The new Samsung Galaxy S4 is this year’s replacement for the company’s hugely popular Galaxy S III, introduced a year ago. The S III has been a huge success because it took the lead in bringing Google’s Android OS to a phone with a beautiful large display in a thin, lightweight package. If there was one criticism about the S III, it was the cheap feeling of its plastic enclosure. It’s the tradeoff Samsung makes for cost and thin shape.
Physically, the S4 looks much like the S III. The enclosure is still plastic and looks even cheaper with gaudy, dark chrome plating and a black pattern of dots. (If I owned the phone I’d buy Samsung’s clever case, a book-like folding cover attached to a replacement back cover.) It’s now even more slippery to hold. And like its predecessor, it might feel a little large for a person with small hands.
The Galaxy S4 is intended to be an improvement to the S III; it does offer a few advantages, but creates usability problems with new software additions. The display is slightly bigger by 0.2 inches, the phone is 3/4 millimeter thinner, and the camera is slightly improved.
The major changes are new software features that, for the most part, seem unfinished and scattered. It’s as if the designers came up with all the gimmicks they could think of and then built them into the phone, with little thought to ease of use, value and performance. While it adds to the checklist of features, it makes the phone seem unpolished, especially compared to the HTC One, the Nokia 920 and the Apple iPhone 5.
The Galaxy S4′s display is slightly bigger by 0.2 inches, the phone is 3/4 millimeter thinner, and the camera is slightly improved. Photo courtesy of Samsung
In addition, Samsung added many of its own apps to take advantage of these features, but that added even more confusion, because it duplicated many of the standard Android apps. I found it to be a hodgepodge.
Some of the new software features are interesting in concept, such as the ability to use eye movements to scroll or to pause video. I also liked hovering my finger over the screen to open a selection list. But they worked inconsistently on only some apps, and, even when they did work better, seemed more of a gimmick than something of real value.
Samsung offers an escape from all of this with an Easy Mode that provides a simpler interface with larger icons and fewer menu options. But for me, this dumbed down the phone too much. I’d rather just turn off all of the software functions.
The S4 has a gorgeous 5-inch Amoled (1920 x 1080) display that looks beautiful, albeit with Amoled’s characteristic exaggerated colors. Outside in the bright sunlight, it was more difficult to read than the LCD displays found on most other phones.
The phone has a super-sized user replaceable 2750mAh battery, which is twice that of the iPhone’s battery, but the extra battery life is needed to get the phone through a full day of use. With this type of display, consumption is more for white than black pixels, so you’ll find many of the built-in menus displaying white text on a black background to save battery power.
Samsung provides an excellent camera that takes a picture using both the front and rear cameras at the same time, and inserts your image in the photo. Camera performance was excellent. With its 13-megapixel sensor and excellent color balance, it produced detailed and vibrant images.
Call clarity and reception on this AT&T phone was very good and is one of Samsung’s strengths. But its single speaker for listening to music is disappointing. Compared with the excellent sound from the HTC One with its Beats technology, the Samsung sound was poorer at playing music, suffering from distortion even at low volumes. It worked a little better as a speakerphone.
In summary, the S4 is a good phone that will likely sell in huge volumes; it has a fast response, a great display and speedy performance. The one disappointment is the piling-on all of the extras, which takes away from the otherwise positive experience. I much prefer the HTC One phone, which is much more attractive, solid and fun, rather than frustrating to use.
For those with a Samsung Galaxy SIII, my advice is to save your money and don’t upgrade to the S4. For those looking for a new phone, this is a good choice, but not the best. It’s available from all of the major carriers for about $200.Read More...