The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is snappy all around, whether you’re switching between applications or using the web browser. The combination of a fast processor with a fast network made it a joy to use in all circumstances.
It runs Google Android OS 2.2 on a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, a user-friendly operating system that has become very popular. On top of this is Samsung’s own TouchWiz, which makes a few modifications to the user interface.
I did find the lock screen one to be rather annoying, however — it doesn’t use the puzzle piece standard I’ve grown accustomed to on other Android devices. Instead you have to swipe the lock screen far enough to unlock the device, which is harder than it sounds. If you’re not forceful and aggressive with the movement, the lock screen “snaps” back into place and you have to try again. I believe this is part of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, and it’s not something you can turn off in the Settings app. It’s a small frustration, but a very real one that annoyed me every single time I had to wake the phone.
Voice quality on this phone was somewhat disappointing, though not horrible. One of my test callers complained that everything sounded “buzzy” while another said that it sounded as though there were plastic wrap over the microphone. There weren’t any major problems with background noise, it’s just that everything seemed rather muted–perhaps the noise cancellation feature was a bit overactive, causing human voices to lose their depth and richness of tone.
I got the same results whether I was making a regular cellular call or using the built-in Wi-Fi calling feature. I really enjoyed using Wi-Fi calling, because it made the phone much more reliable in my office. The feature still uses your plan minutes, but it’s a big plus if your office or home happens to be in a dead zone and you have access to a wireless network.
I was able to connect to my home and office Wi-Fi networks with no problems at all, and Bluetooth works as expected.
The Galaxy S 4G has replaced the Samsung Vibrant in T-Mobile’s product lineup because the two are very similar, but only the new model offers support for this carrier’s HSPA+ network. I’m fortunate to have access to T-Mobile’s 4G network here in Dallas, and it really sings — downloads, navigation, and web browsing are all blazing fast. It was refreshing not to open a web page and have to wait (what seems like) forever for it to load. If you’re in a 4G area, you will likely be thrilled with how fast you can accomplish network-dependent tasks.
In theory, this smartphone should be able to download data as fast as 21 Mbps, but reality is something different. According to the benchmarking app Speed Test, in my real-world test this smartphone achieved download speeds of 4.088 Kbps and upload speeds of 1.305 Kbps on the 4G network. That’s with 4 signal bars.
The social networking experience on the Galaxy S 4G is good, though I missed the tight integration/unification of all of my online social info provided by the FriendStream application on the HTC Android devices I’ve tested in the past.
Facebook is pre-installed, of course, though you will have to go to the Android Market to get the free Twitter app. Thanks to the blazing fast speed of the Galaxy S and the multiple home screens that make launching your favorite apps a matter of a swipe and a tap, keeping up with your friends is simple and fun.
The email and web experiences are also good. There’s not too much to say here since this is pretty standard across all Android-based devices. The controls are straightforward, and you can choose which Gmail labels to sync. You can star, archive, and delete messages, and if you use the menu, you can mark individual messages as important or report spam (the latter takes two taps now).
You’ll find smooth scrolling in the web browser, as well as outstanding performance if you’re in a 4G area. The flash support works, though the experience isn’t very smooth. Animations were slow and sometimes rather jerky, and in one instance, the edges of the site kept getting cut off because it wasn’t being properly sized for the screen. I couldn’t manipulate any of the controls at moodstream.gettyimages.com either.
Calendar, contacts, a memo pad, basic calculator, alarm clock, a news & weather app, and a file manager are all included with the Galaxy S 4G, and they work just as you would expect them to.
The first two, calendar and contacts, pull down all of the information from your Google account so you’re always up to date. ThinkFree Office is pre-loaded, so you’ll have access to your Microsoft Office files.
There’s also a Mini Diary app that is very cool if you’re into journaling; it provides a space each day to enter your thoughts and you can add a photo to each entry as well, either from the camera or from the photos already stored on the device. When you save each entry, it includes your GPS location as well, so that you’ll always know where you’ve been.
If navigation is your thing, there’s plenty here to check out. Google Latitude and Places are pre-loaded, as well as Google Maps. TeleNav GPS is pre-loaded, with free basic access to points of interest and turn-by-turn directions. If you are interested in real time traffic updates, traffic camera locations, and voice search capabilities, you’ll have to upgrade to the premium version of the app for an additional $2.99 per month. The directions and maps provided by TeleNav were excellent, clearly spoken and easy to understand. The information is really up to date as well — I didn’t find anything obviously wrong or incorrect.
The included Layer app added a social aspect to navigation, with multiple layers of information. When you first launch the app you might get information about nearby restaurants and shops, but there’s much more than that. Tap the layers tab and you’ll find that you can add listings for everything from dating sites and employment listings to entertainment and nightlife to local parks and even crime reports.
While it’s a fun app to use in your hometown, it will be even more valuable for road warriors — if you’re constantly traveling, Layar can help you get the lay of the land much more quickly and break you out of the rut of eating in the hotel restaurant every night.
Two more navigation aids round out the on-the-go package. Car Home provides a quick access screen that includes voice search, navigation, maps, phone, contacts, music, and settings. You can also mute all sounds with a single touch, or dim the display so it’s less distracting when driving at night.
If you’re an extra responsible driver, you’ll probably appreciate DriveSmart, an app that “encourages safe driving” by automatically silencing notifications, routing calls straight to voice mail, and even providing customized automatic responses that let your callers know that you’ll get back to them when you’re not behind the wheel. A DriveSmart upgrade is available on the Android Market which starts the app automatically by using speed detection to tell when you’re driving, plus parental controls parents can use to help their teenagers stay safe on the road.
The Android built-in Music Player app is rather basic, but it works: view a list of all songs or group them by playlist, album, or artist. Amazon MP3 is pre-loaded, as well as the doubleTwist app that syncs iTunes playlists, podcasts, and videos from your Mac or PC.
The Galaxy S 4G gaming experience is a very good one, thanks to the extra sharp clarity and bright colors of the Super AMOLED screen and the powerful external speaker. Angry Birds and Jewels look better than ever, and I didn’t experience any lag or crashes or any other problems while playing them. It was slightly disappointing to find that T-Mobile didn’t include any pre-loaded games or even any demos, but there are plenty of options, both free and paid, available in the Android Market.
If you like video, there’s plenty to choose from here. YouTube videos look fantastic. They automatically expand to fill the whole screen, and the clarity (depending on the original source, of course) is very impressive. If you want to watch live TV, the T-Mobile TV app is included. It’s very easy to use, with several live music and sports channels, plus a good selection of network shows.
The Amazon Kindle app is pre-loaded, and if you’ve already got some Kindle books in your account they will appear on your device as soon as you sign in. The reading experience with the Android app is just the same as on iOS or PC, so it should be familiar to old users and easy to figure out for new users.
The Galaxy S 4G’s rear-facing five megapixel camera takes very nice photos. Regular photos are clear and sharp, and certainly good enough for everyday memories. The zoom feature generally works well, though depending on what you’re shooting you may see moderate loss of detail. If you look at my sample photos, this is especially true for the church, as it is impossible to make out the individual bricks so the building looks a little fuzzy.
The camera does take a while to focus, so if you’re trying to catch an action shot, you need to press the shutter a little early if you’re going to capture the moment. As you can see from the image taken on a busy street corner, it was hard to capture a car before it had almost completely left the frame.
There are several different shooting modes, including beauty (for portraits), smile shot, panorama, and vintage. You can tweak the white balance to match the situation, and you can also set the camera to send photos to an online album, a new email, or a particular recipient by default.
While I found it frustrating that I had to tap a tiny little arrow on the screen to access the camera settings, because the standard menu button wouldn’t work, that is a relatively minor complaint. Most users will find that the camera on the Galaxy S 4G is good enough for everyday use, though it won’t replace a dedicated digital camera for special events.
This smartphone also includes a front-facing VGA camera for video chats, as well as the QIK video chat software. This app is about to be replaced by Skype, so I didn’t see a point in testing out something that’s going away very soon.
I’m very pleased with the battery life experience offered by the Galaxy S 4G. It lasted five days with light use: watching about 30 minutes of Inception, downloading and playing three games, with some email and web surfing plus three or four calls each day.
With much heavier use, taking lots of photo to try out the camera and one long session surfing YouTube, I was able to get through almost two complete days. The battery was down to about 20% by the time the evening commute came around, but I was able to read in the Kindle app until I was able to plug in the phone when I got home.