I’ve had the Samsung Galaxy S4 for around a month now which has given me ample time to properly acquaint myself with the device and see just how good it really is. Being Samsung’s flagship Android and following on from the very successful Galaxy S family, much is expected. Did Samsung deliver again with the S4? In short, yes, I believe Samsung did and many Samsung fans around the world will appreciate this. However, the degree to which they did, will be discussed more in detail in this post.
The other purpose of this Samsung Galaxy S4 review is to answer questions that a lot of my friends, family, colleagues and followers have been asking:
- Is it worth the upgrade from the S2 or S3?
- What other competing Androids are there and how does the Galaxy S4 compare?
- Is it better than the iPhone?
- What’s so special about the Galaxy S4?
- Should I wait till something else is released this year?
Before talking about the Samsung Galaxy S4 and answering these questions, here are the specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S4 below, to help put this post in context.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Main Features:
- Plastic body and aluminum edges
- Google Android 4.2.2
- 130 grams
- 4.99 inch Super AMOLED HD display, 1920 x 1080
- 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor / 1.6 GHz Octa-Core Processor (depending on region)
- 2GB of RAM
- Eye-tracking features – Smart scroll and smart pause
- 13 Megapixel rear Camera (4128 x 3096 pixels, 4:3 aspect ratio), 2 Megapixel front camera
- Comes in white and black
- Three internal storage options: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB
- Micro SD Card expandable
- New version of Touchwiz
- 440 ppi screen sharp text and images
- Gorilla Glass 3
- Li-ion 2600 mAh Battery
- Bluetooth 4
- FM Radio
- 5G Wifi (802.11 ac Wi-Fi)
- Dual camera functionality which allows for using both cameras for video and photos
In summary, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the best Android I have ever owned and tested. While there aren’t any huge quantum leaps in technology from the S3 (My S3 Review Link), it continues to be the best value high-end smartphone. I chose this over the more stylish looking HTC One (which in my opinion is its closest rival) due to the fact that the S4 is lighter, thinner, has larger data memory expansion option, features tough Gorilla Glass display and larger capacity battery.
Form Factor and looks:
The Samsung Galaxy S4 feels and looks almost exactly the same as the Galaxy S3. Physically, the main difference is that the S4 is slightly longer and wider due to the larger 5″ screen. However given this enlargement, like the S3, because of the way that Samsung has designed the contours on the back, the S4 really feels smaller than it is. The new metallic edging gives it a more refined look and combined with the metallic pattern on the back of the case, gives it a more modern look.
I’m still not a fan of the placement of the power button as it can be accidentally triggered during normal use. I think Apple’s placement on the top is the right spot.
Weight-wise, it’s super lightweight given its size – it weighs in at 130 grams which is lighter than its major Android competitors, the HTC One and Xperia Z. However, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is heavier than the 115 grams of the iPhone 5 which makes sense given the extra screen real estate.
With two speedy options of 1.9 GHz Quad Core (this is the one I have) and 1.6Ghz Octa Core processors, we can all rightfully expect super fast performance and that’s mainly what you get. The S4 has more than enough processing power to open all apps quickly and run multiple apps at once. Things that take a lot of CPU grunt such as photo editing and video are a breeze. Great to see Samsung pushing the envelope in the mobile device CPU realm.
Despite the gutsy beast within, I did find there was a little, not considerable, lag when switching between apps. This may not be a hardware issue but more to do with the OS. Compared to my iPhone 5, iOS still feels more polished and less buggy than Android 4.2.2.
With the freshest version of Google Android (4.2.2) and Samsung’s latest TouchWiz, the S4 has so many new bells and whistles. But just like bells and whistles in real life, a lot of these will hardly ever be used and are just novelties. The eye scroll and air wave control gestures, while definitely on the right track, still need a lot of refinement. With eye-scroll I found it would move the screen even after I had it where I wanted it, which was somewhat annoying. And with the Air Gesture, I could not, for the life of me, get it to work! Besides these, the overall experience was good with easy navigation and menu options.
One thing that Samsung needs to pay immediate attention to is the default keyboard. Its auto-correct and suggest functionality is poor, and very frustrating to have to retype words over. This is why companies like SwiftKey (highly recommended) are thriving!
My favorite feature of the new UI is the new S Health app which is a built in pedometer. It tells you how many steps you’ve made each day and gives you a goal to aspire to. When I switched back to my iPhone 5, I really missed this. Yes, I can download a separate app, but with the S4 UI, it’s built in.
Sound on the S4 is above average and I would rate it on the same level as the iPhone 5. For real music lovers, the HTC One may be the best choice with Beats Audio built in. One cool feature about the S4 is that you can combine it with other S4s and create a surround sound experience with each S4 acting like a single speaker. Not sure that people could live that long without looking at their devices but the concept is interesting! On its own the S4 packs quite a huge sound for a little device.
I do, however, question the speaker’s placement on the back rather than on the bottom or front of the device. This is specially a factor when I’m on a speaker conference call and would like to see the display at the same time. Also when playing music on the speaker, doesn’t it make sense that you’ll have it facing up so you can see any incoming calls or notice what music is playing? Samsung, come on, that was an easy one!
The new 13MP camera is better than the 8MP on the S3. Samsung seem to have improved handling of low-light and that annoying green tinge I found on the S3. Color balancing and exposure have also improved. The time from accessing the camera app to taking a shot is very quick – still trying to find out how to access camera via a PIN locked screen though… One of my favorite camera functions is the ability to take a shot by verbal command like “Shoot”. Perfect when I’m holding my phone out my window to take an awesome sunset / sunrise shot or in low-light when trying to take a steady shot. Try it if you have one!
My major annoyance with the camera has nothing to do with Samsung and more with Instagram. You see, I’m an avid user taking at least one shot a day which allows me to exercise my creativity muscle as well as give me a photo diary of my life (pushes to Facebook too) without much effort. The irritating fact is that Instagram (at the moment of writing this blog post) does not process Android photos as well as it does iOS devices. Hardcore Instagrammers will stick with Apple until Instagram show Android peeps more love. Android photos lose their sharpness and colors and brightness distorted.
For many though, this won’t be an issue…
The dual camera functionality that allows one to take a photo of themselves while taking a photo of a subject is an interesting concept. Not sure how much it will be used but can see where it could be useful.
Phone Calls and Messaging
In case you’ve forgotten, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is actually a mobile phone too! Phone functionality on the S4 is ok. I did find that in noisy environments max volume was just enough to hear the other person. With messaging, not sure if Samsung was trying to protect people’s privacy, but it would be nice to see who the message was from and the first line of the message in the SMS notification.
Really pleased that Samsung placed a 2600mAH lithium-ion battery into the Samsung Galaxy S4. Definitely the best battery life I’ve seen out of the box from an Android ever. On my first day of real use, it lasted from 7am to 7pm! I’ll write a post in the next few days how to get even more time out of the S4 but really happy with battery life.
- Is it worth the upgrade from the S2 or S3? From S2 yes but not S3.
- What other competing Androids are there and how does the Galaxy S4 compare? Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, LG Nexus 4, Samsung
- Is it better than the iPhone 5? In some ways yes, but I personally prefer iOS’s more polished interface, iPhone 5 more compact shape and the iPhone 5 camera.
- What’s so special about the Galaxy S4? Described above – biggest features for me were the Active Health App, lovely large screen and improved camera
- Should I wait till something else is released this year? Motorola is supposedly releasing a flagship Android and then there’s also Apple…but for Android lovers, I personally believe that nothing else will come close to the S4 this year.
As stated earlier, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the best Android I’ve owned. The 5″ Super AMOLED Gorilla Glass screen, 1.9 GHz Quad Core processor, up to 64GB micro SD card expansion, 2600 mAh lithium-ion battery and 130 grams weight make it a great all-rounder. I don’t believe that there will be another Android that will unseat it in 2013 – at the moment it’s just the best-value all-round high-end Android on the market!
Looking for a stylish Samsung Galaxy S4 Leather Case? Check out my Aranez Samsung Galaxy S4 Leather Case: