As for us, we were lucky to finally get some quality one-on-one time with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and run a few proper tests. We were impressed at the announcement event, and the S4 looks quite comfortable with the weight of expectations. But millions of people will settle for nothing less than the ultimate upgrade, and the stakes are rarely higher than that.
Samsung Galaxy S4 at a glance:
Samsung Galaxy S4 live photos
With the competition hardly sitting on their hands either, the Galaxy S4 is in for a fierce battle if it's to keep the Android crown in the Samsung trophy cabinet. The Sony Xperia Z is doing well to capitalize on the head start, while the HTC One has a wicked unibody design and no less impressive specs. A massive challenge indeed, but the Koreans have never been afraid of those.
Let's see how this one pans out - the hardware inspection begins right after the break.
Design and handlingAt any rate, despite all the new features it introduces, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is easier to handle than the S III. It also feels more comfortable in the hand than the HTC One and that one only has a 4.7" display. Samsung has shown to competitors that a 5" screen doesn't necessarily make for an unwieldy handset.
1080p Super AMOLED display is what geeks' dreams are made ofOne of the most important updates that the Samsung Galaxy S4 brings is the new 5" Super AMOLED screen of 1080p resolution. While it does have a PenTile matrix, the 441 ppi pixel density makes sure you won't be able to spot the hated cross-hatch pattern.
The defect wasn't easily spotted on the Galaxy S III either unless you looked from a closer-than-comfortable distance, which is to say it was as good as invisible to the naked eye. The design of the PenTile matrix has been changed too, so now green sub-pixels are twice as many as blue and red sub-pixels and the arrangement is changed. This however matters little to anyone not armed with a microscope.
The color saturation is beyond the reach of any LCD out there, which make even the dullest image appear remarkably vibrant. Still, if you are not a fan of the oversaturated look of the AMOLEDs Samsung gives you the option to tune down the saturation to more natural levels and enjoy the best of both worlds.
The brightness levels of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is slightly higher than the rest of the company's AMOLED displays, which is to say not very high. However, due to the low reflectivity this doesn't affect outdoor performance.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2|
|Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4||0||201||∞||0||404||∞|
|Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III||0||174||∞||0||330||∞|
|Sony Xperia Z||-||-||-||0.70||492||705|
|Oppo Find 5||0.17||176||1123||0.51||565||1107|
|HTC One X||0.15||200||1375||0.39||550||1410|
|Nokia Lumia 920||-||-||-||0.48||513||1065|
|Google Nexus 4||0.22||314||1447||0.45||608||1341|
|LG Optimus G||0.14||197||1445||0.33||417||1438|
|Apple iPhone 5||0.13||200||1490||0.48||640||1320|
Of course, Nokia showed that a brighter AMOLED can do even better in direct sunlight, but the gain isn't dramatic. We'll make sure to do a sunlight legibility test for the review and find out all about that.
ControlsThe top of the Galaxy S4 features the 3.5mm audio jack, the secondary microphone and the IR blaster that allows you to use the smartphone as a remote control for your home appliances. There's also a remote control app with a pretty rich database preinstalled, so the functionality is available out of box.
The microUSB port at the bottom is used for both data connections and charging. Not only does it support USB host but it also comes with support for the new MHL 2.0, enabling 3D 1080p output and TV connections without an external power source. Previously you had to plug in your charger in the adapter as well, but the Galaxy S4 gets rid of that extra requirement.
The other thing of interest at the bottom is the primary microphone.
The back of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is where the 13 megapixel FullHD-capable camera lens is located. As on the Galaxy S III the LED flash is right beside it, but the loudspeaker grille has been moved to the bottom left edge of the device.
Removing the battery cover reveals the microSIM slot, the nicely upgraded 2600 mAh removable battery and the microSD card slot. We are yet to see what kind of difference the extra 500 mAh make, considering the higher resolution screen and the more power-hungry chipset.
S Apps and other cool appsThe Samsung Galaxy S4 comes with a number of advanced features and apps that are exclusive for now, but will make their way to older devices via updates.
One of the coolest apps is called Group Play. It shares various multimedia across multiple devices in the same room but unlike DLNA it's interactive.
One use case is to play a music track on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and use multiple phones as speakers. You can pick the role of each phone (e.g. left channel, right, all the way up to surround sound). This way you can control the music from one phone but use the loudspeakers of all.
Of course, the other phones will need to support Group Play - the phones communicate over Wi-Fi (your Galaxy S4 becomes a hotspot that others connect to) and the pairing is done via NFC.
More useful are the options to share a picture or a document - you can have the same picture appear on everyone's phone and you can draw over it if you need to highlight a certain element of the image.
Finally, perhaps the coolest feature of Group Play is that it allows for multiplayer games to be played on several phones simultaneously. Of course, only supported games work - there was a poker and puzzle games preloaded on our unit with Asphalt7 and Gun Bros offered as other games that support Group Play multiplayer.
Moving on, there's S-Link, another way to share content between devices. Unlike Group Play, S-Link is intended for personal use. You can link the phone to a computer that is synced with Dropbox, SkyDrive or SugarSync and remotely access content on that device.
S Voice does duplicate parts of Google Now, but it adds a lot of new functionality (it even has more features than Siri). Some of these features are available outside of S Voice too, so you can set the Galaxy S4 to answer a call or snooze an alarm by voice commands even when S Voice isn't running. The problem with S Voice is not nearly as fast or as accurate at recognizing your speech input as Now.
S Translator will help travelers - it can translate between two languages using either typed text or by using speech recognition. It can read out the resulting translation too, if you don't thing your Korean accent can cut it. S Translator supports all the widely-spoken languages - English, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and, of course, Korean.
This app can work together with Photo Reader, which employs Optical Character Recognition so you can just snap a photo of the text instead of having to type it in (which can be quite a challenge, imagine typing Chinese if you've never studied it).
On our Samsung Galaxy S4 unit, the Cento OnTV was the one that works with the built-in IR emitter on the top of the phone. The app starts out by asking your zip code and pulls up a number of TV service providers in that area.
This is so that the app can show you a TV guide with shows currently on or upcoming on the channels offered by the service provider. You can read a description of the show, check out its popularity in up/down votes (and vote yourself, of course) and comments. You can also set a reminder for a show.
Anyway, the key element of the app is the IR remote control functionality. The app can control TVs, DVD and Blu-ray players, streaming media players and air conditioners. Devices are organized by rooms.
One thing we really liked about the app is that it knows some home setups are messy - some let you change channels with the TV remote, others require you to use the set-top box remote for that. Same for the audio, you might be using the TV to output the sound or an AV receiver. The app will ask about your setup and present a unified remote control interface even if you have multiple hardware remotes to control all the devices.
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