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Saturday, 25 May 2013

SAMSUNG GALAXY S4 REVIEW


Graph for REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S4
The recent launch of Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 flagship smartphone was interesting to attend for what wasn’t said, as much as for what was said. Google was not mentioned at all, Android was mentioned only once and even that was just as an aside.
While new hardware specifications were highlighted, the focus was very much on Samsung specific software applications and additions to Android which aim to differentiate it from flagship smartphones from other manufacturers. However from our experience most buyers will not get around to using most of these software features. They are just marketing gimmicks, that Samsung hopes will help differentiate the S4 from the sea of other Android-enabled smartphones.
Towards the end of setup process the much vaunted special features like Air View and Air gesture are presented as “key features”; though both can be switched off. To this point, not all of them are turned on by default and if a user isn’t inclined to explore settings menus then the Galaxy S4’s software features will seem not much different to a Galaxy S3. Also even when turned on some new features like Smart Scroll only work in a small number of apps eg: the stock Android browser rather than the more popular Chrome browser.
Looking at the market share split for Android phones shows that Samsung is far in front like a blazing comet with all the other manufacturers such as HTC, Sony, Motorola and LG trailing behind in its tail. Also because it waited to launch the Galaxy S 4 after the HTC One, LG Optimus G and Sony Xperia Z, Samsung has been able to ship units from day one with the latest version of Android 4.2.2 which is a very good operating system.
Corporations are like peacocks in that they like to signal how well they’re doing to competitors by showing off their plumage in a flashy way. Apart from trying to be seen to be a good corporate citizen by supporting the arts, the purpose of Samsung sponsoring the Sydney Opera House for 3 years and spending a substantial amount on a huge party for each new flagship phone launch is to signal how well they’re doing compared to other Android smartphone manufacturers.
Hardware Features
Most readers who upgrade to the Galaxy S4 will be doing so from an older and smaller Android phone or an iPhone will find the Galaxy S4 screen and data download speeds over 4G/LTE quite impressive.
Samsung engineers have designed the Galaxy S4 with a stunningly crisp five-inch 1920x1080 high resolution screen while also making the phone body a tiny bit smaller and lighter than the Galaxy S3, which had a 4.8 inch 720x1280 screen. Another engineering achievement is the increase in battery capacity by 24 per cent (from 2100mAh to 2600mAh) compared to the Galaxy S3.
Upon hearing that the Galaxy S4’s back camera had been upgraded to 13 megapixels, we were worried that this would mean larger photo file sizes but lower photo quality. However testing the camera by taking photos in a well-lit garden, low light conditions at a small bar and during a meal shows that it is capable of taking sharp well exposed photos that rival a compact camera, apart from lacking optical zoom capability.
Regarding storage, the Galaxy S4 model sold in Australia only has a disappointing 16GB on-board. After installing all our usual apps and tools we only had a bit over 7GB of space free which is not enough to fit podcasts subscriptions and a music collection as well. The Galaxy S4 supports MicroSD cards but you shouldn’t have to be forced to buy a microSD card to be able to use all the capabilities of a high end smartphone.
One Sydney-based information professional told us that compared to her old iPhone the Galaxy S4 is “streets ahead in terms of speed, ease of use, integration of apps and camera. Another major thing is the battery life - excellent - and fact that I can buy and charge a spare battery” to swap out when her phone goes flat.
Galaxy S4 Optimisation Tips
A phone with speedy specifications like a Quad Core 1.9GHz CPU should be blazing fast all the time but every now and then the phone seems to lag when opening or switching apps. We suspect that the Samsung’s Touchwiz menu and user interface overlay causes these pauses.
We were able to remove some of the perceived lag by disabling S Voice so the home button works faster and enabling developer mode so window animation scale and transition animation scale are set to off.
To turn S Voice off press the home button twice, once S Voice opens press the menu button and choose Settings, unselect Open via the home key. Readers who take a lot of photos with their phone would be advised to try the free Quickpic gallery app which is a lot faster and robust than the photo gallery apps supplied by Android phone manufacturers.
Another unwanted feature which we disabled is the annoying sound played when the phone is turned on, potentially waking up your partner or the person sitting in the airline seat next to you. We suggest finding the free SilentBoot app, once installed open it and turn Silent Boot on. Now turn the Galaxy S4 off and when it turns on again it will do so without a sound.
We love Swype-style phone keyboards which allow words to be entered by sliding your finger to connect letters in a word. By default this functionality isn’t enabled in the Galaxy S4 out of the box which is odd. To do so go to Settings, My Device, Language & input, click on the little wheel at the right of Samsung keyboard and select Continuous input.
Price
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has an Australian RRP of $899 and is available from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone on various plans or outright from retailers such as Mobicity and Kogan. With a little effort you can find outright prices around $700. Make sure you buy a Galaxy S4 model i9505 because it is better suited to Australian networks.


Hardware

Samsung Galaxy S4-Home Screen
Before we dive too deep, let’s take a quick overview look at the specs of the Galaxy S4. The phone we received, a Sprint unit, is equipped with a 5-inch 1920 x 1080-pixel Super AMOLED display, runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, has a 1.9GHz quad-core processor (in the U.S.), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (on the low end), a microSD card slot, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat, NFC, a 2,600mAh battery and even an IR blaster for controlling your TV. To say this device is stacked is an understatement: it’s one of the most powerful smartphones we’ve seen to date.
The Galaxy S4 packs a larger screen than the Galaxy S III, and while that may seem like it means you’re getting a bigger phone, that’s not really the case. The Galaxy S 4 is thinner than the Galaxy S III (0.31 inches vs. 0.34 inches), the same height, and a hair less wide. How did Samsung pull that off? The screen has smaller bezels around the edges, which means it was able to put a bigger display in the same size space.
Samsung Galaxy S4-Back
The phone itself is made out of polycarbonate plastic and has an attractive faux metal border and a unique sparkle under the right light. We liked how the phone felt while using it and the backside almost felt like a smooth oil surface, another pro (it wasn’t slippery). The phone doesn’t sit totally flat on a surface, however, but it seems few smartphones do these days.
You can also easily pop off the back cover and replace the battery or pop in a 64GB microSD card, but that means you’re sacrificing a bit on design aesthetics. The HTC One, by all means, is the nicer looking and more impressive phone on the surface of a table, but the Galaxy S4 is no slouch either.

Software

Sprint Galaxy S4 to Launch April 27 for $249.99
Samsung put an incredible amount of work into the software on the Galaxy S4. It runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung’s custom user interface on top. For some reason the company isn’t calling it Nature UX or TouchWiz, so far as we can tell, but it’s basically a new version of that skin. Oddly enough, we can’t really even call it a skin anymore, it literally takes over Android and almost feels like its own complete environment. Whether you’re a fan of pure Android or not, there’s no ignoring that Samsung added a ton of features.
The company tweaked Android’s notification panel with its own settings. You can quickly access Bluetooth, WiFi, NFC, Air Gesture, Voice Control, Smart Stay and tons of other controls right from the panel. You can also customize what’s visible at all times at the top by dragging and dropping the icons around.
Speaking of cool things Samsung added to Android, the Galaxy S4 now, like the Galaxy Note II, supports Air View. That means you can hover your finger over an email, a calendar date, a photo and even in Flipboard, which was custom built for Air View on the Galaxy S4. It works really well, especially if you have a crowded day on a calendar and want to hover over a few days to see appointments without opening each date and closing it.
Air View is different from another really cool feature called Air Gestures. This sounds like a gimmick—people keep calling it that—but it really isn’t: you can scroll down a website simply by hovering your hand over the screen. Think about that for a second: you can still read your phone while you’re elbow-deep in buffalo wings. That’s amazing. Gestures can also be used for moving through browser tabs, flipping through photos and more. If you hover your hand over the screen while it’s locked it will also display “Quick Glance” information, such as the battery life and any notifications you may have received.
Group Play is also included on the Galaxy S4 and allows you to share music, photos and more while you’re on the same Wi-Fi network. We tested it with a group of people and found it compelling, but we really doubt it’s going to be used often. The most compelling use case scenario would be to share documents in a classroom or office space. Samsung wants to believe a group of friends are going to sit at a party and listen to the same song with each Galaxy S4 acting as a controlled speaker, but there’s probably a 0.1 percent chance of that ever happening. In other words, just because consumers can do it, doesn’t mean they necessarily will.
galaxy-s4-review-shot-4
Samsung Galaxy S4-Notifications
Samsung wants the Galaxy S4 to appeal to all audiences, young and old and advanced and amateur users. It included an Easy Mode that makes it dead simple (feature-phone simple) to access text messages, the browser, applications and the camera. Easy Mode very much serves as training wheels for someone who may later want to use the more advanced functions of the smartphone.
Finally, WatchON is Samsung’s customized version of Peel that uses the IR blaster to control your TV. It’s a really awesome add-on and we loved the similar option on the HTC One. WatchON provides a personalized guide experience based on the shows you’ve up-voted or down-voted and can alert you to when your favorite shows are on TV. If you own one of Samsung’s 2013 Smart TVs you can also stream content from your TV to your Galaxy S4 over a Wi-Fi network.
There are tons of other features to talk about, and you really need to pick up the Galaxy S4 to experience all of them. Samsung carried over a few options from its Note line, too, including multi-view, which allows you to run mu apps side-by-side, S Translator for translating text or voice, and so much more.

Camera

Samsung Galaxy S4-Camera
The Galaxy S4 has thirteen different camera options. The company told TechnoBuffalo that it found consumers really enjoyed how easy it was to use the camera features on its Galaxy Camera, so it decided to bring that controllability over to the GS4. That means that you’ll see filters in real-time, will be able to quickly access panorama view, another option that records audio over your picture (this can only be viewed on another Galaxy S4, unfortunately), a stunning “Eraser” mode that captures several photos to give you the best shot, and several others.
We really like the “Drama” option that snaps several photos in succession and then pulls all of that data into one image. Imagine going to a basketball game and recording your favorite player dunking and seeing each frame of that action on a single photo – it’s a really neat effect.
galaxy-s4-review-shot-5
The animated photo option is pretty cool, too, especially if you’re a fan of GIF images. You can animate a specific part of the photo, similar to what Nokia offers on its Windows Phones, and then play it back in a loop.
There’s a “dual camera” mode that activates the front and rear-facing cameras at the same time. It allows you to snap a picture of yourself, perhaps reacting to something else. We imagine teens will like it a lot, but we didn’t find ourselves using it too much.
Samsung Galaxy S4-Rear Camera
We highly recommend you check out how the Galaxy S4 stacks up in our camera comparisons to the HTC One, the Lumia 920and the iPhone 5 for a better grasp on the quality it offers, but overall we walked away pretty impressed with the quality. We think colors were represented accurately and it was decent in low light although it took a while for the camera to focus.
drama-shot
HD video recorded with the camera looked clear but wasn’t overly amazing. We like the highlight clips on the HTC One that summarize a day’s worth of photos and quick Zoe clips into a 30-second reel, and the Galaxy S4 doesn’t offer a similar feature. Still, recorded audio came through really well and we like the various shooting modes that are available.
Overall there’s just a lot of fun to be had with the Galaxy S4 camera and we really enjoyed the experience.

Performance

Samsung Galaxy S4-Settings 2
The Galaxy S4 received a quadrant score of 12,405 in our last test but scores ranged between 12,000 and 13,000 in general. By comparison, the HTC One scored 11,850 in the same test.
Quadrant scores are just numbers on paper to most of us, though and the fact is both phones are incredibly fast. The Galaxy S4 didn’t stutter or lag at all during our testing period and every task, whether it was scrolling down a website or cruising through a game, cruised flawlessly.
galaxy-s4-review-shot-6

Battery Life

Samsung Galaxy S4-Battery
We were easily able to make it through a full day of moderate usage with the Galaxy S4. We woke up at 7am, used the phone to check two email accounts all day long, checked social networks, watched occasional videos and still found that, at the end of the day around 11pm when we hit the sack, we had 40 percent of the battery still left.
That’s very impressive, but take note that we weren’t on Sprint’s 4G LTE network because it doesn’t offer coverage in Irvine where our offices are located. That will likely affect the battery life to some extent, and we will update this review once we can get a better test.

Call Quality and Data

Samsung Galaxy S4-Front 4
We used a Sprint model of the Galaxy S4 and found that call quality was decent. We didn’t experience any dropped calls but we weren’t overly blown away by the clarity of our conversation either. The speaker was also not very good, especially when compared to the stereo front-facing speakers on the HTC One.
Sprint’s 4G LTE network is not up and running in Irvine, California yet so we weren’t able to gauge how well the device performs on the faster data network. As we noted in the battery life section, we will update this review once we’re able to use it in a market that offers LTE coverage.

Conclusion

EDITOR'S CHOICE

RATING

9.0
The Galaxy S4 is a great phone. It’s a fantastic phone. Make no doubts about that.


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