Samsung Galaxy S4 Review


samsung-galaxys4-review-0067

Samsung has carved out a huge market for its Galaxy range of Android phones. One of the most popular phones in the series was the Galaxy S3, clocking over 40 million units in sales as of January this year. Samsung launched the much hyped and much anticipated upgrade to the S3 in the form of the Galaxy S4 at an event in New York and the India launch took place last week in Delhi as it is one of the key markets for the Korean smartphone maker. There is little doubt that the phone is fully loaded in terms of specs and features, but can Samsung replicate the success of the S3 with the new Galaxy S4? And should you buy one? Dive in to the FoneArena review to find out.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0070

Box Contents

First lets get to the package contents of the retail unit sold in India. You can check out our full unboxing video, but here is the list of things you get in a new box made of 100% recycled material.

  • Phone
  • 2600mAh battery
  • Earphones with ear buds
  • AC Charger
  • microUSB cable
  • User manuals

Hardware

What has changed ? Should you get the S4 if you own an S3 ?

Design

samsung-galaxys4-review-0133

In terms of hardware design, the Galaxy S4 is just a modest upgrade from the S3.  From a distance, the external changes are very minor as both the S4 and S3 follow the same design language.  But when you closely look at the Galaxy S4, you would notice few differences like the curved edges and placement of sensors on the front of the phone. On the front as well as the back, Samsung has added a kind of pattern to the plastic panel.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0102

The right side of the phone has the power / lock switch.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0080

The top has the IR LED and the 3.5 mm audio jack and the microphone hole.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0085

The microUSB port is at the bottom along with another microphone

samsung-galaxys4-review-0079

The front is dominated by the 5 inch display. The screen stretches almost from edge to edge with a very minimal bezel on the sides.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0118

Below the display are the menu key , home button and back key.

The 13 megapixel camera is present on the back with an LED flash right next to it.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0092

Samsung has decided to go with a removable back cover, yet again, which features the 2600mAh battery, microSIM card slot and the microSD card slot.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0095

Display

Talking about the display, the 720p HD 4.8 inch screen on the S3 has been upgraded to a 5 inch Full HD 1080p display. It is a Super AMOLED panel with a higher resolution and makes viewing any information on the phone a treat, especially multimedia content. The panel used is pentile in nature but you’d be hard pressed to make that out given the very high pixel density. While dealing with photos and videos, the Galaxy S4 feels like a perfect phone as the colours are nicely saturated and the screen has a very high pixels per inch count at 441 ppi. Samsung has brought over some of the features like Air View on the stylus equipped Galaxy Note 2 to the S4. This makes interacting with the display even more fun. You can hover your finger over the progress bar in a video to get a preview of the frame, along with various other uses.

Internals and Benchmarks

Samsung launched the Galaxy S4 with an Exynos 5 Octa chipset here, which does seem to be fairly fast and powerful from our benchmark tests but real life performance is not very different from a quad-core phone. It is worth mentioning that India is one of the few countries that has got this variant of the Galaxy S4. Other markets like Singapore, UK and USA have got the Snapdragon version of phone. While our review is based on the Indian version of the S4, we did have some time with the other variant as well.

galaxy-s4-quadrantgalaxy-s4-antutu

Sensors

The Galaxy S4 packs so many sensors which you might not see on many devices, like a Barometer, a Thermometer and even a Humidity sensor.

galaxy-s4-sensors

Software

galaxy-s4-lockscreen

The Galaxy S4 comes with just too many software features that you would discover a new feature every single day. The average user might just get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of features. Just look at the notification area for quick toggles and there are about 20 shortcuts in the place of 4-5 found on most phones.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0072

Surprisingly, the phone comes loaded with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean out of the box unlike most other non-Nexus Android phones, which seem to be still stuck in Android 4.1. Kudos to Samsung for deciding to go with 4.2.2 but sadly Android is over shadowed by Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layer and as a user, you might not notice any major differences to the newer Android version. The Galaxy S4 has only 8.9GB of user accessible space out of the 16GB. Take a guess as to where all the 7GB vanished? Samsung’s TouchWiz UI and a ton of new software features on the Galaxy S4 seem to be the culprit.

galaxy-s4-freespace

Luckily for users though , the phone has a microSD card slot which can take upto 64GB cards but just around 8GB of free space on a phone advertised as a 16GB is misleading. Considering that today’s Android games run into Gigabytes, it is pretty easy to exhaust the free space available.

galaxy-s4-softwareversiongalaxy-s4-softwareupdate

In terms of new software features, Samsung has loaded some useful features and some not-so-useful features to the S4 including Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Air Gesture and Air View.

You still get access to Google’s Android services which are hidden beneath TouchWiz .

galaxy-s4-playstore

Connectivity

In terms of the network and connectivity, the phone does support a wide variety of features. The Indian variant does not support faster LTE networks but does support HSDPA/3G networks upto 42Mbps.

galaxy-s4-speedtest

Call quality is excellent and data speeds were very pretty good. One problem was that the phone tends to heat up a lot over 3G and since the phone is extremely thin, the heat does spread quickly and can be even felt on the display at times. But the phone continued to function.

galaxy-s4-wifi-80211ac

The Galaxy S4 is one of the few phones to support new faster 802.11ac WiFi networks and connects to a compatible router at 433Mbps with real life speeds reaching 200Mbps both downstream and upstream. The S4 seems to be almost on par with the HTC One in terms of the 802.11ac WiFi transfer speeds. The phone does support the older a/b/g/n WiFi networks too. There is support of NFC and also WiFi Direct for quick transfer of files between other WiFi direct phones.

Standard GPS is supported along with GLONASS.

One interesting addition is the IR LED on the top of the phone which lets you use the phone as the remote for compatible products. We could control a Samsung TV, change channels, volume etc and even power on the TV like with the TV remote. We could not get it to work with a Set Top box as India is not in the list of the supported countries in WatchOn, which might explain this.

Browsing

There is a default browser and also Chrome, for your browsing needs.

Mutimedia

Camera

samsung-galaxys4-review-0100

Here are some camera samples below in both day light and low light conditions. The camera is just mind blowing in daylight with that 13 Megapixel sensor. The amount of detail in the pictures is just great in full size. It is a huge step up from the S3. Low light performance is not as good as day light performance but still better than most Android phones. It is still not as good as the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 920.

Photos

Images captured in daylight are just nothing short of spectacular. There are plenty of modes and features in the camera app which you might rarely use.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0125

Find some camera samples below

galaxys4-camera_1

galaxys4-camera_7

There is an HDR mode which bring in more detail into the image

galaxys4-camera_16

This is one of the best shots I could get out of the Galaxy S4 in the night.

galaxys4-camera_20

Click on the thumbnails for the full size image

galaxys4-camera_14 galaxys4-camera_17 galaxys4-camera_18

galaxys4-camera_8galaxys4-camera_10galaxys4-camera_6

galaxys4-camera_13galaxys4-camera_2 galaxys4-camera_3

galaxys4-camera_12galaxys4-camera_4galaxys4-camera_5

galaxys4-camera_19

There is a panorama mode as well for photos and you can pan your phone across to stitch a nice wide image. Going by the pixel count of the captured image , it is a massive 30 Megapixel photo

S4-panorama

Video

Find some video samples below

Here is a sample shot in day light . Pretty good on detail in 1080p

Here is a sample shot in night , you can see a lot of noise but still not bad for a video captured without flash.

Video Playback

Video playback on this attractive SuperAMOLED HD screen is just fantastic. Samsung’s does live up to its usual support for multiple video codecs and the phone plays pretty much any video you throw at it including DivX files. Here is the complete list of the video codecs supported by the S4 : MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark, HEVC.

There is an gimmicky feature called Smart Pause which pauses videos when you look away from your phone and resumes playback once your eyes make contact with the phone again.

You can also use Air View to quickly scroll through the frames while you are watching a video. If you have used the Note 2, this feature was present but required use of the S-pen stylus. On the Galaxy S4 , Samsung has decided to make you use your finger instead.

Popup Play, which lets you play a video in the background seems slightly improved.

Audio

The speaker grill is present on the lower left corner on the back. The audio output is not something you would want to buy this phone for as we found the volume of the sound to be very low compared to many other products.  Output through headphones seems fine. The bundled pair of earphones are not something with a premium tag but it does get the job done.

Here is the complete list of audio codecs supported by the S4 : MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X

There is a feature called Group Play which lets you play the same song on multiple devices if the devices are on the same WiFi network.

Battery Life

samsung-galaxys4-review-0101

Considering that the phone packs 2 quad core processors or an Octa-core chip in Samsung’s terms, there is a lot of doubt about battery life taking a hit. But Samsung has managed to pack a 2600 mAh battery which is 500 mAh more than on the S3. At the same time, they have managed to keep the phone at only 7.9mm thickness. Just to reiterate, India got the Exynos version of the phone which is a fairly new chip to the market and power management work done is not known. You can barely get through a work day on this phone. The phone’s main competitor, the HTC One, packing a Snapdragon 600 processor does feature excellent power management and when tested against the S4 lasts considerably longer. We would love to see how the Galaxy S4 powered by the Snapdragon 600 processor performs in the battery department.

galaxy-s4-batterylife1 galaxy-s4-batterylife-2

In terms of practical usage , you can expect the Galaxy S4 to last from about a day to a couple of days depending on the intensity.

Samsung does offer optional accessories like the usual Flip cover and the new S View cover which we will reviewing separately. The S View cover does add some nice bits of functionality to a cover and lets you unlock your phone by just flipping the cover.

samsung-galaxys4-review-0051

Conclusion

samsung-galaxys4-review-0112

The Galaxy S4 is priced at Rs.41500 which is slightly below the HTC One and also below the BlackBerry Z10 and Apple iPhone 5. The Galaxy S4 does provide tons of features, powerful internals along with an excellent display in a compact plasticky form factor. If you own a Galaxy S2, it is totally worth upgrading to the S4 but if you own an S3 not so much. If you are thinking of switching from the Note 2 to the S4 , you might notice the difference in weight and the smaller screen and smaller battery might bother you and you are better off waiting for the Note 3 to be revealed. To conclude, the Galaxy S4 is a worthy successor to the Galaxy S3.

Pros

  • Excellent display
  • Brilliant camera
  • Android 4.2.2
  • Removable Battery and microSD card slot

Cons

  • Deceptively light
  • Plastic materials
  • Overwhelming amount of software features  could be difficult to use for some users.
  • Only 8.9 GB of user accessible memory

Author: Varun Krish

Varun Krish is a Mobile Technology Enthusiast and has been blogging about mobile phones since 2005. His current phones include the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge , Apple iPhone 6S Plus & Nexus 5X. You can follow him on Twitter @varunkrish and on Google+ You can also mail Varun Krish