Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

99+
Introduction, Design and Display
Update: Read our Galaxy S5 review!

Introduction


Another year, another Galaxy S phone! Since the very first Galaxy S, which came out in 2010, Samsung has been regularly refining and improving its formula for success in the mobile industry. It is mainly thanks to this series of handsets that the manufacturer is now enjoying lush revenue streams and having a profound influence over the whole Android ecosystem.

Today, the Galaxy S phones stand for approachable design, superb performance and premium features. By the looks of it, the new Galaxy S4 is going to have all three components. But will it see the same outstanding success as its predecessors?

The market landscape this year is different from what it was in previous years. The competition is no longer as confused and unprepared as it used to be. For the first time ever, the Galaxy S smartphone of the year will have to go against some very tough Android-powered opponents like the marvelous HTC One and Sony Xperia Z, both of which offer impressive designs and unique features. Has Samsung managed to come up with enough goodies to make the Galaxy S4 the undisputed king of the Android jungle, or will the throne be stolen by some of the other contenders?

The smartphone wars are getting more and more intriguing. The battle which used to be between two powerful factions has grown into a full-blown massacre now that the other parties have joined. The Galaxy S4 is here, so let's take a good look at it and try to determine its chances of being the last phone standing!



Design

It's not that the appearance of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is untouched compared to the one of the S III, but let's just say that the design language is almost identical. Still, we have to acknowledge the fact that the manufacturer has refined the exterior a bit. Even then, the Galaxy S4's appearance isn't anything to write home about. Its main virtues are that it's not bad and it's comfortable to hold, despite the considerable dimensions.

The latter is not only due to the ergonomic shape of the product, but also to the nice glossy plastic material that's been used for the casing. If you've touched a Galaxy S III, the GS4's plastic feels exactly the same way. As always, it attracts fingerprints, but that's not a major problem. The nonslippery, pleasant-to-touch finish more than makes up. The design of the back side is rather bland, as it only houses the camera, LED flash, Samsung logo and tiny speaker grill.

Samsung Galaxy S4
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches

136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.59 oz (130 g)

Samsung Galaxy S III
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm

Weight

4.69 oz (133 g)

HTC One
Dimensions

5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches

137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm

Weight

5.04 oz (143 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Samsung Galaxy S4
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches

136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.59 oz (130 g)

Samsung Galaxy S III
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm

Weight

4.69 oz (133 g)

HTC One
Dimensions

5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches

137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm

Weight

5.04 oz (143 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Compare these and other phones using our Size Comparison tool.


The GS4 is a true engineering achievement, as it packs a larger screen than the GS III, but manages to be a bit smaller and lighter at the same time!

All physical keys on the Galaxy S4 function very well. That includes the Home, Power/Lock and Volume buttons. Of course, some of them could be even better, namely the volume rocker, but they won't cause you any trouble the way they work now.

If we have to describe our feelings towards the SGS4's design in a single sentence, we would say that it isn't anything to write home about, but it works. We still dislike the fact that the back cover is a thin, flimsy piece of plastic, but at least it has a pleasant in-hand feel to it.

Display

The Galaxy S4 comes with a wonderful display! Similarly to many high-end Android handsets this year, its diagonal measures 5 inches. The resolution is, of course, 1080 x 1920 pixels. With a pixel density of 441 ppi, it's obvious that the display is incredibly sharp and detailed. It's still a Super AMOLED screen, though, which means that the inherent pros and cons of the technology are all present here.

As before, this Super AMOLED screen by Samsung uses a PenTile matrix, but the manufacturer has tweaked the technology a bit, adding an additional green subpixel to each pixel. This, combined with the high pixel density means that you won't be able to notice the pixelization problems observed with the early PenTile screens. On the screen of the Galaxy S4, everything is smooth and free of graininess.

Needless to say, colors are quite vivid and saturated. They make for an amazing multimedia experience (images, video, games...), but aren't particularly natural, which might be irritating to some, or in some cases. Thankfully, there's an option allowing you to tone the saturation down a bit and make the colors look a bit more realistic.

As you would expect out of an AMOLED screen, viewing angles are terrific, though there's some color degradation observed when you're viewing the handset at more extreme angles, but this generally isn't a problem.

Outdoor visibility isn't top-notch, because the screen can't get very bright. We mean, it's bright, but definitely not the brightest out there. As a result, viewing will be difficult if you're outside and it's a beautiful, sunny day. The brightness can also be set very low, but again, it would have been better if it could go even lower, so as to make using the handset in the dark a bit more comfortable for our eyes.





Samsung Galaxy S4 360-Degrees View:



Update: Read our Galaxy S5 review!



Interface

We've gotten used to seeing Samsung's phones arrive with the latest Android version available, and the new flagship smartphone doesn't disappoint. Coming straight with Android 4.2.2, the Galaxy S4 has all Android features, plus a ton of custom ones developed by Samsung itself.

The main concept behind this version of the TouchWiz Nature UX remains the same: it's a reskinned version of Android, which looks and feels different from the stock UI. It runs extremely fluidly and is highly customizable, allowing the user to tweak almost all of its aspects. There's a good number of custom widgets, which make it easy for you to compose a useful and informative homescreen setup that has a relatively unified look.

The new features that make a debut on the Samsung Galaxy S4 can be divided into four abstract categories: Fun, Relationship, Life Task and Life Care. Here's some detailed information about all the new goodies:

Fun

  • 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.
  • 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.

Relationship

  • 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.

Life Task

  • 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.

Life Care

  • 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.


Messaging

With a screen this big and with a phone this ergonomic, one would think that typing on the on-screen QWERTY keyboards would be a joy, and they'll be right. The keyboard is quite spacious so there's enough empty space between the individual keys to reduce those accidental presses to a minimum. Still, the built-in Samsung keyboard doesn't really have the best possible layout, so you might want to consider installing a quality third-party one in order to optimize or customize your typing experience as much as you can.

Other than that, there aren't too many enhancements with regards to messaging on the device. It has the regular messaging apps including the standard Gmail app and Samsung's own ChatON service, which can now handle conference video calls for up to three people.



Processor and Memory

The Samsung Galaxy S phones have always been equipped with exceptional processors and the Galaxy S4 is not an exception. The fourth Galaxy S will be available in two versions. In some markets including the US and the UK, the handset is going to ship with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset, which is also available in the HTC One. In some international markets, the GS4 will have the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa, which is supposed to be a powerful, yet efficient octa-core CPU. The unit we're testing for this review is powered by the Snapdragon 600 CPU and boy is this thing fast! This powerful, cutting-edge chipset is clocked at 1.9 GHz to offer unsurpassed performance no matter what task is being executed.

Additionally, the handset is armed with 2 GB of RAM, as well as the Adreno 320 GPU for superb performance in games and other 3D applications.

As far as internal memory goes, the Samsung Galaxy S4 comes in 16, 32 and 64 GB flavors, but stays true to the tradition and features a microSD card slot for memory expansion. We appreciate this kind of versatility in a device – after all, why not have the option of using a microSD card?

QuadrantHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S412078
Samsung Galaxy S III5335
HTC One12481
Sony Xperia Z8221
AnTuTuHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S424701
Samsung Galaxy S III15152
HTC One23308
Sony Xperia Z20835
GFXBench Egypt HD 2.5 onscreen(fps)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S439
HTC One31
Vellamo MetalHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S4704
HTC One781
Sony Xperia Z626
Vellamo HTML 5Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S41702
HTC One2395
Sony Xperia Z2198




Internet and Connectivity

We have to congratulate Samsung for the decision to stick with its custom browser, which is based on the software from Android Ice Cream Sandwich, since it's proved time and time again that it's superior to Google's mobile Chrome, at least for now. Not only is it faster and more responsive, but it also supports Adobe's Flash Player, which is a no-go with Chrome.

Strangely, this isn't one of those problems that you can fix with a quick install from the Play Store, as none of the popular third-party browsers are as capable as the Samsung browser. Dolphin Browser is about equal when it comes to performance, but it doesn't support Flash if your handset is running Jelly Bean, which the Galaxy S4 is. All others seem to be slower, or have some other issue, but of course, you can always have them on board as well, if you've gotten used to some of their special features.

The Galaxy S4 comes with LTE support, as well as HSPA+ 42.2 Mbit/s downlink and 5.76 Mbit/s uplink speeds, when LTE is not available. Additionally, the device is equipped with all Wi-Fi protocols, Bluetooth 4.0 and an IR blaster, if you're in the mood of using the GS4 as a remote control.

The GPS of the GS4 works very well and manages to quickly pinpoint your location on the map.

Camera

Both the Galaxy S II and III were top-notch camera phones, so we expect nothing less from the Galaxy S4's 13MP shooter. Not only does the camera have 13 megapixels, but it's also full of other features, which aim to make it more versatile and fun to use. Aside from the standard settings like resolution, exposure and effects, it also sports a number of useful shooting modes like Beauty face, Night, Best face, Best photo, Sports and so on. These different shooting modes can help you achieve better results when using the camera in these specific scenarios.

The new camera-oriented features in the GS4 are Dual Shot (combines footage from the rear facing and front facing cameras into one video), Sound & Shot (takes a photo with an accompanying sound clip), Drama Shot (takes a series of photos of a moving object and merges them in a single photo), Cinema Photo (allows you to animate certain elements in the photo) and Story Album (creates a photo-album using the shots you've taken).


The 13MP camera of the GS4 is very good. Photos come out very realistic, with natural and vivid colors at the same time. The handset exposes its frames well – we didn't notice many over- or underexposed areas in the photos we took. Details are very good, while noise is kept to a minimum when shooting in daylight. Moving indoors, the situation gets dramatically worse, with noise becoming much more evident, and fine details starting to appear washed out. On the bright side, the colors stay natural.

Naturally, the Samsung Galaxy S4 can record 1080p video, which is perfectly smooth, but we noticed that it's not superb in the details department. It's still very good, but we expected a bit more. The other aspects of the video like colors and exposure are alright. The microphone is mostly mediocre – the sounds that it captures are rather high and sharp.





Taking a picLower is betterTaking an HDR pic(sec)Lower is betterCamSpeed scoreHigher is betterCamSpeed score with flashHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S43.4
4.75
1016
486
Samsung Galaxy S III2.5
No data
833
534
HTC One3.4
No data
490
445
Sony Xperia Z3
4
987
948


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Multimedia

The versatile Music Player of the Galaxy S4 neatly organizes your music by Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, Recent and Playlists. It displays large and beautiful album art, and features a bunch of “advanced” options like an equalizer with presets, including a custom one.

The GS4 doesn't feature stereo speakers. Instead, it has just a single speaker positioned on its back side, which, however, sounds very well. It manages to emit mostly loud and clear sounds that aren't irritating to the ears even at the highest volume settings.

This is one amazing display for video playback and gaming! It's just made to let you enjoy your favorite multimedia content - it's both super-big and super-vibrant thanks to the AMOLED technology. And, with the new settings allowing you to make it display a bit more realistic colors, it might even be acceptable for the purists out there. One thing is certain, almost all people you show it to will be wowed.



Headphones output power(Volts)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S40.38
Samsung Galaxy S III0.3
HTC One0.68
Sony Xperia Z0.37
Loudspeaker loudness(dB)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S477
Samsung Galaxy S III79
HTC One78
Sony Xperia Z67


Call quality

The Galaxy S4 delivers passable call quality - nothing spectacular. The earpiece is loud enough, but the quality of the sound isn't among the best. Things are a bit better on the other end of the line, though there's some room for improvement as well.

The loudspeaker is powerful and manages to retain a decent sounding most of the time without starting to crackle too much.

Battery

Samsung hasn't announced any official information regarding the battery life of the Galaxy S4. Is this because it's embarrassed? Not likely! The phone is equipped with a beefy 2600mAh battery, so it should definitely provide enough juice for a full day of use. Judging by our observations, though, you can even get two days out of the Galaxy S4 if you are more of a moderate user.

We measure battery life by running a custom web-script,designed to replicate the power consumption of typical real-life usage.All devices that go through the test have their displays set at 200-nit brightness.
hoursHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S4
4h 59 min(Poor)
Samsung Galaxy S III
4h 8 min(Poor)
HTC One
5h 45 min(Poor)
Sony Xperia Z
4h 48 min(Poor)


Conclusion

Samsung didn't exactly catch us by surprise with the Galaxy S4. Pretty much all the hardware improvements like the faster processor, better camera, and 5” 1080p screen were expected. Samsung simply had to have those in the Galaxy S4 if it wanted its product to be relevant in 2013. However, it's the flawless implementation of all the features that makes the Galaxy S4 the superb smartphone that it is. Design-wise, the latest Samsung flagship is nothing special. It looks OK and is comfortable to hold. We're more than happy to see that Samsung has managed to make the smartphone even smaller than the GS III, which is a remarkable achievement, considering the bigger screen.

The top-notch performance and general lack of issues continue to be among the Galaxy S's strongest sides. If you're the kind of geek who's always running benchmarks on their phone, trying to squeeze every possible bit of performance out of it, then chances are you'll fall in love with the Galaxy S4, which is one of the fastest, if not the fastest Android phone around.

When it comes to appearance, the Galaxy S4 may not be particularly impressive, but it's extremely slim, light and easy to handle. This, along with the myriad of custom features make the Samsung Galaxy S4 one truly brilliant Android smartphone – a likable life companion.

Software version of the reviewed unit: Android 4.2.2, Build: JDQ39.I9505XXUAMC6_CSB

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Update: Read our Galaxy S5 review!



Pros

  • Large screen, compact phone
  • Super-customizable
  • Polished user interface

Cons

  • Mediocre call quality
  • Thin, plastic casing

PhoneArena Rating:

9.3

User Rating:

9.2
114 Reviews

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