When J.K. Shin, Samsung’s mobile boss, took the stage in the Radio City Music Hall last month, the tech world paused in a second of anticipation. Would the largest smartphone maker in the world deliver again? Would the Galaxy S4 continue the legacy of a series of phones that fundamentally changed the mobile landscape? What we got instead of an answer was a sensory assault that left us enthralled, but also a bit bewildered.
Samsung packed so many new features in the Galaxy S4 that it’s a little difficult to keep track of everything. However, the Korean company took a risky bet when it opted to keep the design of its new flagship in line with last year’s Galaxy S3. And yes, the Galaxy S4 is still made of plastic, at a time when competitors opt for more luxurious materials, like aluminum and glass.
It’s safe to say that the Samsung Galaxy S4 is an evolutionary leap, rather than a radical break with the past, as its predecessors were. But does it live up to the hype? Will consumers be swayed by the richness of software features on the Galaxy S4 or will they long for a new mobile experience, embodied in a more premium design?
Join us for a detailed review of the hardware and software features of the Galaxy S4 or jump to the end of this post for our hands-on video review.
There’s no getting around it. The Galaxy S4 closely resembles last year’s S3, enough to fool the untrained eye into confusing one device for the other.
Samsung’s designers slightly tweaked the contour of the Galaxy S4, making it a bit more rectangular, and added a chromed band on the side, which gives the handset a classier look, although it isn’t actually metal.
To accommodate the 5-inch display without increasing the bulk of the device, Samsung shrunk the width of the bezels. As a result, the device has a superior screen-to-body ratio when compared to the S3, with an added esthetic benefit granted by the central placement of the home button, which is now similar in shape to that of the Galaxy Note 2.
On the back, we have the removable plastic cover that has sparked so many debates in the past. Its detractors say it’s flimsy and that it fails to evoke the premium feeling that one would expect from a cutting-edge flagship. However, the cover allows for a removable battery and microSD card slot, two features that customers consistently look for when buying a device.
Samsung has given up on the glazed finish it used throughout 2012, opting for an elegant mesh pattern instead. We found it intriguing, though it does bear reminiscence to what LG has been using on its recent high-end phones.
The Galaxy S4 is actually lighter and more compact that the S3, an impressive achievement on its own. Moreover, it feels better in the hand, thanks to the flatter sides and its excellent balance. We’d go out on a limb to say that the Galaxy S4 has the best handling of all the 5-inch smartphones we’ve reviewed.
Bottom line, if you enjoyed the design and build of the Galaxy S3, the Galaxy S4 will come off as familiar, but clearly refined. The trade-offs of plastic are hard to notice and the phone feels high-end, without becoming hard to use with just one hand.
If there’s one thing the phones in the Galaxy S line are known for, it’s the deep blacks and vibrant colors of their displays. AMOLED technology has come a long way since the early days, and its incarnation in the screen of the Galaxy S4 compares favorably to almost any other display out there.
The full HD panel of 441 ppi density is as crisp as they get, and the visibility, regardless of the conditions and viewing angles, is top-notch. The trademark strengths of the AMOLED panel are highlighted by the saturated, cheerful color scheme of the TouchWiz user interface.
Really, the Galaxy S4 sports one of the best displays on any smartphone, hands down.
Samsung has always excelled at hardware, ever since the days it was one-upping its bigger competitors by packing the very best components into its products. While the new Galaxy S4 isn’t head and shoulders over its competitors (unless you consider the elusive Exynos 5 Octa processor a breakthrough), you won’t find better hardware on the market right now.
We reviewed the Snapdragon 600 version (coming to the US and most of the other big markets), and, as you’d expect, we found little to nitpick about it. It sails through the benchmarks, hovering around an impressive 25,000 in AnTuTu. Epic Citadel surrenders just as swiftly when faced with the graphics prowess of the Adreno 320 GPU.
It is worth mentioning that the speaker of the Galaxy S4 is pretty much how you would expect. It gets adequately loud and gets the job done, though it would have been even better to have it on the front like HTC’s BoomSound. Can’t win them all, it seems. Still, it is not overly tinny and should satisfy most people looking to share music or YouTube videos.
Where the Galaxy S4 does shine when compared to the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, or the Apple iPhone 5 is the wealth of sensors that Samsung packed inside that 7.9 millimeter thin body. Besides the usual connectivity options we’ve come to expect from any decent Android phone these days, the S4 comes with a barometer, a temperature gauge, an RGB light sensor that calibrates the display according to the environment, an IR blaster (the HTC One and the Optimus G Pro have that too), an infrared sensor for air gestures, a magnetic sensor for detecting smart covers, and a digital compass.
All this laundry list of sensors is nothing without the software to make sense of all the data, but, for now, let’s just say that the Galaxy S4 is well equipped in this area. More in the software section.
The Galaxy S4 draws its power from a 2600 mAh removable battery, which is 500 mAh more than the Galaxy S3. But the S4 has a bigger display and a beefier processor, so the difference in battery life is not that substantial in the end.
We’ve tested the Galaxy S4’s endurance in a movie streaming test (Netflix on Wi-Fi) that drew the last drop of energy from it in a little under four hours. In a less punishing test (browsing, watching local videos, sync enabled), the Galaxy S4 went through eight hours of continuous operation. Although not as impressive as the Note 2, for instance, we found the battery life of the Galaxy S4 to be satisfying. Plus, the replaceable battery can act as a safety net.
If, hardware-wise, the two cameras of the Galaxy S4 are not something to write home about, Samsung attempted to make the S4 shine through the software. A host of features gives users some new and potentially compelling ways to use their smartphone cameras.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 camera app
Besides the common options, like HDR and panorama, Samsung packed a Best Face mode that lets you pick the best face from a bunch of burst shots, Animated Photo (useful for making GIFs or cinemagraphs on the fly), and Sound and Shot, which lets you attach a sound clip to your photos.
Similarly intriguing are the Eraser mode and Drama Shot. Eraser mode looks at the background and the subject and tries to erase moving objects that happen to intrude in the picture, to the spite of habitual photobombers.
Someone got into the picture. Eraser mode to the rescue
Final image. Click to enlarge
Drama Shot works the other way, sort of. It lets you combine several instances of a moving object in one image. For instance, you could use this feature to photograph the arc of a football your buddies throw.
Drama shot in action
Drama shot, end result. Click to enlarge.
Some of these features might be gimmicky, but those who take the time to check them out could easily find some creative and interesting ways to use them.
From a technical point of view, the quality of the images snapped with the 13MP camera of the Galaxy S4 is excellent. Color saturation and details are well balanced, and overall, we feel that shutterbugs looking for a good camera phone won’t regret buying the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Check out a few Galaxy S4 camera samples (click to enlarge):
The Samsung Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with the TouchWiz user interface on top. TouchWiz is much vilified in some circles, with critics calling it bloated and gaudy, an assertion that is obviously a matter of personal taste. However, even if you’re not fond of the eye candy-rich interface, you might want to give the Galaxy S4 a spin anyway. That’s because the beautiful 1080p AMOLED display really makes TouchWiz pop in a very eye-pleasing way. Where other UIs struggle to adapt to the high resolutions and pixel densities of modern smartphone screens, TouchWiz feels at home, offering users a pleasant, smooth experience.
The app drawer and settings dropdown.
We could spend the next thousand words describing all the features and featurettes that Samsung baked into TouchWiz in its attempt to make the Galaxy S4 the perfect “life companion”. We’ll restrain ourselves though, and tell you about the most important ones, such as the new air gestures, which take advantage of the phone’s motion sensors. Quickly explained, the phone “feels” your fingers as they hover above the screen. It’s an ability we’ve seen before, but Samsung took it to the next level by enabling it in many areas of the interface. Hover your finger over a folder, and you will see a preview of its contents; hover over a gallery, and the first pics will be shown in thumbnails; you can quickly see your last received text without even touching the screen. In short, Samsung transplanted the Air View functionality of the S Pen-equipped Note range to the Galaxy S4.
Hovering your finger over an album shows its contents
The air gestures can be just as interesting – you can jump to the next music track by flicking your hand over the phone or change the image that you’re viewing. With a wave of the hand, you can invoke the quick info screen that shows your notifications and phone status information. We see many potential use cases for these features, from quickly answering the phone when your hand is wet or dirty to skipping to the next track while jogging.
Navigating through a gallery with a flick of your hand
The much touted Smart Pause and Smart Scroll features do exactly what their names suggest. While their usefulness is less clear, some users will surely find them attractive. Other interesting additions are S Translator (though Google Translate does the same thing) and Group Play, which lets users share a track to up to five other phones. While we couldn’t test this last feature for obvious reasons, it does sound like something that some groups of users (okay, teenagers) would appreciate.
S Health deserves a separate mention. Samsung wants to make S Health the hub of all your diet, sports, and lifestyle activities. For instance, the app lets you calculate calorie intakes or log your weight. With the help of the slew of sensors, S Health becomes a great sports app – it can check the humidity and temperature to tell you about the weather, or count your steps to turn the phone into a pedometer.
Speaking of which, the Galaxy S4 is said to be compatible with accessories like heart rate monitors, wrist pedometers, and digital scales.
Check out other elements of the Samsung Galaxy S4′s user interface:
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is coming over the next weeks to all major US carriers, at prices ranging between $150 and $249 on contract, and is expected to be widely available across the world. It’s likely that, if you will be shopping for a new smartphone in the next 18 months, the Galaxy S4 will come up as an option. So, what’s the verdict?
From our time with the Samsung Galaxy S4, we can say that it’s one of the best smartphones of all time, which, while not revolutionary, brings more than enough new stuff to the table to be worth an upgrade. It’s almost better in every way than its predecessor, has top-notch specs, and beats competitors when it comes to software and hardware features.
Samsung worked hard to perfect its product design (hardware and software) and it succeeded in most part. The caveats are the plastic build and the somehow over-the-top TouchWiz user interface, but if you are okay with that, the Galaxy S4 is a smartphone that we can fully recommend.
Next > Best Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases
Bogdan Petrovan contributed to this review.
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Great review guys!
Thumbs up! :D
A well thought out review.Good job guys! :)
Excellent review – not too little, not too much.
Re the plastic case issue. Does anyone who cares about their phone NOT put a nice looking, protective case on it these days? Which means that the case issue is a non-issue since for the life of the phone – except when you take advantage of the fact that you can put in your spare battery if you need to – unlike with the HTC one, the iPhone or the Sony offerings – you will never see it, what’s the big deal?
And if battery power is a problem, then buy an extended life battery for it, which we all know will be available either from Samsung or a third party soon.
If I am interested in art – I will go buy a painting. If I am interested in a smartphone that I can rely on to give me good service, be able to handle upgrades to the OS for two years or more without breaking a sweat, allow me to change batteries, have additional storage on a micro-SD card, and give me a screen size that is big but not so big it is unwieldy or ridiculous looking – well, then obvious choice right now – the only choice – right now is the Samsung Galaxy S4! SMS
“Does anyone who cares about their phone NOT put a nice looking, protective case” Errrrr
I’ve never had case on any of my phone. My last 3 phone were metal case (iphone 1, iphon 4, htc one), and i wouldn’t buy anything else. And no, never broke any.
metal phones actually damage easier, plastics absorb the shock of falls and bumps
Glad to hear nothing ever broke and you are happy. I would posit though that you may be in the minority re the case issue – as when I am on the subway or bus I almost never see anyone without a case.
The HTC One, the iPhone and the Experia are all well made, serviceable phones and I’m not saying they aren’t, but I believe in Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong and usually at the worst time it can go wrong.” (Or words to that effect).
To me, buying a phone with a sealed battery is an invitation to trouble; if it fails due to a malfunction or dies mid-way through the product life it means you have no choice but to send it back – meaning, I would be without my phone, have to re-install everything that was on the phone and then would more than likely get back a refurbished rather than brand new phone after at 2, 3 or 4 weeks of waiting. In the meantime, I would have to either revert to an old clunker of a phone I still had (if still had one of them) or, if I wasn’t patient would go out and buy a new one. All because I had allowed myself to buy a problem waiting to happen – a sealed in battery – when I could have had an S4!
To each his own and if you are happy that’s great. I just wouldn’t and couldn’t be with one of those phones.
I would posit that you are the minority because on the subway and in public I almost never see phones with cases.
different country perhaps ?
in my country most people use phone case, either silicon or leather one.
teens & women prefer colorful silicon case, while businessman prefer leather case.
either on public transport or personal vehicle.
Opps typo Alan – what I meant to say was, “…I almost never see phones withOUT cases.” Just as you do. I have a friend who couldn’t wait until he got himself a case for his Nexus 4 and started using it, dropped it, cracked the screen and had to return it. Now his Nexus has cost him close to $500.00 with shipping etc! Maybe the case wouldn’t have stopped the cracking, but it might have given it a fighting chance.
I guess porter86, as his name suggest, came from parallel universe where glass and metal never broke and plastic shattered …
I might add that you aren’t in any position(and nor is anyone else) to be saying the words “you are in the minority”.
You can’t say you’re not trying to be insulting, and yet say that little gem there. How about saying something more like “if you’re happy, i’m happy with you”.
have you tried a galaxy s4 yet?
Hard to try it when it’s not out yet. lol
I have a friend who has the Galaxy Note 2 – loves it; I’ve seen countless people who have that as well as S’s and S3s and have heard only positive reviews, so based on that, and the fact that the specs, size of the phone and screen, processor speed, 2 GB or RAM etc, etc I feel pretty safe in buying one when it comes out – actually given I am a very patient person I intend to wait about 5 months to make sure that if there are any bugs that need fixing by the time I buy it they will have been exterminated – and also possibly the price for an unlocked version I can take to T-Mobile or one I buy there will perhaps have dropped.
All good things to to he who waits!
I don’t use a case either. That’s what insurance is for (not that I’ve ever had to use it). It spoils the aesthetics.
On the other hand if I had this ugly piece of shit then I would buy a case straight away to save my eyes some of the displeasure of looking at it each day.
Did we forget to take our bi-polar meds today?
Yet, this ugly piece of shit inspired you to write a comment on the review section…classic troll.
why do you even bother, when you hate it..get a life outside…step away from the internet for a while..it will do you good.
THATS WHAT I CALL A STRAIGHT UP. NO SHIT TALK PHONE REVIEW. BRAVO!
Thank you for great review :) Camera quality is Amazing !
I have only one complaint.You should have shown pictures taken in low light conditions.
Otherwise your review was amazing.
Great review…Very thorough…answered all of my questions…I really like Samsung phones…
No low light, moving subject (kids or pets) camera test?
at night it sucks thats why they didnt do the test
Excellent review…love this phone
I’ve had Galaxy phones for a years now and decided to abandon the Galaxy S line up with the S4s release. The batteries are removable for a reason..battery life has not been that great. Even with the S3 8 I had to rely on Juice Defended, can’t even leave the screen on Auto brightness because of battery life concerns. I remember my experience with the Epic 4G when it first came out, I had 2 spare batteries and a desk top charger and that still wouldn’t cut it. I got an extended life battery which was okay but the added bulk is ridiculous. So with the S4 the battery has +500 more capability but can that compensate for the processor upgrade for the S4? I didn’t want to find out so I bid my S3 good bye yesterday.
You’ll be back. LOL
Interesting. I’m not discounting your experience. You must really be a heavy user as all the reviews I’ve read and people I’ve spoken with who have the Galaxy line haven’t experienced the situation you describe – and I say that sincerely.
even my galaxy s2 thats 2 years old still gets me 12+ hours average use watching the odd youtube video every work break and streaming internet radio over 3g whilst working
The battery life depends a lot on the signal strength. My phone battery lasts 12 hours easily at workplace where there’s full signal, but at home, it dies after about 5 hours.
Nice phone great Twitter
Great review and one of the best… No harping on about the plastic cause frankly not many people care as a case will be on and also the actual build of the phone is solid..can’t wait to actually have my own very soon.
9 days left!!! I cant wait anymore!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks a lot,best review!!
Fantastic review. Much more professional than the garbage drivel that Android Police puts out “hurr plastic, eff everything else on the phone”
Ive been saying its the best phone ever made …. ty for the great review.
Gallaxy S4.!!!! I Want It So Bad.!
Well done! Accurate, unbiased review.
Thanks for the review, very good!
Sounds like a great device again from Samsung.
Still too big though, but at least it’s not bigger than the S3… Let’s just hope Samsung found what the eMMC SDS issue was and fixed it.
This, in my opinion, is the greatest phone that the world has ever seen. No doubt. Probably hold the title for months only though.
The Smartphone world is so fast today.
I really like the HTC One but the S4 does beat it on most specs!
Bravo brother…very nice review and wonderfully edited as well.
So it does have Smart Scroll, and does use your eyes to scroll? That is pretty awesome. There has been some confusion on whether or not the Galaxy S4 did have eye scroll, happy to see that it does. I was worried about the smart gestures being fast, because in the initial hands-on videos the air gestures were slow, but in the review they were quick and snappy. The eye pause also was very snappy. This will definitely be the best smartphone on the market for at least a few months.
What an awful “review”, making excuses for the most abysmal features and design choices that 99% of people dislike.
99%? Check last year’s Galaxy S3 sales numbers and then get back to me.
Obvious troll is obvious.
how did the screen fared outdoors compared to the htc one?
I just came here for the constant bickering between people about how “insert phone here” is better than this because of “insert quality here” because people don’t think it’s possible to like more than one phone.
It’s easy to like more than one phone – unfortunately most mere mortals find it impossible to use more than one at the same time or afford the cost of more than one, which means we must pick carefully to make sure we are happy with the one we choose.
Actually, bickering, arguing, gnashing of teeth – also known as “brain storming” is good, because it helps reveal things that might go unnoticed as well as point out areas for future improvement due to current weaknesses.
I like the way the HTC phones look; but as we all know “Beauty is only skin deep.” It’s what is in the heart of a person as well as the phone that will dictate whether they will last for the long haul.
nice review, while I am not the big fans of Touchwiz, Samsung lines never fail on deliverable. Even in third world country like mine, they already open the pre-order. The launching is always world wide, something that even their closest Android Rival failed (the others usually take 3 months to 1 year in total to launch their product here) by a very large gap, yes, I am talking about distribution. Hear, hear HTC! We Indonesian might be a third world country, but we are crazy about gadget at the same time, you just lost a big pie piece of Indonesian market because you aren’t even start your HTC One’s Pre-Order now.
Another Key point on Samsung great performance is “make things work”. It’s as simple as removable battery (thus enable people to change the battery easily) and SD card Slot which awfully a lot of OEM seems failed to see how important these 2 simple things are. AMOLED screen while controversial but “it works”, it delivers a controversially good color while keep the battery life on check. Unlike well some other who still use TFT (WTF sony.. why??? at least you can try IPS LCD) which drained battery faster than you said “Taylor Swift has another boyfriend”. Buying bigger battery is simple since usually it comes with bigger back case (which is removable), simply put, “it works”.
Other features can be considered gimmick as per article, (I barely see any use of “eye scrolling”, “smart stay”, I even turn off auto-brightness to have my own brightness level using NFC tags to switch over between night and day mode). However, these debatable-working gimmicks are easily overlooked with so many other main important features have to offer.
One man’s gimmick is another man’s essential function.
Now thats a nice rendition of that proverb! :)
Thank you. :) At one point – seemingly in another lifetime now when I was a tad too on the excessive side – I used to be a raw food vegan and eschewed all things relating to meat.
I also never cared for the original: “One’s man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Always seemed a bit obtuse and confusing as it means you have to start thinking about the chemical reactions and or allergic reactions that would precipitate deleterious effects from eating this meat over that meat. A proverb should be short, sweet and leave little that the proverb-ee (that would be we who read it) needs to cogitate upon further to “get” it. SMS
Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) the famous British Prime Minister under Queen Victoria once said, “The secret to success is constancy of purpose.”
Apparently Samsung was listening. While others are focusing on hype and almost religious fervor to keep their sales going; taking out features (like micro SD card and removable batteries) and thinking a metal case is the fashion statement the “in crowd” will insist on being seen carrying – Samsung just keeps plugging away making better, smarter, more feature laden and useful devices that though obviously adroitly and expertly advertised and marketed as well as intelligently distributed as you pointed out, basically have all the ingredients needed once out there in the real world to generate their own buzz due to the high satisfaction “sweetness factor” they possess.
It is obviously why they are becoming more and more successful, while those who have been sitting on the laurels fighting innovation through lawsuits and every other which way they can so they don’t have to compete and keep up with Samsung, falter and begin to fail and fall into oblivion and/or mediocrity.
Nice review…makes me want to upgrade immediately.
I pre order mine and can’t wait to get it. And good review but I don’t agree it’s better with speaker in front for both gaming and size.
The great number of features u get here is amazing and is beyond what others offer which make this the perfect phone :)
Don’t get why people are obsessed with aluminum body as it gets scratches damn quick and limit you
Most of us here while traveling on the pathways of our sojourn are not very happy – but rather fearful, often angry and feeling put upon – it is only natural that some of that frustration should find itself aimed at a target that can’t shoot back – like a phone they don’t have – and by the same token magically transmuted into praise for the one they do favor. Perhaps.
awesome review, great job Mr. Vergara, very professional !
will be getting the unlocked international model.
I thought you were writing Mr. Viagra …
Meh, this is not a good review, and looks like a *paid* review. There is nothing subjective, and doesn’t even compare it to the competitors in any (great) detail.
Somebody please sponsor me to buy this Awesome Phone. ;)
Yeah one for me too! :P
Well, if you guys are gonna get a free one, I want one too!
I’ve been a good boy.
I’m not really bothered with the so-called cheap plastic body. I look more on the performance. How beautiful it is inside.
I stopped in a store the other day and looked at the S4 (I like the black one).
It’s pretty; feels really nice in the hand and does not feel cheap and again – per my comment above – the second I get mine I’m going to put a case on it that will deflect and stop bullets aimed at my person when its not protecting my phone.
The words – Much ado about nothing – spring unbidden to mind.
I’m thinking that all this talk about a “chintzy, cheap, plastic-y case is the last resort of those who are trying a bit too desperately to find something (anything) they can use to put down a phone that makes the one they are biased toward (insert here – iPhone, Xperia or HTC, etc) seem to have some advantage over the S4; obviously they mistake us for people who care about inane, inconsequential points that don’t make no never mind.
S4 top Games: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj9o7ncQzNg
S4 Temperature and Humidity Test: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emuXv9XKhuc
We have to say that samsung has launched some great products and this device galaxy s4 is the example. It has all the smart and best features for the buyers and with a great processor. Many e commerce websites are offering preorder for this device with some offers, one url for the UK users to preregister this device is http://www.prepaymania.co.uk/mobile-phones/samsung-galaxy-s4.html
I thought it cudnt get any better…but I was definitely wrong…s3 is still a very gud phone tho..
It’s great that Samsung is doing their best with the galaxy s4 to “innovate.” But to me, it comes off as a “kitchen sink” approach to just throw every feature imaginable in a phone so we have something to sell people.
when you buy it, what’s the price? and where you buy it?