Hands-on with the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G QWERTY device

The name of this device consumes most of the title, but with the QWERTY keyboard found when you slide out the display this text entry is quite easy. Is there still a place for hardware QWERTY devices?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I have the Samsung Galaxy S III on T-Mobile and think it is the best smartphone available on this carrier right now. There are still some people who like hardware QWERTY keyboards, I have transitioned away from them and can't go back, and now T-Mobile and Samsung offer the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G for $149.99 with a 2-year contract. It is a lower cost and lower spec device than the GSIII (same price for a few days as T-Mobile holds a web-only special), but still offers many of the same features and functions.

Check out photos of the Galaxy S Relay 4G along with a couple screenshots in my image gallery.

Hardware thoughts

Specifications of the Galaxy S Relay include the following:

  • 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 4 inch WVGA (480x800) Super AMOLED display
  • 5-row slide-out QWERTY keyboard
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB integrated storage with microSD expansion card slot
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi
  • NFC
  • 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 1800 mAh battery
  • Dimensions: 125.9 x 64.9 x 13.2 mm and 150 grams

As you can see this is a mid-level smartphone that should meet the needs of most people. It is rare to find a hardware QWERTY device today, but Samsung stepped up to offer one to those who cannot give them up. It supports T-Mobile's excellent WiFi Calling service so you can make and receive calls when your cellular signal is weak and your WiFi connection is strong. Similar to the GSIII, it also has a center hardware home button.

The Galaxy S Relay 4G is a bit thicker than some of the latest smartphones, which is natural given that it has a full 5-row QWERTY keyboard. I do like the textured soft touch back and would rather see something like this on my GSIII than the slick glossy plastic it now has. I did find it a bit difficult at times to slide the keyboard out because of the rounded corners and still slider on the keyboard.

The keyboard is quite good with clear key labeling, decent spacing between keys, good tactile feedback on the keys, and a useful assortment of keys. These include a number row, comma and period keys, a .com alternate, directional arrow keys, a large space bar, and dedicated launch buttons for email and text messaging, which are both likely the major programs you will use with the QWERTY keyboard.

Software thoughts

The Galaxy S Relay 4G supports Samsung SAFE for supporting enterprise needs with enhanced security options, VPN solutions, and IT policy support. However, I still find the actual Exchange email client to be a bit weak on Samsung devices with limited control of folders and a user interface that needs work. HTC still leads the Android space with the Exchange experience found in its latest HTC Sense UI.

The TouchWIZ UI is good and offers all sorts of widgets and options. I was glad to see that even the home page panels work in landscape orientation, unlike Windows Phone 7. All the typical Samsung apps are there, including Media Hub, Music Player, S Voice, and a version of Memo that doesn't offer all the pen capabilities found in S Memo. You will also find several T-Mobile apps, such as Access T-Mobile, Dropbox, Lookout, Mobile Hotspot, MobileLife Organizer, Slacker Radio, T-Mobile NameID, T-Mobile TV, TeleNav GPS Navigator, and Visual Voicemail. Keep in mind that some of these are paid, subscription services and none can be removed via the typical Play Store uninstall methods. There are also plenty of widgets available for the Samsung, T-Mobile, and Google apps so you can customize the seven available home screen panels.

The Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G is a solid device that performs quite well. I found it to be quite zippy when sliding between home screen panels and switching between apps. The display looks great and is a good size for those who don't want a monster phone in their pockets. There is some heft to it thanks to the keyboard, but if you need a QWERTY keyboard then this is probably one of the best options available.

I still personally prefer the GSIII and as I have written a number of times it is best to get as much phone as you can every two years so that the phone last for the life of your contract. The upfront price is a minor cost when you look at the next two years of monthly payments and T-Mobile even lets you make payments on your phone with no interest options available. The Relay 4G is a good choice if you need to save $200 though and if Samsung can get Jelly Bean on it in the next few months it will be an even better device.

Related ZDNet content

Editorial standards