Name: Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G
Price: $150 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: Of the four major mobile carriers, T-Mobile has generated the weakest buzz in 2012. A quiet outing at this year's CES, along with the lukewarm reception of the first Nokia Windows Phone 7 device in the states, the Lumia 710, hasn't helped the cause, leaving many consumers wondering if they should make the switch to an network with the iPhone or wait it out for the highly anticipated HTC One S. In the meantime, Samsung looks to give "America’s largest 4G network" a boost in firepower (and speed) this spring with the launch of the Galaxy S Blaze 4G.
A vibrant display, palpable 4G speeds, and a monstrous CPU under the hood would indicate T-Mobile has a monster on its hands. But is the Blaze 4G the network's first major handset of 2012? Or a mid-level performer disguised as a premium handset?
• Strong processing power: Like the Galaxy S II, the Blaze is packing a 1.5Ghz Qualcomm dual-core processor that dishes quick results and high benchmarks. In terms of accuracy, the Blaze 4G probably has the most responsive haptic keys we’ve ever tested on an Android device, as there was no stutter present when transitioning through each command button. That's an indication of the CPU’s dominate multitasking capabilities. Web browsing ran smooth, while web pages, apps, and folders opened instantly. 3D games and transferred media files played without any lag, too.
• Improved 4G service: The HTC Amaze 4G proved T-Mobile was making strides with its high-speed network. In comparison to most of the other HSPA+ 42-certified phones, the Blaze 4G pushes slightly faster speeds. Our Speedtest.net reports have it averaging about 12Mbps for uploads and 2.3 Mbps for uploads in New York City. Google Play downloads completed in a matter of 5 to 10 seconds as well. That’s pretty good for a non-LTE network. Speaking of which, T-Mobile plans on rolling out its LTE service in 2013.
• Vibrant AMOLED screen: As expected, the 3.97-inch Super AMOLED display delivers bright and sharp visuals. Games like Angry Birds Space and Netflix films looked great on the screen, even when adjusting the brightness levels to lower settings. Images taken from the rear 5MP camera displays precise detailing, plus on-screen text is crisp enough to read emails and Kindle books.
• Great multimedia and TouchWiz features: Both the carrier and manufacturer went to serious lengths to ensure the Blaze 4G’s entertainment game was ahead of the competition, even if it meant overloading the back-end with tons of bloatware. Preloaded goods include Netflix, AllShare for wireless streaming across several devices, and Samsung’s cloud-based Media Hub. The phone carries over some of the UI facets found on the Galaxy S II such as holding down the windows strip and scrolling through the seven homescreens. Motion-active controls are also available to mute the ringer or zoom in and out of the browser.
• Unremovable bloatware and low memory: We mentioned the Blaze 4G comes with a massive amount of preloaded software, consisting mainly of T-Mobile and Google suite apps. The worst part: there’s no option to remove any of it. This causes concern when taking into account Google Play downloads, especially since the handset only comes bundled with a 4GB microSD card and 2.44GB of storage. Investing in a larger memory card is a must.
• Uninspired design and no HDMI port: We're not sure what Samsung was thinking giving the Blaze 4G a BlackBerry Torch makeover. From the replicated back cover to the near identical camera placement, you'd be fooled into thinking it was a RIM product. Another flaw comes in the form of the missing HDMI port to mirror content on an HDTV—a puzzling factor considering the phone is stacked with entertainment options.
• No Ice Cream Sandwich: Even though Samsung's had access to Android 4.0 since the launch of the Galaxy Nexus, and just released the ICS kernel source for the Galaxy S II, the manufacturer still decided to launch the device with Gingerbread. An update should be coming sometime this year, hopefully.
Final Say: Looking at the phone's spec sheet and Galaxy-esque design, you may mistake the Blaze 4G for the successor to the Galaxy S II. It’s not. The Blaze 4G is more of an extension of the series with a cheaper price tag. Qualcomm’s CPU is a multitasking beast and the Super AMOLED is just as commendable as any other mobile screen on the market. Still, the Blaze 4G doesn’t bring anything new to the Android forefront. ICS integration might have placed it atop of T-Mobile’s premium handsets, but its lack of memory and hackneyed design gives the device a mid-level presence. Some might want to wait for the HTC One S which is due out in a few weeks. But for those seeking a powerful low-cost handset, the Blaze 4G should suffice.