Review: T-Mobile S Galaxy Blaze 4G – Galaxy S II mini?

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Samsung doesn’t seem to have a problem bringing the world smartphones and tablets in virtually every shape and size it can think of, and for the most part it has worked out for them. Still, it’s usually pretty easy to pick out a low-end phone from a high-end phone that comes from Sammy, but looks can be deceiving. This much is true when it comes to the Galaxy S Blaze 4G for T-Mobile, as the handset looks like your standard mid-range phone but it packs a few punches you’d never see coming. In this review, you’ll see if Samsung has successfully blurred the lines between the mid-range and high-end phones in its portfolio, or if the Blaze 4G falls flat.

The Good
  • For under $200, you're giving up a few specs here and there but the Blaze 4G provides a lot of bang for your buck
  • It's nothing incredibly impressive but not having to remove the battery cover to access your external storage is always a plus in our book.
  • For a 5 megapixel camera, the Blaze 4G can take some great shots.
The Bad
  • In a world where most Android phones have a 4+ inch screen, the Blaze 4G may seem a little small
  • Whether is a processor or software issue, and it's rare when it happens, but the Blaze 4G will snag and lag every once in a while.
  • To no surprise, the Blaze 4G is filled with useless T-Mobile bloatware you'll probably never use.

Hardware

The Blaze 4G is an interesting phone. Without the smaller display, the Blaze could be mistaken for a equally as powerful handset when put next to the Galaxy S II. What is lacks in wow factor, it makes up for with power. At first glance, the 3.97 inch screen would make just about anyone think that this is a budget Samsung Android phone but you'd be mistaken. The Blaze 4G likely won't look like anything special when you first see it, and while it's no Galaxy S II, it packs a nice punch in a small package.

While large screens (4.3 inch and up) are all the rage now with Android phones, the Blaze looks like it missed it's ship with its 3.97 inch display panel. Even thought it may seem a bit small now, 4 inches really is a sweet spot and a phone with this screen size usually has a nice in-hand feel. The Blaze 4G's display is also no HD panel, so don't get too excited. We can't say that we have an issue with the handset's WVGA Super AMOLED display but we also would have liked to see the screen resolution up to at least qHD status. Nonetheless, the screen itself makes colors pop and shows blacks for what the really are - void of color (or light at all, for that matter).

Below the screen is your standard affair. Since this phone is running Gingerbread, you'll find the 4 Android navigation buttons for menu, home, back, and search. Above the display, you'll find the earpiece, proximity and ambient light sensors, as well as the 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. And of course, you'll find both T-Mobile's and Samsung's logos on the face of the device.

The left spine of the Blaze houses your volume rocker, as well as a small tab for removing the battery cover, where the bottom only has the micro USB port and microphone hole for calls. The top side of the device is where you'll find the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack,  and the left side not only houses the power/lock button but also quick access to the hot-swappable micro SD card. I found it a little tricky to get the microSD card out of the side but it shouldn't be much of an issue if you have nails instead of numbs.

Design

The Blaze 4G comes with a familiar design with some subtle tweaks here and there. With the exception of a few design elements, the Blaze 4G could easily be called the Galaxy S II mini for T-Mobile, as they both share many similarities. The metallic border is the same, as well as the textured battery cover, with the Blaze's texture being a bit finer and more smooth.

Unlike the Galaxy S II, the Blaze's metallic border carries out to the back of the phone above the camera, which doesn't necessarily deserve any oohs and awes but it doesn't take away from the overall look, either.

While it looks like the Blaze 4G shares the same bump on the rear as most Galaxy devices, it's really not there. There's a small line on the bottom of the battery cover that gives the illusion that it's there but the handset pretty much lies flat on a table.

 

Build Quality

As you'd expect to see in virtually any Samsung smartphone today, the Galaxy S Blaze 4G is made of plastic. That said, it feels solid in the hand due to its compact size (keyword: feels). While plastics tend to be more sturdy than slabs of glass and metal, the Blaze 4G is anything but unbreakable. We wouldn't go as far to say that it's fragile by any means but dropping it would at least scuff up that nice chrome looking finish around the edges.

Still, we doubt you'll have any worries with the handset as far as build quality is concerned, especially if you've owned a Samsung phone before.

Guts And Glory

Inside the Blaze 4G and beyond the snappy 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 CPU, you'll find 1GB of RAM, and only a couple of GBs of internal storage (roughly about 2.3GB available to the user). The phone also ships with a 4GB microSD card out of the box, which you can expand to 32GB if you need some extra space, and you probably will.

Other features include WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS - pretty much everything you'd expect to see in any Android phone today, mid-range or otherwise. The battery itself also has NFC inside it, so when the handset receives the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update, you can Beam your brains out, use Google Wallet, etc. For now, you can use NFC to write and read tags.

The handset wouldn't be named the Blaze 4G if it didn't have some sort of high-speed data access, right? The Blaze 4G supports T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 network, which should give you some impressive speeds if you have the right coverage. HSPA+ is usually a hit or miss affair but the Blaze 4G was definitely a hit. We were given a few select "prime locations" to test the network speeds with the Blaze, and even without being near any of these places, the handset was getting an average of 15Mbps down and around 3-4Mbps up.

HSPA+ may not be as fast as LTE but if I can consistently get around 15Mbps down, I'll never care about LTE. LTE is insanely fast but most people don't need that sort of data speed and they definitely don't need the dead battery they will be left with after using it for a short while. "Faux G" or not, T-Mobile's HSPA+ and the Blaze 4G hit the sweet spots.

Software

The Galaxy S Blaze 4G ships with Samsung's custom UI layer, TouchWiz. For the most part, we prefer stock Android, especially if a phone is running Ice Cream Sandwich but Touchwiz is one one the least intrusive software layers we've come across. That doesn't necessarily make it the best but it's nothing like HTC Sense used to be.

If you're not familiar with TouchWiz, it's a fairly easy to use, not over-bloated custom user interface that resembles iOS in a handful of ways. Still, TouchWiz may not be the prettiest custom UI (HTC still takes the cake as far as beauty) but it's more than usable, especially with the upgrades Samsung has provided with the new Galaxy S II models. There's nothing too special about TouchWiz but there's still a lot to like.

What we like about TouchWiz the most is that it isn't over designed. You clearly see that this is Android and the custom UI layer doesn't attempt to cover it up. It's there to enhance the experience and for the most part, it does a decent job. You're given 7 home screen panels that you can customize to your liking and a quick pinch gesture on any home screen will reveal all of the panels for you to edit or remove them.

Below the panel but above the dock, Touchwiz has dots to indicate what home screen panel you're on and you can easily tap on another to jump to that particular screen. A very simple, yet nice addition added to TouchWiz is that you can actually drag across the dots and scroll through the pages even faster.

One of the main annoyances of this phone is all of the bloatware that T-Mobile has preinstalled. This isn't anything new by any means but when carriers like Sprint allow the user to uninstall said preinstalled applications, it looks like T-Mobile wants those applications you'll probably never use on the phone for good. Not only does this create annoyances to the user but these applications are taking up space in the ROM of the phone and there's not a lot to spare with the Blaze 4G. That said, you can push a lot of applications to the external microSD card now, so it's not going to leave you with no space at all.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The web browser on the Blaze 4G is the exact same browser you'll find on just about any other Samsung Android phone today. It's been slightly modified in a couple of ways, but mostly in the aesthetics department. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but the older Android web browser is starting to show some age.

One difference in the browser from the stock Android browser is the way open web pages are handled. Samsung has implemented a large icon view so you get a thumbnail of what the page you're on looks like. We've also seen other manufacturer's do something similar, but it's a welcomed addition.

Another thing that Samsung does with its browser that we still have trouble understanding is that it has its own dedicated brightness setting. Sure, maybe you want the rest of your phone to be dimmed but want to see the browser in full brightness - that much we can understand, but we doubt its a necessity to anyone.

Multimedia

The Blaze 4G isn't in short supply out multimedia outlets, thanks to some of Samsung's own applications and T-Mobile's bloatware. You'll find applications like Samsung's Media Hub, two (stock and Samsung's) music players, T-Mobile TV, Slacker Radio, and more.

So you have the media on your phone, or want to get it without having to download and app to your device? No Problem. Also like most Samsung Android phones, the Blaze 4G supports DLNA, which allows you to share your content to other DLNA compatible devices, or stream content from a media server on a WiFi network directly to your phone.

Camera

Surprisingly, the Blaze 4G's camera is a strong point in the phone. This isn't to say we were expecting it to be bad but it's just hard to be impressed with a 5 megapixel camera these days.

Samsung provides some of the best camera software in the market for its Android phones, as it allows you to bring certain features to the forefront with a customizable grid that is always a tap away.

On top of that, the camera itself takes some great shots! Photos aren't going to blow you away but we were pretty impressed by the image quality in some photos. Video recording wasn't as good as it could have been but if you're just looking to record a few videos to send or show off on your phone, you likely won't have a problem.

The pictures below were taken in the late afternoon, in the shade.

 

 

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality was pretty good on the Blaze 4G. Calls were clear on both ends with no interference whatsoever.  To make your call quality even better, T-Mobile offers up WiFi calling with the Blaze 4G, too.

Battery life was fairly decent. It wasn't bad and should get your through the day but not much more than that. We've certainly seen much worse battery life on smartphones (read: any LTE phone that isn't the Droid RAZR Maxx).

The Final Take

Overall, the Galaxy S Blaze 4G is a good phone that comes at a great price. The main features that you'll really be sacrificing with this handset is the screen (type and size), camera, and storage (only about 2 GB internal). Other than that, the processing power behind this phone makes it a great option for just about anyone who wants a new phone on the cheap(ish) and doesn't want to sacrifice too much in the process. Couple this with T-Mobile's speedy HSPA+ network and you have a well rounded phone that could be considered the Galaxy S II mini. It deserves the title.

Personally, I wouldn't own this phone, but only for the fact that I've been spoiled by the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Nexus' screens. Going back to a phone that has a screen under 4 inches would be incredibly hard but other than that, I'd suggest this phone to someone who isn't looking for top of the line but doesn't want to buy an "ancient" smartphone just because its cheap.

 

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