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If you’re looking for a quality smartphone that makes typing easy, you should check out the Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G on T-Mobile. This Android phone has a keyboard designed to make typing about as easy as possible on a smartphone, with other features that make it a compelling choice for fans of physical keyboards.
The phone is currently available from T-Mobile for $149 with a two-year contract. T-Mobile provided me with a phone and a plan for testing.
The keyboard is the killer feature of this phone. The Relay comes with a slide-out five row keyboard that seems designed to get you to enter text as efficiently as possible. The keys are raised and have a rubbery feel. There is space between the keys to help fast typists avoid accidental misspellings. The f and j keys have nubs to help you navigate blindly, though it’s difficult to imagine anyone would be able to type for very long without looking at the keyboard.
There is a dedicated number row so you don’t have to push the Alt key to type numbers. Punctuation keys including period, comma, and question mark also have their own dedicated keys, speeding your typing along.
Having a physical keyboard requires some heft on your phone. By necessity, a physical keyboard adds thickness and weight to a phone. As keyboard phones go, the Relay is thinner and lighter than most. At 0.53 inches thick, it’s thin enough that many people will be surprised the first time they see the keyboard slide out from the bottom.
The Relay has three shortcut keys that make this keyboard very efficient: text message, email and microphone. By pressing the email or text message keys, a screen opens with a new blank email or text message ready for you to type in your message. For those who like to send a lot of emails and/or text messages from your phone, it’s hard to imagine a faster way of getting your message typed and sent.
The microphone key is extremely handy for dictation or voice searches. You can dictate right into your message, which may be even faster than typing, depending on your typing speed. I tested the dictation feature and found the transcription to be extremely accurate.
To access voice search, press the microphone button and say Speak Now and your search term. The phone automatically takes you to the Google search results.
The keys on the Relay are backlit so that you can type in the dark or low light easily. There isn’t an adjustment to turn off the backlighting, but I didn’t detect strain on the battery life with heavy use of the keyboard.
In a Best of All Possible Worlds scenario, you can combine the SwiftKey app with your physical keyboard to use the predictive features of the app so you can choose which word you want before you finish typing it. SwiftKey appears as a small strip of space at the bottom of the screen and guesses what word you want as you type, giving you the three most likely choices. The app’s auto-correct feature means you don’t need to slow down to add apostrophes or correct common misspellings.
My Keyboard Tests
T-Mobile sent me this phone to test last month and the keyboard has spoiled me. Typing on glass now seems like more of a challenge than before. I was able to type quickly, though not blindly. My typing on the phone was accurate, so that by looking at they keyboard instead of my screen, I wasn’t greeted by surprises as I reviewed my typing. After I send this phone back to T-Mobile, typing on glass will seem like more of a struggle.
The Relay comes with a 5 megapixel camera in back and a 1.2 megapixel camera in front for video calls or checking whether you have a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth. The camera took sharp, clear pictures, including this one:
You can see other images taken with the phone on the Wonder of Tech Flickr account.
The camera has a flash and HD video recording. The camera has a few built in filters, such as sepia and black and white, and settings for panorama, cartoon and smile shots.
The screen is 3 13/16″ diagonally, and has bright, vivid colors. Watching Netflix videos on the screen was enjoyable for a phone screen. The photos I took looked colorful and sharp on the screen. Even small text was clear and gaming apps were easy to see on the screen.
Look and Feel
The phone is a standard black Android phone. The phone is 0.53 inches thick, which isn’t all that bulky when you consider that a keyboard is hiding inside. The corners and edges are rounded and the back is a rubberized plastic, giving it a comfortable feel in the hand. You can get a good grip on the phone, it doesn’t feel as if it’s about to slip out of your hands when you hold it.
The keyboard slides open smoothly and you can slide it with one hand, though that’s a move more easily accomplished with both hands.
When you are the first person to register the phone you get 50 GB of extra space on Dropbox free for two years. This benefit will come in very handy for those who want extra Dropbox space but want to avoid paying for a Pro account.
The Relay runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which isn’t the latest operating system, but the one just prior to the latest. No word yet on when or if the phone will be upgradable to the latest Android operating system (Jelly Bean).
The Relay can function as a mobile Hotspot, so your phone becomes a Wi-Fi router for Internet connection. Be sure to Mind the Cap! on your data plan because using the Hotspot feature with 4G service can eat up your monthly data allowance faster than you may realize. The Hotspot feature is available for an added fee of $15/month but included in some T-Mobile monthly plans.
You can enable T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling feature on this phone, enhancing your connection capabilities and saving you money when you travel abroad.
The phone has a removable battery which is handy if you need to keep a spare battery for heavy use. The Relay has 8 GB of storage, which is expandable up to 32 GB by using a micro SD card tucked away under the battery cover.
Battery life, as stated by Samsung, is 10 hours of talk time and 13 days of standby time. I found that I could make it through a day of heavy use without having to worry about the battery dying.
This isn’t the top of the line phone. If you want the fastest, lightest phone with the best camera, then you will have to give up on the idea of having a keyboard on your phone. The HTC One S that I reviewed this summer is a more powerful phone and is currently being offered for free at T-Mobile. But if you prefer a smartphone a keyboard, this phone will not make you feel as if you made a heavy sacrifice in order to get a keyboard.
Samsung has a strange habit of naming its products with the Galaxy brand. Samsung seems to be paraphrasing Henry Ford, “You can have any model so long as it’s called Galaxy.” This phone’s name is a mouthful of words. Perhaps that’s why Samsung paid such great attention to developing such a fantastic keyboard: they were afraid that some day they would have to type the name on the phone and wanted it to be as easy as possible?
If you’re looking to make typing efficient on your smartphone, check out the Relay. The keyboard is intelligently designed with shortcut keys and has enough features to make the addition of a keyboard seem less like a compromise and more like a bonus.
Do you like having a physical keyboard on your phone? Do you send a lot of text and email messages from your phone? Would you prefer having a physical keyboard or the lightest and thinnest phone available? Let us know in the Comments section below!