Samsung Galaxy S4 Review
Hey look, it’s a new Galaxy S phone!
Sure it might look similar to the Galaxy S III. And the Galaxy Grand. And the Galaxy Note. And the Galaxy Mega. And the… well you get the point. That being said thanks to the Galaxy S range of smartphones, Samsung has been able to create these other series of smartphones, so it’d make sense they’d want to stick to a very familiar design, as disappointing as it might be.
The Galaxy S flagship phones did so well because they were a perfect balance of performance, features and battery life (arguably). But the competition has caught up, as is evident by the HTC One and even the Sony Xperia Z. And Nokia’s fighting furiously with their Lumia Windows Phones. So is Samsung’s latest smartphone still the phone to get then? Read on to find out.
The design of the Galaxy S4 is almost identical to the Korean manufacturer’s last flagship phone, the Galaxy S III. The exterior does feel more refined though.
Measuring 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm, the phone is comfortable to hold inspite of the huge screen, and build quality seems better than the Galaxy S III and Note II, though arguably not as solid as the Lumia 920, and nowhere close to the assured aluminium feel of the HTC One and iPhone 5. Mostly because Samsung still choose to stick with using
plastics polycarbonate with the SGS4.
There’s a lot of glossy plastic materials used for the casing, which feels almost exactly the same as the ones used on the SGS3 and Note II. As such it does attract a bit of fingerprint grease, but it’s not a major issue. Samsung has some neat official cases for the SGS4 as well, incase you want to keep it shiny.
One thing that I have to hand to Samsung, is that the SGS4 packs a larger screen than the SGS III, while still managing to be slightly smaller and lighter at just 130 grams.
As with their other Super AMOLED screens before, Samsung uses a PenTile matrix, but has tweaked it a bit by adding an additional green subpixel to each pixel which combined with the high pixel density, means that you wont really notice the pixelization issues usually found on PenTile screens.
Viewing angles are great, and you’ll only really see some color degradation at very extreme angles. Colors are very vivid and saturated, which makes for a great multimedia experience. The colors arnt very realistic though, which might put off some folks, but Samsung does allow you to change the display settings to tone down the saturation.
Visibility outdoors isnt too great though, which is sometimes the issue with AMOLED screns. The screen is pretty bright, but it’s far from the brightest we’ve seen, and as a result viewing the screen outdoors under direct sunlight can be a challenge.
Above the screen, you have the centrally located earpiece, with the proximity and ambient light sensors next to the 2 Megapixel front facing camera.
Below the screen, is the usual physical home button that Samsung likes to stick to with their Android devices, along with a touch sensitive back and menu key.
On the right side, you’ll see the lone screenlock/power key.
While on the left side, you’ll find the volume rocker button. The physical keys all work well, except for the rocker button which would have been better but works well enough.
At the top, is the 3.5mm audio jack.
And at the bottom, is the lone microUSB charging and connectivity port, with a tiny pinhole for the microphone next to it.
At the back, you have the rather bland looking back panel, along with the camera & LED flash towards the top, and tiny speaker grill towards the bottom, with the Samsung logo in the middle.
The back panel is just as frightening to remove as it was on the Galaxy S III, because it’s a very flimsy piece of plastic that bends a frightening amount. Definitely want to be careful with it.
All in all, you’d take one look at this phone and know it’s a Samsung, for better or worse.
The Galaxy S 4 is available in two versions. In some regions, like the US and the UK, it ships with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.9 Ghz, similar to the one found in the HTC One. In other markets, like India, the SGS4 has Samsung’s own Samsung Exynos 5 Octa processor, which is supposed to be a powerful and very efficient octa-core CPU. It only uses 4 cores at the time, so there really isnt 8 cores working at one go, no matter what Samsung’s marketing will tell you, heh. Both versions have 2 GB of RAM and the Snapdragon version has an Adreno 320 GPU for solid performance in 3D games and apps while the Exynos version has a powervr sgx544 GPU.
We managed to get our hands on both versions of the SGS4 with the Singapore version using the Snapdragon 600 and the Indian version using the Exynos 5 Octa.
The Snapdragon 600 version scored 12,080 in Quadrant, 24,697 in AnTuTu, and 4430 in GLBenchmark. By comparison the HTC One scored 12,472, 23,311 and 3542 respectively.
The Exynos version scores were:
Apart from that all, the SGS4 is also available in 16, 32 and 64 GB versions, each having a microSD card slot to expand that memory. There’s also support for LTE (if you have the Qualcomm version), HSPA+, all Wifi protocols, Bluetooth v4.0, GPS and an IR blaster, which lets you use the GS4 as a remote control.
The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 with TouchWiz UI on top of it. Samsung’s UX brings a whole bunch of custom features on top of all the features that the latest version of Android brings.
TouchWiz runs very smoothly on the Galaxy S4′s hardware, and things stay fluid throughout. It’s very customisable as well, allowing users to tweak almost every aspect of it, with tons of widgets available for the homescreen setup. It’s not my favourite Android UI at all, because I still think it looks a bit cartoony, but it’s far less awful than what some other manufacturers have created.
The UI is mostly exactly the same as what we saw on the Galaxy S III last year, so I’ll try to stick to the new features bought in.
There are 4 categories of ‘features’ that debuted on the Galaxy S4, which are Life Care, Life Task, Relationship and Fun, as Samsung puts it. Here’s what they’re about:
Dual Shot - This is a pretty fun camera feature, that allows you to take a picture or record video, with both the front and rear camera at the same time. As such you can create some really interesting pictures or videos of yourself on vacation, etc.
Sound & Shot - This camera feature is pretty much what the name states. You can take a picture, and then record up to 9 seconds of audio along with it, so when you look at the image in the gallery, the audio recording automatically plays back.
Drama Shot - If you’ve ever seen one of those very cool sequence-in-one-image pictures where a skateboarder or BMX rider is about to perform a flip, or something like that, this is what Drama Shot tries to do. It takes multiple bursts of something in motion, and then complies it all together into one single image. Similar to Nokia’s Smart Camera App.
Cinema Photo - This is basically the same as Cinemagram on iOS, or Cinemagraph on Lumia Windows Phones, where you can create a GIF image by capturing multiple images and then selecting which part of the image to animate and which to keep stationary, which can result in some pretty fun creations.
Story Album – This is a feature of the album, where you can create a story album using images, and videos, and also indicate the time and place, the weather, and so on.
Air Gesture - Air Gesture is basically a set of touch-less gestures for the GSG4. There are three main gestures, for Air Browse, Air Jump, and Air Call Accept. If you’re in the browser or email apps, you can wave your hand up or down to get the phone to scroll in the same direction. Similarly, in the gallery app, you can swipe through photos by just waving your hand over the display. It’s a very cool feature that first debuted via third party apps years ago on the N95 but hasnt ever been officially used in an Android UI until now. Not all apps support it though, which is a shame.
Air View - This feature first debuted on the Galaxy Note, and required the stylus. On the Galaxy S4 however, it works just fine with your finger tips instead, and can come in pretty useful. Just hover your finger over an album to see a quick preview of what’s inside, for example, or hover your finger over tiles in Flipboard to see a preview, or preview calendar appointments, email, etc.
Smart Pause – This one’s been talked about a lot, and is a neat little feature where if you’re watching a movie or video on the SGS4, it’ll automatically pause the video the second your eyes look away, perhaps at something happening off-screen, and will automatically resume when you look back at the screen. Cool, eh?
Smart Scroll – This I could never get working properly but basically it uses a combination of a tilting action and looking with your eyes, to scroll through a page in the web browser or email app.
Samsung Optical Reader – If you often find yourself manually inputing business cards you receive, this one’s for you. Samsung Optical Reader allows you to take a picture of a business card, and automatically read and save content digitally.
WatchON – The SGS4 also has an IR blaster built-in, and WatchOn is the app that lets you use it, allowing you to control, select, and view television programming, or video on demand.
S Health – If you’re a fitness fan, S Health can be helpful since it keeps a track of various physical activities, giving you detailed statistics about your fitness routine, from the number of steps you’ve taken, to calories consumed, etc. It can also monitor sleep patterns, and let you know if the temperature and weather conditions are conducive to your health. All thanks to the built-in a pedometer, and built-in temperature and humidity sensors on the Galaxy S 4.
Samsung Adapt Sound – Samsung Adapt Sound is basically a mode where the phone tries to automatically adjust itself based on what you’re doing. If you’re reading a book in the dark, for example, the Galaxy S4 will automatically try and adjust brightness to make it easier on your eyes. Similarly, if you’re watching a video, it’ll pump up saturation, etc.
S Translator - As the name suggests, is a translator app that’s incorporated into a bunch of apps like the Messaging App, ChatOn, and email. Helpful if you travel to exotic countries a lot?
Group Play - This is a really cool feature if you happen to know other Galaxy S4 owners, where you can pair your SGS4 with other SGS4s in a daisy chain to project audio that plays through your loudspeaker, as well as through all pair Galaxy S4 loudspeakers. I wish all phones would do this though, irrespective of make or OS, heh.
Moving on to text input, the onscreen keyboard is pretty good, with nice wide keys that are easy to hit. And the advantage of Android is that you can always install another third party keyboard incase you dont like the Samsung one.
Apart from that, messaging is basically your usual Android experience on the Galaxy S4, with the usual messaging apps, Google Hangouts, and Gmail in addition to Samsung’s own ChatON service.
Coming to the web browsing, Samsung stock to their own custom browser, which is based on the Android browser from 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s more responsive and generally a bit faster than Google’s Chrome browser, and also supports Adobe Flash as well.
Regardless of whether you use the Samsung browser or Google Chrome, web browsing on the SGS4 is a very pleasant experience, thanks to that nice large, high resolution screen.
Coming to Multimedia, the music player is pretty much the same as what you’d get with other Android phones, with your music organised by Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and Playlists. There’s nice large album art displayed while you’re playing a song, and you have access to an equalizer with presets.
Watching videos is also a nice experience thanks to the AMOLED screen, and you can also choose to switch the screen colors to something a bit more realistic, if the over-saturation bothers you.
The SGS4 only has a single speaker at the back though, which is above average in terms of volume and quality, but isnt as good or loud as HTC’s BoomSound speakers on the HTC One.
The Galaxy S II and Galaxy S III had pretty decent cameras, so admittedly we had high hopes for the Galaxy S4, which boasts a 13 Megapixel camera with a single LED flash.
The camera UI has borrowed heavily from the Samsung Galaxy Camera, bringing in a host of features over the usual standard settings like resolution, exposure, etc such as useful shooting modes like Night mode, Beauty face, Smile shot, Best face, Best photo, Sports mode, etc. There’s a whole bunch of shooting modes, and they all more or less help you get better results when in the respective scenarios. This definitely makes the camera more fun and easy to use, though a majority of images will just be shot in auto.
Ofcourse there’s also the aforementioned Dual Shot mode which combines an image from the rear camera and front camera into one image or video, and the Sound & Shot mode that takes an image and records audio to accompany it. We also mentioned Cinema photo which lets you animate certain parts of an image, Story Album which create a photo album based on the shots you’ve taken, and Drama shot which takes a series of photos of a moving object and merges them in one single photo.
Coming to Image Results, they’re pretty good, and outdoor images looked realistic with vivid, yet natural colors with good levels of exposure and plenty of details. As you move indoors, low-light images still look somewhat natural, but tend to have a lot more noise creep in with details that tend to be poor, which makes the Galaxy S4 nowhere as capable a low-light cameraphone as the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 920. The field of view of the camera viewfinder, is much more ‘zoomed in’ than with the HTC One though.
Here’s a couple camera samples from the Galaxy S4 to give you a better idea:
In terms of video, the SGS4 can record up to 1080p HD video smoothly, though details can be a little moody now and then. Quality is pretty good otherwise, though the audio recorded through the microphone is very mediocre, especially compared to the HTC One, Lumia 920 or 808 PureView.
Here’s a camera video sample from the SGS4, to give you a better idea:
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One Camera Comparison:
The Call Quality:-
Call Quality was pretty average on the Galaxy S4. Nothing to write home about. The earpiece is nice and loud and folks on the other end of the call said they could hear us just fine.
The loudspeaker is okay for conference calls, though because of it’s placement, the speaker does tend to get rather muffled when placed on a flat surface.
The Battery Life:-
The Galaxy S 4 is powered by a 2600 mAh battery. By comparison, the HTC One has a 2300 mAh battery, and the Sony Xperia Z has a 2330 mAh battery.
As a result, the SGS4 lasts about 2 to 3 hours longer than the One and Xperia Z on similar usage. Though, the Xperia Z somehow runs out of battery quicker than the others. The Galaxy S4 on the other hand, can very easily get through an entire work day’s worth of usage, though you’ll have to charge it up again in the evening if you have a crazy, busy night ahead of you.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 isnt really a suprise at all. The new hardware like the 5 inch 1080p display, improved camera and faster processor were expected in order for their new flagship phone to be taken seriously, and they all work well enough to make the SGS4 the great phone that it is. The design is admittedly a bit boring, but it’s comfortable to hold inspite of the large screen, and there’s tons of neat software features thrown in, most of which you’ll probably never use but like to have present.
At the end of the day the Galaxy S flagship phones, just like the iPhones, have become a safe choice. There are more exciting things out there, such as the HTC One which I think is the best Android phone this year, and the Nokia Lumia 920 which brings a ton of unique features as well. But while the Galaxy S4 might look exactly the same as the company’s other phones, it’s light, easy to use, works well and basically does everything you’d want it to do.