T-Mobile Vibrant (Samsung Galaxy S) review. T-Mo Vibrant vs AT&T Captivate

When it comes to the background of the Samsung Galaxy S series of phones, I’ve already had the opportunity to fill you in on the details in my Samsung Captivate review posted a couple weeks ago. The Captivate is AT&T’s member of the Galaxy S family, but there are 3 more in the series that are either released or soon to be released on the other 3 major carriers as well. The Samsung Vibrant is T-Mobile’s contribution to the lineup and I have now been given the chance to review it, compare it with the Captivate, and share my thoughts.

Without writing a review that feels almost identical to what I wrote about the Captivate, my goal is to use the Captivate review as a foundation and use the other Galaxy S devices to add upon that foundation. In general my review today will be on the differences between the Captivate and Vibrant, and will throw in other thoughts as I go along.

Samsung is certainly making a smart move in releasing this as a series for every carrier. Why? Because so far, both the Captivate and Vibrant are the best Android phones offered on their respective carriers, and the Epic and Fascinate will at least be one of the top 3 offerings when released. Thus, Samsung receives all the visibility it could ever want, and has a top-notch product to offer every single smartphone consumer in the US, not just a small portion of them (by being limited to one carrier, that is).

Another great move is that if you are loyal to one specific carrier, you don’t even have to think about moving to someone else just to get a Galaxy S phone. It’s right there, waiting for you, if you want it.

Unboxing: First Impressions of the Samsung Vibrant

I looked at the Vibrant, then looked at the Captivate, and back to the Vibrant again. If it weren’t for the Galaxy S logo on the back, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that they are essentially the same exact phone. While the Captivate has a elegant, brushed metal look with sharper edges, the Vibrant is more plasticky in look AND feel and is much more rounded. I’m talking rounded corners, sides, and even has a small protruding lip on the bottom of the back cover that reminded me much of the Samsung Omnia II design. In fact, it looked almost like the Omnia II in most ways, but with Android and better specs overall.

My opinion of the Vibrant’s look and feel compared to the Captivate is torn; I love the Captivate because it feels much more solid and just simply looks more elegant. I didn’t get the feeling that I was just holding a large hunk of plastic. However, I didn’t quite like how sharp the edges of the phone were, so I did wish for the sides at least to be rounded to make it more comfortable. And while the Vibrant satisfies me in that sense, I just can’t stand the fact that it feels plastic. Not to mention it appears to be much more prone to fingerprints as a result. The rounded corners of the Vibrant are very iPhone 3GS; it almost looked as though T-Mobile was trying to copy that look.

Also when unboxing the Vibrant, I noticed that it came with a few extra items not included in the Captivate’s box. Both phones come with the standard-issue stereo headset and micro USB cable, with a small USB charger (which by the way, I absolutely love this because I can use this type of charger to power up any device of my choosing as long as I have a USB cable for it). The Vibrant also throws in a 2GB microSD card (for Avatar, which I will get to in a moment) as well as MicroSD-to-SD adapter, always handy to have around just in case you can’t find the USB cable to connect to your computer. I love it when carriers throw in extra stuff beyond the usual charger/headset duo.

How the Vibrant Differs From the Captivate
Rounded or sharp edges. Plastic or metal components. These physical traits are some of the most blatant differences between the two, but not the only ones. It’s been determined that all of the internal specs are the same, but AT&T and T-Mobile have gone out of their way to make these two phones as unique as possible without venturing too far away from what the Galaxy S is meant to be about.

Here are a few other things I noticed when comparing the two devices.

Battery Cover. The Vibrant uses a standard battery cover that is an opening on the bottom that you can use your fingernail to prop open with, but the Captivate’s battery cover is a very clever idea that I hope will be utilized again. Instead of the fingernail option, the Captivate opted for a new method that involves pushing down the bottom part of the back with your thumbs, which detaches the bottom from the rest of the back and gives enough space for the cover to come off easily. To put the cover back on, nestle it in the proper spot and then push that bottom part back into place.

Power/lock button. The Vibrant’s is located further down on the right side of the device than on the Captivate. Not a huge change, but a noticeable one given the fact that I was constantly locking and unlocking my devices. I personally prefer the Captivate’s lock button being closer to the top because it feels a little more natural in my hand, but this is certainly a personal preference.

Camera. Even though both camera lenses and resolutions are identical, there are still some slight differences in each device’s UI and even photo quality. We have no idea on why they don’t offer the same exact quality on both, but it is assumed that it has something to do with the software itself that could be causing it.

I have taken pictures and videos with both cameras at identical spots in identical situations, and compare them here so you can judge for yourself which one you like better.

Here are my video comparisons:

For photo comparisons, the ones on the left are Captivate and the ones on the right are Vibrant:

The UI seems to have the same settings available, but the buttons are in different spots. In addition, the Vibrant camera requires pressing one extra button to bring up the settings menu in which I can switch between camera and video; the Captivate has a handy button available anytime I touch the screen that lets me switch easily. Below are a couple shots from the Vibrant camera UI.

UI differences. Speaking of UI, the Vibrant also throws in a few minor tweaks to the Touchwiz UI to make it unique, such as different widgets on the notification bar, subtle differences in the camera’s UI, the addition of a “Home” button on the Vibrant’s bottom apps when in the app tray, and other small tweaks that wouldn’t be noticeable unless you actually are comparing both phones right next to each other.

Bloatware. Every company does it, and nobody likes it. It’s called bloatware, and is eerily similar to a lot of the junk that gets placed on our brand-new desktops and laptops whenever purchased at a big box store. The idea is for the phone to come included with several preloaded apps that may or may not benefit the everyday consumer. Usually this bloatware is annoying and unwelcome, and frankly is stuff that could easily just be placed in the Android Market and be quickly downloaded if the consumer does indeed want it.

While most of the apps that come preloaded on these two phones are the same, AT&T and T-Mobile do like to add in some special stuff of their own. For instance, T-Mobile put in a MicroSD card with the Vibrant that has James Cameron’s movie Avatar preloaded. I found this to be a terrific addition to the phone that easily shows off the beautiful Super AMOLED display and its capabilities, and shows it off well. I spent a good portion watching the movie and just admiring how great it looked on the screen, knowing fully well that it was only in 2D and on a 4” display (obviously Avatar is best viewed in 3D and on a much, MUCH larger display). And that’s saying something.

Here are some of the apps preloaded on the devices:

Captivate: YP Mobile, Where, Mobile Video, and a full suite of AT&T services such as FamilyMap, Maps, Radio, Music, etc.

Vibrant: Avatar, Slacker, The Sims 3, Layar, My Account, Kindle, Swype Tips, ThinkFree Office, Visual Voicemail, GoGo, Audio Postcard, Amazon MP3, Add to Home.

It can be argued that many of these apps are incredibly useful. While this is true, I believe that all of these can easily be thrown into the Android Market and downloaded as a freebie. I don’t need or want GoGo on my phone, and would just prefer to get rid of it.

Third Party Apps. Another huge difference is that the Vibrant gives you the option of allowing third-party applications to be downloaded, whereas the Captivate is restricted due to AT&T policy. This isn’t a feature that everyone cares about, but there are many people who find it useful to be able to download apps in other less conventional ways besides the Market. There’s a lot of extra stuff available out there that can’t be found in the Market, and if you are looking for a Galaxy S phone that lets you explore that extra stuff, don’t go with the Captivate.

Keyboards. Both phones have Swype, but only the Vibrant has it as the default keyboard. When I first used the Captivate I was puzzled as to why I couldn’t find it, but a quick exploration through settings solved that problem awfully fast. If Swype isn’t for you on the Vibrant, however, it’s easy enough to change this in “locale and text settings”.

GPS. There’s no difference here, but I do want to note that the AGPS on both devices have been given a bad reputation since it didn’t work at all on either device out of the box. Samsung has been working on this issue and all Galaxy S phones will be fixed by September. I have heard rumors that an update has already been pushed out to the Captivate, but cannot confirm it. Can any Captivate users comment on this and let us know?

Internet speeds
. Another obvious difference here will depend on the networks in your area. AT&T already has an established 3G network in most places (yes, San Francisco excluded of course) but T-Mobile is not too far behind in its buildout of HSPA+. Where I live, I get AT&T 3G but only T-Mobile EDGE (see my screenshot below); I have to go into town to get 3G. So naturally at home I noticed a large difference in the network speeds. AT&T is much faster for me, but your experience could quite possibly differ from mine. I invite anyone who has either phone to post their SpeedTest results in our comments.

Performance. Perhaps it was something in the settings that I didn’t notice, but I found that the Vibrant had the ever-so-slight advantage in CPU performance. I felt that the Vibrant didn’t take as long to get in and out of programs, though the difference would only be one second at most. To me it’s not enough of a factor in deciding which phone to choose — my factors here are in design and carrier differences — but interesting to note nonetheless. Battery life was the same on both, provided all the settings were the same (for instance, the Vibrant’s default screen brightness was much higher than the Captivate’s).

In the end, I was a bit surprised by the number of small details that made each phone, both Galaxy S phones with identical specs, completely unique. It’s nice to see Samsung coming out with fresh versions of the same phone on each individual carrier that adds extra pizazz to the lineup. If it were the same exact phone across the board, it wouldn’t be hardly as exciting. But the Captivate and Vibrant clearly have distinct personalities that allow them to stand out from each other.

And honestly, there aren’t enough distinctions between the two to make a clear winner of one over the other; both the Captivate and Vibrant are great quality smartphones that do a fine job sprucing up a carrier’s lineup. In terms of overall design, I prefer the Captivate for its look of elegance and solid feel of brushed metal over the Vibrant’s plastic look and feel.

Final Thoughts on the Vibrant/Galaxy S

I want to share a thought on the Galaxy S series in general. When announced at CTIA 2010 in Las Vegas, it only had a few hours to be in the spotlight before the craze for the HTC EVO 4G took over. After having played with these two phones (so far; the Epic 4G and Fascinate are still to come) I feel that the series is up to par with the world’s best smartphones at present time. Everyone has their own opinions on what makes a smartphone so great, but I have come away from my Galaxy S experience rather impressed by what I’ve seen.

That doesn’t mean these phones are perfect by any means, but there are a few factors I find much more important than others in a smartphone: usability, comfort, and user experience. A smartphone needs to feel good without awkwardness in my hand. I need to be able to access every bit of information I require, and I need to access it easily without hassle. Those are the biggies to me. I understand phone reception is important, as well as screen size, battery life, etc etc. And the better they are, the happier I will be with the phone. But I don’t make too many calls, and I’m always near a charger of some sort. And screen size only matters to an extent; For instance, I prefer screens between 3.5” and 4”. There is such a thing as too small and too large.

This is where the appeal of the Galaxy S comes in. The HTC EVO 4G on Sprint had more buzz because of screen size and inclusion of 4G, but the Galaxy S is “just right” in many more categories — especially in usability, comfort and user experience — and I believe will outsell every other Android device in the market because it’s a top-tier product and will be available on all four major US carriers as well as globally.

I look forward to also reviewing and comparing the Samsung Epic 4G and the Samsung Fascinate, the last 2 Galaxy S phones to be released in the US. I will certainly find it interesting to see which one is my favorite to use. So keep posted on UnwiredView, and don’t forget to let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

In the meantime, if you decided to get Samsung Galaxy S phone for yourself, here’s some good deals at Amazon for them:

Samsung Vibrant Android Phone (T-Mobile) now $99 on contract at Amazon

Get Samsung Captivate Android Phone (AT&T) for FREE from Amazon

Below are several pictures and screenshots I took, some highlighting both Captivate and Vibrant, and some that are primarily for the Vibrant. Don’t forget to check out my review of the Samsung Captivate for more pictures geared specifically toward that specific phone.

Author: Brad Molen

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  • Guest

    I think you left out the word “cover” when you wrote ” The Vibrant also throws in an extra battery in Lavender”

  • Techfreak John Stevens

    I thought one of those cheap iPad clones from CHina would be good value http://sciphone.limewebs.com/
    But this review of yours got me interested. Very nice pics

  • Dan

    No GPS fix yet on my captivate. Phone- fantastic. GPS- craptastic.