Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the successor to the very popular Galaxy S3 from 2012. Samsung had some big shoes to fill, or so we thought. We thought that Samsung would come out and blow us away, well they kinda did with that presentation at Radio City Music Hall, but as far as features, specs, and build quality not so much. The Galaxy S4 isn't all that much of an upgrade over the Galaxy S3  if you're looking at raw specs and build quality. It does have a larger and Full HD display, a larger battery, a quad-core or octa-core processor depending on your region, more RAM if you got the quad-core Galaxy S3 last year, but the build quality and design are more or less the same. The Galaxy S4 does feel a bit more sturdier in the hand than the Galaxy S3 did, but it is the same size, with a 0.2-inch larger display.

The Galaxy S4 is expected to sell about 100 million units this year. Now that's quite a goal for Samsung, but not an unreachable goal. All the marketing they used last year is definitely going to help them, and they are only going to continue it in 2013. Many of us (including me) weren't too fond of the "plasticky" build quality, the Super AMOLED display and the physical home button. Of course, that's my personal preference. I also owned the Galaxy S3 for most of last year so it can't be too bad.

The feature list for the Galaxy S4 is pretty lengthy, which we'll be going over them all in this long review. But some features have a "mini-review" which they are all linked in their particular section of this review for you to check out. Now before we get started, let's take a look at the spec sheet.

Specs

  • 5.0-inch Super AMOLED 1920x1080 resolution display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, quad-core clocked at 1.9GHz
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB/32GB/64GB internal storage; MicroSD card slot supports up to 64GB
  • 13MP rear shooter; 2MP front-facing shooter
  • 2600mAh battery
  • Android 4.2.2 with Touchwiz Nature UX 2.0
  • Dimensions: 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm

Hardware

Design

The design on the Galaxy S4 is much like the Galaxy S3. In fact if you put them next to each other, you may not even be able to tell which one is which. Except for I have the Pebble Blue Galaxy S3, and the White Frost Galaxy S4. So you can tell them apart because of that. But they look very similar. The Galaxy S4 does seem to be a bit more hefty and comfortable in the hand to hold and use compared to it's predecessor.

All the buttons are in their usual places. On the front, you've got your 5-inch 1080p display, front-facing camera, back and menu capacitive buttons and your physical home button in the middle. On the right side there is your power button, on the top there's your microphone and headphone jack, on the left there's your volume rocker and the bottom you have your charging port, micro USB. Finally on the back you have your 13MP shooter with flash just below it, your AT&T (or whatever carrier you're S4 is on) logo, the Galaxy S4 logo and a speaker at the bottom.

Display

As most of you probably know, the AMOLED displays use pentile technology. Which means you can usually see the pixels. But the Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S4 is near impossible to see the pixels. Probably because there are so many of them. There's about 441 pixels per inch on this thing. So it does look pretty great. But once you go out into the sunlight, it becomes a bit difficult to see the display, even on full brightness, I found it a bit hard to see. Now we all have our personal opinions about the different display technologies. Some love AMOLED, some love Super LCD2/3, some love the IPS displays, and some love the TFT. It's all personal opinion as far as I'm concerned. If you love AMOLED displays, then this is a great display and you're certainly going to love it.

Hardware and performance

When it comes to the internals, the Galaxy S4 runs two different processors. There is the Galaxy S4 GT-I9500 which is the Exynos 5 Octa variant and the GT-I9505 which is the Snapdragon 600 variant. The Snapdragon 600 will be in most places, so we're only going to focus on that variant, especially since that's the variant we have here in the US. There have been reports of both variants being sluggish and lagging. I've only ran into lag on the Galaxy S4 twice. And both times were with the default Samsung keyboard. Since then, I've installed Swiftkey and it hasn't lagged since. So that leads me to believe that if you experience any lag, download a third-party keyboard and use that. Or switch to Swype.

Benchmarks

Vellamo

Vellamo is the benchmark we use to test HTML5 and Javascript capabilities of the device. We use this benchmark for every device we review. As you can see in the image above, the Galaxy S4 did great with Vellamo, beating just about every competitor out there.

Basemark

Basemark is the other benchmark we use on every device that we review here at Android Headlines. Basemark is used to test the GPU or the graphics on the Galaxy S4. And once again, the Galaxy S4 outperformed everyone.

Software

Android 4.2.2

As most of you know, the Galaxy S4 comes with Android 4.2.2. Which is the most recent version of Android. Being able to launch a flagship device with the latest version of Android is an amazing feat. Something that isn't done to often, if at all. Samsung did add all of the Android 4.2.2 features like quick settings, expandable notifications, etc., but some of them I feel they over did.

Like the quick settings for example. I know there's a ton there and they are customizable. But you'd think they'd give you an option to get rid of the toggles from the notification panel. As it seems redundant. Or is that just me? I think that is space you could use to see more notifications. Additionally, I have not been able to find Photosphere in the camera. I'm actually shocked that Samsung did not name it S Sphere and add some new functionality to it. Similar to what they did with S Beam, and S Translator.

Bloat

There's plenty of bloat on the Galaxy S4. Now, in my opinion, bloat are apps that will probably not be used by all users. Apps like ChatOn, Flipboard, Group Play, etc., can be all in one app that has shortcuts to the Play Store for users to download them if they so choose. But instead, Samsung and AT&T have filled up the Galaxy S4 with apps that most of us won't use.

Read More: Android How To: Get Some of the Bloat off of the Samsung Galaxy S4

When I first turned on the Galaxy S4, there were close to 60 applications already installed. Comparatively, my Nexus 4 has around 30 pre-installed. There's been plenty of talk about the Galaxy S4 not coming with 16GB of space. I have mixed thoughts on how the media have gone about complaining about it. When was the last time you bought a computer that had a 500GB hard drive, and you actually got 500GB of storage? I can't remember the last time. My desktop has a 1TB (1,024GB) hard drive, and I only get about 925GB of storage I can actually use. Now on the other hand, having 423MB of apps already installed is pretty crazy. So is only having 9GB of space to install stuff on the 16GB model. We'll talk about this more in the Storage section of the review.

Touchwiz Nature UX 2.0

It's Touchwiz. Not a whole lot has changed since the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. Most of the same shortcuts in Touchwiz are still there. The only real changes you'll notice are the Settings app and the new features, which we'll be going over a bit more down below. The Settings app is, a mess. At least to me it is. Every Android device has a ton of settings. Now Samsung tried something new with the Settings app on the Galaxy S4. Some may love it, but others will hate it. I'm not sure if I hate it or not yet. There are now 4 tabs at the top of the settings app. There is "Connections" which has your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Data usage, NFC, etc., then there's "My Device" which has the lock screen, display, LED indicator, sounds, etc., settings. Next up is "Accounts" which has all your accounts settings. Finally there is the "More" section which has Location Services, security, application manager, battery, storage, data & time, developer options and about device.

Read More: How to use the Settings App on the Galaxy S4

One thing I do wish Samsung had changed is the toggles in the notification drawer, and here's why. It's not because I don't like them. But because the Galaxy S4 is running Android 4.2.2, it has the quick settings. So with all the quick settings it has - and there's a lot - why do we still need the toggles in the notification drawer? I understand some people might like it. So this is what I'm proposing. Samsung, add an option so we can disable the toggles if we don't want them. This way it makes all your users happy.

We've reported already on the so-called "S Lag" on the Galaxy S4. Mostly on it's Exynos 5 Octa variant. But I've spent a little over 2 weeks with the Snapdragon 600 variant of the Galaxy S4 and it actually does lag. I first noticed it using the stock keyboard. So I switched to Swiftkey and no more lag. But now I am seeing lag when I am using Falcon Pro. For instance, when I tap on my mentions, it takes a good 10 seconds or so to jump over to my mentions. Now I thought it might be the app, but tried it on my Nexus 4, and the HTC First, and neither one lagged with the same app. I'm fairly confident that if you go ahead and disable some of the "bloat" on the Galaxy S4 that you won't see much lag, but I haven't disabled any of it (except Chrome, because I installed Chrome Beta) so that I can do a good, unbiased review of the Galaxy S4.

Air View & Air Gesture

We've already gone over Air View and Air Gesture in one of our "mini-reviews". So we'll just talk about it briefly here. Basically Air View allows you to hover your finger over certain elements in apps like Messaging, and Gallery to see the content of a message or album. It actually works quite well. It's something they brought over from the Galaxy Note 2. Air Gesture are gestures you can do without touching your phone. My favorite air gesture is waving my hand over the Galaxy S4 with it laying down on my desk. Then I can easily see if I have any missed calls, texts as well as see my notifications, the time and how much battery I have left. It uses up less battery than unlocking it and relocking it. And let's face it, it's much more cooler too.

Read More: Quick Look at Air View & Air Gesture on the Samsung Galaxy S4

Smart Scroll & Smart Pause

These are the eye-tracking features we heard so much about leading up to Samsung's event on March 14th to announce the Galaxy S4. In a nutshell, Smart scroll can see where your eyes are reading and once you hit the end of the page, it'll scroll a bit so you can keep reading. From what I've been able to see, it only works in the stock browser. Which means if this were my daily driver (and not being used for a review) I'd never use it since I prefer to use Google Chrome.

Smart Pause is a rather unique, but annoying feature. I often like to throw a video up on YouTube on my phone and "watch" it while I'm writing or doing other things for the site. But with the Galaxy S4 I can't do that. Because Smart Pause is so accurate, it will keep pausing the video on me. So I have to disable it so I can use it that way. Now if you're someone that watches a lot of videos, and actually watches them. This might be a good feature so you don't miss anything. But for me and my habits, it's pretty annoying.

S Health

S Health is probably my favorite feature of the Galaxy S4. Since I work from home and basically sit at my desk in front of my computer all day long, I don't move around much. But I've found that S Health has gotten me to do a lot more walking and exercising than normal. With S Health you can track your food intake, steps taken, and calories burned. You can also set goals for the amount of steps you want to take in a day. I have mine set to 20,000 steps per day, but I have yet to get even close to that number. By the way, 20 thousand is the max goal. I guess people never take more than 20,000 steps per day?

Read More: Samsung Galaxy S4: A Look at S Health

There are also many accessories for S Health, including the S Band, and the Bluetooth scale which are not currently available. But they should be available in the coming months, if not sooner. Both of those accessories would be pretty awesome to use with S Health.

S Voice

S Voice was Samsung's attempt at competing with Apple and Siri. It first made it's debut on the Galaxy S3 last year, and I wasn't all that impressed by it. It has been improved in the Galaxy S4, but I'd still rather use Google Now. It just seems to be more productive. Although my favorite thing to ask S Voice is "Have you ever used an iPhone?" as you can see in the screenshot shown above.

Other Odds & Ends

There are a ton of other features on the Galaxy S4, including the Optical Reader, S Translate, S Memo, Samsung Hub and More. All these apps work just like they should and how Samsung demoed them back in their launch event in March.

Hackability

The Samsung Galaxy S4 will most definitely get a ton of Developer support. In fact, we are already seeing bootloader unlock exploits taking place, and CyanogenMod 10.1 nightlies hitting a few Galaxy S4 variants. So if you're looking for a phone that you can immediately root, and throw an AOSP ROM on, this is definitely a good choice. Samsung's flagship devices almost always have a huge developer community. Dare I saw a bigger one than the Nexus devices?

Camera Review

The camera on the Galaxy S4 is pretty good. There's been a lot of talk about comparing it to the HTC One. But that all depends on the conditions for your picture. If you're in low light, the HTC One will do better, if you're in normal light, the Galaxy S4 will do better etc.. The Camera on the Galaxy S4 has a ton of options and features. Starting with the modes we have Auto, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Sound & Shot, Drama, Animated Photo, Rich Tone (HDR), Eraser, Panorama, Sports and Night. The surprising thing here is that there is no Photo Sphere mode. Especially since the Galaxy S4 runs on Android 4.2.2. It's definitely a feature I would have loved to have on a device that has a better camera than the Nexus 4.

My favorite modes on the Galaxy S4 include Eraser and Animated photo. Eraser is cool because you can erase people or objects out of your picture. Animated Photo basically lets you take a animated gif. Which are always fun. I actually did one showing off the lock screen lag on the LG Lucid 2, which you can see above. You'll have to click it to see it in action.

Another thing about the camera is that at 13MP it's a 4:3 aspect ratio picture. In order to get a 16:9 aspect photo, you'll need to drop down to 9.6MP. Now the Galaxy S4 isn't the only phone that has that problem. The Xperia Z has that as well, from what I've been told. In the settings you can also turn on/off face detection, burst shot, set metering and ISO, as well as anti-shake and auto night detection. You can choose to GPS tag photos, review them, determine what the volume key does, add a timer, adjust white balance and much more. It's nice to see a lot of elements from the Galaxy Camera show up in the Camera app for the Galaxy S4.

Battery Life

The battery life on the Galaxy S4 is actually kind of disappointing considering the battery is a 2600mAh compared to the 2100mAh on the Galaxy S3. I found it lasts only about two hours longer than my Galaxy S3 would. Could I be expecting too much from a 500mAh bump? I was about to get around 14-24 hours depending on my usage. This was all on LTE as well, so I'd have to say it's not bad at all. But don't forget that you can buy an extended battery. In fact Zero Lemon is working on a 7500mAh battery for the Galaxy S4.

Accessories

The Galaxy S4 is the successor to a few very popular Galaxy S devices. Which mean there are a ton of accessories available at launch. I've actually reviewed a few already with more coming everyday. Check them out down below.

The Good

  •  Build Quality/Design: This is a double-edged sword here. Some of us like the plastic, others don't. But you have to admit that it does fit in your hand nicely, even if it is slippery.
  • Plenty of Accessories: If you haven't been able to tell from the number of accessory reviews I've done for the Galaxy S4 already, there are hundreds of great accessories already available. Lots of cases, extended batteries, battery cases, and more.
  • Battery Life: While I have been a bit disappointed by the battery life on the Galaxy S4. It's still quite good. I think the only phones that have better battery life is the Droid Razr Maxx HD and the Galaxy Note 2. Which have insane battery life.
  • AMOLED but not Pentile: There have been two major reasons why I didn't like AMOLED displays. One of those are gone, and that was the pentile display. While it is still pentile, it's hardly noticeable since there are so many pixels on this 5-inch 1080p display. The other reason is that AMOLED displays are pretty hard to see outside, which still exists unfortunately.
  • Removable Battery and Expandable storage: Two things that most OEMs are doing away with, Samsung has decided to keep. Because users seem to like them both. It is great having an extended battery (especially a 7500mAh that Zero Lemon is releasing soon), and expandable memory is always good as well since you're stuck with about 8GB free.

The Bad

  •  Build Quality/Design: I'm one of those that doesn't really like the build quality. But I know I'm in the minority, so I have to keep that in mind. Having said that, the plastic material that Samsung has used is actually fairly slippery. I almost dropped the S4 a few times. Which is something that doesn't normally happen with my phones.
  • AMOLED Display: Like I said above, the AMOLED display does look quite a bit nicer than it did on the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. But going outside and using the Galaxy S4 for things like Ingress or even just checking your email, it's pretty hard to see. It's normally hard to see displays outside, but comparing it to my Nexus 4, my Nexus 4 is brighter and easier to see.
  • Bloat: There is a lot of bloat on the Galaxy S4. Plenty from carriers and plenty from Samsung. Most of the AT&T bloat you can disable, but it is still taking up space on your Galaxy S4. So unfortunately you'll have to root to be able to fully get rid of it all and get most of that. I do understand that some of the Samsung features you'll want to use, which is fine. But man there's a lot of pre-installed apps on the Galaxy S4. Almost 60 on the AT&T variant.
  • Storage: This kind of ties into the last bullet point. But if you get the 16GB Galaxy S4, don't expect to have 16GB of storage on the device. You'll be left with about 8.82GB or thereabouts. That's what the Galaxy S4 on AT&T has coming out of the box. So in this case, it's a great thing that you have a microSD card slot. But remember, you can't really install apps on your microSD card slot. You can, but its tricky.
  • Lag: We've talked about this before. Some people don't believe that there is lag on the Galaxy S4, but there is. If you're coming from a Galaxy S2, or another older phone. You probably won't notice the lag but it is there. For about the first week, my Galaxy S4 did not lag at all, but as I began using it more it began to lag in certain apps. It lagged quite a bit in Falcon Pro and in the stock keyboard for me. If you disable some of the apps you aren't using, then the lag goes away, or at least it did in my experience.

The Verdict

So I've said over 3600 words about the Galaxy S4, and I still haven't said whether you should buy it or not. Well before you decide, I would definitely suggest going into your carrier's local store, Bestbuy, Walmart, etc and check it out. See how you like it or not. The look, feel, and physical buttons on the Galaxy S4 isn't for everyone. I've been asked many times if someone should get the HTC One or the Samsung Galaxy S4. Well to be honest, I haven't been able to check out the HTC One yet. So I can't truthfully say which is the better buy. But I can say, you probably won't be disappointed with either one of them.

The Galaxy S4 is a great device, there's no denying that, especially since Samsung has sold almost 10 million of these bad boys already. I do like the Galaxy S4 overall, but there are a few things that really annoy me. One is Touchwiz. While Touchwiz has a ton of features, not all of them I would use, and not all of them are necessary. However I do like S Health, Smart Stay, and the Air Gesture and Air View features. The ones I really don't like are Smart Scroll and Pause. Smart Scroll, because it only seems to work in the stock browser. Smart Pause is too good. Yes, I said it. Smart Pause watches your eyes to closely in my opinion. For instance while I'm watching YouTube, if I blink it'll pause. That gets old very quickly.

If you need/want a removable battery and expandable storage, then you're basically stuck with the Galaxy line of phones from Samsung. As just about every other manufacturer has stopped using them. If the plasticky build doesn't bother you, than the Galaxy S4 is probably the best device ever. I am actually really thinking about picking one up. Especially since Zero Lemon is making a 7500mAh battery for it (review coming soon after I get a review unit).

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About the Author
2018/11/alex-2.jpg

Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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