Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)

Introduction


Released in April of 2013, the Samsung Galaxy S4 was a cutting-edge smartphone that featured all the goodies one could need back then. However, as it's the norm in the wireless industry nowadays, a top-shelf smartphone remains top-shelf for just about one year, when it gets outshined by its successor and next-gen rivals. And indeed, we now have the Galaxy S5 as the new king of the hill by Samsung, along with a number of other drool-worthy propositions like the Xperia Z2 and One (M8), but should we hurry to dismiss the Galaxy S4 as a viable option on the market? Definitely not! Samsung's last-year champion still packs quite a punch, plus its price is supposed to have gotten more un-flagship-like, as we now have more powerful smartphones occupying the highest end of the spectrum, pushing the price of older gear down.

A full year has passed since the Galaxy S4's initial launch. However, the popular phone is still available for purchase as new, so here's what we're going to do: we'll see how the GS4 compares to other smartphones that happen to sit closest to it in terms of pricing at the moment. Interestingly, it looks like manufacturers haven't really targeted the upper-mid range of the market that much in the past few months. This means that there are few such handsets out there that deserve your attention. One of those rare examples is the HTC Desire 816 (still difficult to find), so we'll make sure to factor in this one in the following lines, as it comes pretty close to the S4 in terms of cost. However, as a whole, it appears that the Galaxy S4 actually remains closer to the new flagships of 2014, as well as those that launched towards the end of 2013 – in terms of both specs and pricing.

So, the first task has been accomplished – we've identified the types of phones that the Galaxy S4 can best challenge at the moment. Now, let's dive in and see if Samsung's last-year heavy-hitter can still warrant a purchase, as well as if its new rivals have gained a lead that's significant enough in order to transform them into must-have upgrades for those numerous GS4 owners.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Design


Deja vu! Well, not exactly, because when it comes to Samsung's designs, we're constantly having deja vu sensations, as there's little difference in the design aesthetics across the company's portfolio. Really, we don't know if it should be considered a design that's completely, irreversibly worn out, or one that just never gets old. Still, we have to admit that it's a full year later, and the clean, glossy plastic body of the S4 still seems perfectly current.

Although the Galaxy S4 doesn't differ much from the GS5 or any other ~5” Samsung phone in terms of looks, it does have a rather unique advantage among its peers, and that's its relatively reasonable size of 5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches (136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm). In contrast, this year's crop of high-end phones is definitely larger, starting from the Galaxy S5 (5.59 x 2.85 x 0.32 inches (142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm)), moving through the One (M8) (5.76 x 2.78 x 0.37 inches (146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm)), and ending up at the Xperia Z2 (5.78 x 2.89 x 0.32 inches (146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm)). Sure, some of these feature slightly bigger screens, but the substantial differences in their dimensions mean they shouldn't be overlooked.

In terms of build quality, the Galaxy S4 is unapologetically plastic. The design is uninspiring, just like any other Samsung Android phone. It doesn't have the GS5's perforated back – instead, it comes with the simpler, glossy back cover that may be a fingerprint magnet, but makes the handset feel comfortable and moderately non-slippery in the hand. In terms of looks and materials, though, it can by no means rival some other phones that exhibit more attention to detail when it comes to their exteriors, such as the Apple iPhone 5s and the HTC One (M8). The Xperia Z1, which launched about half a year after the GS4, is also decidedly more premium with its solid glass-and-metal construction, and the same goes for the newer Z2.

The physical buttons of the phone function well enough – there isn't anything particularly impressive about the volume, power and home keys, but they definitely get the job done without much hassle. In that area, the Galaxy S4 is once again inferior to handsets that put more emphasis on design, such as the iPhone 5s and One (M8), but if we look at the Galaxy S5, things haven't really changed much for Samsung.

An area where we can see the Galaxy S4 starting to lag behind current trends is ruggedness. Many an Android flagship coming out this year have some form of IP certification, while the GS4 doesn't have any. This means that in contrast to some of the top handsets you can buy today, the Galaxy S4 isn't supposed to be capable of resisting dust or water. Still, not all 2014 flagships have received those rugged capabilities – the HTC One (M8), for example, can only resist small sprays of water, so the GS4 isn't completely outdated in this respect.

Display


Samsung armed the Galaxy S4 with the best AMOLED screen it had at the time. Nonetheless, it was still far from perfect and lagged behind IPS LCD screens in a number of aspects. Samsung then followed up with better AMOLED screens in the Note 3 and S5, so the GS4's display is now inferior even in the context of AMOLED displays only.

The Galaxy S4 comes with a 5” 1080 x 1920 screen – that makes it better than any other mid-range display in terms of resolution, as pretty much all mid-rangers max out at 720p. In comparison with newer high-end Androids, the GS4 stays competitive in the size and resolution department, but there are other aspects of its screen that make its age shine through.

It is really dim and inaccurate, compared to both the quality LCD and AMOLED screens of today. Achieving about 300 nits max, the GS4 is a phone that's hard to view under the hot, bright sun. In comparison, Samsung's new AMOLED screens can go up to about 450 nits, making them much easier to view outside. Meanwhile, quality LCD screens can go up to about 500 nits, delivering even better visibility. Not that outdoor visibility depends solely on screen brightness, but it's certainly one of the most important factors. Having that in mind, a notable performer in this respect is the iPhone 5s, which can reach about 580 nits – an astonishing feat!

Color-wise, things aren't looking pretty for the Galaxy S4 (literally). It's a bluish/greenish screen that lacks a lot of red, and thus, liveliness. Of course, you can always stick with the Standard or Dynamic screen modes, enjoy the punchy visuals and forget about accuracy, but that's not the point here. The point is that if you want to experience life-like visuals on the GS4's screen – you can't. It'll always have excessive green or blue, depending on which mode you've chosen. Meanwhile, it seems like AMOLED hasn't gone so far in this department since the GS4, as the newer GS5 and Note 3 don't really excel as well. On the other hand, there are more and more high-quality LCD screens on the market, which can offer you a much better viewing experience, with vivid, yet true-to-life colors. Such examples include the Apple iPhone 5s, LG G2, HTC One, HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2, and many others. As you can see, that's almost every contemporary premium smartphone with IPS LCD or Super LCD display.

Of course, that's not to say the GS4's screen is so difficult to look at. Not at all – the added punch and contrasty looks sure are eye-catchy, but we should definitely take into account the great amount of color error that this display exhibits, making for unnatural skin tones and overall artificially-looking visuals.


Related phones

Galaxy S4
  • Display 5.0" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, Quad-core, 1900 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 2600 mAh(17h 3G talk time)

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62 Comments

1. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

lol....Why do you guys amOLED so much ?

2. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

hate*

24. phljcnth

Posts: 548; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

What's new? It's Ray S.! He has this congenital hate for Super AMOLED. He even made a dedicated article to express his abomination against the display tech. Oh well, I think it's the user review (9.4) that should matter after all.

59. Agarwalm214

Posts: 31; Member since: Apr 08, 2014

They hate AMOLED bcoz the display is not being used by apple :P if there was an iphone with AMOLED display then it would have been the best and most accurate display acc to PA :P

3. magnanimus

Posts: 565; Member since: Mar 29, 2013

Its because they rate accurate colour reproduction over punchy colours and efficiency :)

6. magnanimus

Posts: 565; Member since: Mar 29, 2013

And apparently better indoor performance, viewing angle and a wider colour gamut seems to mean nothing to PA.

18. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

What is this obsession with 'accurate colours'. I can understand for professional photographers, etc. but to general people they could be least bother with that and that is what PA is here to serve 'general buyers' not pros. For e.g. when you view a photograph of a model you don't expect the photo of her without make-up and effects and expect an 'accurate representation' of her/him. You want the picture to look nice to you, be eye-catching and appealing. At least that's what I think.

58. SuperMaoriBro

Posts: 533; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

you hit the nail on the head. I don't care for accurate either, I want punchy, I want things to look better than they do in real life. I often add more "punch" to photos by adjusting contrast levels etc before having them developed/printed

27. tedkord

Posts: 17041; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

No, it's because as soon as Displaymate announced the S5 had the best, most accurate display ever, Ray immediately began searching for ways be could claim it wasn't because he can't accept it. He still to this day won't test their max brightness in auto, even though it's been know since the Note 3 debuted that Auto has a higher maximum output.

54. maccess

Posts: 742; Member since: Jan 16, 2013

Actually since the s3 that auto has higher maximum brightness.. i've known about this since years ago.. but it seems not much people knows about it..

36. redmd

Posts: 1872; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

People praise accurate colors on LCD screens but companies market them to have vivid, lively and having punchy colors. Its a contradiction.

53. androtaku

Posts: 246; Member since: Dec 12, 2013

there's people hate how oled making them looks red or greenish in the screen

61. Leo_MC

Posts: 6091; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Because it's uggly...

4. N-fanboy

Posts: 543; Member since: Jan 12, 2013

Specs beast for its time. its funny how things change so quickly *except for when it comes to apple*

5. PorkyBurger

Posts: 585; Member since: May 18, 2013

WOAH 6.7... now that's a huge score. For a Samsung device. :o

11. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

Always Remember, that this SAMSUNG Device outsells those other brands alone.

39. zuckerboy

Posts: 898; Member since: Dec 22, 2011

yeah iphone outsells others. does it matter ?

41. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

Yes, in the end that's all that matters, and all what companies want

43. zuckerboy

Posts: 898; Member since: Dec 22, 2011

companies care about sales people care about other things. I would have bought my s2 if samsung hadnt been famous as today.

44. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

Same Here, I got it when it was first launched and I was hesitant between it and ip4S, glad I got the GS2 ..

47. zuckerboy

Posts: 898; Member since: Dec 22, 2011

yes in my country there was iphone 4 available and I had no hasitation to get s2. it had great display , thin and light chasis but now I dont know why I dont like samsung phones for their design( except note 3 )

49. The13thKing

Posts: 849; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

yes it was amazing for it's time, and still it's a pretty good device today ... about the designs, this is subjective ... it's a love it or hate it situation .. the Note 3 does stand out as the one that's truly different from the others and it reminds me the GS2 in some ways ..

52. zuckerboy

Posts: 898; Member since: Dec 22, 2011

maybe for that reason I like the note3 but its oustanding, way different experience

46. hassoups

Posts: 473; Member since: Jun 06, 2013

Ooooh we have a rebellion here. I admire people that don't succumb to mainstream things and are constantly living on the edge.

7. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

Really Phonearena and alternative is like seeing a women without her makeup on, thats what you like… true natural colors.

23. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

And just like how a pale woman will make herself look tan, Samsung makes their whites look blue!

28. tedkord

Posts: 17041; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Displaymate found that both the S4 and the S5 had more accurate who's that the iPhone.

30. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

It's funny then that the displays whites look blue. Also, who said anything about the S5?

32. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Although (and thanks, by the way, for the 240 second edit cutoff...) one could easily argue that "movie mode" is like putting makeup on Samsung's default screen.

48. Nikolas.Oliver

Posts: 1574; Member since: Jul 01, 2012

Nexus 5 user here... My nexus has the most accurate display

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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