Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 comes packed with new features and upgraded components. The question is, have they done enough to upgrade the S3, or is this upgrade less than worth the cost of the new phone? We’ll lay out the details about the phone, and you be the judge.
Nuts & Bolts
The brain behind the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a Quad-Core Qualcomm 1.9 GHz Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM. This makes for a very beefy processor, able to handle just about everything we through at it. We did find ways to make Asphalt 7 stutter, but those were unusual cases that we doubt many owners would experience in real life—we had every known processor draw turned on and several apps running in the background.
The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but an upgrade to Android 4.4 Kit Kat is already available in most markets.
The Galaxy S4’s battery boasts 2600 mAh of power storage, and the phone uses it wisely. We tried to run the battery down in less than a full day, and the only way we could do so was by watching Netflix videos for hours on end. Even watching Netflix, though, we got a good solid 5 hours out of the battery before we had to plug it back in.
The Samsung Galaxy S4’s screen is a humongous 5” Full HD Super AMOLED display with a pixel density of 441 ppi. We found the screen to be dimmer than most of the S4’s rivals, but the excellent contrast ratio makes up for this. The beauty of an AMOLED display is that black is truly black because the pixel is shut off completely, and this technology helps to make the colors rich and deep.
While the screen is massive, Samsung has managed to slim down the bezel around the screen so that the size and form factor is still almost exactly that of the Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s nice to see a bigger screen fit into the same size case.
One drawback to the Galaxy S4’s screen is an upgrade to the capacitive touch controller. While the new touch controller does make it easier to use the phone while wearing gloves, it has a tendency to make the screen overly powerful. Several times, while swiping through documents, the phone registered a tap when there wasn’t one. This is a minor irritation, though, that experience with the phone should surely resolve.
Samsung has upgraded the camera to the Galaxy S4 camera to a 13 MP auto focus camera with flash and zero shutter lag. Samsung has done a remarkable job on this camera, putting in features that aren’t exactly essential but are certainly nice to have. Using the Drama Shot feature, for instance, you can shoot a sequence of shots of someone or something in motion, and the phone will automatically combine these still shots into a single, dramatic image showing the motion of the subject. Other options in the camera include 360 Photo, Animated photo, night, HDR, Panorama, and much more.
The camera is also capable of recording full 1080p HD video with very good quality. Overall, the rear-facing camera on the Galaxy S4 is astounding, with very few of the problems other phones’ cameras exhibit. It’s no absolute replacement for a standalone camera, but it comes dangerously close and is better than many point and shoot cameras.
The Galaxy S4’s 2MP front-facing camera also features zero shutter lag and can record full HD video.
With all of the nice features of the Samsung Galaxy S4, we wish Samsung had paid a bit more attention to the case and buttons. The S4’s plastic case gives the “cheap” look and feel, but at least the faux metal sides do look a bit more premium than the phone’s predecessors.
The Cover also feels a bit flimsy, but not as much so as with the S2 and S3. The back cover has less give to it, which was a common complaint about the Galaxy S3. Even with the cheap plastic case, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3 sold like crazy, so we’re sure the Galaxy S4 will do just as well, if not better.
Samsung has shifted the Power button slightly on the right-hand side, making it a bit easier to press. The volume key is less easy to hit, but we found the travel in both buttons feels quite nice. Samsung has also upgraded the plastic on the Home key, giving it a more solid feel under the thumb when you press it.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of storage. Also, Samsung has included a microSD slot to expand the phone’s storage up to another 64GB. The phone ships at a price slightly higher than the HTC One, with the 16GB S4 costing the same amount as a 32GB One. Even so, the S4 is a better value for storage because it boasts the microSD slot that the HTC One lacks.
Perhaps one of the nicest features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the dedicated IR blaster for acting as a TV/DVD remote. Using the included software, you can program your phone to control your TV, DVD player, or just about any other device with an IR remote.
Another nice addition to the S4 is Sony’s “Air Gesture” functionality. By waving your hand in front of the IR sensor, you can scroll through web pages or flip through a gallery. Unfortunately, Air Gesture also suffers from being a bit overpowered, and will sometimes scroll back through a page or gallery when you don’t mean it to.
There’s also Air View, which allows the phone to recognize when you’re hovering over the screen, like with the S Pen on the Galaxy Note, but this time with just your finger. Using Air View, you can preview an email without opening it, or see stories in Flipboard.
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is a definite improvement over the S3 predecessor. The phone is still a bit too big for our likings, but the 5” screen doesn’t add anything to the size of the S3’s form factor. If you’re into watching videos on your phone, the S4’s vivid contrast ratios and excellent viewing angle make the phone a joy to use as a video player. Finally, the camera is a fantastic upgrade and takes smartphones one step closer to making point and shoot cameras obsolete.
If you can move past the cheap appearance of the plastic case, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a terrific phone and is well worth the price. We just wish Samsung would use something other than plastic.