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

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