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Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition review (video)

Only a few months after the Google I/O convention, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition has finally launched. Is it worthy enough to be called a Nexus device, though? Find out in our review.
July 9, 2013
samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa featured

Google has only launched a handful of Nexus smartphones, and frankly, the Android community wants more. Don’t say Google hasn’t done anything for you, as they have fully delivered in that area. What did they deliver exactly? A premium smartphone sporting that stock Android-experience that we all so want to have. Enter, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition.

In a rush? Jump straight the video, otherwise, stick with us as we take a closer look at this device.

As you might expect, this is the exact same phone as the original Galaxy S4, and thus has nearly every same attribute in terms of design all the way to hardware and the battery. Seriously, nothing much has changed on the outside. So, instead of going through each one in depth, make sure you check out my original Galaxy S4 review to get the full rundown on things you may not know about this phone.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa display

Aesthetically, this is the white model of the Galaxy S4 without any changes whatsoever. You get the same nimbleness and easy handling of the beautiful 5-inch screen, along with the same, standard Samsung button layout all around. The screen is the same 5-inch Super AMOLED panel. As you might have become accustomed to, it’s very saturated and is capable of 1080p resolution rated at 441ppi.

I will say that, Jelly Bean, overall less flamboyant than Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI, looks absolutely gorgeous on this screen. If you thought the Nexus 4 was easy on the eyes, try getting your Nexus kicks from the Galaxy S4.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa performance


The device still performs very well on the benchmark tests, as it’s still sporting the same hardware under the hood — a Snapdragon 600 CPU clocked at 1.9GHz, backed by an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. And going through the elements of Jelly Bean is as buttery smooth as ever.

Hardware is where the story starts to get interesting here. This phone still comes with all of the same inner bits, including every sensor and even the IR blaster. We’ll get to their applications soon, but it’s important to note that everything is still there.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa same specs

Of course, you also get to keep the removable battery and the microSD card slot under the back cover. The battery is the same 2,600 mAh unit that provides a great deal of battery life that can easily support your busy day.

Looking at the camera, we have the same 13-megapixel rear shooter, but that’s all that returns here. Instead of the full featured TouchWiz camera with its arsenal of modes and settings, the stock Android camera brings its simplistic, but stylish interface to the Samsung camera. The entire screen becomes the viewfinder, and there are only a few buttons on the side.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa camera app

All settings can be accessed by touching anywhere on the screen and swiping through the small, arched menus. When it comes to modes, there really isn’t much to choose from — you get your standard HDR mode and a few preset scenes to choose from. And of course, you get access to Photo Sphere, as well.

The picture quality is largely the same, as the optics still do well at capturing details, especially in areas with good lighting. A more in-depth look between the two cameras will be done in an upcoming VS video, but rest assured that any differences you might see in the pictures from either phones aren’t explicitly noticeable.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa camera 1
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And finally, this is where we see a lot of the changes that happened to make this a Google Play Edition device. You get the same, premium hardware inside the Samsung Galaxy S4 with a whole new operating system baked in — Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

It sounds like a dream pairing – and for the most part, it really is. The stock Android experience is widely regarded as the best way to enjoy Google’s operating system and until now, the only way to get it was to buy a Nexus device. Anyone who has used anything from TouchWiz to Sense, and lamented over the extra, unneeded software will really enjoy the stripped down, simple, yet elegant look and feel of Jelly Bean.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa lockscreen widgets

As for the user interface, it gets back to the basics. You get your app drawer, the homescreens ripe for widgets and folders, and the notification drop-down with the original shade for settings. Hold down the tactile home button and you get access to a very coveted software feature — Google Now.

Some people might see every setting and feature in original Galaxy S4 and get overwhelmed, but that is far from the case here. You get simplistic elegance that is ready for customization once your adventurous side takes over.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa jelly bean

Of course, you lose quite a bit when you convert to vanilla Jelly Bean. Think back to all of those commercials Samsung put out, highlighting the features that made the Galaxy S4 something special. None of that makes a return here, and it’s almost painfully obvious from the get-go in the notification shade. No S Health, Group Play, or even WatchON. However, if those are must have features, there’s no doubt that you can find a few APKs floating around on the Internet to rectify that need.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa no air view

All of the sensors that you might use for Air View or hand gestures will lie dormant, as none of the software in the installed operating system can take advantage of them. All in all, this is as traditional and stock as it gets on the Galaxy S4, and besides the disabled Samsung features, everything is the same as it ever was.

Perhaps the most controversial part of this device is its price. While it’s great that the Galaxy S4 now has that buttery Nexus experience, it doesn’t bring the coveted Nexus price. In fact, you’ll be shelling out quite a bit of money for this premium device. You can get it unlocked at $649 straight from the Google Play Store.

And so, there you have it. I have to admit that using stock Jelly Bean on this best selling Android device was very refreshing. You could argue that getting very vanilla with the operating system and losing all of the extras might quickly make the phone boring, but for us seasoned Android users that isn’t what it’s all about. The look and utility of stock Android is pretty unanimously loved and everything else about the general experience is a blank canvas ripe with customization possibilities. That’s why we love our Nexus — and it only gets better on the S4 hardware.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa standing back

Unfortunately, many people have already found it to be very difficult to swallow the price point of the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, even when it’s technically a Nexus device. It goes without saying, the $649 price point is quite hefty compared to what we’ve paid for Nexus devices in the past. However, let me present you a possibility that might just make the price tag easier to swallow.

I don’t hate TouchWiz on the original S4, but I always wondered what stock Android would be like on it. I never jumped ship for stock Android because I was afraid to lose the extras, even if I only used them here and there. However, after using the Google Play Edition of the Galaxy S4, I didn’t find myself missing many of the added Samsung features. Not only that, but I realized how much I missed the real, vanilla Android experience.

So, if you were anything like me, take the Google Play Editions as a sign. Stock Android really does work well with the Galaxy S4, however, if you want on the original S4, just root, and flash away.

Video review

Brad Ward contributed to this post.