The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the first generalist high-end smartphone that Samsung has launched since the Galaxy S3 (I think the Galaxy Note 2 is still a niche device), many expected the Galaxy S4 to be a massive improvement and a huge commercial success.
Even though we are pitching the Galaxy S4 versus the Galaxy S3 here, we won't try to pick the better smartphone. Instead, what we are trying to do here is to find if owners of the Galaxy S3 have enough reasons to upgrade to the new Galaxy S4.
So, is the Samsung Galaxy S4 a worth upgrade, if you already own a Galaxy S3?
For a quick sum-up, you can jump to the video comparison at the end of the article. If you’re interested in a more complete answer, keep reading. We pit the Galaxy S4 against the Galaxy S3 in each of the following sections: display, design and build quality, hardware, and software.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S3
136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm130g
136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm (5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 in)133 g (4.69 oz)
4.99-inch, Super AMOLED1920 x 1080 Full HD, 441ppi
4.8 inch, HD Super AMOLED (PenTile)1280 x 720 pixels (HD), 306ppi
The Samsung Galaxy S3 features a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display running at a resolution of 1280 by 720 (also known as 720p or HD). The pixel per inch (PPI) density of the panel rests at 306, which is a decent level, but Samsung used a PenTile subpixel arrangement, which is notorious for the fuzz it shows around certain graphic elements, such as text. In fact, the display of the Galaxy S3 has always represented a weak spot when compared to other Android flagships.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 makes use of a 4.99 inch Super AMOLED display running at a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. Samsung has now officially joined the 1080p club with the Samsung Galaxy S4. The phone features the only full HD AMOLED display available on the market, and it might be a while before other companies catch up with Samsung in this area.
The display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is very crisp, something that is reflected in its pixel density of 441. We’ll have to wait for more time with the device to see if Samsung has managed to temper the traditional issues of AMOLED panels (oversaturated colors, thus an inaccurate color reproduction), but the brightness and contrast levels seem to be on par with what the Samsung S3 has to offer.
The Galaxy S4 features a novel subpixel matrix, with diamond shaped pixels
Verdict: The full HD display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is clearly superior to the panel of the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Design and build quality
If you place the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3 next to each other, you might mistake one for each other, especially if you don't know what to look for in advance. The Galaxy S4 is the same height as the GS3, but it's a bit narrower, and also thinner.
On the front of the device, the most significant change is the narrow bezel on the Galaxy S4, which we found quite attractive. Other than that, the design language is roughly the same with the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2.
The plastic case of the Galaxy S4 comes in the same glazed that debuted last year in May, but in different color schemes.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 measures 133 g (4.69 oz), but Samsung managed to shave off a few grams and bring the Galaxy S4 down to an impressive 130 g (4.59 oz). Basically, the Korean phone maker has managed to fit a bigger display in a smaller package, which is something we always appreciate.
We’ll have to wait before our Darcy LaCouvee gets his hands on a Galaxy S4 unit he can drop (test) before we talk about the Galaxy S4′s resistance to impact, but at least at first blush, it looks like there isn't much improvement in this department.
Verdict: Samsung has used almost the exact same design language and materials with both the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy S4, the latter is a bit more compact.
CPU, GPU and RAM
The Samsung Galaxy S3 came in two versions: one with LTE that used a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC (1.5 GHz dual-core Krait CPU, Adreno 220 GPU and 2GB of RAM) and a 3G version that used the Exynos 4 Quad SoC (1.4 GHz quad-core A9 CPU, Mali 400MP) and 1 GB of RAM. Although the Exynos 4 Quad is a bit faster in some benchmarks, both versions are roughly equally powerful overall.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will also come in two versions: a North American version that uses a Snapdragon 600 SoC (1.9 GHz quad-core Krait CPU, Adreno 320 GPU and 2 GB of RAM) and an international version that will use Samsung’s new Exynos 5 Octa (a 1.6 GHz quad-core A15 CPU and a 1.2 GHz quad-core A7 CPU paired in the big.Little configuration, plus a PowerVR GPU), and 2 GB of RAM.
The Snapdragon 600 is proven to be blazing fast, and we’ll have to wait before we get the Exynos 5 Octa into some benchmarks to see where we stand, but either version will deliver a noticeable improvement in performance over the Exynos 4 Quad inside the Galaxy S3.
Massive improvement in AnTuTu benchmark scores
Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3 can be fitted with SD cards of up to 64 GB in size (kudos to Samsung for their decision to keep this feature) and come with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of internal storage.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 uses an 8MP primary camera and a 1.9 MP secondary camera, while the Samsung Galaxy S4 uses a 13MP primary sensor and a 2 MP secondary sensor. Samsung added some interesting functionality to the camera software on the Galaxy S4, such as the ability to record a sound snippet and attach it to an image, or the dual recording mode.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 uses a 2100 mAh battery and generally provides decent battery life. Hopefully, the Galaxy S4 and its 2600 mAh battery will provide the same mobility. The bigger, crisper display will surely draw more power, but perhaps the big.Little architecture would offset the increased power consumption. We’ll get back to this section once we have tested the Samsung Galaxy S4 for battery life.
Verdict: Although the Samsung Galaxy S4 is definitely faster, only those with a passion for cutting edge specs should feel the urge to upgrade from the Galaxy S3.
Android implementation and software
The Samsung Galaxy S3 was launched with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but has since been updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Galaxy S4 will feature Android 4.2 out of the box.
In terms of software feature, the Samsung Galaxy S4 definitely improves upon the Galaxy S3 (I’m talking about the Smart Functions, as well as about the Premium Suite for Galaxy S3). New functionality includes Air View (floating touch), Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, S Drive and S Translator. You can read about all the new software features that Samsung has added to the Galaxy S4 in our article here.
Verdict: The new software tweaks on the Samsung Galaxy S4 are a welcomed addition to an already feature-rich implementation of the Android OS.
The Bottom Line
It doesn't take an expert to notice that the Galaxy S4 is the most incremental update in the S series so far. But if you take the time to look at the Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Samsung Galaxy S2 article that I wrote a year ago, the S3 wasn’t really a revolution either when compared to its predecessor.
From where I’m standing, the improvements in smartphone technology become obvious only if you look a couple of years back instead of just one. Indeed, if you take a step back and compare the Samsung Galaxy S4 with the Samsung Galaxy S2, you'll find that smartphones are evolving at a phenomenal rate.
Should you upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S4 from the Galaxy S3? Yes, if you’re a power user and need the extra processing power, or if you must have the absolute best display.
On the other hand, if you are a casual user, you won't need all the extra processing juice. In this case, an upgrade would basically mean that you shell a good amount of cash on a slightly better display, a few extra bells and whistles, and (probably) better battery life.
What is your take on the newest member of the Samsung Galaxy S line? Let us know what you think in the comment section below and vote in our poll.
Growing up in my father's PC store, I was surrounded by and developed a passion for technology ever since I was in kindergarten. However, advancements made in the technology world continue to amaze me on a daily basis! I've been writing about the Android OS since back in October 2008, when Google and HTC launched the first Android smartphone ever, the T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream. Although I'm no company's fanboy, Android is the mobile OS I devoutly support.
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