The Samsung Galaxy S4 has already been tipped for the title of best Android smartphone of 2013, and after its massive entrance into the market, we’re expecting big things from the latest device from the Galaxy range. So how well will the Samsung Galaxy S4 perform when put to the test?
The Galaxy S4 in appearance is somewhat reminiscent of the S3, or the S2 for that matter. In fact, it looks remarkably similar to all of the smartphones and phablets within Samsung’s Galaxy range.
The S4 has a smooth finish with rounded corners which make the device sit comfortably in your hand. It has a 5-inch screen, slightly larger than the S3’s 4.8-inch display, though because the S4’s bezel is so slight, you can hardly notice the difference in size, and the phone doesn’t in any way feel cumbersome.
One slight downside of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s design, in my opinion, is its thin plastic back casing, which gives the phone a slightly cheap feel about it. When you compare phones of a similar price, including the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z, for example, the S4 comes across as a more budget smartphone that doesn’t benefit from the same premium aluminium or tempered glass casing as the other Androids it’s competing with.
That said, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is incredibly light, weighing in at just 130g, a whole one gram lighter than its predecessor, and this is mainly attributable to the phone’s light plastic casing; it would seem, then, you can’t achieve style without adding bulk.
With the Samsung S4 looking almost identical to the Galaxy S3, the phone’s primary draw must be in its massive array of features. And boy are there a lot of them!
Smart Pause is an extension of Samsung’s patented Smart Stay technology that we saw on the Galaxy S3. As the name slyly gives away, the Smart Pause feature on the S4 pauses videos or movies that you’re watching when it detects that your eyes have wandered away from the phone’s screen.
This was the first feature that I put to the test when unboxing the Galaxy S4, and to my surprise, following on from Smart Stay’s wobbly performance on the S3, I found that it actually worked! The device’s Smart Scroll, however, wasn’t quite as successful. The feature is designed to automatically scroll down the page when it gauges that you have reached the bottom of the screen. When I tried this, it worked to an extent, but often scrolled far too fast, forcing me to manually scroll back up again.
S Translator is another key feature paraded on stage at the official Unpacked event in New York earlier this year, and does exactly what it says on the tin. What’s better about Samsung’s translation app in this case, compared to the wealth of other free apps available in the Google Play Store, is that you can speak into the device and watch as the S4 translates it all for you.
Whereas most apps only translate written text, the S4 enables you to have a conversation with someone of another language by using the phone as an interpreter.
Built-in driving apps are features that seem to be trending on all the latest smartphones at the moment, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t any different. The S4’s Drive feature, though, does stand out from the usual Google Navigation app that most people are used to on Android phones. Not only does the app direct you from A to B as you would expect from a navigation app, it also allows you to use your phone- hands free of course- in a more advanced manner than most other smartphones.
For example, if you receive a text message while the driving mode is switched on, your phone will read the message aloud, and allow you to send one back using just your voice. The same goes for making calls, sending emails or updating your social media statuses, which makes driving on a long journey much more interesting!
Last but not least is Samsung’s in-built Story Album app. The feature essentially allows you to get creative in creating photo albums made up of all your phone’s photographs which are fun, personal and above all demonstrate your artistic flair. What’s more, you can actually have your photo books printed off professionally using the app to make a perfect memory or gift for a friend.
With smartphones getting more and more advanced as time goes on, the camera attached to a device has become of ultimate importance to users. That’s why the Samsung Galaxy S4 sports a 13 megapixel rear-facing lens which is pretty impressive when it comes to photo quality. Though I couldn’t really tell the difference between the photos taken with the S4 and its predecessor- the S3- the photographs emerged sharp and clear, as you’d expect from a top of the range smartphone.
However, where the real magic lies when it comes to the S4’s camera is its array of pre and post-production editing features. From Animation mode, which lets you jazz up your moving images into a fun animation, to Sound & Shot mode, which turns your still images into a de facto video clip due to short bursts of audio that accompany your photos, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera has covered every mode you could ever want!
The only camera mode that I wasn’t so enthused about, however, was the ability to use both the S4’s front and rear camera lenses at once. While this feature worked perfectly fine, I found it difficult to think of a circumstance where I would need to use this.
Verdict on the Galaxy S4
So what’s the verdict for the Samsung Galaxy S4 then? In terms of style and design, the latest offering from Samsung does the job, though I can’t hide the fact that I was expecting something a little more special from a phone that’s set to dominate the market in 2013.
That said, the huge selection of in-built apps and features, especially in the phone’s camera mode, more than made up for the lack of aesthetic elegance. After all, there’s no point having a beautifully-designed device that couldn’t fulfil your everyday needs or functions, and the fact that Samsung has put substance above style can be forgiven.