Hands-on with the Tizen-powered Samsung Z smartphone

The open source mobile OS looks and feels a lot like Android, but is less capable and begs the question of who will want it

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You'll find the usual apps on the Samsung Z for email, contacts, calendar, making phone calls, messaging, and navigating. Several apps that Samsung puts on its Android devices were also on the Tizen device, including S-Note and Polaris Office. I was pleased to see support for Microsoft Exchange accounts in the Settings app -- a feature missing on most low-end OSes.

I didn't have enough time with the device to go deeply into the beta apps provided. But Tizen apps are HTML5 apps, so they don't have the sophisticated capabilities that iOS apps or even Android apps can have. However, the truth is that many Android apps and some iOS apps are actually HTML5 apps in a native wrapper, so I have no doubt that Tizen can fulfill the need for basic apps like social networking, chatting, basic photo editing, and media playback. Just don't expect it to run apps similar in capabilities to Microsoft Office or Apple's iMovie.

As for the Samsung Z's hardware, I found the touchscreen to be not very responsive. It often didn't register my taps or other gestures. That's a hallmark of using a cheapo screen to shave off a few bucks. That's not uncommon for smartphones aimed at developing markets where even a $100 cost -- never mind the $600 to $800 of an iPhone or Galaxy S -- cuts out most of the population.

One of the rationales for using an OS like Tizen instead of Android is that its hardware requirements are lower, so device makers like Samsung can use cheaper parts and bring down the total cost. That's old news in the developing world: There are tens of millions of low-quality smartphones in Asia and Africa, for example, running the subset of Android known as AOSP.

But people in poor countries are no less ambitious than people in rich ones. I see cutting corners as a temporary approach, and the real solution is high-powered hardware becoming cheaper, which is also happening. Cheapo smartphones are an interim strategy, not a long-term one, and I'm not sure that Tizen smartphones -- any more than Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS, or Jolla Salifish models -- are more than stepping-stone operating systems back to Android and iOS.

Certainly, my brief experience with the Tizen-powered Samsung Z made me wonder why I'd bother with it compared to Android. It's serviceable, but it also feels like every other smartphone out there. Neither Tizen nor Samsung is bringing anything distinct to the table, and that table has better offerings on it.

This article, "Hands-on with the Tizen-powered Samsung Z smartphone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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