There’s a ton of options when looking for a new smartphone, some running on Windows Phone, some on iOS and others on Android, for the last one there’s even more options, but there’s only really a few options for those of you looking for a flagship model.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is one of these handsets, and is probably one of the most anticipated smartphones to be released this year.
With a few new features, the S4 is now the most powerful handset from the Korean manufacture, although its size still hasn’t changed, and never has the design.
Sized at 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm and weighing just 130g, the S4 now includes a massive 5 inch screen, with a Full HD Super AMOLED screen, that packs a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution with 441 ppi, meaning the S4 has one of the best screens on an Android device.
There’s two versions of the S4, one with a 1.9GHz Quad-Core processor and another with a 1.6GHz Octa-Core processor, the version you get depends on where you live, in the UK you will get the quad-core version.
Read this next: Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Review
In terms of design, the S4 is pretty similar to the S3, but does feel a little more solid and less flimsy in the hand when compared to its predecessor, with a more ‘premium’ looking design the fake metal band around the edge looks a lot better than it did before.
On the back you still have a removable cover, which allows you to access the SIM-card slot, microSD card slot and remove the battery.
Holding the phone is much more of a pleasurable experience than it was with the S3, with a slightly more curved design, it fits nicely in the palm of your hand, and unlike many other Samsung devices, it doesn’t feel too large that you can’t use it with one hand, in fact Samsung have now built-in some technology to help you with that, but we will go further into that later in this review.
One big change in the design is that the power button has now moved further up the right hand side, this makes it a lot easier to press, however that’s not the same case for the volume up/ down button, which can sometimes be a little tricky when thumbing around the pockets.
This is even more difficult with the S View cover on, which for some reason obscures the volume button entirely, of course this is just an optional accessory, so for some of you, that won’t matter.
Read this next: S View Cover for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Review
Alongside the power button, the home button seems to have been designed a little better too, with a more solid feel, it’s a lot easier to press than previous models.
Next to the home button you will then find the touch-sensitive back and menu buttons, which can be set to either light up once pressed or stay constantly lit up when the phone is unlocked.
On the front of the device you will find a 2MP camera, that now plays a much bugger role than what is norm in handsets today, tracking the users eyes in order to scroll webpages, or even pause a video when they look away, as well as being able to take Full HD videos.
Next to which you will than find the proximity sensor, that allows the phone to tell when it is close to an object, such as your face.
And that’s not even the last one, as this phone is actually packed with various sensors and gadgetry for you to try out, most notable and probably the most useless, at least in my view, is the new infra-red sensor on the top. This allows you to control anything from your TV to your home cinema system, right from your phone with the use of the WatchON app.
We did use this feature once or twice in our tests, but we don’t think it’s a stand out feature.
Available for £47 a a month (lasting 24 months) on Vodafone’s RED XL package, the price of this phone is not one for the budget buyer, and although this package does include unlimited UK calls, texts and 4GB of data, if you’re looking for something on the cheaper side, the S4 probably isn’t for you.
However that’s something you should probably already know.
One of the best features with the new S4, is most defiantly its screen, with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution display, the S4 easily has the best screen available on a smartphone to date (at time of writing).
Using the same Super AMOLED technology that you will find across the Galaxy range, images look crisp and clear, with very high contrast ratios and a great level of brightness, the screen is great to look at both during the day and at nighttime.
Being a touchscreen, the S4 has also been updated with some new capacitive technology that makes the screen a little more sensitive, and allows the user to control the device whilst wearing gloves, a feature I can’t believe has taken this long to be implemented in touchscreen phones, as no one in their right mind wants to wear those horrible looking touchscreen capable gloves.
Running on Android 4.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay, the OS for the phone feels pretty similar to what was included with the S3, setting aside a few new tweaks, most of the system remains unchanged, and frankly int terms of its UI the S4 isn’t much of an upgrade from the S3.
There are a couple of new features that have come with Android 4.2 that I quite like however, the first is the ability to add a widgets such as the music player or even Spotify to your lockscreen, and control it without having to unlock your phone.
These can be resized on the go, by simply dragging them further down the screen,allowing you to display more information from your chosen widget.
Staying with the music player, Samsung have actually managed to add a good experience for listening to music with the S4.
Displayed in a clean manner, music collections can easily be accessed from either the in-built storage or from your microSD card, once they have been added, the app will then display them in an easy to view list, sorting them by artist, album and track names.
Setting that aside, I really like the music player, mainly due to its clean and easy to use design.
However as this is Samsung, that isn’t all the features available on the S4, with a ton of other add-ons to find, the music player gets a bit more confusing as you dive deeper, however once you get the used to them, the features do turn out to be quite useful.
Features like AdaptSound that can listen to a variety of frequencies and determine which ones you can actually hear, it will then boost the sounds to the perfect range for you, a great addition for anyone that might be getting a little too old for a smartphone.
As well as another addition that is also featured (as well as hidden) in the Note 2, called Music Square, it will analyse your music library and then rate it based on Joy, Passion, Excitement and Calmness, these can then be chosen better different sections of the square depending on the mood you are currently in.
And as with most other Samsung handsets, the video player is also spectacular. Much like the Note 2, the player is clean and easy to use, with only a few features to use at the start, you aren’t bewildered as soon as you try to watch a movie.
However as you can probably guess, the features are still there.
But some of them actually work, such as the multi-window found in other Galaxy devices, allowing you to simply drag the video player over the top of the app you are using for a distraction-free viewing experience.
However I don’t find myself as impressed with the new Smart Pause feature, designed to pause a video when it senses that your eyes have strayed away from the screen.
This feature doesn’t work to put it simply, and with a delay between the camera realizing you have looking away and actually pausing the video, its pretty pointless to put it bluntly.
The camera on the S4 is however, is pretty decent. With a 13 megapixel sensor, it’s a huge upgrade from previous versions of the phone, and with that all new auto mode, it can detect various situations you are shooting in, to make sure it takes the best picture possible.
Alongside which there is also the addition of a few new modes with the S4 including Drama Shot, Eraser mode, Beauty Shot, and even the now basic HDR mode.
All of which are awesome to use, however the Eraser mode is a little useless, which will take five consecutive shots and then allow you to delete any photo bombers from the frame. In theory this works great, but I’m not so sure it would work well in real-life, due to the fact it has to be activated before you can take the shot, you have to preëmptively be expecting someone to walk though your photo.
Within our tests, we found that pictures actually turned out pretty well, images are clear and all-in-all its pretty much perfect for the average user.
However if you’re looking for something with a little more, then it’s probably best to try out something that has been designed specifically to take photos, like the HTC One or even the Sony Xperia Z.
Read this next: Sony Xperia Z Review
The main features of this phone however, is its sensing ability’s, functions like Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, Air view and Air gestures, set this phone apart from the rest.
Starting with Smart Stay, a feature that a lot of you may already know from other Galaxy handsets, it will detect whether or not you are looking at the screen, and keep the display lit up as you do, look away an it will begin to dim the screen, or even lock the phone itself, a feature that works a lot better on the S4 than it has done previously.
We found this worked okay during our tests, although sometimes it can be a little too sensitive or just not sensitive enough, and you can look a bit of a weirdo when trying to scroll up the screen in public, as you have to tilt you head in extremely awkward positions in order for the camera to recognize that you want to scroll up.
Air View is also a not so new feature, already featured with the pen on the Note 2, it allows you to hover over an item to peek at its contents, although on the S4, you can just use your finger.
This feature is however limited to a select few applications, and I myself didn’t find it all that useful during our tests.
And that’s still not all, as we still have one more feature to talk about, called Air Gestures, this one allows you to navigate the UI without actually touching the screen, kinda making the touchscreen a little useless, it can be used to skip tracks, move between photos and answer calls without getting the screen dirty, a feature I can only see being useful with those who paint there nails, or work in muddy conditions.
Personally most of these features I would simply turn off, and in my view they simply seem be a way for Samsung to look like they have updated a phone that still takes a lot from the S3.
Other features like S Heath I could find a little more useful however, being one of the main features Samsung shown of during their announcement event for the S4, it allows you to track your weight, height, exercise regimes and even surrounding environments.
You simply tell it the weight you would like to aim for, and it will tell you how to achieve it.
Within the app you can also set a steps per day goal, which can be divided between running and walking, and it will track how many steps you have taken towards this goal during the day.
During our tests, I managed to get a pretty decent battery life, with the phone lasting most of day, and in some cases it was still awake in the morning, and this is whilst running pretty intensive applications, games and checking the internet constantly.
Overall the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a decent phone, and if you’re looking for a top of the range Android handset, it’s probably one of the best options on the market right now.
However at times we found the S4’s overlay and wide range of features to be a little overwhelming, and personally could not find much use for many of them, for other people, this may be a different case, but for me, I would prefer the phone if it was running stock Android.
You can pick up the Galaxy S4 from a wide range of carriers and retailer around the world, Vodafone (who sent us this phone for review), currently have the phone priced from free for £42 a month on their Pay Monthly contracts.
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