Samsung Galaxy S Captivate has impressive features, but surprising deficiencies

Even the most ardent, anti-Steve Jobs Apple hater can’t look at an iPhone 4 and say it’s a bad product. It’s just not possible to look at the newest iPhone objectively and say, “This phone is bad.” Because it’s not.

Even if you hate everything the company stands for, even if you can’t stand the slobbering masses of fanboys who will literally buy anything that’s shiny and made by Apple, even if it makes you sick, you have to admit that phone is pretty incredible. It’s fast, has a great screen, good storage, responsive accelerometer; everything a smartphone can be, it is. Believe me; I can’t stand the company, their controlling ways and their infernal hype machine. That doesn’t mean I’ll turn down an iPhone. As much as I dislike Apple, I also like a well-made product.

So, if the iPhone is so damn great — and it is — a fair question to ask about any other phone on the market is “Is it better than the iPhone?” If the iPhone is the best, it’s only fair to see how inferior the competition is.

And in the Samsung Galaxy S Captivate, the iPhone has a legitimate challenger. Sort of. The Captivate is a dream when it comes to media and browsing, and may be the finest Android platform yet, but there are a few shortcomings that may leave users unsatisfied, especially when it comes to gaming.

Let’s talk media. The Captivate has a larger screen than the iPhone (slightly), and is brighter and sharper than its Apple counterpart. Watching video is just a dream on this thing. Thankfully, the battery is powerful enough to back up the video capabilities. I was able to do three day’s worth of commuting without charging once, and I was going pretty heavy on the browsing and video streaming. I was shocked that it was able to hold on so long, just shy of six hours altogether.

Browsing is a pleasant experience as well, thanks in no small part to the large screen. Viewing standard websites as opposed to cut-down mobile versions is very doable because of the screen’s size, which is very handy for navigating complicated websites with lots of links. Typing is aided by a brief, light vibration every time a link or keyboard button is pressed or a link is clicked. This gives it a very tactile, corporeal feel that makes typing a cinch and navigation a breeze.

And here’s what’s really going to get me in trouble: the Captivate is better than the iPhone when it comes to music. Why? It all comes down to storage. Let’s face it, no true music lover will be satisfied by the miniscule 16 GB of storage on the standard iPhone 4 — unless, of course you’re also a constantly-updating-and-formatting-my-storage-to-make-room-for-new-music lover. The Captivate has a 16 GB internal SD card, plus the option to add a second SD card, up to 32 GB in size. That 48 GB of storage is bigger than any iPhone, and should satisfy audiophiles at a fraction of the cost of Apple’s offering.

But you know what audiophiles won’t love? The absolutely terrible speakers on the Captivate. The sound from these speakers is barely audible, even with the volume cranked in a tiny room. I was hugely disappointed. Even the BlackBerry Storm 9530, several years old and far inferior to the Captivate, has better speakers than the Captivate.

What gives? How could they skimp out of something us fundamental as speakers, especially when the large display makes it ideal for crowding several people around it to watch videos? You can’t get by with headphones if you want to do that. It’s such a flaw, and really makes me wonder why Samsung didn’t make the speakers a higher priority. Truly an Achilles heel for the Captivate, and the device’s biggest stumbling block on the path to becoming a great media player.

My other gripe with the Captivate is the accelerometer. Again, let’s compare to the iPhone. With that device, the accelerometer lets you flip and spin and orient the screen in a very intuitive manner that makes viewing information a breeze. It’s opened up the possibilities for creative game designers and adds a fun twist to other non-game apps. It’s arguably the iPhone’s best feature.

And while the iPhone flips and twists like an acrobat, the Captivate is a brittle geriatric by comparison. The screen has to be held just so to get it to rotate properly and heaven help you if the device goes into battery-saving idle mode while the screen is in the wrong position. Once it turns back on, it has a tendency to think it’s being held the other way, making it a real pain to get it to display the way you actually want it.

So, is the Samsung Galaxy S Captivate a true challenger to the iPhone? Well… it depends. Anyone who loves the iPhone for its massive app selection is going to want to pass on the Captivate. Along with Android’s limited selection of apps compared to the huge library Apple has to offer, the Captivate’s poor accelerometer will make plenty of games a pain to play. And if you don’t want to wear headphones, good luck. The speakers will not do you any favours (although phone calls are definitely audible and clear from phone’s earpiece).

But, if you’re looking for a great browsing and streaming experience with plenty of storage and great speed, you’ll be hard pressed to find something better than the Captivate. It’s all about priorities, and the Captivate seems to know where its are at.