updated 04:50 pm EST, Mon February 14, 2011
We check out the Samsung Galaxy S Wi-Fi 5 at MWC
Although not strictly on the official docket, Samsung's Galaxy S Wi-Fi 5.0 was on the show floor at Mobile World Congress, giving us an opportunity to try it out before details settled in. The device is similar to the Galaxy S phone on the inside but is targeted at an audience that might think the iPod touch is too modest, centering on a very large five-inch screen. We gave it a try at the Barcelona show and already had a sense for how it stacked up to its Apple counterpart.
Despite its appearance, it's not as unpocketable as it appears. Unlike a device such as the Dell Streak, the five-inch screen doesn't have much padding around it; you can fit it in your pocket without much difficulty unless you wear tight jeans. The build quality isn't as elaborate as the iPod's metal and glass, but it's not poorly constructed: it has a solid fit and doesn't feel like it will fall apart. It feels surprisingly good in the hand for something that stretches the definition of mobile.
The display, as you might expect from Samsung, is the centerpiece. It's bright and colorful without seeming oversaturated. The 800x480 resolution doesn't seem coarse despite the larger display, and it looks to be ideal for watching videos on a long flight or reading books on the commute home.
What surprised us most was performance. Although it's the exact same underpinnings as the Galaxy S phone, apart from the lack of cellular technology, the Wi-Fi 5.0 feels noticeably more responsive and could even give the iPod serious competition. We checked with the design lead and were told that it's the same 1GHz Hummingbird processor and other code. He speculated that the lack of background tasks relating to calling might have helped, but we suspect there was either optimization or that it's a trick of the eye.
The OS is the familiar Android 2.2 of the newer Galaxy S line, although Electronista was told that it could have Android 2.3 by the time it ships. We're not large fans of customized Android since it delays upgrades (more often for Samsung), but here it's more excusable since it's a media player first. TouchWiz is still simple and colorful, if at times almost too iPhone-like. Built-in media player features aren't too advanced but can certainly be backed up by third-party apps.
The Wi-Fi 5.0 has a front camera like its iPod rival. Its integration isn't as polished, but it's ready to use from the start: Samsung bundles Qik Plus for those who don't want to hunt out a third-party app.
As a competitor to Apple, it may face difficulty simply due to exposure: Samsung often has a hard time fighting for retail space next to the iPods. However, it's one of the very few Android media players available, and the quality is such that we're almost ready to recommend it after the brief encounter. iPods still have more advanced media player apps, more refined build quality and that exceptional 960x640 screen, but if you like a more technical device with Android's flexibility or simply a larger canvas, it's already on the short list as an alternative.
Samsung told us the player should be in Korean stores by the end of the month but wasn't ready to commit to a North American release date.