In my view, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was the most impressive Android phone of 2012. And Samsung have upgraded almost everything on the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s got a faster Quad Core chipset, a bigger battery, a stronger camera, a larger screen, more memory options, a raft of new sensors including a barometer. It’s even for a thermometer.
As if that wasn’t enough, Samsung have augmented the Nature UX TouchWiz interface, built on the latest publically available version of Android, 4.2.2 – Jellybean ( ‘ouch’ says HTC who could only manage the previous Ice Cream Sandwich version. ) And keep in mind, the next version of Android, continuing the sweet foods alphabetic progression – Key Lime Pie, will be available in less than a couple of months.
As an Apple fan and an iPhone 5 user, I’m interested to see whether Samsung have improved the S4 to the point I’d be prepared to consider a move.
How Does It Look ?
Ever smaller components mean that Samsung have crammed all those new features in to a body which is 0.8mm thinner than the Samsung Galaxy S3. Other than some new colour variants, and a slightly new texture, the shape and appeal of the S4 hasn’t changed at all. And why would you ? Plastic is more durable and cheaper to mould than the alternatives. If you doubt Samsung’s practical approach, consider their sales and profit relative to HTC over the last 3 years.
For a handset which represents best in class capability, it just about gets its feet under the high quality table. I do feel it’s left lacking in comparison to the aluminium / glass of the iPhone 5 and some more recently released Android alternatives.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 looks fine now. If I was taking out a 2 year contract to cover the price of my new Samsung Galaxy S4, I think I’d have a lingering doubt as to whether, in 24 months, it’s looks would still be modern and up to scratch.
Screen Is Incredible
Camera – a rediculous 13 MegxPixels
Taking at least some inspiration from their handheld camera release, if not the core software, the interface on the camera has been upgraded and the 8MP camera upgraded to a 13 MP behemoth.
Open the camera ‘app’ up and you’ll see a carousel interface to scroll through, offering advanced features, some of which go beyond what you’d get on an SLR. Some of the unusual ones include :
- Panorama ( which works in landscape and portrait views ) and a long list of other capabilities, as well as the usual ‘Instagram’ effects makes the camera even more fun to play with.
- Sound and Shot which takes up to 9 second video and let’s you choose a frame from it to act as the ‘picture’ which now has the accompanying real life sound track.Imagine a picture of a friend showing off and a soundtrack of everyone laughing in the background and you’ve got it.
- Drama which ties together several images of something moving in to a single picture.For example, several images of someone jumping off a highboard shown against just one background of a swimming pool.
There’s even a picture in picture capability to use both the front and back cameras to take pictures at the same time so you can insert yourself ( inside a postage stamp or oval design – there are a collection of options ) on to the picture you take.
Potentially anticipating the HTC One’s Ultrapixel improved low light performance, Samsung have installed a backside illuminated BSI sensor to improve low light performance too.
As with the S3, the volume rocker on the side can be set to act as an external button to take pictures.
If I had a complaint, it would be that the scope the camera takes is too small. I could never get back far enough to take my image. I always felt too ‘zoomed in.’ File sizes produced by a 13 MegaPixel are also very large ( they can be shrunk of course before sharing. )
Operating System and Performance
Samsung have really focussed on the basics of the S4, we well as driving improvements in other areas.The Samsung Galaxy S4 is fast. Really fast. Improved Quad Core Speeds ( now 4 x 1.9 GHz ) and 2 GB of memory mean it can keep up with the most demanding finger swiper.
Previous Samsung keyboards have been sub par, especially compared to Apple equivalents.It’s always been necessary, in my experience, to upgrade them in the Google Play store. On the S4, Samsung have opted for an upgraded keyboard and it’s a notable improvement.
Notifications are dealt with better. Instead of just seeing a scrolling bar to turn GPS / Wireless / etc off and on, you can now see all of them on a single screen without scrolling. The Settings interface has also been redesigned with the inclusion of tabs to make it more intuitive to navigate. They’re all small things but together, they’re examples of a well thought through, structured improvement which will make a material difference to how quickly you can operate your phone.
Again, drawing on the Galaxy Note 2’s experience, many of the Samsung Apps installed when you buy it can be placed side by side on the screen using the ‘Multiview’ capability. Want to play with your email while you’re watching a film ? No worries, me too.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is not going to redefine the market for mobile phones in Australia. It does push the boundaries of what you can expect from Android phones. Next to key competitors, it’s looks are plain. The software is great but none of the features are must have. One note here, the S4, like the HTC One can be turned in to a TV remote control which, to me, is now a must have feature. I can never find the remote but my phone is always in reach. )
All that said, however, it’s reliable, quick to use, it has a better battery than the S3 and a camera which is not only an upgrade but useful but fun to play with.
I prefer the iPhone 5s’s more refined and familiar style and manageable size. But I must admit that the ongoing improvements to Android and the manufacturer’s overlay software are increasingly causing my eye to rove.