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Summary:

T-Mobile’s fast network can finally be used to its full potential with the Samsung Galaxy S 4G, the first handset offered by the carrier with a 21 Mbps radio. But is it worth an upgrade since it’s otherwise very similar to the Vibrant?

galaxy-s-4g-featured

New Android tablets may have everyone’s attention right now, but that’s no excuse to overlook the smartphone. So for the past several days, I’ve been taking a closer look at the Samsung Galaxy S 4G that launched on T-Mobile’s network last week for $199 with 2-year contract. This handset is nearly identical to the T-Mobile Vibrant, an earlier version of the Galaxy S that T-Mobile began selling in July of last year. I reviewed the Captivate, another slightly modified Galaxy S handset, back in August, so instead of a full review, I’ll provide a short overview of the similarities and then focus on the key differences of T-Mobile’s newest Android phone.

Like the original Galaxy S devices that debuted last summer, the new Galaxy S 4G uses Samsung’s own 1 GHz processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED display running at 800×480 resolution, 5 megapixel auto-focus camera and Samsung’s TouchWiz interface atop Google Android. Both devices offer 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and assisted GPS. Essentially, if you were to look at the two handsets, you’d be hard pressed to find differences. But there are few.

The name of the new Galaxy S 4G gives away the key difference as this is the first smartphone that can take full advantage of T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps HSPA+ network, which offers 4G-like speeds. I didn’t have time to venture too deep within the T-Mobile coverage area in Philadelphia, but where I found a reported 4G signal, I saw a dramatic speed difference between the Galaxy S 4G and my Google Nexus One. Both handsets were tested on the same network in the same location and the Nexus One uses a 7.2 Mbps radio, so I tried to remove as many testing variables as possible.

Both the upload and download speed are noticeably faster on the Galaxy S 4G thanks to the better wireless radio, which currently trumps what available on most other current handsets. And I wasn’t even in an area with super 4G service on T-Mobile’s network: not long after I tweeted the above test result image, a reader in Chicago replied back with a speed test picture of his own, showing downloads over 10 Mbps.

While the speedy connection capabilities are the big draw here, there are a few other differences between the Galaxy S 4G and the T-Mobile Vibrant. The addition of a front-facing camera allows for video chatting over Wi-Fi or 4G via third party applications such as Qik or Tango. These work reasonably well on Wi-Fi, but the experience can vary on 4G due to the variability of the network, external factors, and other subscribers that are nearby using the same cellular tower. And the front facing camera is only a 0.3 megapixel sensor, which is low compared to other phones with front cameras. The device runs a new iteration of Android, version 2.2.1, also known as Froyo, giving the phone a nice performance bump. A few useful bits of pre-loaded software are also included: a full version of the recent motion picture Inception, and the $5 AirTwist software I recently demonstrated for piping wireless media from a handset to an HDTV, for example.

I have to give a special shout-out to the inclusion of Inception, but not because of the movie content itself, even though I enjoyed it. Viewing such a colorful motion picture on the Galaxy S 4G allows Samsung’s display to shine. Although the screen uses a lower resolution than Apple’s Retina Display, my son thought the Samsung screen was better than on his iPhone 4 as he watched the movie. Indeed, the vivid colors just popped while viewing Inception. Hopefully, you can get a glimpse of this in the photo gallery, although I don’t think pictures do justice to the screen.

 

Internally, the only other changes I can see with the new Galaxy S 4G are a slightly higher capacity battery and a modification to data storage. The battery boost adds about 10 percent more juice than over the prior model, but I didn’t notice any longer of a run time, perhaps because the higher speed radio may use more power. And the memory modification is a bit of a let down: instead of 16 GB of internal storage and the capability to add up to 16 GB more, the new phone only has 165 MB of memory inside and the memory card slot is filled with a 16 GB microSD card. That means users are more limited by how much data they can store on this new handset over the old one.

Overall, the Galaxy S 4G is a solid handset, even if it’s not that much different than the Vibrant. Folks that live in a T-Mobile 4G coverage area are sure to see a speed boost when surfing the web or streaming video. I’d argue that it may be the best Android handset currently available on T-Mobile today. Of course, with new Android phones arriving often, I reserve the right to change my opinion next week.

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  1. the first model def had HSPA+…

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    1. The first model didn’t have a radio capable of 21 Mbps; this is the first T-Mobile handset that does. All things being equal then the new Galaxy S 4G will generally see faster speeds.

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      1. Jorel Santana Thursday, March 3, 2011

        @ Kevin, I believe you’re misinformed, G2 and Mytouch 4G have HSPA+, they were released before this phone.

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      2. Nope, no confusion or misinformation on my part, Jorel.

        You are correct that both the G2 and myTouch 4G were released prior to the Galaxy S 4G. But *neither* have a 21 Mbps radio, which is what is needed to fully take advantage of T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Both have a top theoretical radio capability of 14.4 Mbps, per the product pages on T-Mobile’s site.

        The problem / confusion here is in the terms “HSPA+” and “4G” as they’re used interchangeably and have different definitions depending on who you ask. ;)

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  2. Do you think the pre-load of Android 2.2 on Galaxy S 4G is better than the update to 2.2 on the Vibrant or is it basically identical? Outside of the Nexus S, I believe this is the first 2.2 Samsung has release out-of-box.

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    1. I can’t see much reason for there to be any difference: Samsung still has to integrate its software with 2.2 or an update to 2.2, so it’s difficult to say.

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