Not everyone is looking for a big-screen phone like the Samsung Galaxy S II. The Galaxy S Blaze 4G for T-Mobile has a smaller display (3.9 inches versus 4.5 inches) and smaller price ($149 versus $229) than its big brother. But can Samsung shrink the dimensions of its flagship phone without sacrificing the power and performance consumers have come to expect?
Click to EnlargeMeasuring 4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches and weighing 4.4 ounces, the Blaze 4G is smaller and lighter than the 4.9-ounce, 5.1 x 2.7 x 0.4-inch
Samsung Galaxy S II. The Blaze is also more compact and lighter than the HTC Sensation 4G (5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, 5 ounces). The smaller footprint makes this handset easier to operate with one hand.
The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G draws somewhat from the Samsung Galaxy S II's design. The front is black with dark chrome accents surrounding a glossy 3.9-inch display. It's the handset's rear rubber panel that helps it stand out. While there's no lip like the Galaxy S II, it feels very comfortable to hold. The grippy material is emblazoned with a white Galaxy S insignia. The 5-megapixel camera, LED flash and twin speakers sit along the top in a dark gray brushed metal strip.
Click to EnlargeThe top of the Blaze 4G houses the headphone jack with the microUSB port resting at the bottom. The volume rocker is on the left, while the power button and microSD port are on the right. Both buttons are noticeably smaller and more angular than on the Galaxy S II.
Note that the Blaze 4G doesn't include an HDMI port, not does it support a USB adapter for connecting the phone to your TV. You'll have to go the wireless route.
Click to EnlargeThe Galaxy S Blaze 4G features a 3.97-inch 800 x 480 Super AMOLED display. It offers rich deep color, but the sharpness left something to be desired. Text on CNN.com and ESPN.com looked a bit fuzzy, as did the images. The HTC Sensation 4G has a sharper resolution of 960 x 540 pixels, although its viewing angles aren't as wide as the Blaze 4G.
In terms of brightness, the 231 lux display fell short of the 297 Android smartphone category average, as well as the Galaxy S II's 249 lux display.
Watching the HD YouTube trailer for "Mirror Mirror," we were delighted by Snow White's ebony hair, ruby red lips and royal blue dress with accompanying marigold sash. However, the trailer appeared somewhat dark, and the same graininess we encountered with websites was also present here.
The twin rear speakers on the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G have a lot of kick, and easily filled a small room. The overarching disdain in Julia Roberts' voice came through loud and clear in that trailer. When we played Andre 3000's rendition of "My Favorite Things," the piano trilled brightly while the horns blared during the spastic delivery.
Click to EnlargeThe Blaze 4G comes equipped with the stock Samsung keyboard, which has nice big keys with generous spacing in both portrait and landscape modes. You can access special characters by long-pressing on a regular character. Swype is also included, and we continue to enjoy the trace technology that allows us to jot down a text or email quicker with one finger. Similar to the Samsung keyboard, we can could access special characters such as numbers and punctuation marks by long pressing.
Both keyboards employ pleasant haptic feedback for a more tactile typing experience.
Software and Interface
Click to EnlargeThe Blaze 4G runs Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) with Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 software. We like that the seven customizable homescreens are looped. However, out of the box, the Blaze 4G is heavy on T-Mobile content. The active widgets include T-Mobile's MobileLife Organizer, AccuWeather.com, T-Mobile Bonus Apps and T-Mobile Highlights, which features news from CNN, E! and MSNBC.
Swiping down on the display reveals the Notifications shade for quick access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS settings.
The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G comes with a bevy of entertainment apps that provide access to a robust offering of free and paid content. Samsung Media Hub allowed us to rent the latest movies and TV shows for $3.99 and $1.99, respectively. We liked the OnDemand and LiveTV options offered on T-MobileTV that allowed us to watch up-to-the-minute news from Fox News and the Associated Press, but the $12.99 monthly fee is too steep. Netflix rounds out the premium video lineup.
Click to EnlargeIn terms of gaming, there's T-Mobile's GameBase, where you can purchase classics such as "Pac-Man" for $4.99. Zinio, the digital newsstand, is also on board for magazine fans. Slacker is included for personalized radio, and multimedia sharing apps include Samsung AllShare and Kies Air.
Other T-Mobile-branded apps include T-Mobile Mall, the Cozi-powered MobileLife Organizer, T-Mobile Name ID, 411 & More (which offers directory assistance and horoscopes) and More for Me, a location-based deals finder.
Third-party apps include Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, Qik and Google Tags, which organizes all your scanned Tags for easy sharing.
Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Blaze 4G is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 CPU with 1GB of RAM. We were able to play a few rounds of "Collaspe!" while streaming music from Slacker without any hiccups.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the Blaze 4G scored 2,576. That's 813 points above the 1,763 Android smartphone average, but well below the Galaxy S II (3,365). The HTC Sensation 4G and the T-Mobile myTouch Slide 4G, which both have 1.2GHz Qualcomm processors, scored 1,716 and 2,255 respectively.
On An3DBench, which measures graphics, the Blaze 4G scored 7,017, well above the 5,933 category average. However, the Sensation 4G and the myTouch Slide 4G performed slightly better with 7,072 and 7,098. The Galaxy S II continued to dominate, notching 7,394.
The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G comes with a 4GB microSD card that can be expanded to 32GB via the microSD slot, conveniently located on the right side of the phone.
Web Browsing and 4G
Click to EnlargeWe surfed the Web at a speedy clip on T-Mobile's HSPA+42's network, which the carrier claims has a top download speed of 27 Mbps and an average speed 8 Mbps.
The mobile versions of NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and CNN.com loaded in an average of 5.2, 6.2 and 8.6 seconds respectively. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com loaded in 11.2 seconds. By comparison, the Galaxy S II loaded took an average of 6 seconds to load mobile sites and 11.6 seconds to load Laptopmag.com. The myTouch 4G Slide loaded NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and Laptop in 4.7, 7.5 and 12 seconds.
On Speedtest.net, the Blaze 4G delivered average download speeds of 11.4 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps uploads. That was more than enough to beat the Sensation 4G and the myTouch 4G Slide, which averaged 4.3/1.8 Mbps and 2.7/1.2 Mbps, respectively. However, the Galaxy S II was even better, notching speeds of 16.2 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up.
Camera and Camcorder
Click to EnlargeThe rear-facing camera on the Blaze 4G captures 5-MP images and 720p video. In our test shots around Union Square, we saw vibrant greens, yellows and magentas. However, sharpness was lacking and there were quite a few instances where images appeared washed out.
Our test video of New York City traffic yielded similar results. While we saw brilliant yellow cabs zoom past sleek black Crown Victorias, there was a noticeable amount noise that made reading text on signs somewhat difficult. The camera took about a second to readjust after we panned up to the sky and back down to street level.
The 1.3-megapixel front camera captures images in 720p. While our electric blue shirt appeared quite vivid, we also noticed a constant color fluctuation. Our Skype caller reported a fairly clear image with some motion blur, but told us the audio was clear.
Click to EnlargeDuring the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G), the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G 1750 mAh battery lasted a whopping 7 hours and 11 minutes. That's 1 hour and 25 minutes longer than the Android smartphone category average. The HTC Sensation 4G lasted 7:12 while the T-Mobile myTouch Slide 4G clocked in at 6:09. The Samsung Galaxy S II reigned supreme with 7:38.
We made some test calls to landlines and cellphones in New York and New Jersey. Calls to landlines delivered loud, clear audio. However, we did hear some echoes on speakerphone calls. Cell phone conversations were loud and clear in Manhattan, but experienced a few dropped calls in the Bronx.
The $149 Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G is a mid-range Android phone that delivers strong performance, long battery life and fast 4G speeds. Some may find the avalanche of T-Mobile branded apps annoying, however. The identically priced HTC Sensation 4G has a sharper qHD display and higher-resolution 8-MP camera, but we suspect that many would rather carry the smaller and lighter Blaze 4G. Overall, the Blaze 4G is a very good choice for shoppers looking for a pocket-friendly Android phone with fast speeds and long endurance.