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Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G: Live TV and a high price

Armando Rodriguez | Aug. 23, 2012
If you've ever had the hankering to watch live TV on your smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G (boy, what a mouthful) may be of interest to you. The Lightray, a $459 (as of August 21, 2012) LTE-compatible phone on MetroPCS's prepaid network, looks a lot like the Samsung Droid Charge, which we saw on Verizon just over a year ago. The resemblance isn't purely cosmetic, however, as the Lightray also boasts similar internal specs to its older Verizon cousin. In a time when you can buy a dual-core phone for less than $300, it's hard to justify paying close to half a grand for what amounts to a year-old phone.

The Lightray can connect to MetroPCS's LTE network, which theoretically allows it to reach download speeds faster than what you get on 3G. I say "theoretically" because in my time with the phone, I never managed to reach download speeds faster than 1 megabit per second in our San Francisco office. Using the FCC approved Ookla Speed Test app, I saw download speeds of about 0.77 mbps and upload speeds of about 1.03 mbps.

While the Lightray's data speeds were disappointing, its call quality was even and clear, with no discernible static. Note, though, that this was in an area with excellent reception, and that call quality will vary depending on where you live.

Software

The Lightray runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), along with a version of Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. I've always found TouchWiz to be overly cartoonish, but it does bring a few useful features not found in stock Android. One of my favorite TouchWiz features is the ability to turn a device's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, sound, or network connection on or off quickly, all from the notification bar.

Unfortunately, not all of the preloaded software on the Lightray is that useful. The MyExtras app, for example, sends ads to your notification bar and will periodically dim the screen to display a small advertisement. It's incredibly annoying, though fortunately the app can be uninstalled. Several other "apps" are nothing more than bookmarks that take you to specific Web pages, though you can also uninstall them.

Entertainment

The Lightray is the first phone in the United States to use Dyle Mobile TV to allow you to watch live local broadcast television. By pulling out the aforementioned TV antenna and launching the preloaded Dyle app, you can browse local channels and see what's playing.

When I tried the service here in San Francisco, I was surprised to see how well it worked. Even in areas where I had little cell reception, the picture quality on the shows I watched was comparable to what a traditional TV antenna would offer. Occasionally the image would freeze or become extremely pixelated, but for the most part it was an enjoyable experience to watch bad daytime TV during my lunch break. The one drawback is that Dyle doesn't work everywhere, so you'll want to consult the company's website to see if its available in your area.

If you'd rather have your own media instead, the Lightray comes with a 16GB MicroSD card that you can use to store your music, videos, and photos.

Camera

The 8-megapixel camera on the Lightray works best when taking photos in well-lit environments, and it should suffice for your everyday needs. Photos that I took in darker spaces came out significantly grainy, so this probably isn't the right phone if you frequently take pictures while you're at a bar or any other dimly lit social hangout. The front-facing camera works well for video calls, but you probably won't want to use it to take pictures because of its poor quality.

 

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