Samsung Galaxy S4 review

Reviews 7 Nov, 2013

Updated: Bigger, faster, lighter, better. Samsung returns with the Galaxy S4, the best handset in the world.

5
Price: 
From £35 per month on 24 month contract
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 orginally published on the 1st May 2013. It was updated on the 7th November 2013 to reflect availability of the Android 4.3 update.

Samsung introduced its flagship Galaxy S4 to much fan-fare in New York mid-March, 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.

Available from all major networks and retailers starting at £35 per month, to us the S4 has all the makings of another worldwide hit. 

Update: Android 4.3 is now rolling out to Galaxy S4 owners in the UK. You may not get an automatic notification so it is worth going to Settings > More > About Device > Software Update to check if it is available to you. The update brings a revamped TouchWiz launcher, support for the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and improves the use of RAM to boost system performance. There is no word on when Android KitKat 4.4 will be available on the handset, but it looks like users will have to wait until 2014.

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'lll 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.

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 onto 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

Pages

Disqus - noscript

"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."

so you think that the phone being the orientation of your eyes is "too niche"? clearly you're not real smart phone users, as they tend to use their phones most of the day, including when you're in bed, getting ready to sleep, when you're, you know, LAYING DOWN, but that would mean actually thinking, and not just using phones in the office

try actually THINKING about how phones are used, rather than just looking at the features and going "oh no, everybody only uses their phones in the office, right? yup, that's right" :-P

phila - why are you so sarcastic and angry? It's a good article, probably the best I've read about the S4 so far.

This is probably one of the most biased 'reviews' of a mobile phone I've ever read. The best mobile in the world does not exist. The best android mobile is an oxymoron and reviewers ought to start being real about the devices they review rather than waxing lyrical about feature sets. rubbish!

Confusing statements under the Unmatched Performance?

Top paragraph states its dual-core:
"Our handset was powered by a Qualcomm 1.9GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal space, 9.15GB of which is usable."
Then last paragraph mentions:
“Samsung Galaxy S4 is equipped with a 1.9GHz Quad-core AP or a 1.6GHz Octa-core AP. The selection of AP varies by markets,” said Samsung in a statement to IT Pro.

So is the UK final version going to be dual or quad core?

i love my galaxy s4 it is a mint phone great peace of kit i would give it 10 stars if i coulf

The samsung galaxy s4 is super fast does every thing i want it 2. I am a real samsung lover i would say it is deffinately worth getting with out a dought i just can not stop playing on it.

Samsung have done a great job

Missed that on initial reading, but its quad core

you clearly haven't read other reviews on this site, they're usually crow-barring in comments about the iPhone, and saying how wonderful the Apple devices are, on reviews of completely unrelated products

the S4 is the most advanced phone on the market at the moment, the OS updates give the best user interaction, although some do feel unnatural - the US version is more powerful than the UK version, but it's still better than anything Apple have produced (especially the lack-luster iPhone 5, apart from "build quality"), the screen is the best on the market, the Nokia camera is better

Android is the "most advanced" OS on the market at the moment, WP8 is good, but functionally limiting, iOS has barely moved in 4 years, only BB10 is a challenge, but RIM are still struggling

overall, is this the "best mobile in the world"? at the moment, yes, it is, but it's the "best overall", not the "best at everything"

if it's the best you've read, you've not looked very hard
ITAm are consistently posting biased & non-QC'd articles - as a "news source" they're only OK as their editors are HORRIBLE - article quality is just dreadful, with almost no re-reading
not to mention that they way they review isn't "real world", they don't think about how a device would function for real people, only thinking about how it works in their office

oh, and learn what "Reply" means - you clearly didn't want me to see this or you would have posted it as a reply to my comment, instead of putting "@phila" at the start - either you're rather lacking in basic common sense or you were worried about what I would say in reply :-P

Troll on!

thank you for admitting you're a troll and post nothing of importance on a comment thread