Samsung’s debut Android phone, the Galaxy, was briefly top dog of the fledgling smartphone tribe last year. Then along came HTC with its Hero and Sense UI and the Galaxy quickly fell down the pecking order.

If you were hoping Sammy would up its game with its second Android smartie then you might be a little crestfallen. That’s because the Portal isn’t really a successor to the original Galaxy – the upcoming Galaxy S is better equipped for that job – but a mid-range introduction to Android.

So solid Samsung

For a smartphone that’s gratis on a low-cost £15-£25 monthly tariff, it feels surprisingly durable. Its vital statistics point to a slightly portlier Galaxy, but its soft-touch rear cover and sturdy buttons make it feel quite robust.

Straight off Samsung’s prosaic touchphone production line, its design is less inspiring and over-fussy. The five-way navigation pad is obviously there for one-handed operation but it just adds to the button clutter and is, in all honesty, surplus to requirements.

That’s because the 3.2in capacitive touchscreen is very responsive. It’s not iPhone super-sensitive (what is?), but it’s certainly receptive to your prods and flicks. And although Samsung couldn’t stretch to an OLED display, the HVGA-quality screen is fine for web browsing and watching YouTube vids.

Skinless Android

Like the Galaxy before, Samsung has disappointingly stuck with the original version 1.5 Android OS. With rivals like HTC and Motorola getting creative and pimping Android’s flexible OS 2.1 with inventive skins, it looks a little flat and humdrum.

That said it’s still incredibly user friendly, with three sliding homescreens open to heavy widget, shortcut and weblink customisation. And, of course, you have access to Android Market to download an increasingly compelling array of apps.

Multimedia lite

Unfortunately, the 3.2MP camera conforms to Android’s track record of poor snappers. Naturally it’s bereft of any photo mods and modes, and autofocus is annoyingly slow to capture the moment. However, get the right conditions and results can be surprisingly good, while it’s geared for speedy uploading to Facebook, Picasa and MySpace or sending via Googlemail.

The same goes for the music player. Even if you plug in some decent headphones via the 3.5mm socket, good-quality MP3 tracks with 320Kbps bitrate tend to sound overly trebly at above-average volume. It’s still more than adequate for a short commute into work.

Samsung is pushing the Portal as an augmented-reality star, pre-installing the Layar AR app and adding its own “layers”. It’s not a feature you constantly rely upon, but it has its moments, like finding the nearest pub that shows live football or nearest cash machine, and it’s quick to work from a cold start.

The Samsung Galaxy Portal does its job with a minimum of fuss. It’s a solid Android performer that won’t disappoint anyone fishing around the cheaper monthly tariffs. But if you can stretch the budget a little further then phones like the HTC Legend and Desire deliver a far more exciting and sexy Android experience.


Stuff says... 

Samsung Galaxy Portal review

An Android smartphone that doesn’t set the world on fire, but does a solid job for little outlay

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