I have had the Samsung GALAXY S4 for more than a month now. I have micro-blogged tiny bits of reviews here and there on Twitter and Google Plus. I am laying it all out in my complete review here.
Introduction to the Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung GALAXY S4 was unveiled in the US in March, 2013 and then made available to the Nigerian market about a month ago at N108,000.00 for preorder. In an exclusive meeting with Tech bloggers, Samsung introduced the GALAXY S4 to us and every blogger in attendance got one. This review unit is from Samsung.
The Hardware and Design
The Samsung GALAXY S4 doesn’t look too distinct. Anyone who has seen or used the Samsung GALAXY S3 is going to wonder what sets the two phones apart. A closer look reveals a few differences and the features that make the S4 unique.
It’s a 5″ diagonal phone that has its screen spreading from edge to edge. The screen is well stretched to the edges of the phone by the side, with more space at the top and bottom. The Volume rocker is on the left (I always look for it on the right. Sigh!) with the power button on the right side. Next is the home button at the base. Along the home button is the back button by the right of the home button and the function button on the left.
There’s a front facing camera, the earpiece and three different sensors at the top of the phone. These sensors are responsible for many of the gestures/gimmicks that the phone performs. At the top of the phone is the 3.5 mm audio jack input.
At the back is a 13 MP camera supported by a flash and the speaker at the base, just at the back of the phone. The speaker is decent. I was able to play music from the loud speakers from the other room while doing my laundry and it was loud enough. The deal breaker is when the phone is facing up, the speaker rests on a surface and the audio volume diminishes.
At 5” and 130g the phone is very light and convenient to slip into the pocket without it bulging.
The phone is made from premium durable plastic material with removable battery cover and external storage access of up to 64 GB. I popped in a 32 GB micoSD in my unit. You can only store music (audio), movies (video) and photos (images) and books/documents. The external storage won’t accept applications. For the heavy gamers who download large games, they’ll have to depend on the internal storage -16 GB, but only about 9 GB is available to users.
The Samsung GALAXY S4 spots a super HD display. It’s a Super AMOLED Capacitive Touchscreen, 1080 x 1920 pixel at 441ppi pixel density. It blows the iPhone 5′s retina display away. It made my friend who has an iPhone 5 with its Retina Display, jealous.
The display however shines brightly only when indoors. In the glare of sunlight, one struggles to see what’s displayed on the screen. So, the display is sunlight shy and thus, shines only indoors or after the sunset. For those who text on the sidewalks during the day, you’ll need to shield the display from sunlight to see what’s displayed clearly. [DO NOT TEXT WHILE WALKING!]
The Samsung Virtual Keyboard that ships with the S4 is well spaced and has haptic feedback built into it with autocorrect functionality.
Swipe or continuous typing by gliding your hand on the keyboard is bundled along the Samsung Keyboard. Can be activated in the settings. If you’re like me and you don’t like the keyboard Samsung bundles with this S4, go ahead to the Google Play Store and download SwiftKey, my preferred Android keyboard. It has a trial edition and costs $4.68 USD. Other keyboards you can try depending on your taste is the Go Keyboard or Swype Keyboard.
For a week, I allowed a friend who is a QWERTY BlackBerry user at heart try my S4 out. Her comment – I love the next word prediction and the auto correct of the S4. But she prefers the implementation of autocorrect on the Nokia Lumia 920. There’s a similarity between the Autocorrect present on the Nokia Lumia 920, SwifKey and next word prediction of the iPhone. I guess that’s why she’s just like me since she’ll rather go with the implementation of autocorrect/next word prediction on the Lumia 920.
Reception and Call Quality
I have never had issues with the call quality on previous Samsung flagship phones that I have used—GALAXY S2 and S3. Where the Nokia Symbian phones I’ve used have better signals, the S4 does well, giving me full bars in most places. There’s the option to toggle network to be on WCDMA/3G only, a feature missing on iPhones. On the iPhone, I am either on EDGE/2G only or EDGE/3G (automatic)—where the phone switches between 3G and EDGE depending on the quality of reception in a particular area. The S4 bumps the iPhone here in that I can peg network at 3G+ only and enjoy superb network when making use of mobile Internet. That’s a plus for me.
During calls, the caller and receiver can hear each other clearly. There have been no dropped calls due to reception quality since I’ve been using it.
Camera and Media
Camera feature bump is one of the USPs of the S4. The settings are simple to toggle right from the camera with easy metaphors that explains each shooting modes—Auto, Beauty face, Best photo, Night, Sports, Panorama, Eraser, Rich tone [HDR], Animated photo, Drama, Sound and Shot). Shooting outdoors where there’s sufficient light will produce excellent photos from its 13 MP camera, 4128 x 3096 pixels, autofocus & LED flash.
When it comes to MEDIA, two music players are bundled – Samsung Music player and Google Play Music.
You can choose either of the two to play your music. But if you want to enjoy the deep features baked into the phone by Samsung, you will need to use the Samsung Music Player and the Video Player, then you can enjoy smart pause when you look away from a video playing. Don’t expect this feature if you’re using a third party video player like VLC.
Software and Application
The S4 ships with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean that has been skinned by Samsung and laced with TouchWiz. The look and feel of TouchWiz can be seen round the phone. It is this Samsung’s implementation that connects the entire features Samsung touted at launch and in their ads.
Features like Smart Stay, Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View, Smart Scroll all are implemented by Samsung.
There are these sets of features on the GALAXY S4 that some S4 haters keep referring to as gimmicks (LOL).
Swipe to answer the phone if you have smudges or wet hands: This feature works. I used it while eating at Amala at the restaurant and had soup all over my hand. The phone immediately went to speakerphone and I started my conversation with the caller while diving deeper into my assorted meat filled gbegiri & ewedu soup.
Putting your hands over the phone to reveal notifications when the phone is in sleep mode. You can see all notifications on the phone briefly that way and the phone goes back to sleep. These are series of activities that doesn’t require that you touch the phone.
The phone is so light, that you won’t feel you’re holding a 5″ screen phone. This is actually a plus to it.
You can go out and enjoy a full day’s use from the 2600 mAh battery.
Activating these features are easy. You can slide down the notification and get to the quick menu to activate them. But to ensure they’re working, you will need to go into the settings proper and ensure they’re turned on. You can go straight into the particular setting you want to toggle from the quick menu–just hold that selection for 3 seconds and you’re in. Or go straight to Settings and find it.
I personally don’t like going into the settings of the S4. Too many activities going on at once in there and so many things to toggle. The setting of the GALAXY S4 feels like the cockpit of a plane that only a trained pilot can navigate. I often get lost in the settings regardless of my proficiency level in handling smartphones. I would have wished it were easier to navigate and implemented more easily – Samsung threw simplicity away. Under settings there’s four sub settings—Connections, My device, Accounts and More. Pray you don’t get lost as you try to navigate your way through each setting.
Packed features are the strengths and weaknesses of the S4.
Browsers that got shipped with the phone are the Samsung browser, Google Chrome and Opera mini. You can choose the one that you’ll like to use each time. There are still other browsers you can throw in if you go to the Google Play store. My Favourite browser is the Google Chrome as it synchronizes my activities across all other devices—desktop, tablets and other phones.
Multitasking implementation is possible by hitting the home button for three seconds. This reveals all applications that are running in the background. Swiping them off is so easy to exit each application, as you desire.
Connectivity and Storage – The internal storage in 16 GB. That’s the version being sold in the Nigerian market. Like I said earlier, a user has less that 10 GB storage available for media and applications out of the 16 GB device internal memory. The bulk of the memory has been used for features and applications that the user can’t delete. But there is the option to add a maximum of 64 GB of external storage. One caveat though, the external microSD can’t store applications. Android removed that ability from its Operating System a while back and Samsung has to comply with it.
One advantage of being able to pop in microSD card is that you can store lots of media–movies, pictures and music. You can have as many microSDs as you wish. Also considering that the screen of the S4 is large enough at 5″ and with a crisp super HD display, you can turn it into your media companion.
I’m using a MacBook laptop and I used the Samsung Kies app to synchronize my music, movies and pictures. Kies also asked me if I wanted to move contents from a previously synced device to my S4. In this case, I had previously synced my iPhone 4S. Except for DRM songs, all songs were moved from my iTunes and iPhone back up to the S4.
Moving your contacts – You might also want to move your contacts to the S4. There are different ways. My contacts are stored to Google Contacts. The moment I logged on to my Gmail and synced my contacts and calendar, I was good to go.
Performance – I think the S4 seriously needs a software update. Samsung is prepping an update that will also make it possible to store apps to the SD card. We are still waiting for that.
But TouchWiz implementation on the S4 is superb. It is the first time I can tolerate a phone running Samsung’s customized Android – TouchWiz. The contact icons look a lot more beautiful.
Battery Life and Accessories – The S4 has a 2600 mAh battery; an increase in battery spec over the Samsung GALAXY S3. The super HD of the phone uses up the bulk of the power. I get a full day use from the phone, when used moderately and 8 to 10 hours when used rigorously. When I compared it with the HTC One that I had for three days, the S4 fared better.
I’m scoring the battery 7.5 out of 10.
Accessories – External Power Pack, Charger, earphones, flip cover.
Conclusion – the Samsung GALAXY S4 is much more than all the gimmicks packed into it. It’s a phone you’ll be proud to carry. The display, screen size, lightweight, easy to use camera and more the battery life are the pluses I’ve spotted.
Minuses are the clumsy settings and how many of the features take too much time to search and navigate through. The sensors aren’t as sharp and fail me sometimes. If that’s the only reason you’re buying the S4, you might be disappointed when it fails you sometimes. By the way, you can’t use the sensors in the dark. Aha! They need to see your face to function.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 scores an 8/10 with me.