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With the number of hot new devices coming out this year, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G - announced at Mobile World Congress last month - is the odd phone out.  It’s an evolutionary upgrade from the Samsung Vibrant, with improvements like Android 2.2, a front-facing camera for video calling, a revised battery cover, and a larger battery.  While I can certainly appreciate manufacturers updating their lineup (regardless of how big or small the update is), the timing seems to be a bit off.  Pricing is high as well; at Mobile World Congress, we were quoted a reasonable price of $149.99, which jumped to the usual $199.99 just before launch.  At that price point, the question has to be asked - is it worth $199, or should customers consider the myTouch 4G or G2 instead?

 

Design & Features

Save for the new battery cover, the device is virtually identical to the Samsung Vibrant.  Weighing in at 4.16 ounces, the volume rocker is on the left side, while the power button is on the right side.  The 3.5mm headset jack and microUSB charging port (with the cover) can be found on the top, and the 5-megapixel camera is on the back of the phone.  The phone has the same 4-inch Super AMOLED display with 16.7 million colors, so as you would expect, picture quality is very nice.  In the box, you’ll find an AC adapter module, USB cable, earbuds, instruction manuals, and a 16 GB microSD card (installed in the device).


Usability & Performance

Like the Vibrant, the Samsung Galaxy S 4G offers a 1 GHz Hummingbird processor.  It’s fast in day-to-day use, though I’ve found it to be a bit slower than its single-core Snapdragon and TI OMAP brethren.  It’s powered by Android 2.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 user interface.  TouchWiz is perfect for those that desire an iOS-like experience but don’t want to switch carriers, with colorful applications, bubbly widgets, and a similar menu structure.  The inclusion of Android 2.2 is a nice change from the first Galaxy S devices, though Samsung’s track record with updating their devices may push prospective buyers to T-Mobile’s HTC Android offerings.

Along with typical T-Mobile applications like My Device, My Account, and “Visual Voicemail, the Galaxy S 4G ships with AirSync, AllShare, DriveSmart, doubleTwist, Pandora, Slacker.  It also comes with T-Mobile TV and Wi-Fi Calling that can be used in place of the carrier’s network (though it uses plan minutes anyway).  On the media front, Avatar has been replaced by Inception, though the movie is more challenging to access.  Instead of opening up without additional steps as Avatar did on the Vibrant, viewing Inception on the Galaxy S 4G requires the user to sign up for a Samsung Media Hub account.  It’s not complicated by any means, but it’s an unneeded step and is a clear push to get users to sign up for the service.



The Galaxy S 4G offers a 5-megapixel camera, and image quality was very good in most cases, with colors being crisp and clear.  Unfortunately, it falls short when the sun sets, due to the lack of a flash.  Editing options are plentiful, though - you can change the shooting mode, exposure focus mode, scene mode, resolution, effects, ISO, metering, and more.  The video camcorder was equally decent; I did a 720p HD video test during a windy day, and while the image quality was reasonable, the sound quality was absolutely terrible.  I didn’t set up Qik, but I did test the front-facing camera with a few self-portrait shots.  Minus the scary guy in the pictures (yours truly), picture quality was as reasonable as one could expect from a 1.3-megapixel camera.

I tested the Galaxy S 4G in the Charlotte metro area, and call quality was very good.  The earpiece is sufficiently loud, and I was able to hear my callers well.  While most of them identified that I was on a cell phone, they said call quality was decent.  I gave the speakerphone a whirl in a loud coffee shop, and was able to hear my callers without issue.  I paired my newly acquired Plantronics Voyager Pro Plus to the Galaxy S 4G, and calls were clear and easy to understand.  The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is the first device to support T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps HSPA+ (4G) service, and it performed very well in tests.  Download speeds were generally between 5 and 7 Mbps, with upload speeds between 1 and 3 Mbps.



Battery life was an improvement over the Vibrant, thanks to the boost from 1,500 mAh to 1,650 mAh.  With moderate use like calling, text messaging, browsing the web, using the Android Market, and toying around with various applications, I was able to make it through the day and into the evening before the device powered down.  If you're a heavy user, you may have trouble, but it's a nice change and is on par with the Motorola Atrix's battery life.


Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is a nice upgrade to the Samsung Vibrant, with its zippy processor, beautiful Super AMOLED display, HSPA+ 21 Mbps support, and improved battery.  Still, the myTouch 4G consistently performs better in processor speed tests, and the T-Mobile G2 can usually be found cheaper through third-party retailers.  That, combined with the $199.99 price point, may sway prospective buyers to T-Mobile’s other Android devices.


Wrap-Up

What’s Good: First device to support T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 21 Mbps; 4-inch Super AMOLED display is nice; larger 1,650 mAh battery; front-facing camera.

What’s Bad
: The device still falls behind the G2 and the myTouch 4G in processor speed tests; plastic build quality may turn some users away.

The Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S is a nice upgrade to the Vibrant, but given the $199 price point, the myTouch 4G is a better option for most users.


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