III and the S III mini. The big S III does offer two extra CPU cores and the screen is a bit bigger, but neither the screens nor the cameras of the two are that different.
The Galaxy S III mini has a less capable chipset and a far less impressive screen, but comes with a more attractive price tag and in a more compact package.
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III Samsung I8190 Galaxy S III mini
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III • Samsung I8190 Galaxy S III mini
With the Galaxy Premier, Samsung has the mid-to-high-end market duly covered by phones with a consistent design language and levels of equipment to suit different budgets.
The Premier is not for people who want the best, but it would do well for people who want the best for their money. Nexus or not, the Galaxy Premier is a good-looking and reasonably-equipped phone that has the chance of hitting it big, with the right price tag.





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