Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a phone that needs no introduction. It’s poised to set fire to the smartphone market, and soon we’ll see the device landing on a fistful of US carriers with a massive ad campaign behind it. The successor to one of the world’s most popular phones is finally here.

The Galaxy S4 retains a the “nature-inspired” design of its predecessor, but make no mistake — this is quite a different phone than the Galaxy S III. With beefed up internals and more software features to shake a stick at, you’ll be finding new things to do with the Galaxy S4 a few months after you buy it. But with the competition more intense than ever, is the Galaxy S4 really the next big thing? Read on to find out!

The Good
  • Tons of interesting software features
  • Stellar camera experience
The Bad
  • A 5 inch display simply may be too much screen for some.
  • Some features are more "show off" than useful.

Hardware

The Galaxy S 4 is a thing of beauty, and while one could easily see the similarities of its predecessor in it, picking up the device is a completely different story.

The five-inch Super AMOLED 1080p HD display dominates the face of the Galaxy S 4, and for good reason. The display on this handset is gorgeous. The slight oversaturation of an AMOLED display provides a truly vivid experience. Watching videos on this display proves to be one of the more enjoyable experiences on this device, despite it's many other features.

Above the display, you'll find nice helping of sensors. The proximity and ambient light sensors are present, just like you'd expect, but you'll also find an IR blast in the mix for the Air Gesture feature. Along side these sensors, you'll also find 2 megapixel the front-facing camera, ear piece, and Samsung's logo. Below the display, you'll find the exact same layout as the Galaxy S III. An oblong home button in the center sits between two capacitive buttons for menu and home. We'll save our opinion of capacitive buttons on Android devices for another day, as we weren't expecting Samsung to deviate from these choices.

The sides of the Galaxy S 4 are kept clean and minimal, leaving only the essentials. The left side of the device houses only the volume rocker, while the right side houses the power/lock button. The microUSB port and microphone are found on the bottom, and the top of the device is where you'll find the 3.5 mm headphone jack, noise-cancelling microphone, and yet another IR blaster for WatchOn, Samsung's TV remote application.

The rear of the device brings no surprises, and that's not a bad thing. Here you'll find the 13 megapixel camera, LED flash, loud speaker, and Samsung's logo. One thing we did like about the Galaxy S III's rear was that the LED Flash, Camera, and loud speaker were all next to each other, offering up a nice bit of symmetry. You won't find this on the Galaxy S4, but we have our doubts that this will be a big issue for anyone.

This unit from Sprint offers up 16GB of internal storage, but thanks to the micro SD card slot, you can pop in a 64GB micro SD card and never look back.

Inside the S4 is the quad-core Snapdragon 600, which is plenty fast for the most part. You'll also be treated to 2GB of RAM, NFC, GPS, Wi-Fi, and just about any other feature anyone would want in a high-end smartphone today. Samsung left no stone unturned.

S-View Flip Cover

While it's not necessarily a piece of hardware out of the box, the S-View Flip cover becomes a part of your Galaxy S 4. Just like the existing covers for the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note, the cover itself is attached to a battery cover for the handset, so you're adding no bulk whatsoever to the phone itself. The face of the S-View Flip Cover has a clear window on the top that will display the time, date, and notifications for you without having to open the cover at all. You can also answer or reject calls right from this small window. Opening up the cover will automatically unlock your Galaxy S 4 for you, and closing it will automatically lock it.

I've never been a sucker for accessories, but the S-View Flip Cover is very convenient and is something any soon to be Galaxy S 4 owner should look into.

Design

While the design changes from the Galaxy S III may look minimal on the Galaxy S4, Samsung has changed the design of it's new flagship device for the better. The back edges of the device do curve slightly, but less so from the Galaxy S III, making the battery cover more flat. The sides of the device are done up in a nice metallic finish that provides a pleasing contrast to the white version of the device, and will likely do so to the Black Mist version as well.

Instead of the brushed metal look found on the Galaxy S III, the S4 has a more subtle look to it. The design has a cross-hatch, textured look to it, which we can't say is anything amazing but it's nice for what it is.

Overall, the design is nice and most people who were fans of the GSIII's design should be satisfied. We'd say the design works well, so it's hard to say anything wrong. Unfortunately, those who wanted to see a dramatic departure in design from the Galaxy S III will be a bit disappointed. Still, it's hard to call the Galaxy S 4 a bad looking device. It's rather beautiful.

Build Quality

While the Galaxy S4 doesn't rock a metal casing, it feels significantly more durable than the Galaxy S III. By miles. It may not be comparable to the in-hand feel of something like the HTC One, but the Galaxy S 4 feels pretty damn amazing in the hand.

Samsung's love of plastics likely won't be going anywhere anytime soon, but the Galaxy S 4 feels more solid than any of its predecessors.

Plastic or not, the handset is going to last. Two slabs of glass on the front and the back of any phone is going to look sleek and sexy, but it certainly hold it's own to polycarbonate. Glass will shatter. I do believe that Samsung will eventually bring more solid materials to its handsets in the future, but I don't think the use of plastics in the Galaxy S 4 is ultimately going to keep too many people away from it.

The HTC One is still the best Android device when it comes to in-hand feel and premium build, but that in no way makes the Galaxy S 4 any less delightful than it is.

Software

The Galaxy S4 may be a powerful handset, but  hardware almost seems to be an afterthought when you look at how much Samsung has done with its software experience. From Air Gesture to Smart Scroll, Samsung is offering up features that we've yet to see on a phone before.

Yes, some features may seem a bit "showy", and many are, but that certainly doesn't make them useless.

Easy Mode

Easy Mode is a new homescreen experience for those who want a simplified user interface for the Galaxy S4. This is also extremely helpful for first-time smartphone buyers. Easy Mode cuts the fat and brings the users a very simple UI and actually restricts access to some of the advanced features. Like the LG Lucid 2 that has a similar "Easy" home feature, if the user chooses to switch to the standard mode and wants to go back to Easy Mode, all data and customizations done by the users are retained.

Air View

Air View was previously found on the Galaxy Note line, but it's made its way to the Galaxy S 4 without the need of an S-Pen. Simply put, Air View allows you to get relevant information in certain applications without diving into a particular email, gallery, etc. just by hovering your finger over the screen. For example, if you're looking through your sets of photo albums in the gallery, you can hover your finger over one of them to get a preview of what photos are inside. Air View also extends to the Email, Calendar, Samsung Hub, and Flipboard applications. While some could say that it may seem faster to just tap on the content to see what's inside, Air View allows you to get a peek without needing to jump in and have to press the back button to get out.

Synaptic's Clearpad is used for the touch sensor of the Galaxy S 4, and Air View is made possible by the company's 3D-touch technology. The high-performance proximity sensing of Synaptics's 3D touch is helping OEMs develop new ways for users to interact with their devices. We're sure that we'll be seeing some great things with Samsung's Air View, along with Synaptics' 3D touch technology leading the way in this area.

Gesture View

Gesture View, which will be discussed further in the browser section of this review, allows the users to wave their hands over the device to interact with it. Utilizing the IR blaster on the face of the device, one can scroll through pages on the web browser and go through photos in the gallery with a simple wave.

While many may not end up using this feature all the time, this is a novel feature that does provide a good chunk of usefulness. When someone is calling, you can simply wave your hand over the screen to answer and the call will automatically be answered with the speakerphone turned on.

Notification Panel tweaks

Since the Galaxy S 4 is running on Android 4.2.2, you'll find the newly tweaked notification panel for settings. Of course, Samsung has customized the experience, but for the better. You'll see a handful of features found here, including Air Gesture, Air View, Smart Scroll, and more. You'll also be able to edit the order of the 19 some odd features and even choose the icons that will line the top of your notification panel at all times.

There are a ton of new features in the Galaxy S 4, but the homescreen experience remains rather intact. TouchWiz is definitely better than previous iterations, and for such a heavily customized user interface, Samsung has struck a fine balance when it comes to implementing tons of features while keeping it simple at the same time.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The web browser on the Galaxy S4 has a few tricks up its sleeve, and it's only these tricks that would make one want to opt for Samsung's own web browser over something like our favorite, Google Chrome.

Air Gesture can be used within the browser, which is definitely a nifty trick. It's especially convenient if you're hands are messy, so if you're reading a recipe and you don't want to make a mess of your phone, you can simply wave your hand to scroll. With Air Gesture activated, you simply wave your hand up or down to scroll in whatever direction you'd like. You can also wave left to right to change tabs.

Another great feature within the browser is Smart Scroll. Yes, you can now scroll without touching the device or even waving your hand over it. Smart Scroll will recognize when you're looking at the device, and will scroll up or down when you tilt your head in either direction. The feature works well for the most part, but some attempts to show off the feature ended in failure. For what it is now, it's pretty awesome, and will likely continue to get better over time.

Camera

The camera experience really shines on the Galaxy S4, as it offers up some insanely fun features that we haven't seen on a handset before. Pre-installed, at least.

The camera software on the Galaxy S 4 borrows from the Galaxy Camera software, and it works very well. There are a ton of different modes to choose from as well.

Animated Photo

Animated photo is exactly what it sounds like, but even better. It can be a little wonky at times, but Samsung has made it very easy to make your own works of art. Basically, you take a small video clip and then freeze certain parts and choose what you'd like to be animated. After the processing is completed, you'll be given a GIF file that can be viewed just about anywhere you want. It's pretty awesome. I had personally seen more success with playing with the elements for animated photos, like water, smoke, and fire.

Drama Shot

Drama mode allows you to take multiple exposure shots, which produces a really cool effect.

Other modes include Beauty Show, Rich Tone (HDR), Best Shot, Sports, Night, Eraser, Best Face, and more.

Fisheye...

Of course, you'll find some great filters for the Galaxy S4 as well. Tapping on the small arrow at the bottom of the viewfinder will show you all the cool filters in a live format. Not only will you get the expected negative, sepia, and black and white tones, but some cool filters like Cartoon, Moody, Fisheye, Oil Pastel, and Rugged.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Running on Sprint's network, the Galaxy S 4 had no problem when it came to actually being a phone. Calls were loud and clear, with no distortion on either side in our testing.

The Galaxy S 4 ships with a whopping 2600 mAh removable battery. Battery life is more than acceptable, but I've need some dramatic differences from day to day use. The first day of use, the device had been going for 16 hours and still had 20% left in it. The second run through gave me almost 13 hours before hitting 20%, and the third go around lasted about 10.5 hours before the 20% mark.

Overall, the battery life on the Galaxy S 4 is pretty great. Not only will it get you through the day, but you can carry a spare around if you need it.

The Final Take

This phone is awesome. It's not a Galaxy S IIIS, as some have been calling it. The updates within the hardware are more than welcomed, and it offers up some very cool new features. With that said, the Galaxy S 4 doesn't have the gap it used to with the competition. Don't get me wrong, the Galaxy S4 will likely outsell any other Android device around, but there are quite a few great options out there that have a presence that the Galaxy S4 carries. In one way or another.

I'd say the biggest rival to the Galaxy S 4 is the HTC One, easily. If it were available via a carrier in the US, the Sony Xperia ZL would undoubtedly be on this list as well. The HTC One comes with a great design in a full aluminum casing, and offers up a hyper-refined version of the Sense UI. Both devices also share the same CPU inside, great camera experiences, and large, gorgeous displays.

The Galaxy S 4 is surely to win the hearts of Galaxy S III owners, and new customers alike. The combination of a great software experience and beefier specs are sure to make this smartphone a winner. Of course, we wouldn't have expected anything less from Samsung.

There are so many features in the Galaxy S 4 that it may just deserve its own follow-up review. Stay tuned!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/seanbaessler Sean Baessler

    Waiting for the article headline about Samsung paying off phone reviewers.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such bias in a review. “This could be a problem with the phone, BUT blah blah blah, so it’s no big deal.” Give me a break. The undertones in this review are ridiculous. “Everyone likes Samsung, that means it’s awesome”. No. The general consumer in the market for a phone is a freaking idiot and there are lots of them.

    I’ve never liked Kool-Aid and I’m happy I don’t drink it because I’d sound like this guy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Quintus-Murray/1469036783 Quintus Murray

      Shut up fanboy you act as if the galaxy 4 doesn’t deserve its praise which is utter bs. However I won’t say samsung is the best yet.

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