If we reviewind back to March 2010 when Samsung announced the Samsung Galaxy S GT-I9000 nobody, not even Samsung would have imagined or expected that three years down the line the Galaxy brand would be so huge and so popular that it would be at par and in some cases even ahead of of the iPhone, BlackBerrys, Nokia flagships and the HTC cadre of smartphones. Today, three years later we have the fourth-edition of the flagship device in Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones – the Samsung Galaxy S4, the device was announced with much fanfare back in March, it did not wow the world, simply because it was remarkably similar looking to it’s predecessor – Samsung Galaxy S3. However, Samsung claims that the increment is significant and worth your money – let’s find out how the Galaxy S4 fares against the underdog HTC One, the evergreen iPhone 5 and the upcoming BlackBerry Z10 and Nokia Lumia 920. Jump over to find out.
Samsung is a no compromise company when it comes to specifications, they pack the best of everything in their flagships – the Galaxy S4 is no exception to that, it trumps it’s competition by a huge margin if we talk purely in terms of specifications.
The Galaxy S4 packs a 1080p Super AMOLED display, 1.9GHz quad-core (or 1.6GHz Exynos 5 Octa 5410, depending on market) chipset, Android 4.2, 13MP camera, MicroSD slot, 2600 mAh removable battery.
If you like to have a device with the best specifications in the market, Galaxy S4 is hands down the choice of device for you.
Unboxing and First Impressions
Design and Hardware
If you have used or seen the previous editions of the Galaxy lineup, you would know that they aren’t lookers or things of beauty, but they check all the boxes when it comes to functionality and ergonomics – the Galaxy S4 is no exception, it isn’t a looker, certainly nothing close to the iPhone 5 or the HTC One, which look and feel premium from the first-touch, however the Galaxy S4 is very functional and well built.
It weighs in at 130 grams and has a plastic body with a plastic wrap around which gives a cool-metal feel, the back has grooves which do give a good feel when one grips the phone, the bezel around the screen is extremely small which makes the screen a pleasurable experience, truly commendable that Samsung was able to fit a significantly larger screen (5 inches) in almost the same body size as the Galaxy S3 (4.7 inches).
The dimensions of the Galaxy S4 are 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm (5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches) compared to 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm (5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches) of the Galaxy S3. The S4 is 3 grams lighter than the S3, 13 grams lighter than the HTC One and 18 grams heavier than the iPhone 5.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is offered in Black and White at launch, but we hear more colors are going to be added to the lineup very soon which will include blue and red.
If we talk about buttons across the device we have the power button on the right side of the device, a home button at the center of the devices along two resistive touch buttons on either side of it which work as the back and the option keys. We have a volume rocker on the left side of the device.
On the top we have the earpiece, 2.1 MP camera and an assortment of sensors which help in the various TouchWiz functions which we will talk about later.
At the back we have a neatly placed 12 MP camera with a LED flash right below it, besides the camera at the back we have the mono speaker grill and the Samsung branding. The back has a flimsy plastic door which conceals the 2600 mAh battery powering the Galaxy S4. Inside the battery bay we have the MicroSD slot and the MicroSIM slot as well.
We have a MicroUSB jack at the bottom and a 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the device.
The display on the Galaxy S4 is a pleasure to use, it’s a thing of beauty – I was using iPhone 5 which also has a significantly good screen, however after using the Galaxy S4, iPhone 5’s screen looks flushed and dull. The clarity the Galaxy S4 offers is unmatched, even the HTC One which has more pixels per inch than the S4 feels dull compared to the S4’s screen, I’m fond of a very sharp and vibrant screen and there is nothing better than the Galaxy S4 when it comes to display. The screen is a Super AMOLED 5 inch display with 441 pixels per inch with an amazing resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels.
Reading and media viewing is a pleasure on this screen, I have used all the flagships in the market – including the BlackBerry Z10, Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC One, none of them come close to the S4 in terms of display.
If you do a lot of media, gaming and reading, S4 has to be the pick for you.
Software and User Interface
Samsung Galaxy S4 runs the latest version of Android ie Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 which gives it an edge over it’s competition which is still on Android 4.2.1 – the operating system is layered by Samsung’s very own TouchWiz user interface – people have mixed feelings towards TouchWiz, TouchWiz is not only a user interface but also the link between Android and many of the Samsung’s software functions such as Smart Screen, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and Samsung apps including S-Health and S-Remote.
TouchWiz user interface isn’t glossy and good looking like HTC Sense, however it’s very snappy and functional, ready to use out of the box – it doesn’t look or feel as modern as Sense UI from HTC or the Metro UI from Microsoft, however it is very useful and to the point. The UI is simple, but not as simple as the Android user interface without any skinning, however, if that’s your taste you can flash a TouchWiz less ROM or go for the Google Edition of the Galaxy S4.
Samsung’s interface provides lots of buttons and options, same can be seen in the notification drawer which has a huge grid of toggles, not sure if that’s something everyone likes, but as mentioned earlier, it’s very to the point and functional.
The new apps are interesting and different, Samsung’s innovation can be seen through those, it’s a small step in the right direction, gestures, retina-scrolling and video pausing are all at the moment more or less features which helps Samsung market the device, however as they are further refined in the coming months and years, they can become serious must-haves on future smartphones, at the moment I prefered to keep them all turned off as they were difficult to get right intuitively.
The Galaxy S4 is a true performer and a race horse right out of the box, it already is very impressive in all the benchmark tests which you can see in detail in our video, however I do believe true performance should not be judged purely on benchmarks. While using the phone, there was never a moment it did not cope up with what I threw at it, multiple apps, media playback, high definition gaming, photography and sometimes all of that together was no tough job for the Galaxy S4 – we were of course testing the Octa-core version of the Galaxy S4. The device however does heat up when there is intense multi-tasking thrown at it. The Galaxy S4 both in tests and daily drive come out as a clear multi-tasking beast. Compared to the HTC One, this is no less and no more, it’s all neck to neck, if you are the one who is a benchmark fanatic, then the Galaxy S4 is the one which trumps everything else.
Battery life was good on the Galaxy S4, with 24×7 connectivity and lots of multitasking which included browsing, photography, calls and gaming – we got roughly 14 hours of usage.
Compared to the Windows Phone and BlackBerry counterpart, the Galaxy S4 feels a lot snappier and gets the work done a lot sooner, compared to the Android flagships it’s marginally better or at par in most cases, the race has got too close to call a clear winner, but the Galaxy S4 is not going to disappoint you no matter what you throw at it.
Camera performance on the Galaxy S4 was pretty good, it packs a 13 megapixel rear shooter, which has a fantastic interface with more options than you can count. The focus is fast, photos are crisp and what I love the most about Galaxy S4’s camera is that the colors really turn out to be rich and alive, something which I did not find in the photos taken on HTC One’s. Unless you are expecting something revolutionary, the Galaxy S4 camera will keep you happy and engaged with it’s numerous editing and processing options. Low light performance too is decent, however the HTC One trumps the Galaxy S4 in this case.
The Galaxy S4 is truly a class apart device if we compare it to other devices of 2013, it does not “wow” you the first time you pick it, however, the more you use it the more you realize what a beast it is. It is a contemporary work of design engineering which again might not use materials which the masses love (metal!), it sticks to the tried and tested design which Samsung has been using for over a year, but that’s not something to complain about when the device truly ticks all other boxes, it has the latest operating system, the best in class hardware, arguably the best display and seeing Samsung’s position in the market, one can safely say it will continue to get support in terms of updates, after-sales service as well as resale value for a long time to come, same unfortunately can’t be said for the HTC One, with the company in an uncomfortable spot and an uncertain future, the Galaxy S4 is a value for money investment and a safe bet, besides the Galaxy S4 also gives you the option of microSD card and removable battery, which are big reasons to chose the Galaxy S4. If you are purely in for eye-candy then you might want to go for the HTC One or the iPhone 5 (or wait for the iPhone 5S which is round the corner).
Barring the iPhone it is the most ready to use device right from the moment you take it out of the box, it does not need tweaking or hacking to make it useable, it is very easy to set up and get going.
At around Rupees 40,000 the Galaxy S4 is the device to buy if you want a top of the line, future-ready Android flagship. With the bar set so high, BlackBerry, Windows Phone manufacturers and Apple have a lot of catching to do in terms of hardware, specs and performance.
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