[Viewpoint] Samsung holding its own

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[Viewpoint] Samsung holding its own

In technology, there’s a lot to be said for being everywhere. Just ask Google, which has managed to grab 13 percent of the U.S. smartphone market in a year and spawn a flood of increasingly polished devices by giving away its Android operating system.

Now Korea’s Samsung Electronics is trying the ubiquity game too. Its new line of Android phones, called Galaxy S, is showing up under different names on all four of the major U.S. carriers - Sprint Nextel Corporation, AT&T Incorporated, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless - as well as the smaller U.S. Cellular and Cellular South networks.

I’ve had the chance to use three of them, the AT&T Captivate, Sprint Epic 4G and T-Mobile Vibrant, and found them to be reasonable alternatives to the sexier, and sometimes pricier, iPhones and Droids.

If like me you’re a sucker for a vivid screen, you’ll immediately be attracted to the Galaxy S phones.

The 4-inch display uses a technology called Super Amoled that makes colors really pop. While T-Mobile takes advantage of the screen’s size and capabilities by preloading the movie “Avatar” onto the Vibrant, I also admit to spending an inordinate amount of time simply admiring the icons on the Captivate’s desktop.

Even if it lacks the resolution of Apple’s display on the iPhone 4, the Galaxy S screen is beautiful. In fact, it’s the device’s strongest selling point.

Not to say there’s much wrong with what’s under the hood either.

The new phones all use a 1-gigahertz processor that feels brisk and responsive, and the three I tried all come with a 16-gigabyte MicroSD card you can replace with an even larger one. And of course, the battery is replaceable, unlike on an iPhone.

The Captivate and Vibrant are similar, though not identical. Both are slim and rounded at the corners, reminiscent of the previous-generation iPhone design that was replaced by the controversial new iPhone 4.

The differences are largely cosmetic. For example, one version’s camera lens is set in a square enclosure, the other is circular. Both of their screens vibrate to produce tactile feedback when you hit a button on the virtual keyboard, and they are able to blend information from popular social-networking sites all in one place to keep you up-to-date on your friends’ activities and photos.

The Epic 4G, Sprint’s version of the Galaxy S that goes on sale Aug. 31, is quite different.

For one thing, it features a slide-out keyboard that makes it a much more bulky than the Captivate and Vibrant. It is also the second phone capable of connecting to the new WiMax network that Sprint - and its partner ClearWire Corporation - is rolling out in the United States.

This so-called fourth-generation network provides considerably faster downloads than 3G networks, but only if you live in an area the network has reached and are willing to put up with the extra drain it imposes on battery life.

A fairer comparison might be to HTC Corporation’s EVO, Sprint’s only other 4G phone. Although the EVO’s screen is much larger, I prefer the Epic’s because the compact size makes it easier to handle.

More important, my crude battery test suggests the Epic is likely to be better at handling the drain imposed by 4G. On the other hand, at $249 for a two-year contract, the Epic is $50 more expensive.

Both AT&T and T-Mobile are offering their Galaxy S phones for $199 with a two-year contract.

That’s comparable to AT&T’s 16-gigabyte iPhone, or Motorola’s Droid X and Droid 2 phones, as well as HTC’s Droid Incredible - all flagships for Verizon at the moment. It’s also $100 less than the top-of-the-line iPhone.

There are a few things I would have liked to have seen included in the Galaxy S phones. The 5-megapixel cameras on the AT&T and T-Mobile versions lack a flash, for instance, and only the Epic 4G has a front-facing camera, which makes video calling possible. The Epic is also the only one of the three to offer a mobile-hotspot option to let you share the phone’s Internet connection with nearby Wi-Fi enabled devices, a feature that I find useful.

That ability is also promised for the Verizon version, which will be known as the Fascinate.

Still, all four of the phones will have that beautiful, colorful screen. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go spend a few more minutes staring at the icons.

*The writer is a Bloomberg News columnist.

by Rich Jaroslovsky

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