One of our favorite Android phones just got a major speed boost. The Samsung Galaxy S 4G for T-Mobile is a lot like the Vibrant we reviewed in July, but it adds 4G connectivity, promising "theoretical" peak download speeds of 21 Mbps. This sequel also sports a front-facing camera for video chats, a beefier battery, and lots of entertainment goodies--including a full copy of the flick Inception. Still, $199 isn't exactly cheap when you can pick up competing Android phones such as the myTouch 4G and T-Mobile G2 for half as much. Read on to find out what kind of performance you'll get for your money.
With the exception of the front-facing camera above the screen, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G looks similar to the Vibrant from the front (black with chrome accents). The back cover is a different story. This silver reflex treatment sports a two-tone gray finish, and it plays with the light in such a way that the light and dark sides reverse based on how you hold the device. We prefer metal covers to plastic ones, but it's a pretty neat effect.
Measuring 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches and weighing 4.2 ounces, the Galaxy S 4G is just as thin and light as its predecessor. While the myTouch 4G has a more premium look and feel--and more color options, it weighs a hefty 5 ounces and features a smaller and duller 3.8-inch screen. We like how the small curved bump on the bottom of the Galaxy S 4G makes this handset easier to grip.
The top of the Galaxy S 4G houses the microUSB port (complete with sliding door cover) and headphone jack. A decent-sized volume rocker is on the left, and an easily accessible power button is on the right. Unfortunately, the 5-megapixel camera around back doesn't have a flash. You also won't find an HDMI output, though you can stream video via DLNA technology.
As with the Vibrant, four capacitive keys sit beneath the display: Menu, Home, Back, and Search. These buttons were responsive, but the backlight behind them turns off too quickly.
Display, Keyboard, and Audio
Sure, the Galaxy S 4G has the same 4-inch Super AMOLED display (800 x 480 pixels) as the Vibrant, but we're not complaining. It's just as crisp, colorful, and has the same high contrast. This is the kind of screen that can make otherwise mundane footage of NYC traffic look cinematic. Nevertheless, the Retina Display on the iPhone 4 looks brighter, offering whiter whites on web pages. (Okay, we just complained a little.)
The Swype keyboard comes pre-loaded, which makes it easy to type quickly with one hand. You just trace your finger from one letter to the next. However, we prefer Samsung's keyboard because the keys are larger and the numbers are in their usual location. The haptic feedback was just the way we like it: light.
The back-mounted speaker on the Galaxy S 4G got pretty loud when we streamed Green Day's "Basket Case" from Slacker. We could easily hear the music from across a small room. Just stay away from the harsh-sounding maximum volume setting.
We have to point out how needlessly difficult it is to unlock this device. You can't just casually swipe the screen; you need to very deliberately move a translucent box across the length of the display. It's just annoying.
Once the screen is unlocked, you're greeted with seven home screens you can customize with widgets and shortcuts. Samsung's widgets include choices such as Buddies, which lets you quickly call or message your favorite people; Feeds and Updates streams the latest posts from Twitter and Facebook, and lets you post updates to either or both services; News and Weather keeps you up to date on the forecast and headlines. All of these widgets worked fine, but we prefer the polish and snappier performance offered by HTC Sense.
Once you click Applications, you'll see an iPhone-like grid of icons you can swipe through in alphabetical order. Or you can change to a customizable layout or a straight list by clicking Menu and then View Type while on this screen.
What Samsung does better than anyone else is trick out the Android notification drawer. Slide down from the top and you'll see shortcuts to toggle the wireless radios, enter silent mode, and enable or disable auto rotation. If you're playing a song, you'll see the playback controls and album art here, too.
Specs and Performance
Samsung stuck with its 1-GHz Cortex A8 processor for the Galaxy S 4G, and it's just as about as fast as the Vibrant. For example, in the FPS2D benchmark, the Galaxy S 4G scored 55, compared to 54 for the Vibrant. Other results were also similar, with the major exception of the CPU result in the Benchmark test. The Galaxy S 4G notched 1,449, compared to just 772 for the Captivate. We attribute this boost to the newer Android 2.2 software running on the Galaxy. Still, the dual-core Tegra 2-powered Atrix 4G delivered a score of 74 in FPS2D and 2,369 in the CPU test.
|Samsung Galaxy S 4G||VIbrant||Atrix||Captivate|
Although the Galaxy S 4G was snappy for the most part, we noticed some lag at times, such as when flipping from one home screen to the next. You'll definitely want to close applications when they're not being used. The good news is that Samsung makes this easy by putting a Task Manager shortcut in the multitasking menu. (Just long press the home button.) As with the Vibrant, you get a 16GB microSD card, which you can upgrade to 32GB.
4G Data Performance and Web
Not all 4G phones are created equal--even on the same network. While the myTouch 4G and T-Mobile G2 are both capable of theoretical peak download speeds of 14.4 Mbps, the HSPA+ modem inside the Galaxy S 4G can supposedly reach downloads up to 21 Mbps.
In our testing in New York City and New Jersey, the Galaxy S averaged 2.4 Mbps downloads and 973 Kbps uploads. However, several times the Galaxy S 4G broke 4 Mbps on the downlink, and reached a high of 5.5 Mbps. On the uplink, the max was 1.7 Mbps. At its fastest, the Galaxy S 4G downloaded mobile sites in 4 to 7 seconds, which is brisk, and the full Laptopmag.com site in just 12 seconds.
The myTouch 4G averaged 1.5 Mbps downloads and 1.3 Mbps uploads, while the T-Mobile G2's downloads ranged from 1.8 to 3.1 Mbps and uploads were also in the 1.3 Mbps range. So the Galaxy S 4G is the fastest phone for T-Mobile yet. However, 4G phones such as the Evo Shift 4G from Sprint achieved peak download speeds of 9.4 Mbps, and we expect even better performance from Verizon's 4G LTE phones.
|Samsung Galaxy S 4G||MyTouch 4G||G2||HTC Shift 4G|
Unlike the earlier Vibrant, you can use this smart phone as a mobile hotspot for $15 on top of your data plan. While the Mobile AP function is easy to set up, we wish T-Mobile made it an app for easier access; instead, it's buried under Settings/Wireless and network. Once activated, the Galaxy S 4G pulled down sites fairly quickly, including ESPN.com (13 seconds), NYTimes.com (12 seconds), and Yahoo (8 seconds).
Apps and Media
While you can easily access more than 150,000 apps in the Android Market, T-Mobile bundles a bunch of options designed to entertain. These choices include T-Mobile TV, which loaded in a reasonable 14 seconds and started streaming ESPN within 6 seconds. We liked the slick interface and fairly smooth video quality. Switching to MSNBC took only 4 seconds. On-demand content (such as an episode of Community) looked even crisper. However, it took several minutes to download the episode, which was broken up into four parts.
You'll also find doubleTwist with AirSync, which lets you wirelessly sync media with iTunes on your PC. While it's pretty easy to set up, we found that the app synced slowly over our Wi-Fi network.
Other apps include Kindle for Android and Slacker, plus Samsung Media Hub for downloading TV shows ($1.99 a pop) and movies ($3.99 rentals). The included copy of Inception looked awesome on the Super AMOLED screen, but you'll need to set up a Media Hub account to play the movie.
Camera and Camcorder
To test out the Galaxy S 4G's camera, we snapped a few shots of flowers outside in Manhattan. The resulting images looked colorful but somewhat fuzzy. Focusing was a bit slow as well, and as mentioned above you don't get a flash. On the plus side, Samsung includes a bunch of scene modes to help you better capture a shot and have more fun with photos, including Panorama, Smile Shot, and Vintage.
Our 720p footage of moving traffic really popped on the Galaxy S 4G's display, right down to daylight reflecting off puddles. When we played back our clips on the desktop, they looked somewhat shaky but exhibited good detail and color accuracy.
We're not huge fans of Qik, but the Samsung Galaxy S 4G offered a better experience than most other Android phones we've used with this service. Our Wi-Fi call with an Evo 4G user took about 7 seconds to connect, and the stream remained fairly stable. However, the other person needs to press a button to speak, which is not the case with Apple's FaceTime. When we switched to 4G, the video stuttered a bit more--and we noticed that sometimes the stream sped to catch up to real time--but overall the quality was decent.
Call Quality and Battery Life
When it comes to voice quality on the Galaxy S 4G, other callers said we sounded clear, though we noticed some fuzziness on our end of the line. This phone also supports Wi-Fi calling, which delivered landline-like call quality when we dialed a friend. The other caller said we sounded just a bit scratchy. Wi-Fi calling is included for free, but it counts against your minutes.
Other than 4G speeds, the biggest difference between the Galaxy S 4G and its predecessor is its larger capacity battery (1650 mAh vs 1500 mAh). On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over a cellular connection, the Galaxy S 4G lasted 7 hours and 5 minutes. That's more than 2 hours longer than the Captivate (4:43) and well above the Android phone average of 5.5 hours, though some phones such as the Droid X (7:42) have even longer endurance.
|Samsung Galaxy S 4G||Droid X||Captivate||Android Average|
|Battery Life )Hours)||7:05||7:42|
Data Plan and Value
T-Mobile charges $30 per month for unlimited data. After you reach 5GB, the carrier can choose to throttle your speeds. If you get a package that includes 500 voice minutes, unlimited text, and unlimited data, it totals a reasonable $79.99 per month. Those who want to add mobile hotspot capability will pay an extra $15 per month, which counts against your phone's data plan in terms of usage.
The Galaxy S 4G delivers the fastest speeds yet for T-Mobile customers and adds some welcome enhancements, including a front-facing camera and longer-lasting battery. While we wish Samsung had also included a faster processor for $199, this is now the top smart phone available for the carrier. Both the $99 myTouch 4G and T-Mobile G2 are great bargains, but the Galaxy S 4G has a superior Super AMOLED display and does a better job of living up to the 4G part of its name.