Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G – A Smartphone for Keyboard Lovers

by on October 15, 2012 · 42 comments

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.

Keyboard

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.

Shortcut Keys

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.

Backlit Keyboard

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.

SwiftKey

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.

Camera

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.

Screen

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.

Dropbox

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.

Operating System

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).

Hotspot

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.

Wi-Fi Calling

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.

Other Features

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.

Cons

Specs

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.

The Name

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?

Bottom Line

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!

 

Comments on this entry are closed.

Jayme Soulati October 15, 2012 at 10:52 am

I absolutely always marvel at the time you take to develop posts…you are one of the most thorough reviewers online, and so smart about how you present in a non-judgmental way. Thanks for all you do for the ‘sphere, Carolyn!
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 15, 2012 at 11:16 am

Thank you very much, Jayme. I try to only write about tech I like but I also try to show the pros and cons when I review a product.

Have a great week, Jayme!

Bill Dorman
Twitter:
October 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

Hey, I know your kids can’t use all of your discarded test products; send some of that stuff down here. I’ll pay for shipping………..

Cool beans, but not my phone………drat……….
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Hi Bill, No, I don’t get to keep test products. If I did, my daughters would definitely want this phone. I show them what I get to test to see what they think and they really, really liked the keyboard. They text a lot so this phone would be a great fit for them.

Start writing more about tech at your blog and see if you can get some test gadgets! ;-)
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Hajra
Twitter:
October 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I do like having a keyboard on my phone, call me old fashioned! But because I haven’t had a phone without a keyboard I am really looking forward to one without it!

I was reading about this online the other day, looks interesting but I ain’t tempted so much! :-)

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Hajra, I have tested quite a few smartphone keyboards and I didn’t think any one would beat my former favorite: Palm Treo 750. But this keyboard was far superior. I loved the shortcut keys, they made it so easy to get to where I was going. I also liked the space between the keys so I wasn’t accidentally hitting the wrong key. Pairing this with SwiftKey gave me just enough auto-prediction so I could type really quickly.

With this phone you can get the benefits of Android apps plus have a great keyboard. You may not be ready for a smartphone but if you take the plunge, you should take a look at the Relay.
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Adrienne
Twitter:
October 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I agree with Jayme on this one Carolyn. You are always so thorough and never biased with your reviews. You just share the do’s, don’ts, pluses and minuses of each product. I love this about you and you are my go to girl for deciding on what to get.

Thank you for sharing this and it really is a darn cool phone. I have to agree!

~Adrienne
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

Hi Adrienne, Thank, I try to be fair with my reviews. My goal is to give my readers the clearest view of tech they can have before they invest their money. No tech is perfect so there are always pros and cons. The issue is always do the pros outweigh the cons. Usually that depends on your priorities. If you don’t care about having a physical keyboard then you shouldn’t get this phone. But if you want a physical keyboard, you really should check this phone out because it has so many great features.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and kind words, Adrienne!

Helene Poulakou October 15, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Wow, Carolyn! The time you must be spending in electronics stores! :-)
I like the keyboard feature on the smartphone.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

Hi Helene, Yes, I do like electronics stores quite a bit! :-bd

Not all keyboards are created equal and I’m very picky about keyboards. I’m not a big fan of the iPhone keyboard and not just because it’s on glass. I wish there were comma and period keys on the keyboard. It also switches back to the letter keyboard from the number keyboard after you press space. That makes it a nightmare to add a British post code to your contacts list.

The Relay keyboard is a great keyboard. I like the number row, the punctuation keys and the shortcut keys. If you’re going to add heft to your phone for a keyboard, you want the keyboard to be top-notch. This keyboard is definitely top-notch.

Jens P. Berget
Twitter:
October 16, 2012 at 1:24 am

I had a Samsung phone while I was waiting for my iPhone. It wasn’t a smart phone, but it’s the only Samsung I have ever used. It did help me, but the biggest issue was not having a touch screen. I am so used to having a touch screen now that it’s more or less impossible to use anything different. I know I’ll get used to a keyboard eventually, but it was a lot harder to do the switch than I had imagined :-)

Great review Carolyn. The phone looks awesome, even for an Apple lover like myself :-)
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:34 am

Hi Jens, Yes, this Samsung Relay phone does have a touch screen. You can use the on screen keyboard if you want on the phone. If you only have a few characters to type, you may not want to slide the keyboard open. But with the Relay you can have both a touchscreen and a keyboard.

I think about this a lot because of the Kindle. I have a Kindle keyboard, but I also like a touchscreen which I miss having with the Kindle keyboard. I wish there were a Kindle with both the physical keyboard and a touch screen.

I wouldn’t give up a touchscreen on a smartphone to get a keyboard, but with the Relay you don’t have to choose one or the other.

Aditya October 16, 2012 at 1:56 am

Hi Carolyn,
Samsung Galaxy S relay 4G has some great features in it including T-mobile’s Wi-Fi calling.and i think it can be the best 4G phone in the market.I have read about Motorola Razr has also came up with a 4G phone.I guess now the race of 4G networks is going to be interesting.
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:29 am

Hi Aditya, Yes, great point. It’s fantastic that the Relay has Wi-Fi calling in addition to a keyboard and other useful features. The Relay may be the best phone on the market if you want a keyboard. If you don’t want a keyboard, then it doesn’t make much sense for you to get this phone. There are other phones that have more advance features and are thinner and lighter, but they don’t have a keyboard.

Aditya October 17, 2012 at 1:53 am

Do you think Carolyn that people will go for this phone personally??I guess after having a good market of smart phones this will only attract some.
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Hi Aditya, Yes, I do. I think there is a market out there for people who want a keyboard with an Android phone but don’t want to make a lot of sacrifices to get the keyboard. If I thought no one was interested in this device, I wouldn’t have written about it. ;-)
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Aditya October 18, 2012 at 1:26 am

Yes i agree with you Carolyn,it has something in it that’s why Samsung is launching it.Its just my personal view,i mean if i want to have a keyboard in a phone then i will go for some qwerty key pad phone.But new features are always welcomed.
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 23, 2012 at 9:39 am

Yes, Aditya, new features are always welcome! :-)
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Thomas October 16, 2012 at 2:41 am

It seems like a great phone. I recently lost my phone with a mini-keyboard and I was gifted a touch phone. I know how difficult it has been to get used to the glass and type. My messages also have a lot of errors these days. I’d love to get this phone. It would be a relief to my fingers and my eyes wouldn’t hurt at the rubbish I type these days

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Thomas, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech. Yes, typing on glass is a challenge that I still struggle with daily. It can be hard to go to typing on a keyboard to typing on glass. Getting a phone with a keyboard without having to sacrifice useful features seems like the best of both worlds. Good point, you can waste a lot of time trying to get your typing correct when you’re typing on glass!

Manickam Vijayabanu October 16, 2012 at 8:36 am

Carolyn,

Sounds good!. After IPhone and touch screen evolution, I personally not much interested on sliding pattern and physical key board. :-)

But indeed, there are huge fans who love to Tweet and SMS often using physical keypad and surely Relay would attract them very well.

Wow..the Relay picture quality is amazing and colors look very natural. Recently I moved from IPhone3G to Samsung S3 as first time out from Apple.

So far I am happy and going cool. Thanks for sharing the post.
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

Hi Manickam, Excellent point. If you don’t use your phone to type a lot then you really don’t need a physical keyboard. But there are some who seem to do mostly typing. If they can type well on a glass keyboard, then they should be find without a physical keyboard. But if they struggle, they should know that there are options to get a physical keyboard and still get a great Android phone.

I’m glad you like your Samsung Galaxy S III, Manickam. That’s a great phone too, many consider it the best Android phone on the market today.
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Bruno Buergi October 16, 2012 at 9:05 am

I’m impressed with all the things this smartphone can. Especially with the keyboard. I have always some difficulties with typing on my iPhone. Next time I buy a new smartphone I have to look after one with such a keyboard.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Hi Bruno, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! Yes, I have problems typing on the iPhone too. The auto-correct doesn’t seem to understand me either. I really wish the iPhone had SwiftKey!

Linda S Davison October 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

So sounds like the phone for me I hate my Android Motorola Citrus 3 gig smartphone..too touchy, slow, can’t see in the sunlight. I so liked my old phone with the keyboard I had a Motorola Q like a Blackberry phone. Hope Verizon has this upgrade as I am so getting a new phone. Great review!

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Hi Linda, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! Thank you for your kind words. Sorry, but this Relay phone is only available on T-Mobile. For Verizon, you may want to check out the Motorola Droid 4 http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-DROID-Android-Verizon-Wireless/dp/B006FXY9LC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343248111&sr=8-1&keywords=motorola+droid+4

Mike Maynard
Twitter:
October 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Hi Carolyn,

I just downloaded one photo from your Flickr stream, the editing made it better. I’ll use that next week! I like this phone. The student that came here from China has a Android phone made in China, I want to look at that. She got a GiffGaff sim for it today and now has one sim for the UK and another sim for phoning China! I’ll get me a smart phone at some time, it would be useful for photos in stores when a camera is too conspicuous.
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Hi Mike, I can’t wait to see which photo you chose. I’m curious to see whether it was your most or least favorite. Perhaps you took your most favorite and edited it to make it better. Or maybe you took your least favorite and turned it into your most favorite with editing.

I wonder which Android phone the Chinese student has. Let me know because I’m curious about that too! :-)
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Bryce Christiansen October 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Hi Carolyn,

I used to be a keyboard lover myself. I had doubts that I could ever actually text as accurately or fast on a touch screen vs a keyboard. I probably still don’t but I just like the clean look and feel of a solid phone.

Looks like this is definitely a smart pick though for anyone who needs the keyboard.

Bryce
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Hi Bryce, Yes, some people can get used to a virtual keyboard while others never do. I think it’s great that those who want a physical keyboard can get one without having to sacrifice getting a quality phone.
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David October 17, 2012 at 1:42 am

I think this phone was made just for me. ;-) I am one person who just cannot type on glass. It is highly uncomfortable. When I used phones with keypads, I could send about 5 texts, all grammatically correct, in the time that I take to type edit and send one text now. I am so glad you mentioned this phone. It does seem like a blessing. Thanks a lot Carolyn.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Hi David, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! Yes, you could probably type about 10 texts in the time it takes to type one on a glass screen, due to the text shortcut button on this phone. It’s very handy to have that and the email button.
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Jenny October 17, 2012 at 5:49 am

This phone looks amazing! Samsung is coming up with such great smartphones rich in features, looks and functionality. There is a wide range to choose from and the price is quite reasonable. I guess this Samsung is trying to compete with the new I phone 5 and that is a smart move.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hi Jenny, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! Yes, Samsung is a quality manufacturer of phones. They make top-of-the-line phones and are in direct competition with Apple for smartphones and tablets. By offering a phone with a keyboard, they are offering a phone with a physical keyboard that the iPhone doesn’t have. You’re right, that’s a smart move! :-)
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Ashvini
Twitter:
October 19, 2012 at 5:12 am

Hi Carolyn,
It looks cool . The photo is also very good quality. I am not very fond of keyboard based cellphone but then this one looks much different.
Samsung is producing all kinds of phones. Recently I sent my sister a good Samsung Android phone and it seems she is quite happy with it .
I have seen 4.1.2 Jelly Bean code and there are great improvements in performance. So if the phone makers upgrade to new OS, they will enjoy benefits.
Have a great day :-)
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Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 23, 2012 at 8:34 am

Hi Ashvini, Sorry, I missed your comment earlier. Wow, I bet your sister really likes her new Android phone. What a lovely gift for her!

Some people don’t want a physical keyboard but this is the best keyboard I have seen on a phone, especially when you pair it with Swiftkey.

Yes, I hope this phone does receive an upgrade, but I recently read that only 4.1% of Android phones are running Jelly Bean now so ICS and Gingerbread are still going strong!
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vasudevan October 24, 2012 at 1:09 am

Thank u for sharing this informative post.Because i planned to buy HTC smartphone but after reading your post i decided to buy Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G.I hope it will be convenient for me.Sure i suggest this information with my friends.Really helpful thanks a lot :-)

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Hi Vasudevan, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! I’m so glad this was helpful to you. If you’re looking for a phone with a physical keyboard, you should definitely consider the Relay.

Smith October 24, 2012 at 2:32 am

I really loved reading your post and I am looking forward to purchase this phone which comes with a keyboard.Carolyn I love reading your post because your reviewing is quite awesome and you always chalk down the pros and cons which is really really important.Even I wished that I got chance to test phones and sounds little sad that you don’t keep those test phones otherwise definitely I would have mailed you my address.Thanks again.Your article is always unique and interesting to read.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Hi Smith, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech. Thank you for your kind words. I am very glad I get to test these devices but it’s a good thing I don’t get to keep them all. It would be very difficult to keep track of all of these devices, keep them charged, updated, etc.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us, Smith! :-)

David October 26, 2012 at 5:54 am

Great post.The keyboard is the most striking and appealing feature of this smart phone and the Wi-fi calling is one of the features that I was always looking forward.Also the interface design has come up with some modifications and the mobile hotspot feature will allow the phone to perform as a wireless router.

Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hi David, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech! Yes, the features of this phone go beyond the excellent keyboard. Wi-Fi Calling and Mobile HotSpot features also are important factors to consider when you look at this phone.
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