Phones with a keyboard are becoming a bit of an endangered species, but those who prefer physical buttons over virtual squares can take solace in the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G, an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich handset that runs on T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 4G network.
The specs pop it into the high middle range. It has a lovely 4-inch screen, a 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, and an a 5-megapixel camera that takes quite good shots. It also has a front-facing camera, a spacious slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and some of the best call quality I've ever heard on a smartphone, you know, for those of you who actually place the occasional call.
Not everyone will love the bulkier size (that's a keyboard for you), and I had a few complaints about the keyboard itself, but the price is fair at $149.99 after a $50 mail-in-rebate card and with a new two-year service agreement, and the Relay 4G offers much for those who prefer precision typing.
Design and build
It probably goes without saying (I'm going to say it anyway), but you have to love a keyboard to want this phone. Although it isn't the defining feature of the Galaxy S Relay 4G, the slide-out QWERTY keyboard is likely a major buying-decision factor. So let's start there.
The sliding mechanism seemed tight on my review unit, taking a little pressure to slide open, but it became easier to figure out exactly where to place my hands as I used the phone more. When I didn't get it right, the phone either stuck a little or fumbled out of my hands.
A spacious, full-five-row QWERTY keyboard greets you when you slide the phone open. I love everything about the way it looks: the dedicated number row, the wide and completely separated keys, the polished gray material behind them. The buttons don't rise far from the surface, but they are responsive and tactile; my fingers knew exactly what and where to push down. As someone who makes a point of adding grammar and punctuation to her e-mails and texts, I appreciate the few dedicated punctuation keys. There are also buttons to launch voice commands, arrow around the screen, and initiate a new text message or e-mail.
My one major complaint is that the keyboard's generous roominess isn't for everyone. It's a little wide for my hands, so I found myself stretching to type, which slowed me down. I prefer precision typing over speed, though, so I was still happy to be able to blame all typos on myself, not on a virtual predictive keyboard. Still, I found that I only slid open the keyboard for longer messages and form-filling, and stuck to the virtual one for short writing bursts.
With the QWERTY out of the way, let's talk about the rest of the phone. It's 5 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide, and a thicker 0.53 inch deep to accommodate the keyboard. Since the screen size tops out at 4 inches, the Relay 4G is a manageable, but heavier, item to haul around. It weighs 5.2 ounces.
The rounded corners and grippable, soft-touch material on the back make it a very comfortable fit in the hand, and it's easy on the ear. Samsung keeps the phone looking fairly plain and simple. Apart from the backing material, everything is black, plastic, and glossy, a signature Samsung look. For navigation, Samsung opted for a narrow physical button in the center and Menu and Back capacitive keys on either side.
As I mentioned above, the Relay 4G has a 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED display, with a 480x800-pixel resolution. Like Samsung's other screens, this one is clear and bright, even on automatic settings. Colors are vibrant and saturated, too. Above the screen is the 1.3-megapixel camera lens, and on the back is the 5-megapixel camera module, accompanied by an LED flash.
Samsung keeps ports and such simple. The Relay has a volume rocker on the left and a power button on the right. The 3.5mm headset jack is up top and there's a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom. Behind the back cover is a microSD card slot.
OS and features
The Relay 4G runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, furnished with Samsung's TouchWiz interface. While there's much to like about the custom TouchWiz layer, on the outside, it looks a lot like Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Those hoping to see Ice Cream Sandwich in all its Google-y glory will be disappointed.
However, the functionality is all there, complete with multiple account log-ins, access to Google apps and services, maps with turn-by-turn navigation, and the Google Play Store brimming with downloads. Connections include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS, and there's also support for NFC and, which is like Android Beam on ICS, but more so.
You'll find mobile hot-spot support if it's part of your rate plan, VPN, and Wi-Fi Direct (used in S Beam). You can turn on motion support, which opens up a plethora of gesture-based activities, like lifting the phone to your head while on a contact's details page to make a direct call, turning the phone over to mute a call or pause music playing, and a host of other actions.
As far as apps go, there are a lot on the Relay 4G -- you decide if that's a help or hindrance. You'll find essentials like a music player, clock, calendar, and calculator, plus plenty of third-party add-ons that include T-Mobile apps like T-Mobile TV, T-Mobile HotSpot, a mobile life organizer, and T-Mobile account information.