If you're a loyal U.S. Cellular customer, you've likely come to grips with the carrier's lack of high-end smartphones. With the Samsung Galaxy S Aviator, the scrappy Chicago-based wireless provider hopes to counter Verizon Wireless and AT&T with an LTE and well-designed Android device. Though it wears the Galaxy name, however, the Galaxy S Aviator doesn't quite measure up to Samsung's other Galaxy-branded handsets such as the Galaxy Nexus or even Galaxy S II.
Despite its high-flying name, the Samsung Galaxy S Aviator is not a flagship device, but really a midrange smartphone that sits somewhere between the original Galaxy S and last year's Galaxy S II. As a result, I didn't expect to be wowed by the Aviator's plastic style, but after spending some time with it, I like its solid build quality and how its attractive curves and beveled edges tightly hug its big 4.3-inch screen.
The phone's Super AMOLED (800x400-pixel) display is surprisingly nice to look at, too, with vibrant colors and deep blacks. This was even true when stacked up against the higher-resolution HD Super AMOLED (1,280x720-pixel) screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Granted, my test movie, "The Godfather," was 720p, but both phones produced comparably vibrant colors and sharp details.
Measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick, the phone's black slab shape isn't as trim as the Galaxy S II's (4.96 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.35 inch), its main rival on U.S. Cellular. The Aviator's extra girth feels good when gripped, especially for larger hands like mine. A power key placed on the right side is within easy reach, as is a volume bar on the left. Rounding out the phone's connections are a standard 3.5mm headphone jack for wired headphones and an HDMI port to connect to HDTVs and monitors.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera which is lower than the Galaxy S II's (2 megapixels). The Aviator's main 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash on back, however, are on par with its slimmer sibling. I also like the feel of the Aviator's back battery cover that sports a matte-black finish, which does a decent job of repelling fingerprints. Removing the thin cover reveals a 16GB microSD card and LTE SIM card you can access without disturbing the phone's 1,600mAh battery.
Running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Samsung Galaxy S Aviator offers the typical Android experience. There are seven home screens, which you can populate with widgets and app shortcuts to your heart's content. By default, the phone showcases Samsung's helpful weather widget, Yahoo News, YouTube, plus a smattering of other staple apps across its main screens.
Google's services are well represented in the Aviator's app tray, with Gmail, Navigation, Talk, Play Books, and YouTube software preloaded. Basic music and video players are onboard, as well. Useful third-party apps include Kindle, Amazon MP3, and Audible audio book software. Of course, you'll need an account or with these services for the apps to be worth your while.
Samsung also installed its Media Hub entertainment store on the Galaxy S Aviator. The app offers a selection of current movies and TV shows for download to rent or buy. The selection actually looks better than solutions offered by other handset makers, namely HTC and its Watch application. For instance I was able to find the first season of "Caprica" (I don't care what anyone thinks, it's a great show) in the Samsung Media Hub, which was missing from HTC Watch. Of course, I could stream it for free via the Netflix app, which I have a subscription to.
Like other Galaxy handsets, Samsung also overlays its TouchWiz interface on top of stock Android. Aside from its weather app powered by AccuWeather and Media Hub store, which sells Movie and TV show rentals, I couldn't find other flashier TouchWiz functions usually installed on the Samsung Galaxy S II. These include Live Panel Widgets, which increase functionality depending on their size, or zooming in and out of images and documents by tilting the phone while touching the screen with both thumbs.