Review: Samsung Vibrant

T-Mobile might have fired the first shot in the battle for Android supremacy, but things have been a little quiet since 2008. But now that Droid army has made a splash, Samsung is coming out swinging by bringing its Google-powered touchscreen darling — aptly named the Vibrant — to T-Mobile.

First, let’s settle one of the biggest arguments surrounding this phone. Yes, the Vibrant closely resembles a certain best-selling smartphone. iPhone Android users within the get-gadget office agreed. The Blackberry clique concurred. Even Apple acolytes conceded that there’s something unmistakably familiar about the Vibrant’s looks. To be fair, this minor detail hardly mars the experience. The phone still fits comfortably in-hand, and the capacitive navigation keys beneath the beautiful 4-inch AMOLED screen are intuitively located and responsive. Samsung puzzlingly went with a chintzy-feeling plastic for the phone’s chassis, which is the only major sour note to an otherwise pocket-friendly design.

Under the hood lies the smartphone stats du jour: A 1GHz Hummingbird processor, 16GB of storage (upgradeable to 32GB), and Android 2.1 (running Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 skin). Though these aren’t the highest specs on the market, they worked surprisingly well in concert. Maneuvering through the improved TouchWiz interface is wickedly responsive (even across widget-filled screens), and Samsung’s take on both video and music playback had more polish and pep than Google’s default programs. In terms of power and precision, the handset feels capable and adequately balanced.

The Vibrant also comes crammed with multimedia goodness. Android regulars like the Amazon MP3 store and the Android Market are bolstered with a full version of The Sims 3, a pre-loaded Kindle for Android app, and a full-length copy of Avatar. Tinkering with these goodies is a definite highlight; save for one (somewhat sizable) snag. Remember how we said the Vibrant looks like an iPhone? Well it has the battery life of one too. Yeah we know streaming episodes of Modern Family will drain power pretty quickly, but we found it tricky to get even a full day out of the Vibrant with modest multimedia use.

Paired with a couple glaring omissions (a flashless HD-capable 5MP camera?!), the Vibrant isn’t necessarily the greatest Android handset to hit the scene in recent weeks. But, in terms of multimedia phones (and certainly T-Mobile’s offerings), it brings enough muscle to hold its own.

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