Samsung Galaxy S4 review (one year later)
Interface and Functionality
Samsung has been doing a good job at keeping its 2013 flagship up to date. The Galaxy S4 now runs Android 4.4, so it has all the latest perks bundled with KitKat. However, the user interface that's running on the phone isn't the new, flat one that made its debut on the Galaxy S5. Instead, it's last-year's affair, which is now getting decidedly old-school. There still isn't word on whether we should expect the flat UI on the GS4, but we sure hope it'll be released, since it's a pretty major update for the software, and it'd be sad to see such a relevant phone remain with the old interface.
Functionality-wise, well, there's no two ways about it – the Galaxy S4 is still a very versatile phone that can do pretty much everything your brand new Xperia Z2 does. Well, it might lag a little bit more, but at the end of the day, the functionality is there. The biggest drawback we have with the Galaxy S4 in terms of software is that it's really a cluttered experience. It has so many options and features that it can really become somewhat difficult and unintuitive to navigate and get stuff done. In this respect, the new TouchWiz is noticeably better, as it also has a plethora of options, but those aren't so in-you-face – everything is much neater and organized. The same applies if we look at the rest of the mobile landscape – save for the LG G2, everything else presents us with a mostly nice and clean software UX that doesn't attempt to overwhelm users with countless features and options. That's another reason why we hope Samsung will update the GS4 with the newer TouchWiz, though that's yet to happen.
Processor and Memory
Armed with Snapdragon 600, the Galaxy S4 is now well behind the latest silicon accomplishments present with phones utilizing the Snapdragon 800 or 801 processors. That's not to say that the SD 600 is a bad processor – actually, it's more than decent, even today, so it'll let you run all kinds of apps and games with no issues. An interesting fact we have to point out here is that it seems no one's doing Snapdragon 600 phones nowadays. Instead, the mid-rangers of 2014 are all equipped with Snapdragon 400-grade processors, which makes them significantly slower than the SD600-powered Galaxy S4.
The more popular version of the GS4, the I9505 one, has the Snapdragon 600 SoC with 1.9 GHz Krait 300 CPU and Adreno 320 GPU. However, there's also the I9500 one, which uses Exynos 5 Octa at 1.6 GHz and the PowerVR SGX544MP3 GPU. In comparison, the SD 801-equipped models of today, such as the GS5 and One (M8), are often clocked at frequencies of about 2.5 GHz. Plus, the newer Adreno 330 GPU also provides a substantial increase in graphics performance, though, as we said, that hardware prowess remains largely unused (by anything meaningful) to this day. In that line of though, the Galaxy S4 and its Snapdragon 600 (or Exynos 5 Octa) still packs quite a punch. GS4 users aren't really missing all that much in the performance department. We know TouchWiz tends to get laggy, but that's simply a software problem, and will hopefully be resolved with an eventual software update. Should the new UI arrive on the Galaxy S4, it'll greatly improve the performance, though there might still be some choppiness here and there, just as on the GS5.
When it comes to inbuilt memory, the GS4 is still perfectly adequate with its 2 GB or RAM, while the memory variants of 16, 32 and 64 GB can fit every taste, especially when there's also a microSD card slot on board. For a full year, nothing has changed all that much in this category to render the GS4 old.
Internet and Connectivity
Snapdragon 800 brought a slightly faster browsing experience, but the Galaxy S4 still holds up pretty well on its own. Regardless if you'll be using Samsung's own browser, or Google's Chrome, speed is guaranteed to be pretty adequate. When the GS4 launched last year, Chrome for Android was still a bit rough around the edges, but after numerous updates and enhancements, Android's stock browser can finally offer a perfectly satisfying web-surfing experience. In addition to exhibiting smooth and fluid navigation, it can also inflate text in a better way, courtesy of some of its latest updates. The only major thing that seems to be missing from the app is an option to have a vertical scroll lock, which would not let you go horizontally once you've started to scroll vertically, but that's probably a matter of time. Meanwhile, the reasons to side with Samsung's internet browser have been reduced to minimum.
In terms of connectivity options, we guess we wouldn't surprise anyone if we say that the Galaxy S4 will have you covered with its rich set of features, like DLNA, MHL, Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac , NFC and infrared (for remote control features), right? Oh, yeah, there's also Bluetooth 4.0, so the list is as complete as it can be, even by 2014's standards.