Samsung Galaxy S 4 hands-on


Taking 2012 by storm, Samsung catapulted all the way to the top last year, as the Korean based company delivered timeless devices over and over again with little pause for its rivals to combat its insatiable appetite. Claiming victory while looking down from the pinnacle of the mountain, Samsung as a whole transformed from being a competitor trying to emerge from a heap of hard rollers, to the one taking ownership of the crown in the smartphone kingdom. Today marks yet another triumphant push forward in retaining that prestigious crown, seeing that the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy S IV just became official-official.

From a hardware standpoint, it doesn’t particularly come off so farfetched over other recent entrants in the Android space, but rather, it’s the incremental improvements in the experience that’s the focal point for this flagship. Are we disappointed by this shocking revelation? To an extent, yes, but that doesn’t mean that we should quickly look the other way – so let’s see if it can still make us salivate with anticipation.


We’re not going to cover this portion as extensively as some of you would like. Why’s that you ask? Frankly, there isn’t a drastic redesign seen with the Galaxy S IV. Indeed, some of you will be bummed by this known fact, especially when you take into consideration that good looking designs are what people take notice first with most things. Strutting the familiar design style of its processor, the appearance, choice of materials, and build quality of Samsung Galaxy S IV remains largely the same.

While metal bodies melt our hearts, plastic ones don’t normally get the same kind of love. We can’t say we’re totally going gaga over this plastic chassis, which is strangely is more prone to smudges and fingerprints than before, but we do appreciate the subtle sprinkling of a new premium element on its body – a brushed metallic bezel outlining. Beyond that, it’s indistinguishably a “Galaxy” smartphone, recycling some of its predecessor’s design choices.

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Around the handset’s trim, we’re greeted to the same set of ports and buttons – these consist of its power button, volume control, 3.5mm headset jack, mic, noise-cancelling mic, and microUSB port. Just like before, the Galaxy S IV relies on the same MHL adapter to gain video-out functionality. However, they’re kind enough to discretely incorporate an IR blaster into the power button, which turns it into a universal remote. As for cameras, it’s carrying along a 2-megapixel front-facing one and a monster 13-megapixel rear snapper that shoots 1080ps videos. Thankfully, we’re given the conveniences of having a removable 2600 mAh battery and a microSD slot. Not surprisingly, the handset is going to be available in 16, 32, and 64GB capacities – with your choice of selecting it in either white frost or black mist.

No doubt we would’ve like to see something on a grander scale, but there’s consolation in the way Sammy has maintained the handset’s figure over its predecessor. We know it’s donning a larger 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED Display, but remarkably enough, we’re most impressed by how they’ve kept its size the same. At 136.6mm x 69.8mm x 7.9mm in size, not only does it improve over the Galaxy S III’s already svelte figure, but it bests even some of the other recent heavy hitters new to the Android space – like the stylish HTC One. So yeah, it’s super thin and surprisingly easy to handle for something bearing a 5-inch screen!

On top of that, did we mention its weight is almost unrecognizable as we hold it, since it’s only at 130 grams? Overall, it might lack the stylish nature that we crave in getting our eyes affixed on it from afar, but at least they’ve been able to make the necessary iterative improvements in its size.


Oh joy! Needless to say, Sammy’s Note II showed us what the company is willing to experiment with in terms of screen sizes, but we get the feeling that they’re trying to do the same here. On paper, its 5-inch Full HD (1080p) Super AMOLED display pushes the envelope in making it phablet-like, but for some strange reason, we’re not as mesmerized with this display. We know what we were dreaming about in our sleep, you know, those flexible OLED displays and whatnot, but there’s nothing of the kind here on the Galaxy S IV. Rather, it’s the same Super AMOLED display that our eyes have been feasting on for a while now – with the exception that this is the first one to sport full HD resolution (1080 x 1920). Doing the math, its display produces a pixel density of 441 ppi, which is undeniably up there, but it doesn’t break any new ground. In comparison, the HTC One’s display delivers a slightly higher pixel density of 468 ppi.

Honestly though, it’s still detailed enough, to the point that most people would hardly tell the difference. And just like before, this display on the Galaxy S IV packs all of the lovable qualities we appreciate about Super AMOLED displays – like its iridescent color tones, wide viewing angles, and overall wow factor. Interestingly enough, it’s pretty impressive how they continue to chop down on the screen’s bezel, which translates over in giving the handset a skinny frame.

Although it’s not something that’s seen initially from a cursory glance, Sammy throws in one enticing new feature to the display that brings forth some useful functions. Remember how you can hover over things with the Note II’s S-Pen? Well folks, we have the same functionality here! However, instead of relying on a stylus, it’s done with nothing more than our fingers! With our finger hovering around 1 to 2 centimeters from the display, it’s able to register our finger’s movement. Quite frankly, it works rather well and it’s very accurate too, but we’ll explain more of the neat implementations of the feature later.

Interface and Functionality

Sure, the design of the smartphone is rather underwhelming, and you’re probably thinking that there is little new with the experience, but that’s far from the truth. On the surface, the handset is running its bread and butter TouchWiz Nature UX interface on top of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Grazing over the homescreen, it’s undeniably TouchWiz that we’re dealing with here, which sadly still appears too cartoonish for our tastes. Just like before, the UI is inspired by nature, which is evidenced by the new droplet tone that’s played as we touch something on the screen, but beyond that, some people are going to be hard pressed to believe that this is an updated experience. So what’s new? Honestly, there’s a lot of surprises that ultimately tells us that it’s the experience that takes the most prominence with this device. Essentially, Sammy breaks it all down to four categories – fun, relationship, life task, and life share.

Let’s talk about the “fun” aspect of the Galaxy S IV, which is mainly directed at its insane, yet engaging new camera features.

  • Dual shot – This new camera feature makes for some interesting stories, mainly because it compiles videos by recording content with the front and rear cameras. It’s neat because you can tell a story about what you’re trying to shoot in the video. In another scenario, just like how we perform hands-on videos at tradeshows, the dual shot feature comes in hand for allowing us to shoot video on a device – while keeping our face in the frame of the recording as we speak.
  • Sound & Shot – This is simple, it just allows us to record up to 9 seconds of audio when we snap a photo. Therefore, when we preview it in the gallery, it’ll play the recording when we look at it.
  • Drama Shot – Always wondered how professional photographers snap those cool photos of someone diving into a pool? You know, the ones where it shows in the photo the step-by-step moment? Well, the drama shot feature relies on multi burst to take various photos of something in motion, and then complies them together in a single shot.
  • Cinema Photo – Now this one is really cool, it’s like having a photo that you can honestly say you’re “feeling the moment.” Basically, it’s like making a gif image on the smartphone. As the handset is capturing images, we can select what elements to animate and what others we want to keep stationary.
  • Story Album – The name says it all! It’s a feature that lets us stitch together a story album using pictures, time, place, weather, and more.

Secondly, there’s the relationship aspect of the interface. In this category, it’s all about social interaction with the Galaxy S IV, so here’s the quick list of what’s new.

  • S Translator – You guessed it folks, the Galaxy S IV makes it super convenient to translate stuff on the fly. Incorporated into a variety of apps, like ChatON, messaging, S Translator app, and email, language barriers will be a thing of the past with this new S Translator feature.
  • Group Play – There are to aspects of Group Play. First, there’s the ability to allow the smartphone to pair with other Galaxy S IVs so they can conjure up a powerful sound system with its new Share Music feature. Come to think about it, the entire thing kind of reminds us of daisy chaining. Lastly, the Galaxy S IV allow for more social engagement when it comes to playing games. Specifically, optimized versions of Asphalt 7 and Gun Bros 2 allow multiple Samsung Galaxy S IV smartphone to play collaboratively.

Third on the list is life task, which is without question where we see the greatest improvement in the experience. Thinking back to the Galaxy S III last year, it wowed us with cool features like S-Voice, Air View, Smart Stay, Pop up Play, and many others. This time around, however, they’ve splashed a little bit of Note to it. Let’s take a look shall we?

  • Air View – Yup, the Note’s Air View feature has somehow magically arrived on the Galaxy S IV – and boy does it impress on many levels. We’ve already talked about its usefulness and the display’s accuracy, but Sammy has an optimized version of Flipboard that allows us to hover our finger over its tiles to get a preview. Of course, the feature works in many other places – like previewing email and calendar appointments.
  • Air Gesture – Holy smokes! So what’s Air Gesture? Simply, it’s a basic version of Kinect for the Microsoft XBOX 360, but for smartphones (SGSIV in this case obviously). At its core, Air Gesture is touchless commands for the Galaxy S IV and breaks down to three commands – Air Browse, Air Jump, and Air Call Accept. In the browser and email apps, we can wave our hand in a downward/upward motion to tell the phone to scroll up/down. Likewise, we can “swipe” through photos in the gallery by waving our hand over the display in the appropriate direction. Yeah, it’s super neat, but not all apps support it. Instead, most of Sammy’s set offer it, but not others like Chrome or Gmail. Unfortunately though, there’s no air gesture for “pinch zooming.”
  • Smart Pause – It’s hard enough remembering a storyline when watching a movie on a phone, especially when we decide to do something else aside from watching it. Well, with Smart Pause, the handset knows when we’re not looking. Therefore, it’ll automatically pause the moment our eyes are no longer affixed to the display, but it’ll resume once we look back at it.
  • Smart Scroll – Using a combination of looking with our eyes and some tilting action, we can scroll through various content in the web browser and email app.
  • Samsung Optical Reader – No one likes having to manually input business card information into their phones, so that’s why we’re given the Samsung Optical Reader. Snap a business card, it’ll automatically retrieve the pertinent content and convert it digitally for us. Also, it works to decipher QR codes.
  • WatchON – Seeing that the handset is now sporting an IR blaster, WatchON is the one stop hub for all our television program needs. Not only can we control, select, and viewing programming, it also has a cool video on demand feature.

And finally, we come to the fourth aspect with the new experience – life care. Apparently, Samsung wants to keep its users healthy by providing them with tangible health oriented information. Some of you are probably aware about the various fitness accessories out there, like the Fitbit, Nike Fuel band, or the Jawbone Up band, but Samsung has integrated many of the features in those specialized accessories into the Galaxy S IV.

  • S Health – Fitness junkies will surely appreciate S Health the most, since it tracks and measures various physical activities – eventually giving us detailed statistics about our fitness regimen. From counting the steps we’ve take to the amount of calories we’ve consumed for the day, S Health is the central spot where we can monitor our healthy lifestyle. Heck, it can even tell us if the temperature and weather conditions are conducive to our health. Oh yeah, did we mention it can also monitor sleeping patterns?
  • Samsung Adapt Sound – In its attempt to be self-aware, the Samsung Adapt Sound will automatically adjust some of the handset’s settings based on what we’re doing. For example, if we’re reading a book in the dark, it’ll adjust the contrast and brightness to make it easier on our eyes. Another scenario pumps up the two so that it provides for an enticing video watching experience. Rather than doing it ourselves manually, it’s nice to see the handset doing it automatically for us.

On one hand, we had such an immense amount of expectations for the Samsung Galaxy S IV, especially knowing that its predecessor seemingly set the bar high for many Android smartphones after it. What’s clear though, is that the design isn’t captivating enough to make it more prized than say, the HTC One. Regardless of that, Samsung has chosen instead to play its hot cards in the experience portion of the smartphone. As we’ve clearly seen, they’ve brought forth some considerable new features to the UI to widen the gap between its rivals.

Sensing some hesitation, there’s one piece of the puzzle that was left largely as a mystery to us. When asking about what’s powering this beauty under the hood, the Samsung folks weren’t as forthright in mentioning the details. Rather, they mention that depending on the market where it’s released, it’ll be running either its own home grown Exynos Octa 5 processor or a quad-core processor. Lacking some substance, it’s a safe presumption to say that the international version of the smartphone will be packing the Octa 5 chip – whereas the US versions will unceremoniously feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 SoC, which will undoubtedly give the handset LTE connectivity. With the units we checked out, it’s unclear what exact chips they were packing, and for the most part, their performances were swift with most tasks. However, they weren’t without some faults, as some meddling instances of choppiness intruded some processes – though, we’re reminded these are pre-production units

And finally, its pricing is still relatively unknown at the moment, but in this day and age, it’s pretty much a safe bet to assume that it’s going to land at $200 with a 2-year contract. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it makes for some interesting choices for many people who are fighting an internal struggle on which device to pick up next. Spending some decent alone time with this handset, the miniscule design changes don’t necessarily give it enough of an appeal to make it more attractive over the HTC One, but then again, the considerable improvements in the software experience merit enough recognition on its own. Also, some people will appreciate the fact that it has a removable battery and microSD card slot – two things that are increasingly becoming rare amongst top-tiered devices for some reason. At the end of the day, is this really the next big thing? To tell you the truth, we’re a bit skeptical about it. Knowing that we’re still in the early portion of 2013, we can foresee Sammy with another ace up its sleeve down.

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