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Samsung Galaxy S4 Smartphone: A Review

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S4
ViperSnake151 - Wikimedia Commons

Samsung Galaxy S4

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I have used Windows Phone devices almost exclusively for the last year, and while I am a huge fan of the hardware (specifically Nokia devices), the third part support of Windows Phone is still lacking. I have decided that I need to get more from my smartphone, so I have decided to revert back to an Android based device. I chose the Samsung Galaxy S4 as my device for a few different reasons, and I am now ready to share my experiences after using the device for a couple of weeks.

The design

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a nice phone to look at, but the design overall is quite boring, especially when compared to its main Android rival, the HTC One. The One has beautiful straight edges and sleek lines, and it is made from beautiful brushed aluminum. The S4 utilizes a pebble shaped design with rounded edges and cheap plastic, in fact it is the same design and build quality that the S2, S3, Note 1, and Note 2 all use. Don’t get me wrong, the S4 looks nice, but this design is getting old and the S4 looks a little dated.

Having said that the S4’s design is looking a little dated, the S4 does feel nice in the hand. The S4 is incredibly light and weighs in at just 4.59oz (130g). The weight is even more surprising when you see just how big the S4 really is. The phone is 5.38-inches tall, 2.75-inches wide, and remarkably the S4 just 0.31-inches thick. The S4 packs a huge 5-inch display, but even with these dimensions, the S4 is easy to hold, and easy to use.

Looking at the phone you will find the S4 to be quite minimalist. The right hand side of the phone is home to the power button, while the left hand side of the phone is home to the volume rocker. At the top of the phone you will find the 3.5mm headphone jack and noise cancelling microphone, while the bottom houses the USB charger connector. Above the screen you will find the earpiece, 2.0MP front facing camera, and brand logo, while underneath the screen you will find a physical button and two capacitive buttons to control the phone. Around the back you will find the 13MP camera, LED flash, and one small speaker towards the bottom left hand side.

There is one design element that I have loved about recent Samsung devices, and that is the removable battery cover. Underneath the back cover you will find the 2600mAh battery, the Micro-SIM card slot, and a SD card slot.

While the overall design of the S4 is looking a little old and tired now, the phone does feel really nice to hold. I am not a fan of the cheap feeling plastic, and I cannot help but feel that a flagship device should have a more premium feel to it, but the materials serve their purpose. Overall the S4 is a nice looking phone, but it is by no means the nicest on the market.

What’s under the hood?

While Samsung seem to skimp on the materials used to build their devices, there is no doubt that Samsung goes all out when it comes to the internal components. Simply put, the S4 is a powerhouse, and is one of the most powerful phones on the market today.

The Galaxy S4 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU, a Quad-Core processor that has been clocked to 1.9GHz. The snappy CPU has been paired with the powerful Adreno 320 GPU, and a full 2GB of RAM. The S4 comes with either 16GB, 32Gb or 64GB of internal storage.

The S4 has a beautiful 5-inch super AMOLED display that has a resolution of 1080x1920 (full 1080p HD), and has a pixel density of 441 pixels per inch (iPhone 5 with retina display has a pixel density of 326). The screen has stunning clarity, vibrant colors, and deep, rich blacks, and unlike many other AMOLED screens, the screen on the S4 is easily viewable in direct sunlight. Samsung have taken a note from Nokia’s book and have made the screen super sensitive which means that users can use the screen while wearing gloves, which I am sure will be a welcome feature in colder climates.

The Galaxy S4 has a 13MP, back illuminated camera with LED flash, and a 2MP front facing camera. The front facing camera is capable of high definition recording, which comes in handy for video chatting, while the rear facing camera is capable of recording video at a resolution of 1080x1920 (1080p) at 30 frames per second.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a lot of other features as well such as built in aGPS and Glonass GPS receivers, a accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, thermometer, barometer, humidity sensors, NFC (near field communication) expandable memory SD card slot (can accommodate a 64GB memory card), Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi a,b,g, and n (with 5GHz support) and gesture sensors.

As mentioned above the S4 has a 2600 mAh that is capable of powering the device all day with moderate to high use. During the past two weeks I have averaged anywhere from 12 to 15 hours from a single charge with moderate use, and thanks to the removable battery, you can purchase additional, higher capacity batteries if you desire.

As you can see from the list of features above, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is packed to the gills with high end components, and on paper you would have to believe that the S4 would be a solid performer, but how does it perform in the real world? Lets find out.

The road test

I will admit that I have been spoiled when it comes to performance thanks to Windows Phone 8 and Nokia hardware. The user experience on that platform is wonderful with silt smooth transitions, and zero lag. Android has always suffered with a less than wonderful user experience thanks to inconsistent hardware and different software configurations, but I have to say that the S4 has changed my opinion about Android based smartphones.

Thanks to the Quad-Core processor, 2GB of RAM and the Adreno 320 GPU, the Galaxy S4’s Performance is out of this world. The phone is blazing fast. From a cold start, the Galaxy S4 booted to the lock screen in 26 seconds, screen transitions are silky smooth, apps open immediately, and most importantly of all, there is absolutely no lag to speak of. The S4 uses Samsungs take on Android which sees the either loved, or loathed TouchWiz user interface take center stage. Manufacturers are the ones who make or break Android with their custom interfaces, but I have to say that TouchWiz is one of the better skins I have seen on Android.

TouchWiz is based on Google's Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean) Software, and it brings a myriad of features such as S Note, multi-pane windows (you can have 4 applications open at the same time on the same screen) S-Beam (a sharing feature that allows you to beam content from your phone to another device) smart scroll, which is a feature that tracks your eye movement and will automatically scroll the page you are viewing, and smart stay. Even with all of these extra features that Samsung added on top of Android, the device just zips along without missing a beat. There is no doubt that Android has come a long way since the last time I owned a Android smartphone device (LG G2X).

The Samsung Galaxy S4 doesn’t even break a sweat while plowing through every day tasks such as reading email, sending text messages, and browsing the web, and even when the phone is asked to run applications that would require more power, the phone just breezes right through the task, it is this level of performance that I feared losing by making the switch from Windows Phone 8 to Android, but I now know that I had nothing to worry about.

Using the Galaxy S4 is very easy thanks to the now intuitive Android user interface. As you would expect with this being a smartphone almost everything is controlled via the touch screen, as mentioned earlier on though, there are 3 buttons located just beneath the screen. There is a physical home button that works just like the home button on an iPhone would work, and there are 2 capacitive buttons, one that allow the user to open menus, and another that allows the user to back out of applications.

The battery life on the S4 is excellent too. As mentioned above a typical day for me will see me checking email, sending text messages, browsing the web, playing games, and watching movies, and even with moderate to heavy use, I do not have to worry about charging my phone. The battery is rated for 17 hours of talk time, and 15.5 days of standby power. Even when you do need to charge the battery, you will not have to wait very long. After completely draining my battery, I was back to a full charge in about one and a half hours. The speaker that is located on the back of the device is loud and clear, and listening to music or movies is easily done. The sound is not earth shatteringly good, but the tiny speaker gets the job done.

I have to say that I am very impressed with the overall performance of the phone when it comes to completing everyday smartphone tasks. The S4 is fast, fluid, reliable and very easy to use.

Can this smartphone make calls?

Yes, of course it can, but this is something that we seem to take for granted these days. At the end of the day, the primary purpose of the S4 and any smartphone is to make phone calls, and the S4 does not disappoint in this area of operation.

The Galaxy S4 performed very well during all of my calls. I have used the S4 to make calls to both land lines and cell phones, and overall the call quality has been excellent. During all of my calls, I have easily able to hear the recipient of my call clearly, and they have been able to hear me clearly as well. I cannot help but think that this is mainly due to the excellent noise reduction microphone that is located on the top of the phone, because even while calling someone in a noisy environment, or while outside with theOklahoma winds blowin,g the recipient (even when asked) could not hear any other outside noise.

The earpiece on the Galaxy S4 offers great clarity, and the volume level is more than loud enough, and even the speaker on the back of the phone offers great clarity while being utilized during hand free conversation. I have not suffered from any dropped called during this two week period either, and I put this down to the inclusion of LTE radio’s and the fact that ATT’s signal in my area is very strong, however having said this, even after placing a call in an area that is known for bad reception, I still cannot remember dropping a call.

The camera

There is no doubt that Nokia has the market cornered when it comes to producing the best smartphone cameras, and it is the camera that I will miss the most from my Nokia Lumia 920, but Samsung have done a pretty good job with the camera in the Galaxy S4.

The camera interface is easy to use thanks to the mode selector. The S4 has five preset camera modes, auto, sports, night, beauty face and best photo. I would hazard a guess and would say that most people will not venture outside of these preset modes, but for those that do like a more manual approach you will find settings for ISO, face detection, metering, anti-shake, night detection, white balance, exposure values, flash, timer, and guidelines.

The 13MP shooter in the S4 is capable of taking so very nice shots when in good lighting. The pictures that are produced are bright and vivid with very little noise, having said that the colors can seem to be a little oversaturated at times. The S4 does not perform very well in low light conditions though, even with the flash, night time pictures are full of noise and artifacts that really make most pictures unusable which is a shame.

Video recording is very easy with this phone. A simple mode selector switch on the screen switches between stills and video. The camera can record in HD 1080p at 30 frames per second. The S4 can produce some very sharp looking video, but you will need to have a steady hand because the S4 does not have any optical image stabilization. The video performance is more than adequate for the average user though. The microphone performs well and is able to pick up even the tiniest of sounds. The front facing camera is also good. The 2MP camera is perfect for video chats, and for teens (or teen wannabees) who like to take countless selfies.

Is the S4 the perfect Android phone?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great phone, and I am pleased with my purchase, but is it the perfect Android phone? The answer to that question is both yes and no.

The S4 is fast, very fast in fact. It is without doubt the fastest Android device I have ever used. The phone boots quickly, the phone breezes through Android with zero lag, and everything is silky smooth, even when using demanding applications and games. Call quality it very good and data speeds with AT&T’s LTE network averaged 18Mbps down and 11Mbps up. The screen is stunning, and it is easy to read even the smallest text in e-books and on websites. The camera can produce some vivid (if a little oversaturated) pictures and video recording is also good, while the battery is more than capable of lasting a full day.

The biggest downside of the Galaxy S4 would have to be the design and the cheap feel of the materials used to make the phone. The design of the S4 is the same as the design of the much older S2, the S3, the Note 1 and the Note 2, and I believe this design has been overused. There is nothing about the design that really makes it standout from the crowd like the Nokia Lumia line of phones, or the new HTC One. The cheap plastic also leaves a lot to be desired for such a high end, expensive phone. The phone does feel nice while in use though, and the light weight helps this.

If you can overlook the design of the S4 then there is no doubt that you will be happy with the S4. I normally do not buy cases for my phones, but I am going to break down and buy one, just so that I can add some sort of design to the phone. The performance is second to none though, and really at the end of the day that is what matters the most. I highly recommend the Samsung Galaxy S4