Review of the Samsung Galaxy Gio


The Samsung Galaxy Gio has been around for a while, but itís still sold by Bell Mobility for $0 on a 3-year contract. In a way, the Gio is really a poor-manís Galaxy S, but it has charms of its own that make it worth considering.

Last Updated: 29-Feb-2012

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

I didnít want to compare the phone to my current day-to-day Android (which happens to be a Galaxy S II LTE), simply because the Gio couldnít possibly hold a candle to that phone. Instead I opted to compare it to my old Galaxy S Captivate, because the specs on the two phones are very similar. Both have single-core processors, though the Gio is slightly slower than the Captivate (800 MHz vs 1 GHz). Both support HSPA to 7.2 Mbps and they both have a similar amount of RAM (in terms of free RAM once the O/S is up-and-running, they almost identical). They Captivate has a lot more built-in Flash memory, but both support MicroSD cards of up to 32 GB. There are other differences, which Iíll cover later in the review.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

To test the RF sensitivity of the phone I headed off to Square One to compare the performance to the Captivate in the Hall of Shame 2 (which is a passageway that connects between the lower level main hall and the section of the mall under the parking lot between Sears and Zellers). I tested both phones on Bell/Telus HSPA, which is a network that canít survive dragging a call through that hallway (on any phone Iíve thus far tested). However, it does provide a predictable signal fade that allows me to determine which of two phones can hang on to a signal the longest.

Iíve tested many different phones in this way over the years, but never have I found two phones that were so equal. There was no discernable different in the way each of the 2 phones faded out, where they eventually lost the signal, nor how they broke up in the process. It is therefore pretty clear that the Gio and the Captivate are on par with one another when it comes to pulling in a weak signal. However, the Captivate isnít exactly a champ at this, and so neither is the Gio. Iíd therefore have to rate the Gioís RF performance as fair-to-middling.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, an how to interpret it.

Incoming Audio: I was rather surprised to find that the Gio doesnít possess the same great tonal quality as the other Samsung smartphones Iíd either owned or reviewed over the last year or so. It sounds decided tinny and shallow, though not horribly so. It suffers from a noticeable amount of background hiss, which most other Samsungs Iíve tested recently do not (with the exception of the Galaxy Nexus). The hiss isnít objectionably loud, but compared to the total absence of background noise on the Captivate, it also came as a surprise.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the model I tested however was a sympathetic vibration in the earpiece when the volume is turned up. Even though the Gio can produce an earpiece volume on par with the Captivate, you canít really turn it all the way up or youíll get the aggravating vibration that sullies the audio. If the vibration bothers you, the maximum volume of the Gio is effectively much lower than that of the Captivate. Now it is possible that the vibration isnít typical and may be specific to the model I tested, but I have no way of confirming that.

The above concerns notwithstanding, the incoming audio is acceptably good and you shouldnít have too much trouble understanding your callers.

Outgoing Audio: I was definitely disappointed in the outgoing audio however, because it was relatively faint, somewhat flat-sounding, and not particularly clear. Compared to the Captivate it was rather cheap-sounding, though it didnít suffer the nasal effects that the noise-cancellation feature of the S II LTE produces.

Loudspeaker: The quality of the speaker on the other hand was actually very good, though it isnít particularly loud. In many ways itís very similar to the one on the Captivate, in terms of both maximum volume and overall tonal quality. It works well enough in a phone call, though youíll need to be a reasonably quiet environment to use it. For multimedia purposes it is quite adequate, but it could do with being a bit louder.

As always these days, the quality of the loudspeaker also dictates the volume and quality of the ringtones. Once again the Gio is approximately on-par with the Captivate in this respect. Ringtones sound good, but they could do with being a tad louder.

Hardware

Display: The display on the Gio is certainly not one of the phoneís superior aspects (which it is on most other Samsung smartphones). For starters itís only an LCD, whereas virtually all other Samsung phones these days use the Super AMOLED displays. Secondly, its only 3.2 inches in size and it sports only 320 x 480 resolution (vs 4 inches or larger and 480 x 800 or even 720 x 1280) on other Samsung models. As I found with high-end Motorola Atrix, the biggest drawback to the type of LCD screen used is how it looks when stuff is smooth-scrolled. The screen almost distorts as the material is moving, but returns to normal when things stop.

I thought that the small screen size would compensate for the lower number of pixels, but in reality it doesnít work that way. Individual pixels are quite obvious on the screen and ramping is (pun intended) rampant. One place where the ramping is painfully obvious is in Google Streetview, especially as you slowly pan the picture. Itís almost as if they phone doesnít bother to anti-alias the resized picture. This theory is supported by the fact that once you zoom in fully on Streetview that ramping disappears (because now you are viewing the anti-aliased full-size images sent from Google).

The low resolution is also quite obvious in text, especially when the text gets small. However, I didnít find that it hampered day-to-day usability of the phone and it should only be an issue if you are sensitive to it.

The screen does offer capacitive touch, but it seems to be far less sensitive than other Samsungs Iíve owned or tried, and it doesnít seem to be particularly accurate. While the screen small size and my large fingers were no doubt the cause of that problem to some extent, I found that touching the screen in exactly the right location (especially when typing) was far more trouble than Iíd expected. Touching buttons resulted in nothing happening a surprisingly large percentage of the time. It might not be as problematic for people with small fingers.

Also absent from the Gio is an ambient light sensor. That means the Gio does not support auto screen brightness. You must manually set the brightness you want, and then live with it. If you arenít a big fan of auto screen brightness however, this isnít a huge loss.

Data Performance: Despite having similar specs as the Captivate, the Gio wasnít quite as capable at keeping up with faster data (particularly from a quick WiFi connection). My home internet is frequently capable of producing upwards of 20 Mbps down and the S II LTE can easily keep up (which isnít surprising since it can keep up with LTE connections of upwards of 70 Mbps). On the same 20-Mbps WiFi connection the Captivate is capable of speeds up to 12 Mbps, but the Gio can only sustain speeds of up to 6 or 8 Mbps.

However, the real shocker is its ping times. When I ping primus.ca from my home WiFi I can easily get latency of 10 milliseconds or less when I test it on my computer and approximately 19 to 20 milliseconds when tested on the S II LTE or the Captivate. However, on the Gio the best ping times I can get are a really lackluster 40 to 50 milliseconds. Iím not sure how the Captivate manages to equal the S II LTE while the Gio can barely cope.

Just for fun I ran the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark on the Gio and I got a rather disappointing result of 10,000. This compares to 6,100 on the Captivate and 2,600 on the S II LTE. In the SunSpider test, a lower number is better. I really only expected the Gio to be 20% worse than the Captivate based on difference in processor speed, but as you can see the difference is closer to 40 to 45 percent.

Camera: The rear-facing camera sports only 3.2 megapixels and has no flash. Despite the low-res of the device however, it does take decent photographs. On the other hand, the video capability of the camera is pathetic. It can only shoot videos to a maximum resolution of 320 x 240 at 15 frames per second. This is a throwback to almost 10 years ago. So the video recorder is fine for taking stuff to include in MMS, but otherwise itís only a toy.

Memory: The phone has virtually NO internal memory. The Gio comes with a 2 GB MicroSD card to provide a modicum of storage. The partition for storing apps is only 181 MB, but fortunately you can move some apps to the SD card to conserve the precious app memory. The SD card is easily-accessible (without removing the battery cover) and is capable of accommodating 32 GB chips. However, you should replace the MicroSD with care, since most of your phoneís data will be stored on it and replacing the card will probably end up crashing something.

Available RAM is in the neighborhood of 180 to 200 MB, which is approximately the same as the Captivate. This is certainly acceptable, but it represents virtually the minimum you can get by on without the phone become increasingly sluggish as apps are swapped out of RAM to make room.

Clearly the Gio is not meant for app enthusiasts, though with a little careful planning you can probably manage to store quite a few.

External Audio: When connected to an external amplifier or headset for the purpose of listening to music or video soundtracks, the phone performs quite well. I installed my favorite graphic equalizer (AudioFX) and I compared the sound quality of the same MP3 files on the Gio and the Captivate. The Gio isnít quite as good, but it sounds close enough that music lovers should be happy with this phone.

GPS: I compared the GPS sensitivity to that of the Captivate and my S II LTE by locking into satellites from inside of my house. Sadly the Gio comes away looking very poor. While the S II LTE (and to a slightly lesser extent the Captivate) have no trouble locking onto enough satellites to provide sub-10-meter accuracy in just a matter of seconds, the Gio had considerable trouble locking onto just 3 or 4 satellites and the accuracy inside my house was around 50 to 100 meters. It could take up to 1 to 2 minutes to lock when I was indoors and up to 30 seconds outdoors.

Adobe Flash: The Gio DOES NOT support Adobe Flash. Well, not without rooting it and following some potentially dangerous instructions you can find out on the web. If you search for the flash player in the Android Market using the Gio, youíll not find it. I donít know why Samsung (or Bell Mobility) doesnít allow Flash, though it might be related to the GPU in the Gio, which might not be powerful enough to support it. However, it can natively play some video formats, and while you canít watch videos directly on a web page, you can play them in a stand-alone player at least.

Oddly, the Bell Mobility web page lists Adobe Flash as a browser feature of the Gio. Clearly they got this wrong, or their definition of Flash support is seriously different from mine.

Battery Life: I had a hard time gauging battery life because the batter meter was perplexingly erratic. For example, the batter charge would stay at certain percentage for a surprisingly long period of time, and then drop by 7 or 8 percent all at once. Had that been the result of low granularity in the battery readings (as is in the case in the Motorola Atrix) it should have at least been consistent. I would sometimes see the battery percents go up slightly without charging. However, I got the feeling that you could expect 1 to 2 days of standby if you donít run too many background processes.

Lanyard: A big complaint that I have about many of the Samsung models (and smartphones in general) is that they don't come with a lanyard post. A lanyard (for those who haven't heard the word) is the correct way to say wrist strap. The Gio comes with just such a post, allowing users to connect a wrist strap if they so desire. This feature should be standard on all smartphones, regardless of size.

Conclusions

While the Gio is inexpensive (itís free on a 3-year contract and only $200 to buy outright) I can only see this phone appealing to extremely light users who have only recently switched from using dumb phones. If you want a small screen, there are plenty of other Android models out there that are physically small, but are markedly more powerful than the Gio.

Thereís nothing particularly wrong with the phone, but compared to its slightly larger brothers, and to other small phones from other manufacturers (Sony-Ericsson comes to mind), the Gio just doesnít stand out.

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