T-Mobile's top-of-the-line Android smartphone

 T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant

T-Mobile scored the very first Android smartphone with the G1. And now with the introduction of the Samsung Vibrant, it has one of the fastest and most powerful as well.

The Vibrant, as you know, is part of the Galaxy S line of Samsung Android smartphones, along with the Sprint Epic 4G, AT&T Captivate and Verizon Fascinate. Each remains the prototypical black slab, albeit with its own personality and customizations. And like its cousins, the Vibrant also sports one of the fastest mobile processors available, one of the best screens and some great software tweaks.

Need more prompting? After the break, we dive into the T-Mobile Vibrant and see what all the hubub's about.

(For more from the Galaxy S class, read our AT&T Captivate review)

The hardware

The Samsung Vibrant inevitably will be compared to previous versions of the iPhone, thanks to its rounded corners and plastic shell. Put that aside for a minute. What you get is a large touchscreen -- 4 inches in diagonal -- in a very slim, very slight form factor. In fact, the phone's weight probably is the first thing you'll notice when you pick it up. It almost flies out of your hand.

T-Mobile Samsung VibrantT-Mobile Samsung Vibrant
The Vibrant has a plastic shell. At left, the USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Vibrant's shell is all plastic. It may feel a tad cheap to some, but doesn't really bother us, as the build is pretty tight. The screen is ringed by a (plastic) chrome bezel. Below the screen are four capacitive buttons (meaning they respond to touch and don't actually move) arranged in the menu-home-back-search order. The back rear of the phone has a little chin to it, sort of like a reverse myTouch 3G.

T-Mobile Samsung VibrantT-Mobile Samsung Vibrant
The Vibrant's power button, left, and volume rocker.

There's a basic up-down volume rocker on the left-hand side of the phone. The power button has moved from its traditional place on top of the phone and instead is moved to the right-hand bezel. It takes a little getting used to if you're used to it being up top (as it is on every other smartphone we have laying around). But that's not to say it doesn't work there. In fact, it quickly becomes natural. On top of the phone you have the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the microUSB port. The port has a little sliding door that covers it, keeping out dust and lint. And unlike some methods of covering the port (we're looking at you, little rubber tabs), the door is easy to open and close by feel. Plugging in the phone is a little tough to do without looking, however.

T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant
The capacitive buttons on the Samsung Vibrant.

Much hay has been made about Samsung's new Super AMOLED touchscreens, and for good reason. Debuted at Mobile World Congress in February 2010, Super AMOLED screens promised unsurpassed color reproduction, better battery life and (most important to us), far less reflectivity outdoors. And in everyday use, that's pretty much what we've seen.

Colors pop, the blacks seem endless, and the contrast is just about as good as we've ever seen in a smartphone. And as for outdoor use, Super AMOLED pretty much has lived up to its billing.

T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant
The Samsung Vibrant has a 1500mAh battery.

The battery door takes up the entire rear of the phone and is painted in a cool carbon fiber-type scheme. It has a cutout for the camera lens and a hole for the rear speaker and is pried off from the bottom with a fingernail. Removed from the phone, the battery door is a pretty flimsy piece of plastic. But when snapped onto the phone, there's little worry that it'll pop off without warning.

You access the spring-loaded microSD card and SIM card under the battery door. You can remove the microSD card without turning off the phone, which is nice. Swapping SIMs, however, requires you to remove the battery. And speaking of the battery, it's of the 1500 mAh variety and got us through a day's use without any real problems. That includes a bunch of e-mail, web browsing, a bit of a movie and a few games.

Under the hood

The Vibrant -- as well as the other Galaxy S phones -- feature Samsung's own Cortex A8 processor, nicknamed "Hummingbird," running at 1Ghz. And on top of that you get some killer graphics processing, which has topped any benchmark tests we've run. The Vibrant has 512MB of RAM, and internal storage is split between about 1.7 gigabytes of space for store apps, and another 13GB of internal space for movies, music, photos, whatever. (And don't forget about the microSD card, which adds up to 32GB more of storage.)

Basically, know this: The Vibrant is a powerhouse. (See our benchmarks and gaming test.)

The software

Samsung Vibrant home screens
Seven home screens on the Vibrant.

And this is where things continue to shine. With the Galaxy S class of phones, Samsung unveiled its all-new Touchwiz 3.0 user interface. For those of you coming from the old Windows Mobile Touchwiz, throw out any preconceived notions of what you're getting here. Yes, it's a skin on top of Android, but it's pretty usable and well-thought out. (It is, also, a pretty colorful, which may appear a bit clownish to some.)

You have the usual homescreen layout. Seven home screens, with the middle one (or No. 4, if you please), serving as the main screen when you press the home button. You swipe left and right to move between them, and small dots at the top fo the screen are used to show which screen you're on. These dots are numbered, which is a nice touch, and you can tap a dot to move directly to that home screen.

Samsung VibrantSamsung Vibrant
The Vibrant's lock screen, left, and the home screen editor.

A nice tweak that sets the Vibrant apart from other Android phones (though it shares this trait with its Galaxy S cousins) is that you can edit entire home screens at a time. You can delete them or rearranged their order. If you only use three home screens, delete the other four. You're still limited to seven total, though.

Touchwiz docks four icons at the bottom of the screen. By default, they're the phone dialer, contacts, messaging and applications (which shows you all of your installed apps). The middle two icons (or three, on the T-Mobile Vibrant) can be swapped out for another apps, which is nice if you use something other than the stock e-mail and messaging apps. (For example, I use gmail and Google Voice.)

Pre-installed apps

Samsung Vibrant appsYes, T-Mobile has pre-installed some apps onto your Vibrant. (Helpful, ain't they?) Some are full applications, others are stub apps -- shortcuts that point you to the full download. Let's see what we've got:

  • AllShare
  • Avatar: That little James Cameron movie that a few people saw. Yes, it's the full movie.
  • GoGo: For connecting to WiFi on airplanes. You get a month free for registering.
  • Kindle: Amazon's e-reader. (stub app)
  • MobiTV
  • Audio postcard.
  • MyAccount: Access to your T-Mobile account
  • Slacker radio: Internet radio
  • The Sims 3 (stub app)

The good news: That's really not that much bloatware, in the scheme of things. And they're part of what let you buy that shiny new phone at a subsidized price, so keep that in mind. As for the quality? That's up for debate.

But really, it's Touchwiz that shines. And as far as Android skins goes, it's pretty good. The home screens aren't cluttered by the pre-installed widgets. In fact, the only widget preloaded (other than the Google search widget) is "Feeds and Updates." There's a smattering of icons, sure, but nothing you can't easily move. And you have the option to add others, including:

  • AccuWeather Clock
  • Buddies Now: A Rolodex of contacts of your choosing. Easily text or call from this widget.
  • Calendar clock: An analog clock with calendar.
  • Daily Briefing: Touchwiz's at-a-glance widget, which includes weather, news, stock and calendar info. The corresponding application provides even more info.
  • Days: Sort of a daily journal, can include photos.
  • Dual clock: Two clocks, two time zones. Great for traveling.
  • Yahoo Finance Clock: A basic analog clock with stock info of your choosing.

The keyboards

Samsung Vibrant Swype KeyboardVibrant's Samsung keyboard

Because the Vibrant doesn't have a physical keyboard, you're going to be doing all of your typing on the screen. You have three built-in keyboards from which to choose -- Swype (enabled by default), Samsung's own keyboard (it's not bad) and the stock Android keyboard.

The camera

Samsung Vibrant camera app 

The Vibrant has a 5-megapixel shooter with autofocus. There's no flash, which might or might not affect you indoors. But outdoors, the camera is pretty darn good -- if you can keep your finger out of the lens. Because if its placement on the rear of the phone, that may be easier said than done. It shoots at the full 5MP by default, and you can lower the resolution down to 1.5MP if you want much smaller file sizes.

Samsung Vibrant camera testSamsung Vibrant camera test
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There are a fair number of options and settings at your disposal, including shooting and scene modes, so you can change things up for low-light, action, etc. Our favorite small detail, however, is the one-touch access to video recording. There's no having to hunt through the settings, or slide a toggle. It's nice and easy.

Fun facts: Pressing volume up or down while in the camera app zooms in and out. Pressing the power button will lock the screen. (Don't know why you'd want to do that in the camera app, but whatever.)

Samsung Vibrant Camera testSamsung Vibrant camera test
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As far as the video recorder goes, it's darn good, too. It shoots in 480p by default (for smaller file sizes), and you can crank things up to the full 720p if you wish.

Samsung Vibrant video test at 720p

Other odds and ends

  • The Vibrant also is a phone, natch, and it places and receives phone calls just fine.
  • Some people have had problems with the GPS. For us, it worked just fine. It was the compass that was a little wonky. But calibrating it (by waving the phone around in the air) seemed to help.

"Avatar" on the Samsung Vibrant
Avatar on the Vibrant.
Another pro tip: The power button locks the screen while watching video.

  • Sure, it's got an accelerometer, but actually it's a "six-axis sensor," which definitely sounds cooler. Works great in gaming.
  • The speakerphone is OK. Not the best, but not the worst. It gets a bit muted when the phone's lying on its back.
  • There's TV-out capability via the 3.5mm headphone jack, if you're into that sort of thing.

Should you buy the Samsung Vibrant?

Samsung Vibrant and friends
Samsung Vibrant and friends.

In a word, yes. The Samsung Vibrant easily the best phone on T-Mobile at this point. Don't worry that it sort of looks like the iPhone. Don't worry that it "only" has Android 2.1 on it at the moment. (That will change.) Don't worry about Touchwiz. It's pretty useable. Samsung has brought a top-shelf phone to T-Mobile, and to Android. It pretty much puts the myTouch 3G line out to pasture.

As for the longevity of the Vibrant? We've got no doubt that it'll get Android 2.2 in the coming months, and no doubt that it's going to be the phone to beat for quite some time.