At the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in NYC, the first thing I wondered was whether Samsung products were becoming overhyped. The Galaxy S3 was a massive hit and set high expectations for “the next best thing”. Is the Galaxy S4 Samsung’s best phone yet or is just all hype?
GALAXY S4 DESIGN AND PERFORMANCE
Samsung calls the Galaxy S4 a “lifestyle companion”, which is odd. What is a lifestyle companion?
Galaxy S4 doesn’t stray from the design cues of the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2. It’s boxy like the Note 2 and less tapered than the S3. A transparent pattern wraps around its polycarbonate body, much like what LG has done to the Nexus 4 and Optimus G Pro. The S4 feels comfortable to hold and use with one-hand. For the most part, the design of the Galaxy S4 is consistent with the Galaxy S lineup. Fingerprint smudges that cover the phone over time are the only downsides to the look.
Under the hood, the Galaxy S4 is powered by a 1.9GHz Quad-core processor with 2GBs of RAM. That should stand for fast as hell, but the S4 feels responsive more than zippy. Doing things like switching apps or opening new browser tabs has a delay to them. Animations and response times just don’t feel instantaneous which is disappointing considering its superior specs.
GALAXY S4 DISPLAY AND SOUND
The Galaxy S4’s 5-inch Super AMOLED HD (1920 x 1080, 441ppi) display is a drastic improvement from other Galaxy S devices. Colors are still vibrant, but less saturated. The color white no longer has a blue tint and looks..well…white. Still, it’s not without its flaws. Even on its brightest setting the screen never feels bright enough which makes it difficult to read under a lot of sunlight. Pictures and videos have a slight pixilation and fuzziness to them regardless of whether HD is enabled. Despite these flaws, the display is still pretty good.
The sound quality is nice and loud from the headphones, but sound tiny and strained from the two lines in the back of the phone that function as a speaker. It’s sufficient for a playing music in a small room, but not in group settings.
GALAXY S4 CAMERA
The Galaxy S4 packs a massive feature-set into an impressive 13MP camera. If your phone is lacking in shooting modes, the Galaxy S4 has 12 of them. There’s a carousel of modes including HDR and Best Face/Shot. The most interesting new modes are Dual recording, Drama Shot, Animated Photo and Eraser.
Dual-recording mode records from the front and back cameras at the same time (see pic above). Drama shot captures a series of images of a moving subject to create an impressive action shot. However, getting drama shot to work takes more effort than opening a jar of pickles. Animated photo creates animated GIFs and you can easily customize their speed, direction and which parts of the picture should move. Eraser takes five consecutive shots and removes moving objects from the picture. It works like a charm most of the time and allows you to see what it’s removing before saving the image.
The only minor quirk is the lack of tap-to-focus when using the front camera. Images and videos look sharp, but fuzzy sometimes on screen and on your computer. Samsung has thrown in an app called Story Album that allows you to make a photo album from your photos. Unfortunately, you can’t do much to customize the look and format of the image, which means you’re stuck with whatever Samsung gives you. Good luck telling your story with their options.
ANDROID 4.2.2 AND SAMSUNG TOUCHWIZ SKIN
The Galaxy S4 is one of a few Android devices running the latest version of Android Jellybean. Android 4.2.2 brings new features like gesture keyboard (swipe to type) for the AOSP keyboard, group messaging via MMS and the ability to add widgets to the lockscreen. Toggles in the notification area can be reordered, though not removed. A nice animation has also been added to the brightness meter icon that changes according to where you set the meter. There’s a new layout when installing new apps or updates that looks nice, but doesn’t add clarity to what apps can do.
The settings app is reorganized into four tabbed sections: connections, my device, accounts, and more. Most options from the Galaxy S3 can be found under the same sections on the Galaxy S4. You’ll also find new options like air view, Smart screen, and Air gestures. Air view, a feature first seen in the Galaxy Note 2, lets you hover your finger over different objects to view more information. Air gestures use hand gestures to browse pictures or accept incoming calls. Smart screen lets your eyes tell the S4 what to do. If you look away from a video, it will pause. When you get to the bottom of your screen while reading this article, it will scroll down for you.
These features sound nice in concept, but are feel gimmicky. I immediately turned most of them off.
What you don’t get in the S4’s version of Android 4.2.2 is two new camera features called Photosphere and Tiny Planet. With Photosphere, instead of looking at a panorama as a long image strip you see the panorama as if you’re at the center of it taking the picture yourself. I like to turn them into Tiny Planets, which is another cool visual effect for panoramas.
GALAXY S4 STORAGE AND BLOATWARE
Would you buy a phone that advertises 16GBs of storage, but only allows you to use 8GBs? That’s exactly what you get with the Galaxy S4. If you asked me why this is the case, I’d point to Google, Samsung and AT&T.
Samsung managed to squeeze 14 of its own apps on the Galaxy S4 (including S Health, a fitness tracking app), surpassing AT&T’s 10 apps. Google takes the cake with 15 pre-installed apps. You can bet their apps are taking up an insane amount of the S4’s storage. How’s that in the spirit of companionship? Thankfully the S4 supports up to 64GB microSD cards. You’ll need one immediately to keep your media on this phone.
GALAXY S4 CALLS AND BATTERY LIFE
Calls and call quality on the Galaxy S4 are consistently excellent. AT&T’s 4G/LTE network continues to carry 4-5 bars indoors and outdoors. Calls sound loud and clear and callers were easy to hear. Data speeds are also great with SpeedTest.net clocking an impressive and fast 18Mbps for downloads and 10.40Mbps for uploads.
The battery on the S4 hasn’t improved one bit compared to the S3. It drains itself pretty quickly with heavy usage. On average, I was able to get 10-14 hours of battery life with light-moderate usage including calls, texts, using the camera and maps, and posting social media updates. You will need to keep a charger on you at all times for the S4.
Is it worth upgrading from the Galaxy S3 or Note 2? The S4’s clean design, comfortable feel, superior specs and bundle of features makes it worth an upgrade. Camera addicts will find the Galaxy S4 to be more than satisfying for their photos as long as they save pics to a microSD card. The price is nice at $200 with AT&T (2-year contract) and it comes in three flavors: black mist, red aurora, and frost white.
Does it fall into the category of being overhyped? Largely, but not completely. The specs for the S4 make it one of Samsung’s strongest phone’s yet, but it tries too hard to be everything. The overwhelming amount of features sound amazing, but barely work the way they should. In doing so much, nothing of quality seems to really get done with the Galaxy S4. Hence the hype…
What do you think?