Smartphones offered by prepaid carriers tend to be bottom-of-the-barrel handsets the big cellular companies won't touch or old devices they're trying to offload in bulk. That's why it's refreshing to see the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G for MetroPCS. While this $459 phone has a frighteningly high sticker price and borrowed plastic design, it breaks new ground with its live digital TV service and 4G LTE connection. Of course, unless you're absolutely in love with your local TV programming, you should probably pass this gadget by.
The Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G certainly boasts a futuristic name, but don't be fooled. Just like its close cousin on U.S. Cellular, the Galaxy S Aviator, this isn't a flagship smartphone, even though it seems that MetroPCS really wishes it were.
In reality the Lightray 4G is a midrange smartphone that falls somewhere between the original Galaxy S and its more robust Galaxy S II sequel. Not even the phone's design is new; it's a dead ringer for the Galaxy S Aviator and older Droid Charge.
As a result, I knew I wouldn't be blown away by the Lightray 4G's all-plastic construction. That said, I do appreciate the phone's sturdy build quality, attractive curves, and beveled edges that wrap tightly around its 4.3-inch screen.
Samsung equipped the Galaxy S Lightray 4G with a decent if low-res Super AMOLED (800x400-pixel) display, too. It manages to paint a pretty picture with vibrant colors, deep blacks, and wide viewing angles. In fact the display held its own when stacked up against the higher-resolution HD Super AMOLED (1,280x720-pixel) screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Details on the Lightray 4G though weren't as crisp, which is understandable given the Galaxy Nexus' greater pixel density.
Measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.46 inch thick, the phone's black slab shape isn't trim by any means. It's actually thicker and wider than the clunky Huawei Activa 4G (4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick). Still, the Galaxy S Lightray 4G's extra girth feels comforting when gripped, especially for larger hands like mine. A power key placed on the right side is within easy reach, as is a volume bar on the left. Completing the phone's connections are a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and an HDMI port to connect to HDTVs and monitors.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which is higher-resolution than the VGA vanity cam found on the Huawei Ativa 4G but lower than the forward-looking sensor on the Galaxy S II (2 megapixels). On back is the Lightray's main 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash, which matches the sensitivity of the Galaxy S II's primary imaging system.
I like the feel of the Galaxy S Lightray 4G's back battery cover, which is coated in a matte-black finish and does a good job of repelling fingerprints. Removing the thin cover reveals a 16GB microSD card and LTE SIM card you can access without fiddling with the phone's 1,600mAh battery.
What separates the Lightray 4G from other smartphones, however, is a telescoping antenna tucked into the handset's top-right edge. Looking like a throwback to the 20th century, the thin aerial unfurls to grab hold of digital broadcasts from terrestrial TV stations enabling the Dyle live video service.
Running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G offers a basic Android experience. There are seven home screens to choose from that you can fill with your favorite widgets and application shortcuts. Right out of the box, the phone comes with icons to launch apps for the Dyle TV service, Rhapsody Music, and M Studio ringtone and music store. Shortcuts for the MetroPCS app store and Google Play store plus the carrier's custom Web browser are placed front and center, too.
Additionally, Google's staple services are onboard with Gmail, Navigation, Talk, Play Books, and YouTube software preloaded. Basic music and video players are located in the Android app tray as well.
Like other Galaxy handsets, Samsung also overlays its TouchWiz interface on top of stock Android. Aside from its fancy weather app powered by AccuWeather, I couldn't find other flashier TouchWiz functions usually installed on other Galaxy phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S II. These include Live Panel Widgets, which increase functionality depending on their size, or zooming in and out of images and documents by tilting the phone while touching the screen with both thumbs.