[Gadgets Review] Samsung Galaxy S4

Thursday, August 08, 2013

For two weeks I was privileged to try out Samsung's new flagship, The Samsung Galaxy S4 as my new “Life Companion” as Samsung had claimed that the device will be in its marketing as well as plastering that particular message onto the device’s home screen.

The Samsung Galaxy S range, which began with the original Galaxy S that is released in June 2010, has become the face of Google’s Android operating system and the source of countless debates over Smartphone supremacy between Android and Apple iPhone users. The intensity of some fierce market competition and long standing legal issues have not stopped Samsung from becoming the number one Smartphone maker in the world and once again making the device in your pocket seem old with the introduction of the fourth instalment in the Galaxy S brand, The Samsung Galaxy S4.

clip_image002[4]The Galaxy unboxing

It is hard to say that Samsung has not created a blockbuster hit with the S4 as the combination of great design and innovative features makes the Galaxy S4, a pleasure to use. We’ll be taking a look at the innovative features, as well as the shortcomings. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is highly smartphone ever from the giant Korean brand, and with a glut of top end features, it's the most powerful and desirable device Samsung has created yet.

clip_image004[4]The unit

Size

One of the notable things about the phone is the fact the size hasn't changed from its predecessor (Samsung Galaxy S3), the Galaxy S4 comes in with 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm (5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches) which means no extra heft to try to work with on your palm.

clip_image006[4]Fits right on the palm

Screen

The screen on the S4 has been increased once more from 4.8 inch to a whopping 5-inch display with Full HD resolution. It would mean that same amount of pixels which you'd have seen on a TV, now riding around in your pocket. The sharp and bright contrast on the 5 inch display make gaming and viewing videos on the go a simple task, which unfortunately drains the battery of course. At 5 inches, the Galaxy S4 has the ability to fit into the average jean pocket, but for those who found the previous Galaxy models size uncomfortable in the hand; the S4 didn’t make the task any easier. Samsung is said to be a pioneer in this area though, with the jaw-dropping clout of the Super AMOLED HD screen on offer here.

clip_image008[4]Bright Lit colours

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes equipped with a 13 megapixel camera, which is a 5 megapixel upgrade from the Galaxy S3. Higher megapixels don’t necessarily donate to better crisp pictures, but in this case the Galaxy S4 produces high quality images, especially towards the outdoor settings. The new features introduced such as sound & shot, which saves the sounds occurring at the time of the picture, and voice controls, which enables a picture to be captured by saying “cheese”, thus revolutionizing the photography experience.

clip_image010[4]Centre Flash for balanced lighting

Design

The "faux metal" band makes a comeback on the Galaxy S4 which adds a premium look to it and there's very minimal flex in the chassis when you hold it tightly due to the polycarbonate material.

clip_image012[4]Smooth ‘Faux Metal’ finish

The polycarbonate chassis brings with it the faithful battery cover, which conceals a removable battery and microSD slot.

clip_image014[4]

The interior

In the hand, the Samsung Galaxy S4 feels much better than previous Samsung phone though its polycarbonate material but it felt solid and comfortable to hold. Due to the screen’s spreads toward the sides, bezel is much narrower and it might prompt an accidentally brush against the very responsive back and menu touch keys at the bottom edges of the phone, hence adequate care should be taken into consideration.

clip_image016[4]Rounded Elegance

The button had barely changed from before as the power button has been shifted slightly on the right-hand side which is much easier to hit now. Samsung has clearly picked the elements from the Galaxy Note 2, which has a really well positioned power/lock button.

The plastic used on the home key has been upgraded as well, giving a more solid feel under the thumb when press down to return to the main home screen. The two buttons flanking it gives you access to the menus or just return back from whence you came, while both are easily hidden, they light up nicely with an even glow upon called into action.

clip_image018[4]Buttons of progress

There are several of sensors on the front of the phone above the screen, including cameras to track your eyes movement, a 2MP camera for HD video calling with a proximity sensor to detect the phone close to the ears.

clip_image020[4]Sensors and Cameras

The notable addition into the design of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the infrared blaster on the top of the phone. This enables the control over the TV, satellite box, DVD player, Amplifier and even air conditioner. Though this isn't a new feature, but it had definitely works well in practice, despite being small is powerful enough indeed.

Interface

The Samsung Galaxy S4 interface is running on TouchWiz, the Samsung’s name for its Android overlay (And answer to HTC’s Sense). It’s packed with whole lot goodies of new features to the Galaxy range, working best on the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Using the Android Jelly Bean 4.2 as the basis platform, which would mean there are several significant upgrades from the previous versions, commonly found on most of the other top-end Galaxy devices. While drag down notification bar, there is two visible icons in the top right-hand corner, one takes you to the internal settings from anywhere in the phone, and the other gives you quick shortcuts to turn certain features within the Samsung Galaxy S4 off and on.

clip_image022[4]Notifications bar

However there is some redundancy here, as the phone already has these in a long line in the notification bar which you can also edit these quick toggles too and so it means that rarely would push the other button to get the full list. The Android 4.2 promises further smoothness on upgrades too, and while this works well on the likes of the recent Nexus 4, can’t determine what has been added with the Samsung Galaxy S4. Considering that this phone is running the quad-core Exynos 5 Octa 5410 chipset that clocked at 1.6GHz and combined with 2GB of RAM, it is definitely expected on this phone to run faster than anything in the market currently. Apps would actually open and close faster; however elements like the time taken to open the multi-tasking menu (triggered by holding down the home key from anywhere in the phone) still take a second more to activate. It isn’t as simple as saying that other versions is twice as fast, as essentially two quad core chips doing different tasks when needed, but there's no doubt that the other versions are faster.

There are apparently two versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4, one with the Exynos 5 octa-core, and the other (model number GT-1905) which has the Qualcomm Snapdragon quad core clocked at 1.9GHz, which means it runs faster in general. However, the octa core has two sets of four cores, with one for day to day stuff and the other for heavy lifting, such as multi-tasking, photo rendering and such.

clip_image024[4]Main Home Screen Interface

The TouchWiz interface is remains the same which means that widgets and apps can be added all over the seven home screens according to personal preference. It's still a great way of doing things since Android Jelly Bean being the basis platform, items now can be flicked out of the way just by dragging them onto the screen and holding them in the place preferred.

One interesting fact is that Samsung still hasn't added the functionality to drag and drop app icons on top of one another to create a folder though it is figured that Apple might be trying to patent such an idea which might contribute to yet another long legal drama that affects the product line worldwide.

It’s doesn’t affect primarily however by having to drag an app to the top of the screen whilst create a folder to name it and then drag other apps in is a bit of a hassle. A key area that sees a drastic change from Samsung Galaxy S3 to S4 would be the lock screen. Firstly, there's a new way to go around with this UI (user-Interface) where upon contact touch on the screen and watch the water ripple around, now a little light that hovers under the finger would trigger while hovering above without actually physical touch though it's not a revolutionary feature, but it attracts the constantly playing with like a child with the flickering lights. The improved screen technology which the sensitivity has been increased also enables the use of gloves with it. The lock screen with the Android 4.2 update now enables the widgets to place on there before open the phone, ranges from music control, remotes to display or even preview messages.

While there are some useful implementations of these (the music player is really handy to have, and can be resized by dragging the track list up and down) others, like favourite apps, really don't help as much.

Smart Features

Motion features are not exclusively to the Samsung Galaxy S4 as Samsung has brought motion features to higher heights with the air gestures and eye scrolling. Air gesturing is possible by simply waving the hand directionally over the device to answer calls, scroll up and down on web pages and navigate through the photo albums. Eye scrolling features smart scrolling and smart pause allows the user to scroll pages by looking up or down, while smart pause enables videos to pause when you look away. These features are great on marketing however the practicality in daily application, it would be easier to simply touch the screen then try to wave the hands in the right position to control the device, and the eye scrolling might need more tweaking before it’s actually useful.

clip_image025[4]Smart Stay

Samsung have managed to work out the issues and it's nearly flawless at checking out when the eyes are looking onto the screen, although when it might be wrong and the screen begins to dim which there's no way to save it though much effort to resuscitate the screen to lit up again.

clip_image026[4]Smart Features

Air View

One of the additional features to the Samsung Galaxy S4 is Air View previously seen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 where the latter requires the S Pen to work, the Samsung Galaxy S4 only needs a finger, which hover over certain items to see the contents prior opening.

Numerous applications with this functionality have been imbued by Samsung however in truth only a few would actually need it. For instance, being able to see which speed dials is assigned to which number is really useful, as otherwise would have to press and find out. This would probably be one of the best additional into the Samsung Galaxy S4.

clip_image028[4]The next generation of smartphones?

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a phone that would appeal to many through combination of powerful innards, Super AMOLED display and agronomic design to make a really strong contender for the handset in consideration for those looking for an upgrade, given the slim sleek design, fast with the faster processor packed under the hood, ample storage space for media thanks to an expandable memory card slot and a class in its own intuitive with many other adjectives used to describe something that is a joy to have. The call quality, given is still a phone, an exceptional in closed format and on speaker. The integration of the universal remote control for the television is great feature, though it is not compatible with all television brands.

The 13MP camera would be a point for those capturing moments in that picture, with rich colours and texture the way forward. Though the use of ‘Faux Metal’ doesn't feel as premium but comprising on feel for the return on weight which is lighter, removable battery and the general hardiness with the combination of Gorilla Glass 3 and a plastic polycarbonate shell would this is one tough cookie to crack.

The greatest disappointment with this device is that it has the tendency to become a kitchen stove with much high temperature. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has an obvious heating issue which occurs while browsing the internet, or gaming (Tried the Iron Man 3 game. It could be the high graphic rendering). Whatever it might be, the heat accumulated would definitely give a scare to the user and being uncomfortable after moderate usage. Hopefully the issue can be rectified by a software patch or update.

Final verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is far superior to the Samsung Galaxy S3 but it's not as brazen as the Cupertino brand in spotting the exact same design with a slightly uprated processor and calling it a new phone. (no pun intended)

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great in its own class, reimagine what it means to own a brilliant smartphone. The smart features are great, the touch-less experience is amazing at times.

The design issue is far of but pertinent. Given its plastic make and to be compared with rival competition, one might not choose to pay additional for the chassis. Ideally the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a very solid device which belies the exterior and shouldn't be discounted for it. The Galaxy S4 is a stunning smartphone and the reliability that won't let down for multi tasks. There is without a doubt that Samsung would take a big step forward to keep users interested with the Galaxy S5, but for now Samsung Galaxy S4 is current love interest and would be proud to have it everywhere with us.

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