With the Galaxy Ace, Samsung have cleverly introduced a pocket-friendly and affordable version of their intensely popular Android Galaxy range. A quality device with streamlined features, this phone is modest in price while retaining the aesthetic glamour that Samsung does so well.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace was announced and released in February 2011. It is an Android smartphone and often considered to be Samsung's 'mid-range flagship'. While lacking a few of the high-end specs of its big brother, the Galaxy S, the Ace aims to provide an enviable set of features in an affordable package.
Noteworthy among the specifications of the Galaxy Ace are a comprehensive range of 3G connectivity options and a 5 megapixel camera – a resolution frequently reserved for the higher end of the smartphone spectrum at the time of the Ace's release.
Style is also a key feature of the Galaxy Ace and it's clear that Samsung has put some effort into the attractive design, in the hope that this will place the Ace a cut above some of its mid-range opposition. It features sleek curves and a black glass face with sliver highlights. The screen is a pocket-friendly 3.5” - the same dimensions as the ever-popular iPhone.
But is this a case of style over substance? Do the mid-range components work in perfect synergy or buckle under the strain when pushed? Read on to find out, as we put the Samsung Galaxy Ace through its paces...
There's something very likeable about the external design of the Samsung Galaxy Ace and it's hard to pin down. At first glance, this handset doesn't particularly stand out from the crowd; it's another black plastic oblong, marginally distinguished by a grey surround. And yet some hidden magic in the combination of line and shape Samsung has selected for the Ace raises it a notch above many of its mid-range contemporaries.
The phone's front-on profile is rectangular, with corners rounded to pleasantly counterpoint the angular screen. Silvered features are aligned through the centre of the handset: a speaker grille, a Samsung logo and the raised outline of a rectangular home key. Standing out against the dark glass, they add a touch of subtle class to the design.
With a thickness of 11.5mm the Galaxy Ace is not the slimmest of handsets, but the black backplate arcs into the contrasting grey edges to create an illusion of slenderness. It's light in the hand and the gentle curves of the chassis make it very comfortable to hold.
Side-mounted function keys are intelligently placed; with the phone held loosely in my right hand, a screen lock key falls naturally beneath my thumb and a volume rocker beneath my index and middle fingers.
A physical 'home' button, flanked by capacitive 'back' and 'settings' keys, is positioned beneath the screen. The capacitive keys are almost invisible against the black surface of the phone, but light up to reveal their functions. Oddly, this illumination usually only happens after one of the keys has been pressed, which makes the system seem rather redundant. Still, within a few minutes most users should comfortably memorise “left for settings, right for back”, so it's no real barrier to use.
External ports include a small microSD card port, blended neatly into the grey surround by a cover that's easily flicked open with a fingernail. The majority of modern smartphones that come with microSD card support hide the port away beneath the back cover, so I was pleased by the convenience of the Galaxy Ace's solution.
The top edge of the device houses a 3.5 mm headphone socket and a microUSB socket for charging and data transfer. In another neat design touch, the Ace's microUSB port is covered by a sliding door that slips back and forth with a very satisfying click. It's the little touches that make a quality design.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace has a respectable collection of features. It doesn't have every piece of mobile technology ever invented crammed into its glossy plastic chassis, like some of its high-end contemporaries, but for a competitive price it provides a competitive offering.
One of the most successful elements of the Galaxy Ace is its 5 megapixel camera. It's obvious even before testing that this is one of the areas Samsung has focused on, since cameras with resolutions of 3.2 megapixels or even lower are found in a sizeable proportion of the Ace's low to mid-range competitors.
A higher resolution doesn't automatically mean a better camera, but thankfully the Ace's offering has more than megapixels on its side. I found the automatic focus to be fast and accurate, generating sharp images of even relatively close objects. In good light I saw no discernible noise or distortion in my test shots. Indoor shots in poor light inevitably suffered from a little speckling, but not to an extreme degree and results were greatly improved by the LED flash.
I tested the Galaxy Ace's camera outdoors in quite taxing conditions. It was bright but with intermittent clouds, so the camera had to deal with a heavy dose of glare. Despite this, the performance was impressive. Colour was well captured and contrast was very good. Some of the shots did seem a little oversaturated, but given the degree of glare this is forgivable.
The Ace is a touchscreen phone, so another key feature is naturally the display. This is a bit more of a mixed bag than the camera. At 3.5” it strikes an excellent balance between usability and portability. Anyone doubting the popularity of this size of screen need look no further than Apple's iPhone series, each entry of which has employed these dimensions.
Though the size is nicely selected, some compromises have been made with the Ace's display. The screen has a decent brightness to it and colour reproduction is good, if a tad muted. With a resolution of 320 x 480, though, this screen is no rival to the equally sized iPhone 4 Retina Display in terms of clarity! With a price tag a fraction of Apple's latest, though, this is hardly a fair comparison and the Ace's screen scores well in other areas. Viewing angles were a particular high point.
Internal storage is a token 158 MB, which won't stretch far at all once a few apps have been installed. Thankfully, the Galaxy Ace supports microSD cards to expand the storage up to 32GB and, as mentioned above, the microSD slot is nice and easy to access. Since the Galaxy Ace is running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, you can transfer apps to your SD card to save some space.
Under the hood of the Samsung Galaxy Ace is a quite respectable (for the budget market) 800 MHz ARMv6 chip. It's not top-of-the-range, but this capable little bit of kit is the same one running the show in HTC's pair of Facebook phones, the ChaCha and Salsa, as well as the Orange's Monte Carlo.
The Ace comes equipped with 278 MB of RAM, which it must be said is a little low even for a budget handset. Thankfully, the operating system does a good job of managing it, meaning things never ground to a halt during my time with the device.
Keeping an eye on the task manager reveals that this efficiency is achieved through regularly closing background applications to manage the drain on resources. This shouldn’t be a major concern for most users, since most people want to do just one or two things at a time, but those looking to take full advantage of Android's multitasking capabilities might be disappointed here.
Given the mid-range processor and underwhelming RAM count, I must admit I harboured a degree of trepidation as I booted up the browser for a spin around the mobile web. Happily, I needn't have feared. While not on par with the best in the business, the browsing experience on the Galaxy Ace is a pleasant one. You can expect some lag while zooming or scrolling on especially complex websites but for the most part browsing on the Ace is smooth and speedy, making this one of the best phones of its time and price range for general basic browsing.
The Galaxy Ace isn't a powerhouse of a handset and doesn't pretend to be, so if you're a hardcore gamer you might want to consider other options. That said, the Galaxy Ace has plenty of juice in its engine to allow you to hurl irate avians at little green pigs to your heart's content. Asking it to breeze through the latest power-hungry 3D games, though, won't get you the best results.
In the Performance category, the Galaxy Ace's greatest success for me was its battery life. Like any smartphone, of course, a determined effort of very frequent use with everything turned to 11 can drain it flat in a day, but with moderate use the Ace can happily trundle along through a few days without demanding to be plugged in.
I was especially impressed by standby times. Another project called me away mid-way through this review, forcing me to leave the Ace unattended in a drawer for four or five days. It wasn't fully charged when I left it, so I picked it up expecting to need the charger. Happily, the stalwart 1350 mAh battery had retained half its charge while idling in the drawer, and got me comfortably through the rest of the day. Top marks!
The Samsung Galaxy Ace is an Android phone and at the time of writing the highest version of Android it supports is 2.3 Gingerbread. Samsung have added their own custom user interface on top of the stock Android UI, but the modifications aren't too extensive. Certainly the UI hasn't been completely overhauled in the style of heavier UIs like HTC's Sense .
Whether the soft approach to tweaking Android is good or bad comes down to how well you like the original UI, of course, but for my part I've long been fond of the undiluted Android experience. The light alterations Samsung have brought to the table are well thought out and enhance this experience, without turning it into something unrecognisable.
One of the key additions is an ever-present dock of icons along the bottom of the screen, offering access to the dialer, contacts, messages and apps from all home screens. The Samsung Galaxy Ace allows users to add up to seven home screens, each of which can be filled up with apps and widgets, or if you'd rather not spend time decorating an array of pages you can remove them and leave just one home screen.
Another noticeable change to the default user interface is the presentation of the app drawer. Stock Android offers a single large grid of apps that can be scrolled through vertically, while the Ace splits your app collection into pages of 4 x 4 grids. This simple tweak can make it much easier to find what you're looking for once your app collection has grown, as the default system can find you rapidly scrolling past your target without spotting it time and again.
Android has become easier and easier to get set up over the years and in its current state importing contacts and other tasks that could prove laborious on older phones are a cinch. Those with contacts saved in a Google account will have the easiest time, of course, as simply logging in will populate your phone book automatically. Those without Google accounts needn't worry, though, as the Galaxy Ace can import contacts via Bluetooth and read industry-standard address book files.
This is an Android phone, so of course you can access the Android Market and its well-over 400,000 apps and games, capable of adding practically any function you imagine to your Galaxy Ace. Of course this includes a variety of options for interacting with the most popular social networks, from official apps to fan-made portals.
The Ace also comes pre-loaded with Samsung's Social Hub app which offers further social media integration. Essentially, this app provides a consolidated inbox for your messaging across numerous different accounts, so SMS messages, Facebook messages and Twitter messages can all be checked in one place. Once you get past the poorly translated instructions, it's a simple and effective tool that's worth having. Just don't spend too long trying to work out what the sentence “And then you can see the new feeds on the idle by widget” means, like I did.
The music app I found pre-installed looks very much like the stock Android version, with perhaps a few minor tweaks here and there. This isn't a criticism, though, as the default Android music app is a well-designed piece of software in its own right. And if it's not to your taste, there are a plethora of media players lining up on the Android Market for your approval and download!
Putting it through its paces, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of audio the Ace's little speaker pumps out. OK, it's not going to replace your stereo, but it's loud and impressively clear - another feather in the Ace's cap!
A budget or mid-range smartphone is always an exercise in compromise. The difference between a good budget handset and a bad budget handset lies in the selection of which features to compromise on, and how those compromises are handled.
In the worst budget handsets, underpowered hardware and poorly designed software makes the user interface an exercise in frustration. The Galaxy Ace is not one of those handsets. Here, modest hardware specifications are bolstered and enhanced by well-designed software and the overall experience of using the phone is far slicker than one might expect from its pocket-friendly price tag.
The Ace has stand-out features, too, to sweeten the deal. The 5 megapixel camera has good optics and can take some really nice shots. It wouldn't look at all out of place on a far more expensive handset. And with its stylish, minimalist design, the Galaxy Ace really looks like a far more expensive handset.
Overall, then, it's fair to say that I was impressed by the Samsung Galaxy Ace. It doesn't have every feature you can shake a spec-sheet at, but it's an affordable, attractive smartphone with a solid foundation of usability.
HTC Wildfire S - HTC's littlest smartphone offering is really aimed at the same market as the Galaxy Ace and has a few features to recommend it. While it's equipped with a smaller 3.2" touchscreen, the Wildfire S boasts a little more RAM at 512MB and has an attractive premium design.
Orange San Francisco - Another popular budget Android, the San Francisco has a 3.5" display like the Ace but comes with 512MB of RAM. The trade-off here is a lower quality 3.2 megapixel camera and a fairly plain exterior design.
The Galaxy Ace is a more affordable and pocket friendly addition to the popular Galaxy range of Samsung Android phones. It has much of the charm of higher end devices such as the Galaxy S2 but with streamlined features allowing it to be on offer for a more modest price. While it comes with a lower price tag it still manages to offer excellent features for all of the smartphone features that matter including web browsing, social networking, entertainment and messaging.
With a smaller 3.5 inch screen the Galaxy Ace is similar in size and appearance to the iPhone 4. It comes with a sharp HVGA resolution and 16 million colour depth, full multitouch input and is coated with Gorilla Glass for extra scratch resistance. The Ace runs on Android Froyo (upgradable to Gingerbread) with the popular TouchWiz interface on top.
Android comes with the usual features that you would expect including Google Maps, YouTube and Android Market where you can download many free and paid apps or games to customise the phone. The Ace also comes with many apps exclusive to Samsung phones such as the Music Hub, Game Hub, Social Hub and Readers Hub. Social Hub can combine various social networks along with your emails and SMS messages into one easy to manage app.
The Galaxy Ace includes great support for many social networks including Facebook and Twitter, with apps available from Android Market. You can also include a Facebook widget on the Ace´s homescreen to allow you to quickly and easily check status updates from your friends.
These many online features can be enjoyed anywhere on the Ace thanks to 3G and Wi-Fi support. The Ace also comes with DLNA allowing you to connect the phone to a home computer, TV or multimedia hub to share pictures, music and videos with ease over a wireless network.
It is also a fantastic phone for general web browsing with the 3.5 inch screen being excellent for displaying web pages in their full glory. Adobe Flash support is included as well, along with a YouTube app where you can also upload your own videos from the phone´s camera.
The Ace has a 5 megapixel camera and includes an LED flash, making it ideal for all forms of photography. The camera does include video support although this is just limited to QVGA. While this is not the highest quality it will suit many people for general everyday video recording purposes.
Along with the entertainment provided online and through Android Market the Ace comes with excellent video and music support, and can support up to 32GB worth of multimedia with microSD (a 2GB card is included with the phone). An FM radio is also included for additional musical entertainment.
The Galaxy Ace manages to offer itself at an affordable price and still retain the essential features that you would require from a smartphone. It has great email and social networking support, excellent entertainment online as well as offline and provides excellent connectivity options with 3G and DLNA Wi-Fi. The only minor criticism of the Ace is that it could have done with a higher resolution video camera, but for many people this will not really be much of an issue as it still provides excellent quality photos.