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Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G (MetroPCS) review: Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G (MetroPCS)

Dyle TV
The Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G's stand-out feature is the phone's Dyle TV functionality. The first handset to connect to this service, Dyle allows you to watch live television broadcast from local TV stations. Just tap the open app, extend the telescopic antenna, and select your location from a drop-down list.

You'll then see a rundown of all available channels and which ones are currently within range. Don't get our hopes up, though; there are only four stations to choose from, at least in New York. These channels are Fox, NBC, Qubo children's programming, and Telemundo Spanish-language programing. A free and open digital TV receiver the Lightray 4G is not, especially considering the phone's HDMI port blocks Dyle video output to compatible TV sets.

The good news, though, is that Dyle is free, you can skip the ads, and it won't take a bite out of your data bucket. Also, when the Lightray 4G was able to lock onto a signal, video played smoothly without stuttering. I could even nab reception inside my office building, which is a lot more than I can say for many cellular connections. Be advised: video quality for Dyle is limited to standard definition.

As with the Samsung Galaxy S Aviator, the 8-megapixel camera is one of the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G's strengths. Indoor test shots were clear with sharp details and accurate color, even under fluorescent lighting. Outside, the Lightray had no trouble snapping colorful shots in moderate morning sunlight. The green leaves and red and purple flowers were bright, and shadow details weren't lost since images were properly exposed.

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Indoor test shots were clear with sharp details and accurate color. Brian Bennett/CNET

With a maximum resolution of 720p, video I captured with the Galaxy S Lightray 4G wasn't bad, either, though details came through on the soft side and weren't as sharp as from phones capable of full 1080p HD quality.

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In the morning sun, green leaves and the blue sky were bright. Brian Bennett/CNET

Powered by an aging single-core 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor complemented by 1.37GB of internal memory, don't count on the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G to win any performance awards. The phone felt sluggish merely flipping through the home screens and opening apps.

Backing up what I experienced, the handset turned in a low Linpack benchmark score of 17.3 MFLOPs completed in 4.84 seconds. That said, this result was slightly higher than the Galaxy S Aviator, which managed 16.2 MFLOPS finished in a longer 5.17 seconds. By contrast, the HTC One S (T-Mobile), with its dual-core Snapdragon S4 chip, powered through the same task in 0.82 second and notched a high score of 102.4 MFLOPS (single core).

Processing speed isn't the only bar by which to measure a smartphone, though. As one of MetroPCS' latest handsets to connect to the carrier's 4G LTE network, the Galaxy S Lightray 4G can suck down data at a swift clip. In New York I measured average download throughput at 6.4Mbps; uploads clocked in at a respectable 4Mbps.

Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G
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MetroPCS delivered solid 4G speeds in New York. Brian Bennett/CNET

Call quality on the MetroPCS CDMA network in New York was more of mixed bag, though. Calls I placed were clear and static-free on my end, but callers reported that my voice had a compressed, cell-phone sound along with some background hiss. As with the Aviator, the Lightray's earpiece doesn't get very loud, nor does its speakerphone.

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

Samsung rates the Galaxy S Lightray 4G's 1,600mAh battery to offer 8.3 days of standby time and a talk time of 3.3 hours. In my anecdotal tests, the phone barely lasted a full workday before needing a recharge. I'll update this review soon, though, with more-stringent battery drain tests.

In my view it's wise to be wary of products with first-gen services or hardware. The $459 Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G is a great example of this. Those expecting the handset to operate as a true portable TV set picking up all the free digital TV stations in range will be sorely disappointed. With only four channels to choose from and a locked-down HDMI port, the Lightray won't replace your cable box anytime soon. Also, the phone runs an outdated Android operating system that's powered by a weak single-core processor. Sure, the Lightray 4G has a decent camera, LTE data, and colorful screen, but if you're on MetroPCS, then choosing the more affordable $199 Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G would be a better decision.

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