Reviews

Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S4

So finally got a chance to spend some time with the Galaxy S4 yesterday. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much since for all intents and purposes it is a Galaxy S III S/+/Advance/Whatever. But I was still fairly impressed by the device.

Let’s start with the design. The design sucks; there are no two ways about it. The Galaxy S III design has grown on me over time but it still looks meh. The S4 actually looks bit worse because of the crazy pattern Samsung has going on on the surface. The brushed metal finish on the S III looked way better in comparison. It’s still cheap looking, glossy plastic and feels cheap in your hands. The build quality is good, though. As in, it feels cheap but it doesn’t creak or flex in your hands and Samsung’s plastic is known to be durable.

The improvement in design comes from the flat sides, which makes the S4 easier to hold than the S III. The S III is fairly usable for such a large phone but the curved edges constantly slip from your hands. The sharper, flat sides of the S4 provide better grip and makes it one of the most ergonomic large screened phones I’ve used. Samsung also has a convenient key arrangement on the sides, which reduced unnecessary stretching of fingers.

The display looks fantastic. The higher resolution completely compensates for the PenTile matrix’s shortcomings and even after staring long and hard I couldn’t spot individual pixels, leave alone any sub-pixel irregularities. The panel is also an improvement over the S III’s. It’s brighter, the colors are more natural and does not have that greenish tint that plagues the S III’s display. There are also some color options that let you tone down the saturation levels further.

Compared to the One’s display, the S4’s display looks every bit as good. The colors are more saturated but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a matter of preference and a lot of people prefer it that way (the way people prefer big bass over natural, uncolored sound). You can fall in love with either display and you won’t be wrong. I prefer the S4’s display, simply because it is bigger, without the phone itself being any bigger than the One.

The software on the S4 is ridiculous. I generally prefer Samsung’s customizations but they have gone way overboard this time. Sure, you can turn off everything but there are just so many things to turn off this time it’s frustrating. Just look at this image of the expanded notification screen to get an idea of some of the software features on the phone.

The software also looks ugly. I’m fairly used to TouchWiz now but the color combination still looks jarring and puerile compared to the simplicity of stock Android or even the new Sense 5. You get used to it after a while but I wished Samsung concentrated more on the design than simply adding more features. There is one nice touch, though. The lockscreen animation is fantastic. It’s a bit hard to explain and is best experienced first hand so make sure you check it out when you use the phone.

From the short time I spent with it I think on its own the S4 is a really good smartphone and if you ordered it or are going to get one then you made a fine choice. Between this and the One, it’s a matter of personal preference and you can’t go wrong with either. I’d go with the S4 because of the bigger screen, higher resolution camera (Yeah, you need those extra pixels. Fuck those who say megapixels don’t matter. They don’t know jack shit. Try taking crops from a 4 megapixel sensor and you’ll know what I mean.) and some useful software features among the sea of useless ones. But if hardware feel matters to you or if you need a phone with speakers louder than most laptops then the One is also an excellent choice.

As for upgrading from the S III? I wouldn’t recommend it. Being an S III owner myself, I was fairly impressed by the improvements on the S4. However, I don’t think they are big enough to warrant upgrading to this phone, especially not at the current price. Perhaps later down the year I might change my mind if the price drops significantly but if you have an S III and would want to hold on for the next year’s model I would say you’re making a sensible decision.