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Samsung Galaxy S4 in a first hands-on test: reaching the limit

Loie Favre (translation)

By building the Galaxy S4, Samsung has yet again pushed the technical boundaries. However, it's undeniably true that these boundaries don’t have much to do with the hardware anymore. These innovations have occurred elsewhere: in software, material and design. The Galaxy S4 offers a lot when it comes to these specifications, but not everything.

samsung galaxy s4 teaser
 © Samsung

Enumerating all of what the Galaxy S4 has to offer would take eons. However, there are a few things that really need to be pointed out: its new super AMOLED display with 1920 x 1080 pixels, a power processor with 2 GB RAM, a fast LTE standard and WLAN, which supports the new ac standard.

samsung galaxy s4 test 7
The display was masterfully created. Here compared to HTC one, both screens are at their maximum brightness. / © AndroidPIT

The last feature that I mentioned is where the problem lies. Does anyone really know what this feature entails? Basically, a download rate of 1 gigabyte per second is made possible and the question that remains is this: do we really need this? Do you really buy a smartphone because it supports ac WLAN?

The Korean manufacturer knows the answer and are developing a marketing strategy, which puts into play the purest technological data. They intend on shifting the purest technology from the background that has been playing an essential role in the last years.

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is 0.31'' thin! / © AndroidPIT

Technicalities are a thing of the past. During Samsung's presentation in New York, not a single word was muttered about which processor the Galaxy S4 will have (there will be two variations Qualcomm Snapdragon with 1.9GHz and Exynos 5 Octa 1.6 GHz). Instead, they raved about the Software. The Galaxy S4 wasn't called a smartphone, but a ''life companion''.

So that this cold chunk of metal could hold the title of life companion, Samsung stocked it with the Android System (4.2.2), and stocked it with numerous software improvements, an amount that no other manufacturer provides at the moment.

samsung galaxy s4 test
The settings menus is clearly structured with the help of four tabs / © AndroidPIT

Dual Shot / Dual Recording

Let's take a closer look at the cameras. It now offers the cool innovation of using the front and back cameras at the same time. The picture will show not only what you've captured, but the ''capturer'' too! This is a great function, which gives pictures or videos a new depth that had never been explored in the past. It creates a richer picture with new meaning and content. You can also use the dual camera function for video chats, in order to show your talking partner things in your surrounding, without having to turn the camera.

Sound and Shot

Photos can be enriched with sound fragments: I can link a picture with a voice recording, so that when I preview a picture, I see the image and hear the sound. For example, you can tag a sunset or party picture with a short explanation of who and what was going on. You're able to take a picture for a maximum of nine seconds.

Cinema Photo and Eraser

Thanks to these functions, you can create really unique pictures. The camera will take the picture over the duration of many seconds, while the software algorithm separates the moving and stable pixels. The moving portion will then be marked red in the picture preview and can then be removed. For example, you can erase the person who happened to walk in front of a beautiful scenery. By turning it around, you can take a picture of a dynamic background subject and put it into an animated collage: your loved one smiles happily in the foreground, while the metro whizzes by in the background (Cinema Photo). Video and Photo are combined in a unique way.

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It's really impressive: you can take a picture using the front and back cameras at the same time (thanks to Daniel for his help)! / © AndroidPIT

Integrated Translator

Every single thing that is written - from E-mail, to SMS, to Chaton - has received an integrated translator software, which quickly translates the text to your language of choice, just with the touch of your finger. However, when I tried it out with German and English it didn't work. ''How are you?'' was translated to the German ''Wie sind sie?'', which means how are you in a formal context in this language. One of the test devices couldn't translate Asian writing and simply told us ''language code cannot be translated''. But that's just peanuts. The idea itself to integrate this translation function seamlessly into the system is great!

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The S4 has its own personal trainer on board! / © AndroidPIT

Smart Stay and Eye Controls

These are two extras which really blew me away, because for starters, they're uncommon and worked really intuitively after a third try. Websites scroll easily by slightly looking up and down in the direction of your screen. SmartPause stops a playing video, as soon as you've looked away.

Air View

This is a function that you can write home about. You can use this feature to control the screen, without even having to touch it. It can recognize your finger up to 0.8 inches away. You can even zoom in on texts. Nonetheless, Samsung still needs to fine-tune this feature: it was never really clear to me, at what point in time it was reacting to my moving figure. After one second or three? But maybe my time in New just wasn't long enough to know everything for sure.

samsung galaxy s4 airview
The Air View is practical because it lets you read an email without touching the screen or leaving the main inbox./ © AndroidPIT

Infrared remote control

Just like the HTC One, the Galaxy S4 works with an infrared interface, so that it can be used as a replacement for the universal remote control in your living room. This is definitely a meaningful improvement.

Music Synching

This is also something new: you can connect many Galaxy S4s via NFC and play music synchronously. If ten devices are connected to play some popular song at full volume, you have to ask yourself if you necessarily need this feature. This question pertains to many of the S4's features.  

What makes this device so unique, is the mere number of extra functions that it has to offer. Samsung is following a particular pattern and recipe for success: when the others offer x, then you have to offer xyz+10%.

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3 Samsung Galaxy S4's play the same song synchronously./ © AndroidPIT

Design lacking imagination

Samsung made the same mistake again. ''Evolution, not revolution'' is what a colleague in New York explained to me during the presentation. But the problem is this: the design didn't budge one bit since the last one. Even the material is the same. The backside is made of a thin and very bendable polycarbonate. In combination with the glossy varnish, it doesn’t give you the impression of being high-valued. If you hold the S4 next to the S3, you have to look very closely to see even the smallest difference. Other than the evolved display, both look like two of the same.

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Not a thing of beauty: next to the HTC One the S4 doesn't appear that glamorous. / © AndroidPIT

The Samsung flagship will definitely be compared with the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z and it doesn’t look too good for the new device. Both of its competitors look more high-valued and feel much better in your hand.

Boundary pusher

The Galaxy S4 is pushing boundaries in two different respects. It’s already clear that the device has attained the technical limit: higher, faster and further isn't pacing the smartphone development anymore. Instead they are forging a new way with software innovations and design. Samsung shows its limitations with the latter. The unremarkable plastic chassis reveals a risky strategy, which is curiously paralleled with a lack of openness to risk. The S3 was very successful, so they left the design as is. This sort of comfortable behavior has brought many companies to fail, take Nokia as an example. HTC and Sony need not fear the new Samsung flagship either. All in all, the Galaxy S4 isn't as far ahead in the race as its predecessor once was.

Technical Data Overview

  • Dimensions: 5.37 x 2.74 x 0.31
  • Weight: 4.58 oz
  • Chassis: Plastic
  • Display: Super AMOLED 4.99 inches 1920x1080 pixels, 441 ppi
  • Processor: Quad-core 1.9 GHz (Qualcomm Snapdragon) ; Octa-core 1.6 GHz (Exynos 5 Octa 5410)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Internal Memory: 16/32/64 GB + microSD slot up to 64GB
  • Camera: 13 MP (front); 2 MP (back)
  • Video: 1080p
  • Wireless and Networks: LTE/HSPA/WLAN/Bluetooth 4.0/ NFC/ WiFi
  • Ports: microUSB with MHL/ headphone jack
  • Operating System: Android 4.2.2
  • Battery: 2600 mAh

Benchmark Comparison with HTC ONE

samsung galaxy s4 benchmark
 © AndroidPIT
samsung galaxy s4 benchmark 2
© AndroidPIT

Related Topics

From the forum. Join the discussion now!


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  • Gio A. Mar 18, 2013 Link

    Witch processor thit the S4 in the benchmark picture have?

    It just says ARM 7 so now I'm wondering if its the snapdragon or the new exynos.

  • Eric McBride Mar 19, 2013 Link

    This was a great article Andreas, until you got to the end. You state that HTC and Sony need not fear the GS4, which pretty much f**ked up the entire article.

    Are you aware that last year Samasung spent FOUR TIMES the amount of money on marketing as HTC, Nokia, and RIM COMBINED? You think they won't do the same, or more for the GS4? You think that's honestly nothing to worry about?

    HTC and Sony very much need to worry about this device, and they need to worry about it much more than ever before. Why? Because despite how amazing the Xperia Z and HTC One both are, they simply arent, and wont, push numbers anywhere near the GS3 or GS4. If your flagship devices (which in this case are FINALLY both fantastic phones from HTC and Sony) cant even put a dent in Samsungs success, then what more can you do as a company to start moving big numbers of your flagship products? Sony and HTC are doing a horrible job of marketing the HTC One and the Xperia Z, which has already killed both phones chances of being a huge hit (unfortunately). They couldnt spend a fraction of the marketing money that Samsung will spend on marketing this device, which leaves them with the option of standing by and watching Samsung completely dismantle both companies, AGAIN, in 2013.

    No need to worry about the GS4? Pffffffffffffffffffffffft. They should worry now more than they ever have, despite the fact that the GS4 is only an upgrade of the GS3. HTC is already standing on its last leg, and Sony is failling fast as well. How much longer do you think they can both keep up these shitty numbers?

    Mark my words, worrying is something that both companies are doing a lot of. Andy Rubin told the Wallstreet Journal that Samsung is becoming a worrying threat. GOOGLE feels threatened by Samsung, yet you think Sony and HTC wont with the release of whats sure to be another hit device?

    Seems your missing the big picture.

  • Gio A. Mar 19, 2013 Link

    @ Eric - I don't know about the rest of the world but here in the Netherlands Sony is really doing a nice job on marketing the new experia Z. I've seen commercials constantly on tv and on billboards on the streets. And almost all the telephone companies like T-mobile and vodafone are realy pushing them also in commercials with special deals pricing them on the same price as the S3.

    Hack they must be doing a good job because I ended up going to the store and trying it out. Sony has a nice design but I just don't like the feel of it in my hand so I'll stick to the note II for now. Sony got me looking at there new phone something that htc has never done before.

    Htc hasn't even marketed the htc one since they debut it witch is leaving them dead in the water sadly. If sony can reapeat wat they are doing here in the Netherlands for marketing in the rest of the world they might have a small fighting chance but htc seems content with going down with their already sinking flagship.

  • Andreas Seeger Mar 19, 2013 Link

    Hey Eric,
    thx for your comment! And thanks for the flowers! :-)
    But I think i am not missing the big picture. I just wrote on a product centric perspective, which means: if you look only at the Galaxy S4, it is not much better than the Xperia Z or the HTC One.

    If you look at the big picture, you are totally right. Samsung has more market power (marketing budget, sales channels,...) and the success of the S4 will be unavoidable.

    But I also believe that the bigger you are, the bigger is the resistance you are confronted with. "On the top you stand alone", says a german adage. Take Google, take HTC, take the operators - nobody likes Samsung. And if Samsung wants to be succesful, it has to be better than his competitors in every field.

    So it will be exciting to watch if the S4 is powerful enough (from a product perspective) to break this resistances. I personally think that it will not be the same success as its predecessor.

  • Kidson Junior Mar 20, 2013 Link

    Hi all
    Anyone heard anything about a new Daft Punk App for the Galaxy S4?
    Forum is buzzing about it but not much info on Google yet
    Here's all I can find
    Cheers Kidson

  • RHh Mar 20, 2013 Link

    Hello Gio A. I'm guessing it's the Qualcomm Snapdragon as it seems to be clocked at 1.9GHz. So not the octacore.

  • Nick Whitfield Mar 21, 2013 Link

    I fear that most testers of mobile smart phones are entrenched in their own 'historical' bias as to what constitutes quality. I have been involved in motor manufacture tor the past 40 years and when plastics became used in place of wood and metal it was seen on the cheapest automobiles. It was then said to be nasty, cheap, and almost every one said it was 'tacky'. In the past 15 years plastic has become the fundamental non-structural material in automobiles. And today, the latest plastic, extremely strong structurally, is commonly called carbon-fiber and other derivatives. which despite its apparent 'cheapness' out-performs all metals in strength and weight. In cars, carbon fiber (a plastic) is seen as the 'Hallmark' of quality. Eventually, I am sure plastics will be seen, when used as cases for smart phones as superior to aluminum. especially when upmarket phones, like Apple, start using carbon fiber in their case construction.

  • The Meltz Mar 21, 2013 Link

    Does anyone know the answer to the most important question???

    When is the actual release date??? Lol.
    When will it actually be IN US Cellular stores??? Lol.

    THAT'S what I need to know......

  • Oliver Downey Mar 21, 2013 Link

    I loved my galaxy but moved to apple iPhone and mini iPad because as a pilot I need to receive Data from an ADS-B Skyradar box in the cockpit that communicates via wifi. I believe it is Ad-hoc wifi output. Apple products readily recognize it. Jail breaking not needed. I rooted the android but still no recognition of ad-hoc wifi. The bigger galaxy III or S4 screen is a perfect size for Yoke mounting in aircraft. I have no desire to carry multiple devices. Also I use them as working tools and not playthings. Does anyone know if there is an Android device out there that readily recognizes Ad-hoc wifi? I am curious to know if others have delt with this issue.
    Thanks Oliver

  • Stephen Twine Mar 21, 2013 Link

    I have an s3 and there is not much i see that attracts me ... but the sony experian z is waterproof to 1m for up to 30minutes ... now as a helicopter mechanic out in the open all day etc THAT APPEALS TO ME!!! I was considering the s4 but it seems the Z is gonna be my next phone in may on my upgrade sigh ... i hate changing manufacturers tho ...

  • Gio A. Mar 22, 2013 Link

    @RHh - thanks for answering my question. I didn't notice the processors speed and yes it would seem like it's running the snapdragon. I wasn't realy sure since the octa has a quadcore ARMv7 and a newer quadcore ARMv15.

    I would really want to see the octas benchmark test now.

  • The Meltz Mar 22, 2013 Link

    Does no one know the answer to my question???
    Anyone know an actual release date???
    Actual IN STORE release date???

  • Gio A. Mar 22, 2013 Link

    @ The Meltz - I'm sry but samsung hasn't given that information yet. Some tech sites dit report that it might be in stores around the second week of april. But I would take this info with a grain of salt. If it does come out the second week of april it would probably be out first in Asia and then Europe and sadly a month or two after that in the US thanks to the US carriers who always have to change or ad thier own sh*t on the phones.

    So be patient my friend and stay tuned to androidpit because they would probably report that information as soon as they find out.

  • hanuman bob Mar 25, 2013 Link

    Samsung achieved success with the GS III with masses of marketing money. In addition it just happened to be a pretty good device. Now there are just too many other options out there and I don't believe the S4 will have the same appel. Plus it looks just like the previous offering. HTC ONE is beautiful and there are other companies coming into play like BLU in Florida. It will be interesting to see where this year ends up.