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Samsung Galaxy S 4G review: Samsung Galaxy S 4G

Samsung Galaxy S 4G

Bonnie Cha
Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
7 min read

Samsung Galaxy S 4G (T-Mobile)

Samsung Galaxy S 4G

The Good

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G has 4G connectivity, a front-facing camera for video calls, and a larger battery. Android 2.2 offers impressive data speeds and good call quality. Other highlights include a rich and vibrant Super AMOLED touch screen and a 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording.

The Bad

No camera flash. The Galaxy S 4G has less internal memory than the Vibrant. There was some slight sluggishness with some tasks.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is a fantastic Android smartphone for T-Mobile customers, delivering fast data speeds and other improvements, but Vibrant owners should be fine holding off for now.

Though it hasn't even been a year since the Samsung Vibrant was released, a successor has already come along to take its place. The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is nearly identical in design, but don't let its looks fool you, as the new smartphone brings a number of changes under the hood. It ships running Android 2.2.1; there's a front-facing camera for video calls; and, most importantly, you get 4G connectivity, with the capability of hitting theoretical download speeds of 21Mbps. Indeed, we got some impressive and zippy data speeds during our review period, improving the smartphone Web browsing and streaming experience. Throw in the preloaded entertainment extras and you've got one fast and fun device.

If you already own a Vibrant, we wouldn't say this is a necessary upgrade, especially since you're probably still on contract. However, if you're in the market for a new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G is certainly one of our top picks. T-Mobile has two other great 4G devices, the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G and the T-Mobile G2, and it may come down to personal preference, but the Galaxy S 4G has the potential to be faster and also sports a sharper, richer display. The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is available now for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G isn't remarkably different from the Samsung Vibrant in design. In fact, if you were to put the two side by side, it would be difficult to tell one from the other. They're the same size at 4.82 inches tall by 2.54 inches wide by 0.39 inch thick and 4.16 ounces, and both feature attractive chrome accents and rounded corners and edges.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G features a new finish on the back that makes it less slippery than its predecessor.

The only noticeable difference is that the Galaxy S 4G has a new "silver reflex" finish on back. It's more of a matte finish, so unlike the Vibrant, the Galaxy S 4G doesn't feel quite as slick or plasticky, which is a good thing. That said, we still prefer the more premium feel of the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, even though it's slightly heavier and thicker than the Galaxy S 4G.

You still get the 4-inch Super AMOLED touch screen, which is eye-catching and gorgeous. The sharp display makes it easy to read text, but it really shines when you're viewing video or photos, as colors and details really come through on the vibrant screen. The touch screen is also responsive. It registered all our taps, and we were able to smoothly and quickly scroll through the menus and lists. Like the rest of the series, the Galaxy S 4G uses Samsung's TouchWiz user interface, and the smartphone ships with the Swype virtual keyboard.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G sports the same gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED touch screen as the Vibrant.

There are four touch-sensitive buttons--menu, home, back, and search--below the display. On the left side is a volume rocker and on the right is a power/lock button. The top of the device features a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port with a sliding cover, with the camera located on back. There is, however, no flash and no dedicated camera key.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 16GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is a quad-band world phone with a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, text and multimedia messaging, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. In addition to cellular calls, you can make calls over a Wi-Fi network (there is no additional charge, but the minutes are deducted from your regular voice plan) and unlike the Samsung Vibrant, the Galaxy S 4G has a front-facing VGA camera so you can make video calls over Wi-Fi or T-Mobile's network using the preinstalled Qik application.

Again, the smartphone ships running Android 2.2.1, so in addition to the standard Google services and support for Microsoft Exchange, POP3 and IMAP accounts, and social network integration, you get the benefits of Froyo, which include the ability to save apps to SD cards, voice dialing over Bluetooth, and Flash Player 10.1 support.

The handset also comes preloaded with a number of entertainment extras. This includes a full copy of "Inception," Slacker Radio, Kindle for Android, and DoubleTwist software with AirSync, which lets you wirelessly sync and back up music, video, and other content from your phone to your PC over a Wi-Fi connection.

T-Mobile TV and Samsung's Media Hub video store are also onboard if you want to watch video on the go. The latter lets you rent or buy movies and TV shows, and Samsung and T-Mobile just announced that purchases can be charged to your monthly phone bill.

Overall, the smartphone's 5-megapixel camera took good-quality photos and video.

The Galaxy S 4G isn't too shabby at capturing video itself. The smartphone's 5-megapixel camera is capable of shooting 720p HD video and has some light editing options (the camera offers more), and we found the video quality to be quite good. The camcorder was able to capture action sequences clearly, and the picture was sharp and crisp. Picture quality was also good. Subjects were clearly defined and colors were bright, even when the photo was taken in low light.

We should note that even though the handset ships with a 16GB microSD card and the expansion slot supports cards of up to 32GB, the Galaxy S 4G has less internal memory (around 185MB) than the Vibrant (16GB).

4G support
The biggest improvement that the Samsung Galaxy S 4G brings over its predecessor is 4G support, but it's also notable because it's T-Mobile's first smartphone capable of reaching theoretical download speeds of 21Mbps. The carrier's other 4G phones, such as the T-Mobile G2 and T-Mobile MyTouch 4G, peak at 14Mbps.

During our review period, the Galaxy S 4G didn't achieve results that were any faster than the aforementioned smartphones, but we were still impressed by the speed of T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. We used Ookla's Speedtest.net app to record download and upload speeds throughout Manhattan and averaged 5.01Mbps down (peaking at 6.89Mbps) and 1.70Mbps up (peaking at 1.82Mbps).

In real-world usage, CNET's full site loaded in 18 seconds on the phone's full HTML Web browser, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in 3 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively. A 16.44MB app from the Android Market downloaded and installed in about 35 seconds. YouTube videos, even high-quality clips, played within a couple of seconds.

The smartphone also has mobile hot-spot capabilities, though the functionality is a bit hidden. Unlike other handsets we've seen, there isn't a specific app for it; instead you need to go to Settings > Wireless and Network > Mobile AP to activate it. Note that if you want to use this feature, you will need to add the Tethering and Wi-Fi Sharing plan, which costs $15 per month, but you can share the connection on up to five devices. We connected the Galaxy S 4G with a MacBook Pro and were able to surf most Web sites with no problem. With download speeds averaging 4.17Mbps and upload speeds of 1.68Mbps, we uploaded a 7.6MB photo album in 45 seconds and downloaded a 9.3MB song from iTunes in 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Galaxy S 4G in New York using T-Mobile service, and call quality was excellent. The audio was crisp and clear on our end, with very little to no background noise or voice distortion. We didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period. On the other side of the conversation, friends also reported good results. There were a couple of mentions of some slight static, but the feedback was positive overall.

Samsung Galaxy S 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone quality was OK. Calls sounded a bit tinny but clear, so we had no problem carrying on conversations. There was also enough volume that we could hear our callers even in noisier environments. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and were able to make calls and listen to music without a hitch.

Armed with a 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor, the Galaxy S 4G was able to keep up with most of our demands. We did, however, notice a bit of lag at times. For example, when we tried to e-mail a picture from the photo gallery, there was a slight delay bringing up the e-mail menu. Still, it was able to handle most tasks with no problems, as apps launched almost immediately and video and gameplay were smooth.

Whereas the Samsung Vibrant uses a 1,500mAh battery, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G ships with a larger, 1,650mAh lithium ion battery. The rated talk time is 6.5 hours and up to 12.5 days of standby time, but we were able to get an impressive 9 hours of continuous talk time in our battery drain tests. In general, we definitely saw an improvement in battery life over the Vibrant. We were able to go a full day with moderate to heavy use before needing to recharge. Using the mobile hot-spot feature does drain the battery faster, however, so definitely be aware of that if you're using this function.

According to FCC radiation tests, the Galaxy S 4G has a digital SAR rating of 0.9W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.

Samsung Galaxy S 4G (T-Mobile)

Samsung Galaxy S 4G

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8
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