The handset has the tag line Life Companion, which is something you can’t ignore as it’s displayed on the lock screen, no matter what wallpaper you choose.
Personally, I wouldn’t go as far as calling my smartphone a life companion and I’m not a fan of any technology or software that tries to think for me (*looks at Google and Facebook*). The Galaxy S4 offers just that, in the form of its distinguishing features like Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, etc.
The first time I used Smart Pause, I realised it wasn’t made for me. As soon as my facial expression changed, the video I was watching, paused; and it got a bit frustrating. To effectively use this feature, you can’t laugh at a funny video you are watching. The same with Smart Scroll, the post I was reading, just scrolled through without stopping. But, these features are all optional, so I turned them off.
DESIGN + DISPLAY
The Galaxy S4 has a large 5″ full HD (1920×1080) Super AMOLED display. The body is constructed from polycarbonate plastic, which manages to keep the phone light (and makes you forget it’s actually 5-inches), but it does feel slightly cheap. More evidently, when removing the back cover to inset a SIM card, you will notice this. The phone is slim and weighs 130g. It fits in the hand comfortably without slipping, and at times you are reminded of how big it actually is. I found the default keyboard layout with the numbers on top very handy for typing passwords, but when typing words, more often than not I wasn’t hitting the right letters so ended up choosing words that were recommended below.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Galaxy S4 I reviewed (GT-I9500) is powered by an Octa Core processor (1.6GHz quad-core + 1.2GHz quad-core); 2GB RAM; 32GB storage (expandable up to 64GB via microSD); runs on Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2; supports HSPA+ (up to 42.2Mbps up and 5.76Mbps down); 13-megapixel back camera and 2-megapixel front facing with full HD recording and playback; and the following connectivity options: WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and IR LED (remote control).
OS + USAGE
The S4 ships with Android Jelly Bean with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. I found it to be quick with launchings apps, no lag when playing games, fast between switching apps and general browsing. The 5-inch screen was ideal for reading feeds on Flipboard, and browsing sites. The notifications bar with toggle options is by far my favourite feature on Android. It’s really simple turning off mobile data when you’re in a WiFi zone, or turning on power saving mode, or even NFC. I tried the NFC feature on a Sony portable speaker and it worked seamlessly.
With Android, I dislike linking my primary email account to the Google Play Store, so I used a secondary address for this. However, when I clicked a link from Facebook, and opted to launch it on Chrome, by default, I was logged into Chrome with these credentials. While you can go in and turn it off, this is what I dislike about Android. I’d like to keep my email credentials for *only* that, and not to be tracked and targeted by ads, etc. But this is my issue with Android. Battery life is good, by the end of the day I wasn’t running on the bare minimum and it didn’t need another charge to last the day. You can’t really say this for many handsets available today.
Samsung extras on the Galaxy S4 includes Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Air Gesture and Air View. Like I mentioned earlier, these features are not for me. You also need to have the patience to use it long enough for the handset to learn more about your habits so that it works the way you want it to. Other features include 3-way calling with WatchON, S Travel, S Voice, S Health, S Translator, Story Album, Optical Reader, Samsung Hub, Screen Mirroring, Samsung Link, Group Play – share pictures, music, documents and play games. It’s not possible to use all these features, but it’s there.
My favourite aspect about the Galaxy S4 is its camera, which performs brilliantly in low light conditions. The camera features different modes like dual shot, drama shot, 360 photo, best photo, best face, beauty face, HDR, panorama and sports. The mode I ended up using quite a bit and will miss, is dual shot mode. You can take one photo using both cameras, so if you’re and about and want a pic showing where you are, with you in the shot, it will look like this:
The camera also has editing tools built in, the same as the Galaxy Camera. I took two almost identical shots, one with an iPhone 5, and with the Galaxy S4. Neither of the pics were edited or enhanced, except for bringing it to the same size. You can clearly see which is the better camera:
The Galaxy S4 is a great Android handset, with an excellent screen, camera, and a good battery life. It has way too many features and chances are, you won’t end up using half of them. It’s quite large at 5-inches; so if you are thinking of getting it, and have a tablet, make sure your tablet is at least 10″ because having a 5″ smartphone and a 7″ tablet seems pointless. If you need something between the two, like a “phablet”, then it’s a great option. I dislike the cheap/plastic-like feel about it.
PRICE & RATING
My Rating: 8.5/10
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 14 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org