Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mobile Phone 2011 Review: Samsung S5690 Galaxy Xcover

The Samsung S5690 Galaxy Xcover brings a touch of class and authority to a lineup of durable dumb phones for the outdoor enthusiasts. It’s arguable whether it can take as much bashing as its less sophisticated siblings, but this rugged smartphone is trying to combine the best of both worlds.

The Galaxy Xcover is Samsung’s response to Motorola, who are building their own squad of tough droids, with a 1GHz Gingerbread-powered update of their Defy due for imminent release. The Defy+ could be too strong a rival, but the rugged credentials will certainly help the Galaxy Xcover stand out in the crowded smartphone midrange.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover official photos

It's an IP67 certified droid, meaning it can be immersed in one meter of water and last there for half an hour, on top of being dust-proof and shock-resistant. Ruggedness aside, it offers a 3.65" HVGA display with tempered Gorilla Glass for maximum protection and durability. It does well to meet, and exceed, the minimum smartphone requirements with solid connectivity, the latest flavor of Android and reasonably fast processing.

Samsung S5690 Galaxy Xcover at a glance:

  • General: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, UMTS 900/2100 MHz, HSDPA 7.2 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
  • Form factor: Touchscreen bar phone
  • Dimensions: 122 x 66 x 12 mm, 116 g
  • Display: 3.65" 16M-color TFT capacitive touchscreen, Gorilla Glass scratch-resistant display, 320 x 480 pixels resolution
  • CPU: Marvell MG2 800 MHz processor, 512MB RAM
  • Memory: 150MB storage, microSD card slot
  • OS: Android OS, v2.3.4 Gingerbread
  • Camera: 3.2 megapixel camera with geotagging; VGA video recording
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, stereo Bluetooth 3.0, standard microUSB port, GPS receiver with A-GPS, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Misc: TouchWiz 3.0 UI, built-in accelerometer, multi-touch input, proximity sensor, Swype input, IP67 certified: dust and water resistant

The Samsung S5690 Galaxy Xcover runs Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, with the home-baked TouchWiz skin on top. It looks the part too with rugged, ribbed sides and a grippy rear panel with a massive lock screw to keep the battery cover in place.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The Samsung Galaxy S5690 Xcover at ours

It's the perfect fit if you want to buy a smartphone with a distinct outdoorsy feel. It's no Galaxy S II and it shows. The display isn't as crisp and the hardware just knows it should keep out of the fast lane with dual-cores in the rear-view mirror. At least it’s a phone that doesn’t mind a bumpy ride down the dirt road.

Design and construction

A 3.7-incher with a reinforced exterior, the Galaxy Xcover is by no means a compact handset at 122 x 66 x 12 mm. It’s reasonably slim and weighs only 116 g, thanks to its body being all-plastic.

The Galaxy Xcover has a traditional touchscreen bar design and offers good grip due to the special cuts at the sides and the rubbery finish.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The Galaxy Xcover is rugged but feels plasticky

The 3.65" HVGA (320x480) 16M-color capacitive touchscreen is multi-touch enabled and has a toughened Gorilla Glass up front for maximum scratch-resistance. The screen quality is questionable, with a dim and watery look. Brightness is below par and colors look dull and washed out. It's very responsive though.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
A 3.65" touchscreen of HVGA resolution

Above the display, there’s a proximity sensor to disable the screen during calls and what appears to be an ambient light sensor. Our unit didn't have auto screen brightness enabled but that could be due to its pre-market status. We can't confirm or deny an ambient light sensor at this point.

Below the display there are three hardware buttons:- Menu, Home and Back. They are slightly raised and should be specially designed to be water tight.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
Earpiece and proximity sensor • Hardware Menu, Back and Home buttons

The right side of the phone has those grip-enhancing cuts in the rubberized plastic. There is a single control on this side: the power/lock button. It is reasonably big and has a good press.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The right side with the power button

The left side of the phone is where the volume rocker is. There's an etched flashlight icon suggesting you can use the LED flash at the back as a torch but our unit didn’t have this feature enabled. This side of the phone is ribbed too.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The left side features the volume rocker

The top of the device is where the 3.5mm headphone jack is. It's covered by a plastic lid, which however doesn't seem to fit tight enough, raising doubts about the level of waterproofing. But we guess that will only be an issue with this pre-production unit.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
At the top of the phone is the 3.5mm headphone jack

The MicroUSB port is placed at the bottom of the Galaxy Xcover and is too covered with a plastic lid.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The bottom has a MicroUSB under a plastic lid

The patterned back panel has a special lock at the bottom to keep it tightly in place. The rough texture gives a good grip. There are four tiny cushions in each corner on which the phone rests when placed flat on its back. The camera lens and LED flash are located at the top of the panel and there's the grill of a very powerful loudspeaker on the right.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The back panel has a lock on it, 3.2 MP camera with LED flash and the speaker grill

Removing the back cover is no easy task (and it shouldn’t be). After you manage said task, you get to the 1500mAh Li-Ion battery, the MicroSD card slot and the SIM compartment. We couldn't do a dedicated battery test, which was going to be inconclusive anyway with a pre-release unit. Details on the battery life will have to wait for a proper review of the Galaxy Xcover.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
Removing the back panel, the 1500 mAh battery

The Galaxy Xcover has a good sturdy build and feels very comfortable in the hand. The rubberized finish on the sides of the phone minimizes the plastic feel and enhances the grip. And you won't have to worry about fingerprints, except on the screen, as there are no glossy bits. The Gorilla Glass display also inspires confidence and you won’t probably need additional protection.

Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview Samsung Galaxy Xcover Preview 
The Samsung Galaxy Xcover in hand

We did set out to do some stress testing on the Galaxy Xcover as we were eager to check out the level of proofing it offers. Sadly, our tests ended very shortly. Our pre-market sample wasn't obviously fully prepared to take more than a couple of hits.

Drops from half a meter onto solid ground didn’t scare it at all, but a dip in a glass of water was the end of it. So, at this point the whole IP67 certification doesn’t hold water. The Galaxy Xcover does, but well… in the wrong way. Let’s hope the final release version of the phone will have better luck.

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