Samsung’s double barreled assault of a solid marketing campaign and stellar device design has helped them wedge the Samsung Galaxy series of phones into the spotlight right alongside Apple’s iPhone. The Korean company has just released the fourth generation of the franchise for rabid fans.
The biggest difference in the s3 and this new s4 is that there isn’t a ton of difference. What we have here overall is a refining of an existing phone along with some tweaks. The s3 was a near perfect phone as far as Android based phones go. Of course no phone is perfect and this new revision improves on that classic flagship phone. The s4 features Google Android Jellybean, the newest version of the OS which is kind of a big deal because this phone is the first to be running the new OS. Like the phone itself this new version of the OS is just an updating, or at least it seems so, with a few new features. The most fantastic new feature is Google Now. Google Now uses a combination of GPS location, on phone apps, emails, and Google searches to push relevant information to the phone. Without doing anything as far as set up Google Now knew to tell me the local weather, let me know about a friend’s birthday, and let me know that Iron Man 3 is opening in theaters this weekend. This sort of intimate knowledge of me is both amazing and useful and completely freaky. Google Now will also monitor emails to Gmail and if you have shipment notifications in email it will let you know the latest tracking information on packages. Google Now is constantly updating and adding more information at your fingertips based on your Google searches, your emails, and your app usage. Again, this is ridiculously useful and aggressively freaky. You can access the information by clicking the familiar Google search bar from the desktop of the phone and as information updates Google Now will also push it to the phone as a notification like all of the others you typically get.
If you’re upgrading from a previous Galaxy phone this one is extremely familiar and easy to settle into. There are new features and the look has been tweaked but you’ll know your way around right away. Perhaps the most useful new feature in Samsung’s Android implementation is the ability to utilize multiple applications in the same window. When this feature is active a tiny tab is always visible on screen. When you have one app open you can tap the tab and a customizable menu bar will slide into view with other common apps listed. You can choose one of these apps right away and bring the tab back up to return to your previous app. It’s simple, quick, easy and actually useful and not just a new gimmick.
There are some new gimmicks added to Samsung’s version of Android though. One of the gimmicks could be slightly useful in the winter and the other two seem just silly. The first is the ability to hover your finger directly over the phone screen, not touching, to activate apps and preview images. This is an advantage because you can do this with gloves on. So, in the winter this mode could be a real time saver. It works fairly well but it does take some getting used to in order to get your finger that close to the screen without actually touching it. Smart scrolling one of the sort of goofy party tricks. When you are reading an email, surfing the net, or looking at text in other compatible applications the screen will scroll based on eye and head movements. If you glance up or down the screen will scroll in the appropriate direction. The act of bobbing your head up and down while looking at your phone never feels comfortable or not weird plus the feature is unreliable depending on the position of your head and eyes relative to the screen of the phone. The other new feature involves being able to swipe pages and control the phone with gestures above the screen rather than actually touching and swiping. If you’re going to simply wave your hands above the screen why not just go ahead and touch the screen? While this feature seems more like a parlor trick than a feature it also feels like the base version of something that could eventually evolve into something really useful down the line.
The best upgrade of this phone involves something that Samsung has done right with this phone series from the beginning; the screen. The s3 featured a 4.8’ 720p amoLED screen that was easily one of the most vibrant screens of any phone. The s4 steps up in size and resolution. The new screen is a full 5’ and it more importantly jumps to 1080p. The phone is able to feature a larger screen but not an excessively larger overall phone compared to the s3. The bezel of this phone is smaller than that of the s3 and the size adjustment happens on the vertical making the width of the phone not much different from the s3. This decision is valuable because we end up getting a bigger screen but not a phone that’s suddenly too wide to wrap our hands around. This screen is slightly dimmer than that of the s3 but the higher resolution makes the whole experience much more detailed and dynamic. Pictures and videos look fantastic in full HD on this phone and the camera, while not the best in the industry, is still a solid offering at 13 megapixels. The front facing camera is 2 megapixels and this phone has the ability to take simultaneous pictures from both cameras. The camera features zoom control by pinching, autofocus, and several picture modes that you probably won’t use very often.
The battery on this phone is much improved over that of the s3 but if you’re a power user then you’ll still be recharging the device daily. My review unit is from AT&T and it’s supposed to be capable of over 350 hours of standby time, and up to 17 hours of talk time. I used the phone for literally everything including talk, texting, email, audiobooks from audible, music, and more so I was constantly charging the phone. To get a little techy it’s important to note that the s4 features a 1.9 GHZ quad core CPU, a noticeable update from the s3. Overall the phone is snappier than the s3 but the new OS requires more CPU cycles so the faster CPU and more resource heavy OS almost balances the user experience compared to the s3.
The Samsung Galaxy s4 is a slick and polished phone that’s one of the best on the market. It’s an easy update for Galaxy phone users and it offers the most modern Android experience out there for any smartphone fan.
The Build and Presentation
This new version of the Galaxy phone does away with all of the rounded edges of the previous phone in favor of a slimmer build and hard edges. The phone is still made from the durable plastic rather than metal such as some of the iPhones and other similar phones. The new case features a tiny ridge that sits above the screen which is a great add because if the phone is dropped the screen might just survive because it won’t land flush. For its size this big phone is fairly light at just over 4and a half ounces. The phone is light but it steels feels meaty and well-constructed. The camera and flash on the back of the camera also feature a raised ridge that keeps the phone from sitting flat but the ridge also again may protect the camera from getting scratched or broken upon being dropped. The AT&T version of the phone comes in black and white with a slightly textured back. The white actually looks much nicer than the black because the texture is less visible on the white phone.
The Samsung Galaxy s4 is likely to disappoint some Galaxy users in the same way that the iPhone 5 disappointed iPhone 4 users because there weren’t just tons of revolutionary changes. This version of the Galaxy phone is evolutionary. The phone features a much upgraded screen, a faster CPU, and a newer version of the android OS which will obviously run better on this faster phone than on the previous version if that phone eventually gets a Jellybean update. The galaxy s4 is easily one of the top two or three phones on the smartphone market period.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Phone 9/10
The Build and Presentation 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10