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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review: Solid Effort But Not a High Flyer

Johannes Wallat
8

There's no question that the Galaxy S4 is the most-hyped device of 2013. Samsung's poured millions of dollars into marketing the S4 as a "life companion," which can translate your speech at the drop of a hat, beautify your photos and help you connect with the folks around you. Samsung is now a bonafide Apple competitor, with a rabid fanbase to show for it. But underneath all of the hype, is this a phone you're going to want to own? How does it stack up against the competition out there? We've been playing around with the Galaxy S4 for a few days and we have a few words to say on the matter.

galaxy s4 test teaser 628
© AndroidPIT
5 ★★★★★

Rating

Good👍
  • Display
  • Performance
  • Camera
  • Battery
  • Software features
Bad👎
  • Cheap design/material
  • Look of UI

Design & Build Quality

As we all know, the Galaxy S4 looks remarkably similar to the Galaxy S3, with a few noted exceptions (we'll get to them later). Taking your cues from the most popular Android phone in America isn't such a bad idea and it shows just how confident Samsung is in their own design language. But this is not a phone that's going to stand out remarkably from the rest. If you're looking for something that's going to provoke oohs and ahhs from your friends, you'd be better off with something else.

galaxy s4 6
The S4's body is surrounded by a sleek-looking chrome frame. © AndroidPIT

The Galaxy S4's plastic body has now been the subject of endless debates online. I suppose it simply comes down to a matter of taste: do you care more about having a phone with a sleek aluminum casing (like the HTC One) or do you prefer durable, glossy plastic? As some have noted, it's quite possible the Galaxy S4 will more scratch-resistant than its metallic competitor; whether or not that's a dealbreaker for you depends largely on how comfortable you are with buying a case for the device.

IMG 8010
The power button has also that chrome look: very nice. © AndroidPIT

We liked, but didn't love, the design of this device. It certainly doesn't reach the dizzying aesthetic heights of some of the concept renderings that came pouring in prior to the release. That said, there are some nice touches, like a new metallic strip which wraps the housing. The battery cover also has a subtle grip-able texture that our hands quite liked. Despite having a larger screen, the Galaxy S4 doesn't feel much bigger than the Galaxy S3, which is nice for users who don't want to carry around a Note-sized device. While it supposedly weighs less than its predecessor, the difference is hardly noticeable.

IMG 8040
Polycarbonate and mesh texture: the external features have received a new arrangement, with the flash under the lens. © AndroidPIT

Display

AMOLED displays are high-contrast, known for their dark blacks and vibrant colors.Whether or not the Galaxy S4 has the best display on the market comes down to a matter of taste. While the S4's Super AMOLED Full HD display is certainly bright, with rich eye-popping colors, I preferred the HTC One display's more accurate color-matching. 

IMG 8069
The dense pixel resolution makes for some aweseome visuals.  © AndroidPIT

As far as the display housing, the Galaxy S4 obviously wins against the HTC One, with the newest version of Gorilla Glass protecting it against any and all sharp, foreign objects. If you'd like to see just how durable the display is, take a look at this video. In my preliminary (and much more delicate) durability test involving a few coins, the display held up with nary a scratch.

htcone sgs4
When placed next to the HTC One, the differences become quickly visible. © AndroidPIT

Software

I'm so conflicted. Yes, the Galaxy S4 has a ton of great new features, but Touchwiz remains a hideous mess. I'd prefer stock Android any day over the cartoonish and downright ugly icons, and I wonder why Samsung – which has so much money – can't invest just a tiny bit in good software design. 

That said, the Galaxy S4 has features for days.

galaxy s4 apps
The Galaxy S4 comes with a brand-new Samsung App Center © AndroidPIT

Liked the Galaxy Note 2? The Galaxy S4 has basically all of the same features, including floating touch, side-by-side multitasking options and tons more. The phone even has an "Easy Mode" for the user who can't handle the flood of features; the mode transforms the phone into something even a child could use, with a simple dialer, shortcuts to a few common apps and huge icons. 

galaxy s4 settings
Quick-settings let you turn the various functions on and off in seconds. © AndroidPIT

Wondering why Samsung stuck a humidity and temperature sensor in this baby? One word: S-Health. With this app, you cantrack your calories, sleep, steps and diet, and you can even tell the app how you feel and it will make suggestions about how to adjust your environment. Talk about a "life companion." 

galaxy s4 features
Some of the new features are S Health and S Translator. © AndroidPIT

Samsung's also got an IR blaster remote that can control your TV, a suite of Office products via Polaris, a built-in translator (which works pretty similarly to Google Translate) and a tool for analyzing business cards. 

Air Gestures worked sporadically for me. While it was fun to take a call by waving my hand above the screen, I found the feature over-sensitive, occasionally registering a pointed finger as a wave and misfiring. I'm not sure if I'd leave this feature on for day-to-day use.

galaxy s4 smart screen
Air Gestures actually work really intuitively, it's pretty cool! Even the Smart Scroll blew me away.© AndroidPIT

I love innovation of all kinds, and I'm glad Samsung is pushing the envelope. You don't see a lot of manufacturers attempting to radically change the way people interact with their smartphones. But I'm just not sure if all of these features are so useful. I wish I could recommend them, but some don't even work and they made the phone seem cluttered. 

IMG 8068
The Galaxy S4 isn't known for its exterior, it comes with a huge array of new software features. © AndroidPIT

Performance

The Galaxy S4 is one speedy beast. It didn't lag at all during our tests, even when we were playing very demanding games. A 1.9Ghz Qualcomm processor provides more than enough power for day-to-day use. Occasionally, Touchwiz lagged when opening the app drawer, which is probably a software issue. Hopefully, Samsung will fix the problem in an OTA update.

sc5
It got higher than average results in the benchmark test, however its competition, HTC and Sony, follow closely behind. © AndroidPIT

Camera

If there's one thing the Galaxy S4 has over the HTC One, it just might be the camera. It's not just that the Galaxy S4's camera packs 13MP, it's also a breeze to use and has tons of great features I can see myself actually using. Sure, it might be a little gimmicky to take a photo with the front and rear-facing camera simultaneously, but I'd do it. The Eraser feature also worked quite well when I tested it out, allowing me to easily remove a coworker who walked past me while I was taking a photo.

sc6
All of the S4's camera features are user-friendly and well organized. © AndroidPIT

Another great feature is the ability to enrich photos with snippets of sounds, much like HTC One's Zoe feature. This feature breathes like into images. A sunrise or party photo  contains all the ambient noise around the shooter when he took it. I love this feature so much.

sc7
Another camera feature lets you erase moving objects in your picture. © AndroidPIT

As far as image quality is concerned, the phone meets or exceeds the iPhone 5 in nearly every category. Photos are crisp and clear, with minimal noise. The exception to that rule, of course, is night time photos. Here, the HTC One undoubtedly wins. 

foto1
The S4 lets you do some cool things, like picture overlays. © AndroidPIT

Battery

The Galaxy S4's battery has a capacity of 2,600mAh which is more than other top smartphones and it performed well in our preliminary tests, lasting a full day no matter how demanding we were. This is arguably better than the HTC One's battery, which lasted until bedtime, but juuust barely.

Technical Specifications

    • Type:
    • Phone
    • Model:
    • GT-i9505
    • Manufacturer:
    • Samsung
    • Dimensions:
    • 137 x 70 x 7.9 mm
    • Weight:
    • 130 g
    • Battery size:
    • 2600 mAh
    • Screen size:
    • 5 in
    • Display technology:
    • LCD
    • Screen:
    • 1920 x 1080 pixels (441 ppi)
    • Camera front:
    • 2 megapixels
    • Camera back:
    • 13 megapixels
    • Flashlight:
    • LED
    • Android version:
    • 4.2.2 - Jelly Bean
    • User interface:
    • TouchWiz
    • RAM:
    • 2 GB
    • Internal storage:
    • 16 GB
    • Removable storage:
    • microSD
    • Chipset:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
    • Number of cores:
    • 4
    • Max. clock speed:
    • 1.9 GHz
    • Connectivity:
    • HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0

Final Verdict

I'm not going to tell you which phone to buy. I'm sure by now you already have a hunch as to which one you'd like. But the Galaxy S4 certainly isn't a bad bet. In fact, for those who want an expandable storage drive and a removable battery, it's probably the only bet. The good news is that consumers now have a choice between two excellent Android models, each with their strengths and weaknesses. I'm a sucker for HTC's design, but I can see the Galaxy S4's appeal. Which phone are you leaning towards?

s4 outdoor
The Samsung Galaxy S4 certainly made a splash during their launching campaign. But does it really live up to expectation? © AndroidPIT

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Comments

Write new comment:
  • Graham D Chadwick Apr 24, 2013 Link

    HTC one looks nice but no sd card no sale do I will stick with Samsung

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  • bits Apr 24, 2013 Link

    Whats with this excuses about the sd card been left out!!..co'mon peeps there is 32/64 option and all the cloud storage out there. This is almost enough for the average Joe's out there...

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  • Justin Haske Apr 25, 2013 Link

    To sum it up for you Bits, because why not? Most of us already have a few sd cards and like to store movies or work files, large games. How about tons of pictures and videos to show off your loved ones to friends and family. I also rather expand my storage with cards I already own then spend the extra on the lager variant.

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  • Marcel Dingemanse Apr 26, 2013 Link

    You say: ....but Touchwiz remains a hideous mess.....
    If you think that you obviously have a strong bias against Samsung touchwiz and absolutely NOT fit to make posts like this.
    I know people who barely can manage to operate their iphones and have absolutely NO problems with samsung tablets (note 10.1). This cannot be if touchwiz is a mess!
    Apparantly androidpit is not capable of reviewing with a minimal amount of bias.
    This is very amateuristic

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  • Zachary Osten Apr 27, 2013 Link

    I am really expecting too much from this Galaxy S4. Those features are so cool. I have read lost of reviews also form this. But I don't think all of those reviews are true.I believe some are scripted and too good to be true. People are not dumb not to see those folktales. People can pick up on apparent paid or phony testimonials or reviews, though they are all over the place.

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  • David H. Apr 27, 2013 Link

    Sorry, I just don't like this article. It starts off with a conclusion in the title, that the S4 is "not a high flyer", then describes a phone which is spectacular in every category, except the touchwiz interface which the author just doesn't like?
    I'm a bit confused.
    Is it an ironic article, which says the phone sucks then lauds it's awesomeness to try and catch Apple fans?

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  • Marcel Dingemanse Apr 27, 2013 Link

    Sorry to say but i think androidpit is very childish in the way they write articles! Same i think of as the verge.
    Totally useless if you look for a new phone.

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  • User picture
    jessica ndaye May 9, 2013 Link

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    my name is jessica i saw your prifile today
    at (androidpit.com) and became interested in you
    please i will like you to contact me here in my
    private email (jessica_24ndaye@yahoo.com)
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