T-Mobile's HSDPA+ network has been maligned by some as not being a true "4G" network like those based on LTE (Verizon) and WiMax (Sprint). Well, let the debate rage on because the Samsung Galaxy S 4G, available from T-Mobile for $200 with a two-year contract, delivered the highest data speeds I've seen on any cell phone--4G or otherwise.
I tested the phone in and around our Yonkers, N.Y. testing facility using the FCC app by Ookla, and I was able to measure download speeds of up to 8 megabits per second (mbps) and upload speeds of about 2 mbps, both very good. Note that we achieved that performance in the New York area, one of the markets in which T-Mobile offers its fastest 4G service. In other areas, its 4G network isn't as fast.
The Galaxy S 4G is quite similar to the Samsung Vibrant, another Galaxy S phone that scored high in Consumer Reports' smart phone Ratings (available to subscribers). It shares the Vibrant's ultra-sharp 4-in. Super AMOLED touch screen, a 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor, a 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording, and a 6-axis, motion-sensing accelerometer for an enhanced gaming experience. It adds a second front-facing camera for video chats. Like the Vibrant, it has the ability to stream, store and share content with DLNA-compatible devices around the home. These and other features are a good indicator of success in our Ratings
4G speeds. When a 4G signal was available, which was quite often in and our testing facility, streamed videos appeared noticeably smoother than on 3G phones with virtually no pauses--even when I took the phone inside, where the phone's signal-strength meter dropped from about 4 out of 5 bars to 2 bars. But Web pages downloaded only slightly faster than on most of the other 4G and 3G phones I've tested recently, confirming that blazing networks speeds do not necessarily translate to proportionally faster phone performance.
Video chats using the Qik app were not as smooth, often plagued by image freezes and hesitations over the network. You'll get better performance over WiFi. But these quirks are typical of most of the "video" phones I've tested, and may have more to do with the state of the technology than the phone itself.
Display. In the default setting, the Samsung S 4G's display seemed quite responsive, and as sharp as the Vibrant's, though not as bright and a bit less blue. The main effect was that Web and camera photos appeared slightly warmer, and text on apps, such as the New York Times, was a tad harder to read. Turning off "Power Saving Mode" (but leaving on the automatic brightness) brightened things up considerably.
Data entry. The Galaxy S 4G lacks an Android virtual keyboard option, but offers two other options: Samsung or Swype. The Swype keyboard, as usual, proved to be the best, most accurate option for entering text in portrait mode. The Samsung keyboard, however, is a poor substitute for the Android keyboard, which has an excellent predictive-text feature that works in most data-entry modes, from Web browsing to texting. The Samsung keyboard's predictive feature only works when you least need it: in search mode. It does, however have one time-saving feature. You can insert a number by holding down one of the QWERTY keys, so you don't have to switch keyboard modes to enter numbers.
Bottom line. The speedy Galaxy S 4G is bound to appeal to people who stream a lot of Web content. But I suspect that users will most appreciate the top-notch hardware and software it shares with the other Galaxy S phones perched atop our Ratings. It's a shame, though, that this model lacks a virtual Android keyboard, one of the best keyboards to have when entering text in landscape mode.