Review: Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
At a Glance
If you are looking for a mid-range Android handset with a physical keyboard, you may want to take a look at the Galaxy S Relay 4G ($150 with a two-year contract) from T-Mobile. Not many phones in this era of touchscreens come with a physical keyboard anymore, but the one on the Relay 4G was comfortable to use and a breath of fresh air when it came to typing long phone messages or emails. It's one of the better keyboard-equipped phones out there today, but it has its fair share of drawbacks.
The Relay 4G doesn’t look much different from any other recent Samsung handset: Its overall dark appearance, rounded corners, and large silver navigation icons just seem to scream, "made by Samsung."
The phone ships with a 4-inch 480 by 800 pixel Super AMOLED display, which looks sharp and offers good contrast. Even though the Relay 4G packs a full QWERTY keyboard, it is 0.52-inches thick and weighs 5.2 ounces. While the phone isn’t nearly as light or thin as the iPhone 5, the Relay 4G is still reasonably compact.
The Relay 4G is not unlike many other Android phones: It has a volume rocker, power button, headphone jack, charging port, as well as a set of touch-sensitive navigation buttons. A design choice I found a bit awkward was how it features a combination of physical and capacitive navigation buttons. The Menu and Back buttons are both touch sensitive, so it was a little jarring having to push down a physical button in order to get back to the home screen.
The slide-out QWERTY keyboard is comfortable to use, and I had no trouble pressing any of the keys with my average-sized thumbs. The keyboard is very responsive, and offers quick e-mail, instant messaging, and Google Voice Search shortcuts. Unfortunately, the keyboard’s build quality isn’t all that great, and it’s a bit difficult to slide it out with one hand.
Overall, the phone feels sturdy, like it could survive a few accidental falls, and is comfortable to hold in one hand despite its thickness. The bulkiness might discourage you if you want a slim and slick phone, but it’s the price you pay for having a having a physical keyboard.
Performance and specs
The Relay 4G comes with a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM. This beefy processor should handle pretty much anything you throw at it, and the Relay 4G makes for a good mobile gaming device (though I did experience occasional Temple Run hiccups). What I really found disappointing is how little internal storage it comes with. The phone ships with a disappointing 8GB of internal storage, but you can always add more by purchasing a separate MicroSD card.
The overall battery life was ok. The phone ships with a 1800mAh battery that lasted me about 5-7 hours of semi-intensive usage. If you play a lot of games or watch multiple videos throughout your day, you should keep a charger handy or invest in an external battery. However, if you just use it for calling and texting, then you should be fine.
The phone’s 4G connectivity is about what you would expect for a 4G connection. I used the Ookla Speed Test app to test out its 4G connectivity here in San Francisco, and managed to score an average download speed of 7 mbps and an average upload speed of 2.8 mbps. However, the results vary depending on time of day, location and other factors. Overall, phone feels like a breeze when Web surfing, downloading apps and doing most online tasks over a 4G connection.
Call quality on the Relay 4G is good, although this will vary based on T-Mobile’s coverage in your area. Calls made from our San Francisco offices sounded fine on my end, though the person I called said she heard a humming noise in the background.
The Relay 4G ships with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, and it is skinned with Samsung’s custom TouchWiz overlay. TouchWiz adds a handful of custom Samsung widgets, and comes packed with various interesting gestures. For instance, there is an option that lets you shake the phone in order to search for nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices.
The phone also comes with Samsung’s custom S Voice voice recognition software. You can use Samsung’s S Voice for a wide range of commands, much like Apple's Siri, though the service isn't as good. The Relay 4G does ship with some bloatware (mostly T-Mobile branded apps), but nothing too bad.
The Relay 4G has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The camera did its job, but you will probably not want to use it to shoot wedding photos: Colors seemed a bit faded, and images could have been sharper. Videos, on the other hand, looked crisp—but took a while to focus.
The camera on the Relay 4G isn't one of its strong selling points, but it'll work fine for the average photo or quick video.
The Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G isn’t going to redefine Android handsets anytime soon. The keyboard is handy to have, especially if you are a heavy texter, but the phone is bulky and has a subpar camera.The Relay 4G's beefy processor means it won't feel dated anytime soon, but if you're looking for a phone with a good camera and slim profile, I suggest you look elsewhere. Still, if you're one of those people that composes a lot of messages and emails on their phone and loathes typing on a touchscreen, then the Relay 4G should fit your needs perfectly.