How do you top the highest selling Android phone of 2012? This is what I believe was the main topic in Samsung meetings as they had to decide what to do as the successor to the Galaxy S3. The Galaxy S3 was a huge hit in 2012, being released on every major and minor carriers in the US at affordable prices. A huge spec bump and somewhat new physical design from the Galaxy S2, one could only expect the Galaxy S4 to be a huge upgrade.
Hardware and Internal
Samsung decided to stick with their lightweight plastic uni-body, with the always beneficial removable back cover for battery and SD card access. You have your standard headphone jack and new IR blaster on the top of the phone, with volume rocker on the left, power button to the right, microSD charging port on the bottom, two capacitive buttons with a physical home button on the front panel, sensors and front facing camera on top of the display. The back features the 13MP camera with flash and a very small speaker grill on the bottom. Samsung wanted to curve the edges a bit more to make the phone feel much more comfortable in the hand than how the S3 was, and there is a quite a bit of difference.
The S4 is running a 1.9 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 2GB of ram and a 16GB internal storage; you actually only get about 9.6GB to use but Samsung is working on a software update to remove clutter. Its a gorgeous 5-inch display with a full 1920 x 1080 resolution and is without a doubt Samsung’s best AMOLED on a phone. As mentioned prior, the removable back panel exposes the 2800mAh battery and microSD slot for up to 64GB of expandable memory.
What separates the S4 from really any device out on the market now, is its very gimmicky but addicting extra features. The S4 is jammed packed with extras including Air Gestures, Air View, Multi-Window and more.
Air Gestures allows you to maneuver certain commands by just the swipe of your hand. Moving the hand left and right allows you to scroll through photos, toggle through music selections and even assist when moving apps from page to page. Moving your hand up and down allows you to scroll through web pages, though this and all the other gestures only work on stock apps; so Google Chrome will not be able to take advantage of air gestures just yet.
Air View is a really neat feature. Hovering your finger over certain items pops them out in sort of quick preview window. This can be used with emails, photo albums and long text messages. I found myself using this to quick pick a photo in an album and previewing text messages while my hands were dirty from eating. These seem very gimmicky but when including them in your everyday life it actually becomes fun.
Of course, the famous feature from the Note 2, multi-window, has made its way to the S4. Works exactly the same as usual but still only limits the programs you have compatible with it. Also, a quick mention should go to Smart Stay and Smart Scroll. These worked fairly well in an area with good lighting. Video does stop playing when my eyes drift away from the screen and being able to scroll up and down a browser page with my eyes was awesome. I don’t know how anyone can hate this feature, its a huge innovation for smart phones and we should all be excited for it.
S-Health & Watch On
Samsung introduced a built in software that tracks everything from diet plans, exercise routines, calorie tracker, and step counter. The tracking software works really good when manually inputting your food intake and exercise routine, but step and movement tracker can use some work. S- health will be a useful application once Samsung releases accessories that works with the app.
Now on to my all time favorite feature of this phone, yes sadly this has to deal with television but with a child running around the house, a spare remote is perfectly fine. Watch on is a built in app that utilizes the IR blaster on the device to sync up with any television and/or cable/dvr setup you might have have. Setting up multiple rooms and even your favorite channels is a breeze.
This is by far the best camera on any Android device I have ever used. 13MP on the back and 2MP on the front with 1080p HD (1920×1080, 441 ppi) recording gives great capture playback and photo stills. Colors just pop right out and are very high on contrast which looks fantastic.
The Galaxy S4 is just several units away from becoming Samsungs best selling mobile device, and we clearly saw why. The experience of innovative technology with the simplicity of a customizable UI will leave any customer satisfied. I really do hope Samsung begins a new trend of hardware starting with the Note 3 because the S4 is the last phone I would consider being all plastic. The camera app does include a lot of interesting features that do work when staged well. It’s not for the every day use.
Performance and Software
The Galaxy S4 handled most tasks with ease, even having multiple applications opened in the back ground. Beating out about every phone, including the Galaxy S3, in our Benchmark tests proved well for the device as it held up nice on battery tests as well; pushing out about a full days use. The S4 comes packed with Android Jellybean 4.2.2 but of course gets the Touchwiz treatment. I am a fan of the simplicity of Touchwiz, I wish Samsung could lighten up a bit and take advantage of some of the features that make stock Android great. But of course, a big part of their marketing comes from the simple Mode attached to Touchwiz – so I guess it makes sense.
The Galaxy S4 is one of the best overall phones I have used in a long time. A beautiful display, very good camera, and great software features that stretch the technical imagination. It may not be the best built phone, but the Galaxy S4 is sure a very comfortable one. One that might even change the mind of those who never liked using a big screen. I tested out a Sprint version running on their 4G network and experienced great data while cell connectivity still lacked. Though recently we were given a Verizon unit to test out running on their 4G LTE network and was very impressed on how well it performed. New York City was a bit 50/50 when it came to connection quality with Verizon but it was a much better user experience than what we had with Sprint. Available on all major US carriers and on multiple 4G (and LTE) networks makes the S4 a must have phone for the year.