Powerful dual-core processor. Fast HSPA+ 42 speeds. Comfortable size.
No HDMI out. Noticeable stippling on display.
The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G is an equally speedy alternative to the Galaxy S II if you’re looking for a fast T-Mobile smartphone in a more manageable size.
Chances are you’ve already heard of the Samsung Galaxy S II ($229.99, 4.5 stars), as it’s part of the world’s most popular line of Android smartphones. But while the Galaxy S II remains our Editors’ Choice, it is admittedly gigantic, and not the most comfortable smartphone for users with smaller hands. Enter the $149.99 Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G. It’s a little less expensive than the Galaxy S II, but every bit as fast. It shrinks things down to a much more manageable size, while retaining most of the important features. We prefer the Galaxy S II overall, but the Blaze is a perfectly good alternative if you’re looking for something smaller.
Physical Design, Call Quality, and HSPA+ 42
The Blaze lacks the immediate wow factor of the Galaxy S II, but it’s still a handsome device. The phone is made entirely of black plastic, with a lightly textured, rubberized back. But where the Galaxy S II is a 2.71-inch-wide hand stretcher, the Blaze is slightly thicker but much more comfortable to hold at 4.8 by 2.5 by .5 inches (HWD) and 4.5 ounces. Naturally, this decrease in size means a smaller screen. The Blaze 4G has a 4-inch, 800-by-480 Super AMOLED display rather than the 4.5-inch screen on the Galaxy S II. While colors look rich and vibrant on the Blaze, the PenTile pixel layout can make the screen look stippled. The panel looks fantastic from a distance, but held within about a foot of your face, it’s noticeable. The onscreen keyboard is a little small, but I didn’t have much trouble typing on it; built-in Swype software helps.
The Galaxy S Blaze is an average voice phone, not quite as good as the Galaxy S II. Reception is solid, and calls sound good in the phone’s earpiece—voices are loud and rich, but just a touch grainy. The speakerphone also sounds good but doesn’t get loud enough to use outdoors. Calls made with the phone sound a little muffled, and noise cancellation is just mediocre.
I had no trouble connecting to a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129.99, 4.5 stars) and calls sounded fine, but voice dialing was iffy. While Samsung has traded the usual Android voice dialing for the more powerful Vlingo app, I had some trouble getting it to recognize a few of the names in my address book. Still, it should allow you to dictate text messages and issue other commands by voice if you can get a good handle on it.
T-Mobile doesn’t have LTE like AT&T or Verizon, but the carrier’s HSPA+ 42 network is no slouch. The Blaze hooks into HSPA+ 42 network and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. It can also be used as a tethered modem or Wi-Fi hotspot with the right service plan. Download speeds on T-Mobile’s network were excellent. The phone averaged 12Mbps down, with a high of 14.2Mbps. We’d call that 4G quality. Upload speeds weren’t as impressive, at an average of 1.5Mbps up. Still, these results are right in line with what we saw on the Galaxy S II and should be plenty fast for most users. Battery life was average at 6 hours 16 minutes of continuous talk time.
Processor and Apps
The phone is powered by the same dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor as the Galaxy S II, which means it turned in equally terrific benchmark scores. The Blaze shouldn’t have trouble powering any app or game you can throw at it, which includes the 450,000+ apps available from the Google Play store.
Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) is on board, along with Samsung’s signature TouchWiz extensions. While Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy S II will receive an update to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), there’s no word yet about the Blaze. Android aside, Samsung has preinstalled a number of useful add-on apps, including Kies Air, which lets you view your phone’s contacts, messages, and media through a PC’s Web browser; Media Hub, a downloadable music and video store; photo and video editors; and Social Hub, a combination Facebook/Twitter client. There’s some bloatware from T-Mobile too, including a T-Mobile app store, T-Mobile Name ID, and T-Mobile TV, none of which are deletable.\
The Blaze 4G shares some motion-activated controls with the Galaxy S II, such as the ability to flip over the phone to mute the ringer or any other sounds that are playing. There’s also a tiny strip at the bottom of the home and app screens that allows you slide through pages by dragging a finger over it, which is useful.
Multimedia and Conclusions
The Galaxy S Blaze comes with 2.44GB of free internal storage, along with a 4GB microSD card preinstalled in the side-mounted slot. My 32GB SanDisk card worked fine, as well as a 64GB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC card. The phone was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and WMA music files, but not FLAC, and sound quality was excellent over both wired 3.5mm headphones as well as Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones ($99.99, 3.5 stars). All of our test videos played back without a hitch, at resolutions up to 1080p.
The 5-megapixel camera is pretty good. Shutter delay is a bit long, at 1.15 seconds. But photos look nice, with average color and detail for a 5MP sensor. The video camera takes 720p video at 30 frames per second both indoors and out, which looks sharp. There’s also a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for self portraits and video chat. Unlike the Galaxy S II, which requires an MHL adapter to connect to TVs, there is no way to connect an HDMI cable to the Galaxy Blaze.
The Galaxy S II is bigger and better than the Galaxy S Blaze 4G in many ways, but size matters. A huge handset like the Galaxy S II just isn’t comfortable for everyone. And while the Blaze lags behind the Galaxy S II in a few areas, it matches where it counts the most: processor and network speed. That, combined with a smaller, more comfortable form factor, makes it a great choice for T-Mobile users without king-size mitts. The HTC Amaze 4G ($229.99, 4 stars) also has a fast dual-core processor and fast HSPA+ 42 speeds, but is much larger and heavier than the Blaze 4G. If you’re looking for something in a comparable size to the Blaze, look at the older T-Mobile G2x ($99.99, 4.5 stars), though it has a less powerful 1GHz dual-core processor and slower HSPA+ 14.4 speeds.
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