Review: Samsung Galaxy S4, the best Galaxy device to date

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Oh where do I start… I have had the Sprint Galaxy S4 for a about a week or so. I have used it as my secondary phone along with the Galaxy Note 2. If you haven’t noticed yet, Samsung marketing machine has been going really strong at reminding you about their upcoming flagship phone. I have seen more people with Galaxy devices than ever before. Most people I’ve talked to about upgrading –including those with iPhones– have said they would upgrade to the next generation Galaxy handset.

With the release of the S4, Sammy is planning to sell over 10 million units in less than a month. Will they be able to do so? Probably. With over 30 million units of  Galaxy S3 shipped worldwide in 2012, Samsung could probably achieve their goal for this year due to how they implemented a slew of improvements both on the internal and software part to the S3.

I am a sucker for new gadget, especially new Android ones. When I first held the device back in NYC, it felt lighter, thinner and I love the new bezel. I was bit overwhelmed with the abundance of new features. Although I think the HTC One is a beauty as well as a beast of phone, I just cannot get past the fact that I can’t slap my 64GB microSD card in it.

But now to get to the nitty gritty…

The Good

This phone is fast and responsive thanks to its quad-core processor.
The camera is great. You’ll love this 13-megapixel camera along with the many shooingt modes–you can even do GIFs with this thing.The battery life is impressive. You go through a whole day without recharging.

The bad

Not a big fan of the larger home button.
Touchwiz is a bit overwhelming especially to those of you who don’t like Android skins.

Thoughts

The Galaxy S4 is definitely one of the best –if not the best– Android devices this year. It is a close competitor to the HTC One, and the one that’s right for you will really depend on personal tastes. Where the S4 shines through for me, though, is the removable battery and micro SD support.

Galaxy S4 Specs

  • The Galaxy S4 packs the following features:
  • Dimensions: 5.38″ x 2.75″ x 0.31″
  • Software: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • Processor: 1.9GHz Quad Core
  • Display: 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED with 1920 x 1080 resolution (440 ppi)
  • Cameras: 13-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front camera
  • Battery: 2600 mAh
  • Internal storage: 16GB with up to 64GB with microSD
  • Colors: Black Mist, White Frost

Hardware

The Galaxy S4 brings a similar design of its predecessor with few modifications. Folks who are familiar with the Galaxy S3 should not be surprised when they hold the new handset. The plastic is still there but you’ll notice a patterned effect now that wasn’t there previously  The corners are slightly less rounded, but the overall shape remains similar making it easy to hold. In addition, this beast is thin and you guessed it right, it’s also light. It weighs a mere 130 grams, 3 grams less than the S3.

Being a fan of the Note 2 display, I did find the 5-inch display a bit small, but it is worth noting that it is a full 0.3″ larger than the HTC One’s screen. We’ll have to applaud Samsung’s efforts in packing a larger 2600 mAh battery, bigger processor and a slew of other things into this compact little body.

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Fans of the home button will like the one in the S3 as it is slightly bigger than the one on the S3. Personally, I’d prefer if it wasn’t there at all. On the back of the phone, there is a 13-megapixel rear shooter with the LED flash on the bottom of it. The back cover is removable and has a 2600 mAh battery under it along with the usual microSD and SIM card slots.

Going around the device. You will find find a 3.5 mm audio jack and a mic on the top. The power button is situated on the right while the volume rocker is on the left. On the bottom, there an HDMI port and noise cancelling mic.

Display

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As mentioned above, the S4 comes with a 5-inch SuperAmoled HD display that has a 1920 x 1080 resolution. The pixel density is at 441ppi, 100ppi better than the iPhone 5 but 20 less than the HTC One. The image quality is superb and the screen is pretty bright if not too bright at times.

With all that said, if you’re outside in the sunlight, the ability to read the display is just okay. You’d have to manually adjust the brightness in order to see clearly. The fact of the matter is that the automatic brightness isn’t the best I have seen and I hope Samsung will somehow address that in a future software update.
Finally, Samsung increased the sensitivity of the screen allowing for touch activation even when sporting gloves.

Software

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Here is where it gets a little bit complicated.  It runs on Google’s latest Android 4.2.2 with Touchwiz on top of it. And while it has a ton of really interesting features, they won’t be applicable to all users and the average Joe could get easily overwhelmed.

Some of the TouchWiz features from the S3 and the Note 2 remain in place, and there are some cool new features that I really liked, too, including the  Optical Reader, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and the revamped Easy Mode.  The Easy Mode feature isn’t new to the Galaxy line but it has been upgraded. Even folks who aren’t tech savvy can benefit from it. To access it, go to your settings menu, click on the ‘My device’ section, then click on ‘Home Screen Mode’ and then select ‘Easy Mode’. Think of it as a separate launcher within the S4. It’s ideal for first time users and those looking for simplicity because they can add only the apps and widgets they’re going to use.

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Air View and Air Gesture

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Samsung migrated Air View from the Galaxy Note 2 to the S4 and eliminated the use of the S Pen. You can basically hover your finger over certain spots on the phone allowing you to have a glimpse at content. For example, if you open your calendar app and simply hover over a specific date, you will be able to see the notes for that certain day. Air View can also be used with Flipboard, and I suspect that non-Samsung apps will be supported sometime in the near future.

This is how I’d explain Air Gesture: Imagine you’re cooking something, have a recipe up on your phone and want to see the rest of it on the bottom of the page. Your hands are greasy and you do not want to mess up your display, all you have to do is wave your hand down in front the phone to scroll down a web page. This is possible thanks to a sensor located in the front of the phone by the camera.

Smart Scroll, Smart Pause

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You guessed it right. Smart Scroll and Smart Pause use the front camera just like Smart Stay which came with the Galaxy S3. Basically, Smart Scroll detects the movement of your head and how you tilt the device allowing you to scroll browsers and emails without touching the display. On the other hand, Smart Pause detects when you’re watching a video and pauses it when your head turns away from the display. Then it’ll start it once you’re back. These features sure are cool in theory, but it was less than seamless as I tried to demo it to my wife. Depending on how popular these two features are, maybe Samsung will make some refinements down the road.

Optical Reader

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This app is a new addition to the Galaxy line. Although I didn’t find it to be very accurate, the Optical Reader app can actually read business cards and codes and transform images into test files which can then be edited or even translated.

S Health

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I am going to be honest here. I have used S Health a couple of times and I can say that this app has a lot of potential. It tracks your steps, calories, workouts and helps you manage your weight. It lets you add pictures of what you eat and helps you find out the number of calories associated with it thanks to a preloaded database of different types of food.

WatchOn

Have you ever misplaced your remote control and couldn’t find a way to change the channel? Thanks to the Peel-based app, WatchOn, you can now use your S4 as a universal remote control to change TV channels, turn off your TV and even adjust the volume.

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Samsung also included a ‘personalized TV guide’ which allows you to browse channels and look up your favorite channels. All you have to do is click on ‘watch’ to tune your TV to that specific program. Folks who own 2013 Samsung Smart TV will be able to play TV content on their S4s. Samsung also mentions that you will be able to ‘push’ content that is played on your Galaxy S4 to your Smart TV while you’re doing other things on your phone.

Samsung Hub

There is no hiding the fact that Samsung is trying to play catch up with Google and its gigantic Play Store. I doubt that’ll ever happen but they’re trying. Samsung actually revamped they Hub app by grouping their Music, Video, Books and Games Hubs all together as Samsung Hub. So far, it looks very promising. I was able to find and watch a slew of newly-released movies on my phone while I was on the road. If you pick a game, however, you will be redirected to Samsung Apps which is odd. Give it a try!

Performance

The Galaxy S4 comes packed with a 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor which is up to par with the Exynos chip found in the international model of the phone. I ran a few benchmarks including Quadrant, Antutu and Vellamo. Overall, the results put this phone ahead of everything else on the market except for the Exynos-powered S4.

It scored around 12,365 on Quadrant, 21,730 on Antutu and 1705 on Vellamo. You’ll probably like these numbers if you’re a fan of benchmarks. Otherwise, the performance of this beast can only only be measured by how and what you use it for.

Battery Life

Samsung is definitely listening to its consumers. They packed a nice 2600 mAh battery in the S4 which is 24% bigger than the one found in its predecessor. This means that you’ll get a better and improved battery without the need of looking for a charger in the middle of the day. Note that this battery is removable meaning that you can always slap in a bigger aftermarket battery.

I consider myself a heavy user. I use my phone to check my emails, browse the web, watch videos, take pictures and play games. With moderate to light use, I was able to get over 20-26 hours of usage. On days of heavy usage, I was able to swing over 12-14 hours with ease and still have some juice left.

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Okay, I have to mention that I have been using a Sprint model of the S4. I was on 3G most of the time which is a pain in the you-know-what especially if you’re used to LTE. However, I am pretty sure that if this was an AT&T or a Verizon device, the battery life would probably be less impressive, but not by much.

I also want to mention that when checking the battery stats, the biggest ‘drainer’ has been the display. I have had it set on automatic brightness most of the time and yet it still gave me 50-60% of usage.

Camera

The Galaxy S4 sports an impressive 13-megapixel rear camera along with a 2-megapixel front camera. With all of this, Samsung made sure to include a slew of options including 13 shooting modes. My favorite one of all if the ‘Eraser’ mode. It allows you to remove moving objects/people that moving in front of whatever or whoever you’re taking a picture of.

Unfortunately, Samsung chose to not include the photosphere feature which can be found in the latest Nexus devices. To compensate, they added a 360 panorama mode which is quite nice. Some of the other modes are Animated Photo (GIFs), Rich tone HDR, Drama, Sound and Shot and more.

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Dual Camera is another new feature that uses both the front and rear cameras to take pictures. Once you activate this mode, you’ll see a small window with your face–kind of like the chat heads on Facebook. It sure looks cool and all that but I can’t really think of any practical applications for it.

Photo Samples

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Final Thoughts

The Galaxy S4 is surely going to be one of this year’s top Android phones along with some others like the HTC One. Samsung has done a very good job being conservative with their new flagship device. The internals make the S4 a killer device in terms of performance and battery life. The design however could have used some ‘innovation’. The camera is also another feature that will appeal to those of you who enjoy taking pictures on the go. The refreshed Easy Mode makes it attractive to folks who aren’t too familiar with Android.

Would I recommend the Galaxy S4 over the HTC One to anyone? Yes, if you’re a fan of removable storage and battery. Otherwise, it will just come down to which one you prefer.

Zack has always been a fan of anything with the tag "Gadget" on it, he has had used almost every phone brand except for the Palm and owns a OnePlus One, Moto 360 and a Nexus 7. His favorite camera is the Olympus EM-1. He is a full-time father of two great boys and happily married to his wife. Did we mention the Zack loves Video games? Add him to you circles: Google+

  • Peter Azer

    This is beeing said about every new phone

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