Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition (video)

July 12, 2013
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The Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition -- two of the same handsets on the outside, but very different on the inside. How well will they perform against one another? Read on to find out.

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We just recently took a look at the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, and now we’re going to get a more in-depth view between it and the original Galaxy S4. Generally, the two devices are very similar, however, a lot has changed when it comes to software.

We’re going to coast through many of the different aspects of this review, as the GPE is quite literally the same phone from top to bottom, from design to battery, as the original Galaxy S4. If somehow you still don’t know much about the S4 after all of the coverage we have on Android Authority, feel free to check out my full review.

In a rush? Jump straight to the video, otherwise, stick with us as we take a closer look at these two devices.

Design

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When it comes to design, you have the very same device that makes handling a 5-inch screen about as easy as it gets. It has Samsung’s usual button layout, and that same plastic body that everyone either loves or hates. I will admit that for the Galaxy S4 in general, I personally like it in white.

Display

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Both phones bring Samsung’s signature Super AMOLED display capable of 1080p resolution, rated at 441ppi. As you might know by now, the panel is highly saturated, and on the original Galaxy S4 you can customize the general motif. Love it or hate it, the high saturation makes Android 4.2 look gorgeous on this screen.

Performance

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As for performance, it is handled in both phones by the Snapdragon 600 clocked at 1.9GHz, backed by an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. However, the Google Play Edition should yield smoother and faster speeds simply because it isn’t jam-packed with all of the features and bloatware in TouchWiz.

On the other hand, whichever device you choose to run with, the experience with be fluid and easy either way.

Hardware

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You still get the same removable battery and microSD card slot between the two phones, allowing for the expansion of power or the built-in 16 or 32GB of storage. Unfortunately, only 16GB models are available when it comes to the Google Play Edition.

All of the sensors and the IR blasters make a return in the Google-ified rendition, but as you’ll see in the software section, they aren’t all put to use.

Battery and camera

Battery life is pretty much the same, as the 2,600 mAh unit found in either device allows for a full, busy day of work. Keep in mind that you lose all of the power saving features from the original Galaxy S4’s TouchWiz settings, as you’re getting pure, vanilla Android here, and not an OEM skin.

In other words, you won’t be able to rely on theme to eke out that list bit of power anymore.

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And now, we get to the big changes — starting with the camera. The 13-megapixel rear shooter in the original S4 was very well received — it provides great detail in pictures, and it brought a level of vibrancy to every photo. Much like everything else, the camera optics remain the same, but the camera app is where things have changed the most.

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TouchWiz has been replaced with vanilla Android, so you won’t get all of the modes and settings that makes the Galaxy S4’s camera app stand out from the rest. As you might expect, it was replaced with the stock Android camera, which loses everything from Eraser mode and the Drama mode to the dual recording. However, that might not be a bad thing.

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Instead, you get a different interface that uses touch and swipe arch menus that do make sense for touchscreens. It’s an unobtrusive interface that also brings HDR, some scene modes, and of course, the Photo Sphere.

It doesn’t look like the modes are all that you lose in the transition from the original S4, though. In taking some reference shots, it looks like the original Galaxy S4 software helped bring sharpness to pictures.

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It was an uncharacteristically cloudy summer day in Southern California but you can still see the detail in either photo. Zoomed out, it doesn’t look so bad, but once you get closer, you see that level of sharpness that was lost.

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Low light performance remains largely the same, but you can kind of see a little more saturation in the original S4. I took a flash shot for posterity, but it served as a final example of how the original S4’s software does help boost the sharpness, ultimately producing a better looking photo.

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So, it looks like you lose a little more than just modes and features in this transition. That’s not to say that the picture don’t look good in the Google Play Edition. On the contrary, the pictures look great on either device. However, when you zoom in is when you get a better idea of what you’re getting.

All in all, it comes down to whether or not you want all of these extras and modes for a feature-filled camera experience. Don’t get us wrong, the stock Android camera is good looking, but it only gives you the bare essentials, and for people looking for an above average camera experience, that just may not fly with them.

Software

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And finally, we arrive at the crux of this comparison — the software. I’m already seeing in the comments for the GPE full review that the software is a little polarizing. On the one hand, we love our stock Android because it doesn’t try too hard, and it manages to look great in the process. But when you put it against the full featured TouchWiz of the original Galaxy S4, some people think Jelly Bean is overly simplistic. Both are good points, depending on where you stand, when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of preference. There’s something for everybody here.

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Samsung packed the S4 with a ton of extras, right down to the way you navigate. The sensors for air and hand gestures are just a couple examples and then you have S Health and WatchON apps. While you might not use everything all the time, there may be those few instances when they come in handy. Some people might get overwhelmed seeing all of the extras, but now that can be avoided with the Google Play Edition.

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The latest version of vanilla Android, Jelly Bean, is very stripped down. It doesn’t take advantage of all the various sensors and hardware additions Samsung originally put in. You get your homescreens, original notification dropdown with the shade for settings, and one of the more coveted features of Jelly Bean, Google Now.

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I understand those out there who think that it is a waste with all the potential the Galaxy S4 provides. On the app side, it’s possible to replicate what the original brought to the table. S Health can be replaced with other health apps, and possibly some that are even better, quality wise. I’m sure there are some WatchON equivalents out in the wild, too.

All those gestures and new ways of navigating are left by the wayside, unfortunately. Maybe in the future developers will make apps that do use those sensors, but right now that isn’t the case. In the end, Jelly Bean on the Galaxy S4 is given a boost by the hardware, just not all of it. It’s elegant, simple, and easy to use – but it might be too simple for some.

Video review

Price and final thoughts

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All that lost potential really does make the price hard to swallow for some. The Google Play Edition of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is around the top price as the original was upon release — $649, which is about the top cap for the original Galaxy S4 nowadays.

And so, there you have it. The Samsung Galaxy S4 was given a refreshing new look and feel with the transition to vanilla Android 4.2. One thing that may make it easier to swallow the price is the faster updates for the Google Play Edition. However, they might not be as fast as Nexus devices, but they’ll still be faster than OEMs, hopefully. Still, you get some benefit from having a stock Android experience.

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Maybe if you thought the S4 was too much, this will be just the right, simplistic fit. If you look at stock Android and wish for more, the original S4 is there for the taking. Or, if you feel stuck with the original Galaxy S4, this Google Play Edition gives you an example of what stock or even custom Android might be like on it. So, you got a few choices here.

Brad Ward contributed to this post.

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