So it’s been a couple weeks since I spoke about the Samsung Galaxy S4. A lot has gone down in that short time. New variants of the S4 and HTC One have been reported and seen in the wild. But the biggest news is that Samsung has been forced to cut its July Galaxy S4 sales predictions in half. The numbers are still staggering, just not quite as astronomical. They predict 6.5million GS4 devices will be sold next month in July. That’s down from 12+ million they had initially listed for GS4 sales predictions. Much of this is due to HTC and others coming out of the woodwork and blindsiding Samsung with impressive functionality and styling for their devices.
When last we left the Galaxy S4 it had just mopped the floor with Apple’s iPhone 5. This was an easy but needed win for the Korean based Samsung. It tried with all its quad-core might but just could not eek out a win in our comparison against the upstart HTC One, which is powered by the same Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor. Fast-forward a bit and we’re finally ready with our GS4 review. Despite the competence of the competition, the Galaxy S4 remains one of the few top tier premium mobile devices available today. With our White Frost model from Sprint, let’s see why.
At this point it’s probably common knowledge the tech whirring inside the 4G LTE Galaxy S4. But let’s recap. The 0.29lbs Samsung Galaxy S4 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked just above the HTC One at 1.9ghz. This is the same processor found in the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 928 and is quickly becoming the the CPU of choice for high end premium smartphones. It super fast in both the HTC One and GS4 with the One coming out ahead just slightly with swifter response times. The display chosen is a 1080p capable large 5-inch HD Super AMOLED display. It’s gorgeous for static images, video and the UI pops in a way that HTC and other can only dream. It makes images taken from the 13mp rear-facing camera stand out with amazing degree of sharpness and clarity. There is also a front-facing 2mp camera.
The tech within is powerful, to be sure. But the design and construction of the device itself leave a ton to be desired. We’re no fan of white airy plastics. This is one of the GS4’s most significant missteps. It device feels overly lightweight, too much so that it feels flimsy. The back could also do with a bit of texturing. The super smooth white plastic is slippery and phone itself is elegantly thin. Yet it renders it prone to slip from grasp–probably when you’re taking pictures and trying to keep fingers out of lens-view. That said, the look is not unattractive. It just pales when positioned next to handsome HTC One and it’s metal unibody construction.
The number of physical buttons are kept to a minimum. The volume rocker is on the left side, Home button is found just below the screen at the bottom and main Power button is located on the right side opposite the volume rockers. These are all very easy to reach even when holding the device in a single hand. However, running the risk of being pegged a One-lover, I do prefer HTC’s derth of physical buttons. The few that are present are flush against the device for a cleaner more streamlined appearance.
Round out the hardware are 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM and up to 64BG of storage space. The Galaxy S4 also supports MicroSD cards with a slot found underneath the back housing. There is a small army of Bluetooth profiles including A2DP, AVRCP, GAVDP, GOEP, HFP, HID, HSP, MAP, OBEX, OPP, PAN, PBAP, SPP; NFC; Wi-Fi®; Wi-Fi® Hotspot; MHL support. Finally the GS4 also support some of the today’s more high end features such Qi wireless charging tech and NFC (near field communication) support.
The Galaxy S4 is now running on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, immediately placing it in a class above the HTC One, which is still waiting patiently to receive said update. I advise readers to check out all that 4.2.2 has to offer. Samsung has draped the OS in its own custom UI skin. It’s an aesthetically appealing re-skin, mostly. But it has the tendency to get cluttered very easy with overlapping UI’s and a taskbar that remains on screen for nearly everything except YouTube videos, pictures and few other instances–but definitely not web browsing. To that affect, the GS4 allows user a great deal more UI customization than the One.
Samsung also provides a really cool “Easy Mode” setting that simplifies the UI and helps the uninitiated slow learn the ropes at a more even curve. There are quite a few little tricks Samsung has thrown over the UI as well. Most are more gimmicky than productive. The include Air View and Air Gesture. My stance hasn’t changed much on either. Air View requires you hover your finger far to close to the screen to be useful, in my opinion. But it does show you an enlarged/magnified snippet of the content under your finger. Neat, but I found no reason to use it beyond testing.
What I do love is the multi-window app tray, which can be customized or left to be autonomous. It will learn your most frequented apps. Another cool inclusion is Air Gesture where you can cycle through gallery photos and various document by swiping your flat hand above the face of the device. It actually works well and helps keep the display free of marring finger smudge. But really this is another where Samsung falls a bit short. Not enough useful newness and too much “business as usual”.
It’s one of the most capable camera’s on a Smartphone to-date. That 13mp rear-facing camera snaps gorgeous photos, which enjoy clarity and sharpness not found in most mobile device clickers. The color saturation is also more vibrant and still even. It may not have some of the rich features of the HTC One–such as Zoe’s 3-second video capture and Zoe Share music and photo mash-up. Still look at these photos.
The One takes a good photo but those berries are more inviting in the left pic from the Galaxy S4. These photos were captured with relative natural lighting with auto focus and was simple point and shoot.
The Galaxy S4 while familiar, does do a few cool new tricks. The rear-facing camera and the front-facing 2mp lens can capture 2 different photos simultaneously. You can then place one photo within the other and edit it with special effects. Drama Shot will capture a collection of consecutive shot for your to manipulate.
Finally Eraser Shot is a cool feature to use when it’s time to totally expunge an entire undesirable from your favorite photos. There is also a feature similar to the HTC Zoe mash-up option. But the resulting product is more like a greeting card than the pro-style short films of Zoe Share.
I love Samsung for their staying power. The larger 2600mAh battery goes the distance with up to 350 hours of 3G standby time and 300hours of 4G. With the default factory setting I found that to fairly accurate. You get about 16-17 hours of talk time and 11hrs our straight video playback. That last bit is awesome for overseas travelers hoping to pass the flight time watching videos. Overall I charge the Galaxy S4 approximately every 18hrs. That’s just me being proactive. I could probably charge the thing every 2 days. The battery just won’t quit.
I really REALLY like the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s virtually as responsive and peppy as the HTC One. I have absolutely no complaints about call quality. I was heard fine. I could hear the caller/those called equally well. Speakerphone volume is ample, opposed to some. The level of UI customization has welcomed depth. I have yet to see two GS4 phones wielding the same looking interface. It’s not as attractive as BlinkFeed. But you can get BlinkFeed-like functionality with the snazzy Flipboard inclusion. Plus I will admit, BlinkFeed is not for everyone. If you don’t do much on social networking sites and you don’t need hip-fire access to an abundance of news, then the GS4 is the one for you.
However, I can’t speak enough about the Camera on this thing. Photos pop in a near-3D fashion with marvelous sharpness and color balance. Taking photos on the GS4 is very gratifying. But playing with your photos afterwards is much more fun on the One. Still, there are some other features that just trump the competition such as the Qi wireless charging tech, and the dual photo option using both cameras. That stuff is wildly entertaining for more jovial family photos or for couples looking for a personal replacement to the photo booths of old.
Audio is nothing to write home about without a good set of speakers or headphones. This is really nothing new and something we wouldn’t usually call a shortcoming. But the competition has set the bar high with front-facing speakers and Beats audio integration.
This display is again, great for moving pictures. But the lack of brightness and clarity in static images and web browsing is a bit deflating.
At the end of the day, my feelings are much the same. The Galaxy S4 has grown on me a tad more. It’s fun to use and is unquestionably one of the two best phones on the market. The larger screen size is very nice. But I don’t prefer the look or the plastic flimsy construction. Ultimately what I do, for work and play leave me looking to other suitors for my vices of both pleasure and productivity.
Snapdragon 600 quad-core CPU is the fastest in class. Massive UI customization. Some neat new features. Air Gesture is fun. Amazing camera. UI and static images pop. Qi wireless charging. NFC support. Love the multi-window app tray. Flipboard integration.
Plastic feels flimsy, slipper and sub-par. Lacks heft. Clutter-potential with overlapping interfaces. To familiar in the face of changing competition.
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.