Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

Filed under Our Reviews by Adam on June 12, 2013 at 6:04 PM

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A few months ago, Samsung unveiled finally unveiled its successor to the popular Galaxy S3. The Galaxy S3, according to many people, was the device that finally brought Android to the general consumer and created a well-known brand for Samsung. The device had a universal launch on all four major United States carriers and featured a standard design with all variants, as well. The latter really helped, as consumers were able to pick from a much wider variety of cases than ever before. With the Galaxy S4 , Samsung has done everything previously mentioned, and has really not changed all that much. But, with stiff competition from the HTC One, is it ok for a device to go largely unchanged for two years? Read BriefMobile’s full review to find out!

[heading]Specifications[/heading]

  • 5-inch 1080p display HD Super AMOLED Display 440PPI
  • 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon Processor S4 Pro 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB/32GB/64GB internal storage; Expandable via MicroSD card up to 64GB
  • 13MP camera on the back, 2MP on the front
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • IR LED (remote control like in the HTC One)
  • MHL 2.0
  • 2600mAh battery
  • Android 4.2.2 – Jelly Bean
  • Available in White Frost and Black Mist
  • Dimensions: 69.8mm x 136.6mm x 7.9mm
  • Weighs 130g

[heading]Design[/heading]

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As you are well aware of, the design of the Galaxy S4 is essentially the exact same as its predecessor. The device is still made out of all plastic and is still pretty slick. For me, however, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always been a fan of the Galaxy S3’s design, and while I’d like to see Samsung use higher quality materials with its devices, I’m not entirely upset with Samsung’s decision to keep the design the same.

The Galaxy S4 is truly a gorgeous phone. It has a faux-aluminum look in some ways. With the white model I had in for review, both the front and back are totally white, while there is a chrome band going around the sides that houses all of your buttons. The device comes at just 7.9mm thin, with the full dimensions being 69.8mm x 136.6mm x 7.9mm

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The button placement is the same that has been on past Samsung devices. On the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack, while the power button is on the right. On the left is the volume rocker and the microUSB charging port is on the bottom. Also on the right hand side is a sliver to pull off the back of the device. Under the battery cover is the 2600mAh battery, up from the 2100mAh pack found in the Galaxy S3 and microSD card slot. Under the display is the physical home button, menu button, and back button. All the buttons are placed very ergonomically and are easy to reach, use, and press.

Having an all plastic design means that the device can get covered in fingerprints quite easily, especially on the black model. It wasn’t too bad on the white variant, though.

The Galaxy S4 has an overall smaller design than its predecessor, but has a larger screen with almost no bezel. While it’s still challenging to reach from the home button to the notification bar with one hand, it’s much more manageable than the Galaxy S3, which had an abnormally large bottom bezel.

In the end, I really like the Galaxy S4’s design. While it might not have the best build quality out there, it is still very lightweight and easy to hold in the hand, although it can be a bit slippery at times. It won’t standout from the crowd, but still looks incredibly slick and clean.

[heading]Display[/heading]

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While Samsung may not be known for having top of the line build quality, if there’s one thing it is known for, it’s display quality. Nearly every Samsung Android device ever released has been praised for having a stunningly beautiful screen, and as you would expect, the Galaxy S4 is no exception.

The Galaxy S4 features a 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display with with a 1080p resolution. On the 5-inch panel, that equals out to 441 pixels per inch, or ppi. Some reviewers are not a fan of AMOLED displays because they tend to blow out colors more than the LCD panels used in some devices. I, however, have always been a fan of AMOLED screens. I love how dark and deep all of the colors are on the Galaxy S4. The color reproduction is truly excellent, which means you get greater detail of what you are looking at, as well as a more realistic look at it. After I’m done reviewing an AMOLED device, I find it incredibly hard to switch back to whatever device I’m using at the time. Every other device just seems washed out.

The only downside to the AMOLED screen is that the whites are not as clear and bright as on LCD panels, such as the one found in the HTC One.

The auto brightness on the device is a little wonky, as it tends to be darker than it should. I ended up turning auto-brightness off and set it at 75 percent and did not have any problems with it being to dark. Weather you have it at 75 percent or 100 percent, the display is really bright. The viewing angles are also excellent.

[heading]Software[/heading]

While Samsung didn’t add too many changes to the external looks of the device, the company has crammed the Galaxy S4 full of software features, some of which are gimmicky, and some of which are actually useful.

The Galaxy S4 ships with Android 4.2.2 and Samsung’s TouchWiz user-interface on top. While not a lot of visual changes have been made from the TouchWiz Nature user-interface, it’s still my favorite overlay of any.

One thing Samsung has down with the latest build of its overlay is organize the Settings app a bit more, which given the amount of options TouchWiz gives you, is quite nice. The Settings app interface is now broken down into four tabs. There is “Connections” which is home to things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Data usage, NFC, and more. Next, there is “My Device” which has the lock screen, display, LED indicator, sounds, and much more. Then, there is the “Accounts” tab, which, you guessed it, has all your account settings (Gmail, Facebook, etc.). All the way to the right is “More” section which has Location Services, security, application manager, battery, storage, data & time, developer options and about device.

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Pull down the notification bar and you’ll find a host of quick settings. Tap the four-square grid in the upper right and you’ll find even more settings, 19 to be exact. If you tap the pencil next to it, you can edit what settings appear and don’t appear there.

Another feature new to the Galaxy S4 is Smart Scroll. This feature uses eye-tracking technology to see where your eyes are reading, so when your eyes move towards to the bottom of the display, the page will continue to scroll down so you can keep reading. Now, this can get a bit shaky if you take your eyes of the page totally, which will happen if you’re reading a long form article. The Smart Scroll feature also only seems to work in the stock Samsung browser, which I don’t use, as I prefer Chrome Beta.

Smart Pause is the infamous feature showed of in numerous Samsung ads. It tracks when you are watching a video and when you move your eyes away from the screen. Now, while that may sound cool, it’s actually excruciatingly annoying. Something I often do is sit my phone down with a video playing on my desk while working. My focus isn’t totally on the video, and neither are my eyes, so the video would pause and start randomly. Or, if you’re just listening to music via YouTube, which a lot of people do, you’ll have to keep your eyes totally on the screen otherwise the music will stop. Even if the video is just a static image. Of course, this feature can be disabled, which I did soon after getting the Galaxy S4.

AirView is a feature that allows you to hover your finger over selected UI elements and launch the app or what is inside whatever you are hovering over. Air Gesture is similar, but allows you to perform gestures to do certain tasks, such as waving your hand in front of the screen to answer a call. It’s actually a really useful feature that I found myself using more times than not.

S Voice is still pretty horrible. With the voice recognition software found with Google Now and Siri, S Voice was a pain to use. I found myself having to repeat a phrase multiple times, while Siri and Google Now would pick it up on the first try. Another problem is that S Voice does not integrate with Google Apps, such as Play Music. That’s how I store all my music, so asking S Voice something like “Play Coldplay” is pointless, as it does not index music from Google Play, only music in the Samsung Music App.

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One thing you will notice on the Galaxy S III is the lack of a multitasking button. To bring up the multitasking menu, you simply long press the home button and a menu nearly identical to the one found in stock Android 4.0+ will pop up. Simply swipe left or right to delete an app from the list. Also from this interface you can launch a task manager and Google Now.

In the end, I really like TouchWiz, though I’d still take stock Android over it any day. One thing I’m worried about is Samsung cluttering up the overlay with features like Smart Scroll. It seems like a general consumer would get overwhelmed by all of the options and confusing features.

[heading]Performance[/heading]

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Here is where I start to have some issues with the Galaxy S4. Looking at the specs of the device, there is no reason it shouldn’t perform absolutely beautifully. It’s packing a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor paired with 2GB of RAM. Those are beastly specs that should be enough to power a device running any operating system.

Here’s the thing, though. The Galaxy S4 just does not perform fluidly. Completing any simple task was met with lag and stutter filled animations. Scrolling through the app grid was laggy, as was launching an app. Now, I really don’t know what to blame it on. Many people have reported lag with both the Exynos powered Galaxy S4 and Snapdragon powered model, so it doesn’t seem to be related to the processor. More than likely, it can be blamed on either TouchWiz or poor hardware optimization by Samsung. In 2013, an Android device with a quad-core processor and Jelly Bean with Project Butter should not lag. The good thing is, most don’t, but for some reason the Galaxy S4 does. Hopefully, since it sounds software related, Samsung will be able to fix this in
a forthcoming over the air update.

That’s not to say that everything about the Galaxy S4’s performance is bad. Games perform quite well, as does web browsing with Chrome for the most part.

As far as carrier performance goes, the Galaxy S4 is available on every major United States carrier. AT&T and Verizon generally have the best LTE coverage, while the latter is often more expensive than the former. Sprint and T-Mobile are both slowly rolling out LTE, but are often much cheaper than AT&T and Verizon. In the end, however, it’s always best to go with the carrier that has the best coverage in your area.

[heading]Camera[/heading]

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is no slouch, coming in with a 13MP rear facing sensor. While HTC is trying to convince people that megapixels mean nothing, Samsung has proven something somewhat different. The Galaxy S4’s shooter is really amazing. The processor definitely comes in handy, as snapping pictures is incredibly quick. Pictures taken in good lighting are quite good. Colors are rich and all the detail you need is there. Low-light performance was somewhat disappointing, however. The iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 out performed Samsung’s latest flagship. The Galaxy S4 pictures were rather grainy and noisy and lacked the detail we saw with well-lit images.

Overall, however, Samsung did a really nice job with the Galaxy S4’s camera. While low-light performance is upsetting, I’d have no trouble grabbing the Galaxy S4 to snap a few pictures with.

[heading]Battery Life[/heading]

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The Galaxy S4 is packing a 2600mAh battery that is, unlike the HTC One, removable. Overall, I felt that battery life was good but not amazing. From waking up at about 8AM and using it moderately throughout the day, I was having to plug it in at about 7PM. Moderate usage includes things like emailing, texting, tweeting, listening to music via Google Music, and checking Facebook.

Obviously, the good thing about the Galaxy S4 is that the battery is replaceable, meaning that if you know you will be out for a long time, you can grab a replacement battery and swap it out during the day. The same can’t be said for the HTC One and iPhone 5.

[heading]Conclusions[/heading]

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Samsung has a lot riding on the Galaxy S4. The company finally became a well-known smartphone manufacturer with the Galaxy S3, and it can’t afford to have a clunker. Thankfully, it doesn’t. The Galaxy S4 is a very solid offering from Samsung. It’s not a huge upgrade over the Galaxy S3. In many ways, it’s the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 4. An improved camera and processor, but the design is essentially the same.

You have to remember that we are now living in a world where there are multiple great devices on the market, including the HTC One, iPhone 5, Nexus 4, LG Optimus Pro, and the Note II. I’d be hard pressed to tell someone not to buy a Galaxy S4, but I would say that it would be a good idea to play with all of those devices before buying anything.

2 responses to “Samsung Galaxy S4 Review”

  1. Broc says:

    For what it’s worth…the at&t version had a similar lag that was greatly improved with an OTA update. Well written!!

  2. Tom says:

    Might want to do a grammar and spelling check. Otherwise thanks for the review!