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Samsung Galaxy S 4G Android Smartphone Review
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Date: Mar 31, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

When it comes to smartphones and wireless data services, 4G is definitely one of the hottest features today. And while various wireless service providers are touting their 4G networks and upcoming plans for 4G, there are still a relatively small number of smartphones that actually support 4G technology and can take full advantage of the speed boost and other advantages 4G provides.

The latest 4G device from T-Mobile is the Samsung Galaxy S 4G. This phone works on T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network, which uses a different technical standard than Sprint or Verizon Wireless' 4G networks. According to T-Mobile, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G is the wireless carrier's first smartphone that is capable of delivering theoretical peak download speeds of up to 21 Mbps while in one of T-Mobile's 4G coverage areas. With these speeds, T-Mobile says you'll be able to enjoy mobile HDTV through T-Mobile TV as well as video chat via Qik.


In addition to fast speeds, the Galaxy S 4G offers many of the specifications we like to see in a high-end smartphone—it has a large, 4-inch display, a Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor, and a preinstalled 16GB microSD memory card. Like other phones in the Galaxy S line, this phone also has Samsung's Super AMOLED touchscreen display. As we've mentioned in previous reviews, this gorgeous display technology really does deliver an enjoyable viewing experience.

The Galaxy S 4G has a price tag that's right in line with other high-end smartphones today; it is available for $199.99 after a two-year contract and mail-in rebate. You'll be required to have a data plan with this phone, but that's standard fare for a smartphone today as well. 

Read on in the coming pages as we take an in-depth, hands-on look at what the Samsung Galaxy S 4G has to offer.

Samsung Galaxy S 4G
Specifications & Features

Processor and memory
1 GHz Hummingbird processor
1GB internal ROM, 512MB internal RAM
16 GB memory card included (expandable to 32 GB)
Operating System
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Connectivity
GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
UMTS: Band IV(1700), I(2100), II(1900)
HSDPA 21 Mbps HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
Bluetooth
Wi-Fi & mobile calling
Wi-Fi sharing (Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 5 other devices)
GPS with navigation capability
microUSB
Display
4-inch Super AMOLED Screen (480x800)
Size and weight
4.8 x 2.5 x 0.4 inches
4.2 ounces
Cameras and multimedia
5 megapixel rear-facing camera with HD camcorder
VGA front-facing camera
Full Web browsing with Adobe Flash Player 10.1 support
Mobile Video Chat powered by Qik
3.5mm headset jack
Battery
 Talk time:  up to 6.5 hours
 Standby time: up to 12.5 days
Availability
T-Mobile
In-Box Content
Battery
Charger
USB Cable
Stereo Headset

 

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Design

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G has a look and feel that's similar to other phones in the Galaxy S line-up. After all, it has the same display, backlit buttons, and candy bar form factor. It does have a few styling differences, such as the chrome edging and back cover with a silver and charcoal gradient. We've liked the look and feel of other Galaxy S devices, so the similarities are fine by us. Overall, the phone is a good-looking device that's comfortable to hold.

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Samsung's 4-inch Super AMOLED Screen with a resolution of 480x800 covers the majority of the front of this phone. Above the display, there's a VGA camera for video chat. Below the screen, there are four backlit buttons (Menu, Home, Back, and Search) that are flush with the screen and provide haptic feedback when pressed.

Although the phone has a similar design and look as some other Android devices we've seen, its weight is less than other handsets we've seen recently. Here's how the Galaxy S 4G compares:

Samsung Galaxy S 4G 4.2 ounces
Samsung Captivate
4.5 ounces
Nexus S
4.55 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible
4.6 ounces
Apple iPhone 4
4.8 ounces
Motorola Droid X
5.47 ounces
Samsung Epic 4G
5.47 ounces
HTC EVO 4G
6 ounces

The Galaxy S 4G has rounded edges and corners. The back plastic battery cover has a smooth finish. The cover doesn't feel very sturdy when removed from the phone, but it's no worse than other plastic covers we've seen in the past.

During our review, we noticed fingerprints will collect on the Galaxy S 4G's screen, but they didn't appear to affect performance. Moreover, fingerprints didn't collect any worse than on other smartphones. When put side-by-side with the Nexus S and its anti-fingerprint coating, however, you'll definitely notice a difference in the amount of fingerprints that collect on these two phones.

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On the left side of the Galaxy S 4G, you'll find a volume rocker. The right edge of the phone houses the power button. On the top edge of the phone, there's a microUSB port with a sliding cover and a 3.5mm headset jack. Beneath the battery cover, you'll find the Galaxy S 4G's preinstalled 16GB microSD card.

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User Interface

The Galaxy S 4G ships with Android 2.2 (Froyo) installed. At this point, Samsung has not announced any plans to upgrade the phone to Android 2.3, otherwise known as Gingerbread.

The Galaxy S 4G comes with plenty of entertainment options. For starters, T-Mobile has preloaded the phone with Warner Bros. Pictures’ INCEPTION. Users can also rent or purchase movies and TV shows from the Samsung Media Hub. Another option, T-Mobile TV, provides live and on-demand mobile HDTV via T-Mobile's 4G network.

     

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Samsung includes the SWYPE keyboard with the Galaxy S 4G. This keyboard is definitely popular for good reason – it makes typing much quicker and easier. Samsung also includes its own keypad as an additional input option.

The Galaxy S 4G ships with quite a few preinstalled applications. Some will likely be more helpful and useful than others. You'll find Amazon MP3, Car Home, DriveSmart, Gogo, Kindle, Layar, Slacker, and many others among the list of apps installed on the phone.

        

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DriveSmart is an application that lets you minimize cell phone distractions while driving by either answering incoming calls and messages with a pre-set message or by enabling Bluetooth for hands-free use of your phone while driving. Another preinstalled application, DoubleTwist with AirSync, lets you sync your music playlists, photos, and podcasts from your home computer with your phone via Wi-Fi.

For users who live in or regularly visit a spotty T-Mobile coverage area, you may find the Wi-Fi calling option to be especially useful. With this feature, you'll be able to expand your mobile coverage using any available Wi-Fi network. It's important to note, however, that Wi-Fi calling does not support network handoffs, so if you place a call via a Wi-Fi network and then move out of the Wi-Fi area, your call will automatically end. The Galaxy S 4G also supports Wi-Fi sharing, so you can use the phone's Web connection to surf the Internet on your laptop and other Wi-Fi enabled devices.

There are seven fully customizable home screens on the Galaxy S 4G. When you press and hold the Home button, you'll see a list of six most recently used applications as well as a button to open the Task Manager.

     

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Performance: Display, Camera and Battery Life

We've seen quite a few Android-powered phones with 1GHz processors and adequate internal storage and RAM. The Galaxy S 4G has these same specs, so we expect it to perform along the same lines as many of today's other powerful and popular phones. Indeed, the Galaxy S 4G feels just as zippy and responsive as many of the other phones in Samsung's Galaxy S line. Simply put, we were pleased with the speed and performance of the Galaxy S 4G.

We've said before that Samsung has a winning technology in the form of the Super AMOLED display. As the saying goes, if it's not broke, don't fix it. We're glad to see that Samsung is continuing to use this bright and vibrant display on many of its high-end smartphones.

     

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As in the past, we found the Super AMOLED touchscreen to be bright, colorful, and sharp. Viewing angles are also excellent. As you'll recall, Super AMOLED enables phone manufacturers to make even thinner phones while also providing more vivid colors and terrific viewing angles. The only downside to this display is that the screen is a bit difficult (but not impossible) to view under direct sunlight. The screen did attract some fingerprints during our test period, though they didn't appear to interfere with the responsiveness of the phone.

The front-facing VGA camera on the Galaxy S 4G is designed for video chat, while the rear-facing 5 megapixel camera is designed for picture taking and video capture. Images captured with the rear-facing 5 megapixel camera were respectable, but we felt some colors were slightly off. Also, the Galaxy S 4G does not have a built-in flash, so you'll forever be reliant on available light when taking pictures with the phone. Overall, many of the images we captured were very sharp and vibrant, but a few seemed to be slightly faded.

     

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Battery Life Experience -

Samsung claims the battery life of the Galaxy S 4G is up to 6.5 hours of talk time and up to 12.5 days of standby time. During our testing, we had no problem getting through an entire day (approximately 16 hours) with the Galaxy S 4G while talking, texting, surfing, checking email, and browsing the web periodically throughout the day. Of course, battery life will vary greatly depending on your use of the phone and its data capabilities.

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the Galaxy S 4G in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Galaxy S 4G compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

 

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

 

In the Linpack test, the Galaxy S 4G performed very similarly to the Nexus S which also has a 1GHz Hummingbird processor. In An3DBench, the Galaxy S 4G performed right in line with other Samsung devices, including the Epic 4G and Captivate. The Galaxy S 4G came in third when compared to our other test phones in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test.

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Performance Testing - Web Browsing

Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Samsung Galaxy S 4G compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

In the Xtremelabs test, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G achieved download speeds that are right in line with other 4G networks. Upload speeds were a different story in this test. For some reason, they were particularly low when we ran our tests. Over Wi-Fi, however upload speeds were more in line with other devices.

On the BA.net test, the Galaxy S 4G blew the competition out of the water on download speeds when connected to T-Mobile's 4G network. Wi-Fi download speeds were right in line with other devices we've seen. Upload speeds are no longer available from the BA.net test.

The Speedtest.net test shows that T-Mobile's 4G network in combination with the Samsung Galaxy S 4G is slower than Sprint's 4G devices in terms of both download and upload speeds.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G didn't perform quite as well in these benchmarks as we would have liked. In our real-world testing, the phone and web browsing felt relatively zippy. Although the scores are lower than we would have liked, we don't feel it's fair to generalize or say this could be a widespread problem. It's possible that T-Mobile's network wasn't providing the best speeds possible in our test location during our test period. Every network has been known to experience glitches from time to time, so we'll give T-Mobile and Samsung some benefit of the doubt on this one, particularly since we enjoyed respectable scores when testing over Wi-Fi.

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Conclusion

We're seeing a lot of hot phones hit the market lately. Of course, one of the most touted new features is 4G capabilities. As you can assume from its name, the Galaxy S 4G is capable of 4G speeds when a 4G connection is available from T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.

With 4G, T-Mobile says you'll get simultaneous voice and data capabilities with theoretical peak download speeds of up to 21 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.7 Mbps. Of course, those are "theoretical peak" speeds, so your real-world experience will likely be slower, but you should still expect fast browsing speeds.

Currently, T-Mobile offers 4G service in 100 metropolitan areas, covering 200 million people across the U.S. If you want to know if your city is one of those included in T-Mobile's 4G areas, you can visit the company's coverage map.

In addition to 4G capabilities, the Galaxy S 4G has many of the hardware features we've come to expect from today's top-end phones including a 1GHz processor, adequate storage via a microSD expansion slot, front- and rear-facing cameras, and a large, gorgeous screen. What's more, Samsung's Super AMOLED displays really are a step above most other displays we've seen.

The Galaxy S 4G didn't perform quite as well as we would have liked to see in a few benchmark tests, but the phone felt zippy during our real-world testing so we're willing to give some benefit of the doubt. Also, the Galaxy S 4G scored well in many Wi-Fi tests where it otherwise disappointed in what were suppose to be 4G coverage areas.

All in all, we were very satisfied with the performance and usability of the Galaxy S 4G. We're hoping Samsung and T-Mobile will issue an update to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) at some point in the future, but for now, the phone is still very capable and a fun device to use.

     
  • Fast 1 GHz Hummingbird processor
  • Gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen
  • Thin & very lightweight
  • microSD expansion slot
  • T-Mobile's 4G coverage is still somewhat limited
  • Speed tests showed hit and miss scores

 



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