That’s the S4 sandwiched between the HTC One and the iPhone 5
I’ve been playing with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (no, I won’t write S 4) for the better part of a week and, not to spoil the whole review: I love it. It is better in every way than the S3 hardware-wise, and Samsung even has some good software on this phone, particularly in the camera field. I’ve never been a fan of Samsung’s software.
It is what is on the inside that counts, right?
This phone will do extremely well in the market and will keep up the fight against the almighty iPhone 5 and HTC One (which we reviewed earlier this month and loved). In the Apple world, this S4 is called an ‘S update’ – where the outward design is mostly the same but a lot of changes have taken place under the hood.
Below I’ll drill down exactly what that means.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 hardware is better in every way than the popular, high-end Galaxy S3. Thinner (7.9mm vs 8.3mm) lighter, bigger battery, bigger screen, better camera all in the same familiar package. The S4 feels great in the hand even though many (including my not-a-fan wife) will note its slippery plastic backing and edges as downsides. I personally dont mind the plastic so long as it holds up to every day stress, which this one seemed to do quite well. Under the ‘hood’ you’ll find a MicroSD card slot that’s becoming a bit of a rarity in the smartphone space. Apple, then HTC then the LG’s Nexus 4 all went SD Card-less but here’s Samsung with 16GB on board and expandable to nearly 80GB with 64GB SD card. Fun!
The camera, measured at 13 megapixels big, is as high end as you get on a smartphone and also takes incredible 1080P video which shows up looking amazing on the 5″ 1080P superAMOLED display. Colors may be over-saturated but they still look great and the camera’s pictures and video are as good as any I’ve used on a smartphone. I still wasn’t ecstatic about outdoor sunlight reading on the SuperAMOLED display but that could have been a software issue. Manually adjusting the brightness to 100% helped a lot.
The screen itself is incredible and probably the best feature of the phone. As you can see in the top image, it bests the 4.7-inch HTC one by a significant margin, yet in a very similar sized total package. The 4-inch iPhone 5 screen pales in comparison.
The button and port layout is generally the same as the S3 – so a very small physical learning curve to master.
Again, starting with the Galaxy S3, Samsung built a very similar experience throughout the device but with some of the additions of the Note 2 like the sidebar and the ability to do two apps on the screen at once.The Note 2-typle sidebar/app switcher is also a nice touch. Some apps let you hover over something with your finger like in the Note 2 (w/Stylus) and peek at what’s inside. Email and calendar apps do this very well with this new feature. Many will call the S4’s software additions gimmicky and I get that. But this is coming from people with 5 days with the phone. When you have a phone for a year or two, some of these gimmicks become fun toys.
There are also three stock apps which I loved. One, called ‘Optical Reader’ can translate menus to different languages, scan business cards and do all types of text gathering and manipulation.
The S Health app lets you keep track of your food intake and exercise and even has some blood sugar types of controls that won’t be available this summer due to some clearance work thats being done by the FDA.
Finally the camera app adds all kinds of functionally to the setup. There are too many features to go through them all now. But some notables are the gif-maker, the slow and fast motion, the multi shot and the “photobomber remover”. I haven’t has as much fun with a smartphone camera for as long as I can remember.
Wrap up: The Galaxy S4 is better in every way than one of the world’s most popular smartphone, the Galaxy S3. Sure, there are still quibbles like the plastic backing and the not so finer points of Touchwiz and Samsung’s desire to have more than one app for every function. But overall, there isn’t much to dislike here, especially if you are upgrading from an S3. If you aren’t a happy S3 owner, you should definitely take a look at the HTC One which has amazing hardware but perhaps not quite as robust software.
Me? I’d wait to see what Google has to show us at Google IO next month before throwing down your money. Even after reviewing both the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, I’m still happy to go back to my 9 month old, $299 Nexus 4.