Calling and 4G
T-Mobile has aggressively rolled out 4G HSPA+ across much of the US, and we have solid coverage in Dallas. The Vibrant was no slouch on data speeds, though it technically is an HSDPA 7.2Mbps 3G phone that could make some use of HSPA+ enhancements. The Galaxy S 4G has HSPA+ 21Mpbs (that’s the max speed, it doesn’t mean you’ll get 21 megs for download speeds), while the myTouch 4G has 14.4Mbps HSPA+. Our download speeds as measured using Ookla’s Speedtest.net Android app averaged 3.5Mbps down and 1.6Mbps up with a solid but not exceptional 4 to 5 bars and -89 db signal. We saw peaks of 10.5Mbps down and 4Mbps up! Those figures rival LTE—color us impressed. In contrast, our 3G HSPDA Samsung Nexus S managed 2.6 megs down and 1.4 megs up in the same location.
Voice quality is solid on both incoming and outgoing ends. Volume is good and we had no trouble hearing our caller when we stood in a noisy big box store. Reception is also good, and we got a slightly stronger signal (2 to 5 db) than with our Samsung Nexus S and Vibrant.
WiFi Calling and Mobile Hotspot
The Galaxy S 4G is capable of WiFi calling and it has the WiFi hotspot sharing feature where you can turn your phone into a WiFi hotspot that shares the 3G/4G connection (T-Mobile charges $15/month for WiFi hotspot). To use the WiFi hotspot feature, simply go into wireless settings and activate the Mobile AP feature. You can assign an access point name and set encryption to none or WPA2.
With WiFi calling, you can place a call using WiFi rather than the cellular connection, though the call still uses your plan minutes. WiFi calling sounds crystal clear and is a handy option if you’re in an area with WiFi coverage but little or no cell coverage.
Multimedia and Performance
The 1GHz Hummingbird is one of the faster smartphone CPUs on the market, though Qualcomm’s second generation Snapdragon is making strong inroads. Froyo offers speed improvements over previous Android versions, and that helped the Galaxy S 4G achieve a 970 on Quadrant. That’s a better showing than the Vibrant, but not as good as the very impressive 1796 we got with the myTouch 4G running on a second gen Snapdragon CPU. In terms of feel, the Galaxy S 4G feels responsive with very little lag despite the demands of the TouchWiz user interface. It’s faster than the Vibrant and we don’t get those odd occasional pauses we noted on the Vibrant.
Samsung as always does an excellent job with multimedia on their Galaxy phones, and the 4G has enhanced music and video players as well as Samsung’s own Media Hub where you can rent or buy movies and TV show episodes. T-Mobile TV (MobiTV) is also on board for streaming live video and TV episode downloads. The service costs $10/month and it performed well in our tests with reasonably high quality full screen video and a wide selection of popular TV shows.
Video playback is a pleasure both via the YouTube app and for high quality locally stored content like the included Inception full length movie. The Super AMOLED display makes video look fantastic thanks to deep blacks and vivid colors. Flash 10.1 playback is similar to what we’ve seen on other single core CPUs from the Hummingbird era: controls are slow to respond and frame rates average 15 to 18fps. Honestly, we prefer using the YouTube player when possible.
The rear 5 megapixel autofocus camera is much the same as the Vibrant’s in terms of still photo quality. It renders sharp photos with very good color saturation but we miss the flash for low light shots. The 720p video camera is improved with surprisingly good detail and color. The front camera works with the included Qik software for video chats over 3G, 4G and WiFi. Quality is acceptable but not great over 3G and it improves greatly with a fast WiFi connection.
Good news: the GPS troubles that plagued some Samsung Vibrants and Samsung Captivates are gone. The new chipset works wonders and the phone gets a GPS fix nearly immediately even indoors, and holds onto that signal when driving. The phone also has a digital compass (handy for walking) and both Google's navigation and TeleNav are on board.
The Samsung Galaxy S 4G’s upgraded 1650 mAh Lithium Ion battery provides more staying power than the somewhat smaller Vibrant’s. With heavy use, the Vibrant just made it through the day while the 4G had some juice left in reserve. Like most high end smartphones, you’ll want to charge nightly if you use the phone heavily. With moderate use, the Samsung lasted us 2 days on a charge.
The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is an evolutionary upgrade to the Vibrant. Think of it as the Vibrant with 2011 tweaks: 4G, a front video chat camera and Froyo with Flash 10.1. If you already own a Samsung Vibrant, you likely won’t want to shell out the out of cycle upgrade price for the Galaxy S 4G, but if you’re coming from a lower end Android phone like the myTouch 3G or a feature phone, the Galaxy S 4G has major appeal. The vivid 4” Super AMOLED display, fairly fast 1GHz Hummingbird CPU and Samsung’s newbie-friendly TouchWiz software make for a compelling experience. Your toughest choice will be deciding between the also capable myTouch 4G by HTC and the Galaxy S 4G. The Galaxy wins hands down for display quality but the HTC phone is faster (and also $50 more expensive at press time).
Price: $199 with 2 year contract after a $50 rebate
Websites: www.t-mobile.com, www.samsungmobileusa.com