Let's put things in perspective. The Vibrant shipped with Android 2.1 (Eclair
) mid-July and just received its Android 2.2 (Froyo
) update in January. Android 2.3 (Gingerbread
) was launched mid-December with the Nexus S. The Galaxy S 4G is running Android 2.2, and while Froyo still offers great performance and useful features such as built-in WiFi hotspot functionality, it's somewhat disappointing to see a flagship phone arrive on the market one full OS version behind the state-of-the-art. Of course, this is the price we all pay for manufacturers and carriers customizing Android in a flawed attempt to differentiate themselves. Thankfully, the TouchWiz 3.0
UI used by Samsung on the Vibrant carries over to the Galaxy S 4G mostly unchanged. It remains lightweight and relatively unobtrusive, unlike Motorola's Blur
. We're still not sold on the ultra-saturated cartoon-like color scheme (made stronger by the high-contrast Super AMOLED display), but Froyo on the Galaxy S 4G certainly feels snappier than Eclair did on the Vibrant. Quadrant scores routinely hover around the 1000 mark, and while it's no speed demon, the Galaxy S 4G consistently delivers the level of performance we've come to expect from a high-end device. As a point of reference, our Nexus S with Gingerbread easily reaches 1500+ on the Quadrant benchmark. TouchWiz 3.0 provides some nice, well... touches, like a task manager, a file browser, a much improved music player, and a row of toggles in the notification area for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, silent mode, and auto-rotation. The sideways-scrolling app tray is a bit disorienting at first, but is easy to adjust to.
There's a number of pre-installed apps from Samsung and T-Mobile on the Galaxy S 4G, such as Amazon MP3, doubleTwist with AirSync
, Facebook (but not Twitter), Kindle, Layar, Media Hub
, Qik Video Chat
, Slacker, T-Mobile TV, TeleNav
, and ThinkFree office. Like with the Optimus T
, T-Mobile bundles the Swype
keyboard, WiFi calling (aka UMA), and visual voicemail with the phone, along with DriveSmart, an app that minimizes driving distractions by silencing notifications, routing calls to voicemail or a Bluetooth headset, and optionally auto-responding to calls and texts. We were particularly excited to see doubleTwist with AirSync pre-loaded on the Galaxy S 4G, but we're no sure why TeleNav is included considering Android provides awesome free built-in navigation. T-Mobile TV dishes out live and on-demand TV programming. Pricing varies with the content and is billed directly to your T-Mobile account. While there's a 30-day free trial, we're not quite sure that paying to watch television on a 4-inch screen is a particularly attractive proposition, but we're not really the target market for this. To make matters even more confusing, Media Hub also allows you to rent or purchase video content and charge it to your T-Mobile account. There's definitely something to be said about Apple's unified iTunes Store approach here. As mentioned above, The movie Inception lives on the supplied microSD card and comes with its own shortcut. Just be aware that formatting the microSD card will delete the film. The rest of the Galaxy S 4G software is all standard issue Android. Sadly there's no photo or video editor available like on some other Samsung devices.
A few apps take advantage of the front facing camera right out of the box, like the camera and video recorder, as well as Qik Video Chat, a T-Mobile branded version of the popular video streaming service. We also installed Tango on the Galaxy S 4G and made several video calls over T-Mobile's network to an iPhone 4 on AT&T. Image quality is pretty much what you'd expect from a VGA camera -- acceptable in normal light and grainy in the dark -- but it gets the job done.
It's an exciting time to be a T-Mobile customer. There's never been a better selection of high-end AWS-compatible Android devices before. The Galaxy S 4G, Nexus S
, myTouch 4G
, and G2
each bring a unique flavor of Android to the table. We think "pure" Android 2.3 trumps HSPA+, so the Nexus S is our first choice. But if you absolutely require HSPA+, we highly recommend the Galaxy S 4G. It beats the myTouch 4G with a larger, higher quality display, a less pervasive skin, and a lower price (after mail-in rebate). It also improves upon the Vibrant with HSPA+ and a front-facing camera, at the expense of that 16GB of internal flash storage. Cosmetically, we prefer the Vibrant to the Galaxy S 4G, but that's a matter of taste. If you already have a Vibrant, we suggest you wait until something more compelling comes along, unless HSPA+ and the front-facing camera really matter to you. We enjoyed our time with the Galaxy S 4G. It's a feature rich Android phone with a slightly customized UI that packs an impressive camera and delivers solid performance across the board. Battery life could be better, and it could be a little cheaper ($200 with a two-year contract, after $50 mail-in rebate). Let's just hope Samsung drops that Gingerbread update in less than six months this time around.