Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G (T-Mobile) review:

Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G (T-Mobile)

Other apps include Evernote, Facebook, Dropbox, Lookout Security, Slacker Radio, and the Telenav GPS Navigator. Samsung has a few apps, too, like a media hub and Samsung's take on voice actions, called S Voice. While S Voice can do helpful things like launch apps and turn system settings like Wi-Fi off and on, I didn't find it as accurate as Siri in my tests.

I was largely impressed with the quality of the pictures I took with the Relay's 5-megapixel camera. Sure, they weren't as crisp or well-defined as photos taken with a good 8-megapixel camera can be, and some photos were downright soft. Still, I think people will mostly be satisfied with the results as long as they're not expecting the Relay's shooter to replace a dedicated camera for family portraits. Photos were colorful and some were sharply in focus; for instance, a close-up of an embroidered pillow turned out beautifully, with the textured detail coming through.

Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
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This indoor shot of CNET's Sharon Vaknin and Josh Miller looks crisp and detailed. This photo has been resized, but is otherwise untouched. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Indoor shots taken with plenty of natural light looked best; a flash can tend to blow out shots. Since there's no continuous autofocus, you'll just need to make sure that you tap to focus before taking your shot, or you may wind up with unwanted haziness.

Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
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Unfortunately, this well-lit outdoor candid is a little softer than I'd have liked. This photo has been resized, but is otherwise untouched. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Samsung has added a few extras with Ice Cream Sandwich, including face tagging, smile shot, and panorama mode, but it doesn't have all the camera bells and whistles of Samsung's top-tier Galaxy S3. There are, however, plenty of presets and adjustments for resolution (from VGA to 5-megapixel), white balance, metering and effects, scene modes, and a self-timer.

Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
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A well-lit indoor picture of pillow embroidery in full resolution, cropped but otherwise untouched. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The phone's 720p HD video quality is equally good. I took the phone outside to CNET's "pop-up park," an outdoor event with blaring music and lots of activity. The microphone did a fairly good job of picking up the voice of my interview subject, though music also got in the way. Also importantly, the picture was clear, sharp, and smooth. I didn't detect jerkiness in any of the test photos, but well-lit video will top most night scenes.

Front-facing cameras are good to have, but don't expect too much from a 1.3-megapixel lens in your face. Photos were acceptable for what they were, and much better than others I've seen, but you won't create a glamour shot out of it.

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I've seen better studio shots. The center is blown out and the lines aren't crisp. The Relay 4G definitely took better shots elsewhere. Josh Miller/CNET

The Relay 4G has 8GB onboard storage, and up to 32GB expandable memory for storing your multimedia. For a comparison of other camera phone photos, check out this photo gallery.

Call quality
The Relay 4G has some of the best call quality I've experienced in a long time. I tested the quad-band phone (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz) in San Francisco on T-Mobile's network. The first thing I noticed is that audio was natural but crisp and the line was crystal-clear. When my caller stopped talking, I couldn't be sure the call was connected, since there was no telltale sign of white noise. That's a very good thing. Volume was strong at medium-high levels, and Samsung included its software audio-booster if you need to turn up the volume. I did hear a little distorted skip from time to time, which is likely a network blip. Overall, the quality was excellent.

On his end, my test partner said that volume was very loud ("hot") no matter my speaking volume, and he preferred to hold the phone a little bit away from his ear. However, he also found my voice extremely clear, with no noise in the background, no muffling, and no interjections or distortions. My vocal fidelity was high, and my caller pronounced the Relay 4G among the best he's heard. Quote: "I love this phone!"

Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G call quality sample Listen now:

We switched to testing speakerphone, for which I held the Relay at waist level. It was everything speakerphone should be -- clear, loud, natural, with only a hint of a buzz in the hand, and no suggestion of tinniness. Audio wasn't quite as clear as the phone was at the ear, but the quality was impressive. The same held true for my testing partner, who said that my volume dropped a bit (not a bad thing since I was coming in so loud) but my voice was very clear and comfortable to listen to. Astoundingly, he said that speakerphone did not enhance the echo.

The Relay 4G has a great 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, which keeps everything zipping along. 4G speeds on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network were also good, consistently in the high single digits and double digits, but download times were faster than the upload times and never broke 1MB per second.

Diagnostic speeds on the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
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T-Mobile's download speeds were consistently fast, but upload speeds disappointed. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

We'll continue testing battery life here in San Francisco, but the rated battery life is promising, offering up to 10 hours of talk time on the 1,800mAh battery and up to 13 days of standby time. In CNET's lab tests, the Relay 4G played 10.6 hours of video on a single charge.

The FCC stipulates that cell phones must not emit more than 1.6 watts per kilogram of radiation. The Relay 4G's digital SAR is measured at 0.47 watt per kilogram.

Final thoughts
As personal as any phone choice is, I think that that deciding whether the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G is right for you will be equally so. Its keyboard is spacious, but only you can determine if it's the right fit for your hand. I do like everything else that the phone has to offer, and while it isn't top-of-the-line in every way, there were no major drawbacks for a phone of this level. Excellent call quality isn't something you see every day, and believe me, a lot of phones cross my desk. The asking price is fair, too. If you're in the market for a QWERTY smartphone, I'd definitely choose this over the T-Mobile MyTouch Q.

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