Samsung Galaxy S4 review

Samsung's Galaxy S4: there's life in the old dog yet, now with added Lollipop

Reviews
11 Feb, 2016
5
Price 
£199 from Amazon
Pros 
Unrivaled performance; Gorgeous display; Long-life battery; Good camera.
Cons 
Some gestures feel forced; No Octa-core at this time for the UK; Only 16GB for UK.
Verdict 
Samsung's Galaxy S range continues to set the bar higher with every refresh. The Korean firm has optimised performance, added support for multiple apps, boosted the display and shaved off weight. Once Knox is activated, it could become an enterprise favourite.

This article was originally published on the 01/05/2013. It was updated on the 07/11/2013 to reflect the availability of the Android 4.3 update. Last updated 11/02/2016.

Update: Android 5.0.1 Lollipop is rolling out to the Galaxy S4. An OTA update is available to users. To get it, go to Settings About Device >Software Update > Check for Updates.

Users wanting to update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow may want to check out this article by Slashgear. Warning: you will have to use CyanogenMod 13. Be careful or you may brick your phone.

Every year sees a new smartphone from Samsung in its S-series of devices. The Samsung Galaxy S4 was the 2013 model and even after three years, it has not gone out of style and is more than capable for most people's needs, but should you spend cash on this when newer models are available? We look back at what we said all that time ago!

Samsung introduced its flagship Galaxy S4 to much fan-fare in New York mid-March 2013, and it’s finally time to assess whether it can improve on its predecessor. It's a tough task because the S3 is widely recognised as one of the best Android phones to date.

Every important component is refreshed and the device features a removable battery and micro SD slot, which makes it unique amongst high-end device.

Look, don't touch

Samsung engineers want to share their love of gestures with everyone. This is obvious 30 seconds after booting up the handset. Once you’ve finished syncing Gmail and/or Samsung accounts, the S4 brings up a quick tutorial to show you the many gestures at your disposal. It’s important to pay attention to this, as it'll save time later on.

Some of these features become available when you upgrade a Galaxy S3, but not all. A few gestures can be dismissed as gimmicks, but if you take the time to try them, you’ll find at least a couple you may use.
 
Air View is the gesture we’ve found most useful to-date. This gives you the ability to preview content by hovering your finger over messages, pictures and videos. Hover your finger an inch away from the screen and - like magic - the opening lines of the email or text message will appear. It’s quite handy when you’re scrubbing a video as you can see where to skip to.

Air view

The “magnifier” is another useful feature when you are browsing web pages – as it enlarges the text you hover over. We found it useful when we wanted to tap on small links.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch on

Air gesture is designed to navigate galleries and answer/reject phone calls. Because this uses the front-facing camera, it requires you to swipe close to the top of the device.

We see limited use cases for Air gesture - during winter when you have gloves on, for example. But as Samsung allows you to increase the sensitivity of the display to work with gloves, this feature is rendered unnecessary.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch off

The S4 makes extensive use of eye-tracking too, which we’ve grouped under one general feature. The ideas are good in theory but are not quite executed to perfection.

Smart stay uses the front camera to track your eyes and prevent the display from dimming when you’re looking at it. It's more consistent than the S3 and it's useful not having to prod the screen occasionally to make sure it doesn’t fade.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch on  

Smart rotation claims to rotate the content screen to adjust to the angle of your eyes, but it’s too niche and we haven’t found the need to use it.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch off  

Smart pause is a feature you are likely to show your friends when demonstrating what your handset can really do. When a video is playing and you look away, the screen automatically pauses and continues where it left off when you look back. This is worth having on, if you're prone to getting distracted on the commute, for example.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch on

Finally, Smart scroll tries to make the web browsing experience more intuitive. Once the device has locked onto your eyes, you can tilt the device backwards and forwards to scroll down a page. This feature is sensitive, which makes it frustrating. You need to tilt the device ever so gently to initiate the scrolling.

If you tilt too much the device needs to lock onto your eyes again. This results in the annoying “eye” symbols popping up in the middle of the screen every five seconds.

Smart scroll feels like Samsung is trying to replace scrolling with your fingers when there is no need to do this.

IT Pro recommendation: Switch off

Specifications 

OS: Android 4.2.2. Jelly Bean

Processor: 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor

Memory/Storage: 2GB RAM, 16GB, up to 64GB microSD

Screen: 5in Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 441 ppi

Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (HT80), GPS / GLONAS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 (LE)

Other: Accelerometer, RGB light, Geomagnetic, Proximity, Gyro, Baromete, Temperature & Humidity, Gesture

Bands: 2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz; 3G (HSPA+ 42Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz; 4G (LTE Cat 3 100/50Mbps) : up to 6 different band sets

Camera: 13MP rear with LED flash and autofocus, 2MP front-facing

Battery: 2,400mAh

Size: 137 x 70 x 7.9 mm (WxDxH)

Weight: 130g

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