Samsung Galaxy S4 is easily the most anticipated Android smartphone till date and Samsung must have felt the pressure to bring out a handset that will continue the Galaxy S legacy. It is not going to be easy to be the king of smartphones with expectations soaring high and with devices like HTC One and Sony Xperia Z making a formidable rival-line up.
With the rivals trumping up the hardware internals to match, Samsung has upped it’s position offering many new top end innovative software features to stay ahead.
In our Samsung Galaxy S4 review, we take you through all the features and quality of the device to see if it can continue the enviable legacy of the flagship S series.
The 2 D’s – Design and Display
Galaxy S4 marks a subtle design change compared to the previous year’s S3. Though outright it might looks similar with the same rounded-rectangle design, a closer observation will reveal the Samsung designers has not borrowed entirely the previous year’s shell but has made significant improvement and changes.
A slightly bigger display at 5-inch does not mean the Galaxy S4 needs to be bigger in dimension in comparison with Galaxy S3 that has a 4.8 inch screen. In fact thanks to lesser bezel around, Galaxy S4 with a dimension of 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm has a marginally lesser width and is also lighter than S3, weighing just 130 grams, a bit lighter than the 144g of the HTC One and the 145g of the Xperia Z. The impressive 7.9 mm thickness is only a tad more than iPhone 5 and will make the other rival models fat in comparison.
All this means the phone is much better on palms and is easy to use and most of you would not strain to work your fingers around.
The 5-inch display with full HD resolution (1080 x 1920 pixels) stacks up a very impressive 441 ppi density. The super AMOLED display is nothing short of being brilliant with an eye-popping vibrant colors and super-clear ans crisp texts. It’s delight to watch when the screen come to life. Watching videos on this 5″ display is impressive and the crazy hardware specs which we talk about later handles high-bitrate videos like eating popcorns.
A close observation also reveals that the Gorilla Glass 3 sits just below the edges of the screen rather than slightly above the edge as it was in S3. A small move but nevertheless makes it less vulnerable during impacts compared to its predecessor.
Though Galaxy S4 looks very similar to the predecessor S3, the faux-metal band around the sides is a new addition and gives a premium look to the device. This slight design change along with thinner, lighter body has far more implications in handling the device. The flat sides makes for a good grip and snuggles into our palm nicely and the weight seems to be perfect to hold not wafer light not heavy. Just perfect.
The button designs has barely changed and I don’t think much else could be done here. So we have a volume rocker on the left edge and the power button on the right. Both are placed at right height and reach. The power button is slightly bigger and the volume rocker is slightly higher up on the left side, all this minor changes only bettering the device.
Along the top of the screen, you find the 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, earpiece grille and an assortment of sensors. On the bottom, you have the typical Samsung physical home button flanked by the menu and back soft keys on the left and right respectively.
Ah the plastic. Critics might loathe it, root for metal body but the choice of polycarbonate plastic by Samsung has its own practical and functional brownie points and is also durable. The talk about metal or plastic might continue as long as Samsung sticks to its choice of material and frankly its a matter of personal opinion and when Galaxy devices are selling in phenomenal bucket loads, the Korean giant might just have it’s market pulse right in spite of what the critics might shout.
All that gloss and plastics also mean that it also attracts marks and finger prints more easily, if you have a sweaty palms you might have to hold it extra safe.
The back panel is think and with glossy plastic affair. While the black device of the S3 had a brushed-metal look on the blue, I prefer the white sprinkled black affair in S4. Again it’s a matter of personal taste. The panel is easy to peel off and it clips back with a little force.
The glossy back has a slightly raised and bigger 13 MP camera on the top with the flash beneath it. The speaker grille is towards the bottom and off-centre, which looks neater. In comparison, S3 has the flash to the left of the lens and the speaker to the right.
The Hardware Internals
As expected the flagship devices features the best of the hardware specs available at the time of their release and trust Samsung to pack them.
Galaxy S4 is available in two different processor specs. One that uses a 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset and the other debuts Samsung’s octa-core Exynos 5 chip clocked at 1.6GHz.While the US carriers had opted for Snapdragon 600 chipset, the international version, which we have at our review desk, ships with the 8-core. Both the versions also packs a 2 GB of RAM.
Strictly speaking, the Exynos 5 octa chip is two quad cored paired together, a four Cortex-A15 cores clocked at 1.6GHz and four Cortex-A7 cores running at 1.2GHz and mated to a PowerVR SGX 544MP3 GPU.
Pop out the back panel and you find a larger, bumped up 2600 mAh battery. You also find the microSD card and micro SIM at the same place we expect if you are used to S3. If you are running out of internal storage, you can slice in an extra storage upto 64 GB with an optional SD card.
First came the touchscreens and now follows the touch-free gestures. In the race for touch-free interactions with the smartphone, Samsung wins handsomely and they loves to add ‘smart features’ that performs motion, eye and voice controls. Some might dismiss most of the features as gimmicks but no one can deny people love fiddling with sci-fi in reality. More importantly, it’s sheer fun as well as few ‘tricks’ are quiet handy.
So Galaxy S4 boasts of many touch-free controls but keep in mind, they squeeze out extra battery. So it’s wise to keep what is really needed in general use.
I would definitely keep the Air view option on, never mind the extra tax on the battery. Airview first appeared in Galaxy Note 2 but here in S4, the S Pen is replaced with finger tips. So when you hover your finger tips on screen it previews you information. Airview works only with selected Samsung customized apps like Message apps, stock browser, email app (not with the default gmail app), S Planner, Speed dial and Media app. Especially with S Planner, it works neat and makes access to your day’s events and tasks easier and I used it often. It also has to be noted, the air view works better here in S4 compared to Note 2.
The other notable ‘air’ tweak Samsung has introduced is Air gesture. For it’s part the air gesture has many touch-free surprises like Quick glance, Air jump, Air browse, Air move, Air call-accept. From accepting in-coming calls with a wave of a hand to flip through browser tabs, music tracks and gallery images and quick glancing the notifications by waving the hand without having to unlock the screen they do quiet a lot. With quick notifications is a feature I liked a lot on practical usage while the rest makes a good fun do.
There are also other ‘smart’ features like direct call allowing you to call any contact right from the screen by raising the phone towards your ear and other smart features like ‘Smart scroll’ , ‘Smart pause’ and ‘Smart stay’. While ‘Smart scroll‘ tracks your eye and scrolls the texts you read, in practical it might be little awkward as you comically move your head to keep the scroll. Smart Pause stops the video when you gaze away from the screen and continues when you look back again. Smart stay keeps the screen on as long as your eyes are on the display.
S Health for health freaks
For health freaks out there Samsung has an app to cheer about. The calorie management tracks the calories burn and calories intake taking into consideration the profile setting. In the walking mode, it also takes count of the steps and the calories burnt in the process. For lazybones like me, it also helps in motivating oneself.
S Translate in tight situations
It provides for real-time translation and translates what you say, text and will even convert emails, SMS messages and ChatON IMs that is fully or containing sentences in language you don’t speak. The catch though is mobile data has to be enabled, an offline translation mode would have been awesome. Nevertheless for frequent travelers, the app might be handy. Though currently, the app only supports 9 language, we can hope to see many more added in the future.
Safety Assistant… you never know when
Difficult times need smart alerts, after all some help is better than no help. Samsung must be lauded for providing with a safety assistant in case of emergency. What it basically does is allow you to send an emergency message to the contacts you have set in the app. To do this, you have to press the volume up and down together for 3 seconds and the safety assistant locates your place via GPS and sends a SOS alert to the specified contacts with your location co-ordinates via google map as well as it can take pictures using both the front and rear and send it along the message.
The test I performed surprised me with a very accurate location details complete with the plot, street and neighborhood details.
The other features…
Making good use of NFC, Group Play allows you to connect multiple mobile devices to share /play music, videos, games together. So what you see or play in one device is shared with the rest.
And then we have Watch On app that uses the IR blaster in Galaxy S4 which allows you to control your TV and can do more than just changing channels or controlling the sound. It can also suggest programs based on your preference, provide schedules etc. Ditch the remote. I was disappointed not to find India in the list of countries, though the option ‘other countries/region’ worked when I tested with my Samsung TV
Tired of organizing your stored images or sorting them out? Story album storifies or stacks your buckets of pictures based on locations or events and organizes it for you.
Also finding way is Samsung Link to share and play content across multiple devices anywhere any time, Samsung Hub stocking videos, books, games and learning materials.
If you are lost and clueless there is also a help app to wade you through.
Lock Screen unlocked
By default the lock screen just has ‘Life Companion’ written on it and a small clock. Dig into lock screen settings, you can find options to customize it. You can also add widgets and shortcuts to dial, message, Google Now, browser and camera app which can be directly accessed by swiping the finger up the specific shortcut app.
The mighty camera
From a 8 megapixels so far in it’s flagship devices Samsung makes a big leap to 13 megapixels, though sheer mega pixel does not necessarily translate to good picture, it does adds up well and also from the consumer point of view, many of whom might just go by numbers.
Neverthless, the camera delivers good, detailed images but at low light like most camera phones suffers a bit. Though the night mode fares a bit better at low lights.
To keep itself in strong position, Samsung has added interesting camera features and capabilities.
There are in total 12 modes: Auto, Beauty photo, Best face, Sound & shot, Drama, Animated photo, Rich Tone (HDR), Eraser, Panorama, Sports and Night mode.
The pick of the interesting and innovative features are Sound & shot, Drama, Eraser and Animated photo mode.
Sound and shot adds 9 second sound snippets to your image. So next time you click your child, you can also record his laughter or song snippet with the image. With Sound & shot, picture literally speaks if not thousand words but few words.
Drama mode take multiple exposure picture of a moving subject and stitches them together into a single image.
How many times have you got your otherwise cool picture photo-bombed by a moving subject? With Eraser mode, you can simply erase the unwanted moving subject from your frame. The hitch though the eraser mode has to be on when you shoot it and the correction has to be made before saving then and there. Otherwise, the feature works super cool.
My pick of the Galaxy S4 camera feature though is Dual shot, which puts both the front and rear camera simultaneously into action in a still image or video. Samsung has added more muscles to the dual shot mode with many features going into it. You can control the size of the picture within the picture and float it anywhere in the screen. It also comes with many options like square, heart, fish eye etc and even a split screen giving both the front and rear equal space.
Sample pictures taken with S4 (downsized)
I have been using SGS3 as my primary phone for the last many months and now having used S4 for a brief time, I feel the latest and the successor is more polished device and accomplish a lot.
Though looking similar on a first look, a closer observation and brief usage prompts us the minor but positive changes and improvements Samsung has put into the new device.
Riding high on hardware specs what clearly pushes ahead the Galaxy S4 in the race for domination is the many unique, interesting and innovative tweaks, features and software additions Samsung has introduced. Some might be sheer gimmicky, while few remains a fun-do while couple of them simplifies and enhances our interactions, lifestyle and experience.
While most flagship devices can match up to the hardware specs, what differentiates the Samsung Galaxy S4 and possibly make it the most sold Android smartphone again this year to uphold the Galaxy S legacy is the fact with all the innovative and interesting features, the smartphone presents itself as a complete able task performer as well as entertainer, a smartphone with a vibrant personality.
- Brilliant screen
- Blazing processor
- Unique software features
- Good camera and features especially Dual shot mode
- Safety assistant
- The plastic debate continues.