Samsung Galaxy S4 Review
Samsung Galaxy S4 Video Review
Review written by Charlotte Kertrestel.
On unpacking the Samsung Galaxy S4, I noticed very little difference from the flagship device’s predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S3, though there are some variances, if only slight.
The device is slightly squarer in shape, almost bridging the gap between the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2 handsets, and the 5 inch screen is just that bit bigger than the Galaxy S3’s 4.8 inch display, though because the Galaxy S4 has such a small bezel, the device doesn’t feel any larger to look at or to hold.
The Samsung Galaxy S4, at 130g, comes in at just one gram lighter than its predecessor which is pretty impressive, especially compared with other 5 inch devices like the Sony Xperia Z which is somewhat of a bulky phone that really weighs down your pocket.
Another very slight variation between the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 is the phone’s thinness; if you turn both devices on their sides you can see that the S4 is slimmer, as the S3 has a slightly curved back making the device feel more cumbersome in comparison.
As you can see, Samsung has opted for the ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ approach with the Galaxy S4’s design, which, unfortunately means that the device has the same plasticy back casing as all other Galaxy smartphones. And because the ‘Black Mist’ variation of the S4 that I got my hands on came with a cross-hatched mirrored effect, I felt that the phone didn’t share the same expensive, high-quality feel as the HTC One or iPhone.
Phone Set Up
On switching on the device, the Samsung Galaxy S4, which runs Android’s latest Jelly Bean version, pretty much looks the same as any other Android, with a variety of home screens where you can drag and drop your favourite apps. I really like the fact that the S4’s screens are on an endless scroll, meaning you don’t have to go back on yourself to access, say, the fifth screen when you are currently on the first.
However I found, as many critics have reported this week, that the device came with a lot of ‘bloatware’ pre-installed on the phone, which included a number of Samsung apps such as S Health and Story Album.
One feature that I really liked about the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the sliding tab that sits on each and every screen, which allows you to seamlessly switch between apps without having to access the home screen. The slidable tab, seen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 at this year’s MWC, is also editable, so you can place your most-used apps, whether it’s your text messages, emails, Facebook or camera, onto the bar, easily accessed from any application.
Flitting between apps is also made easier because of the upgraded quad-core 1.6 GHz processor, up on the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 1.4GHz power unit. However, I did find myself getting a little annoyed at how long the phone took to unlock after I had swiped the lock screen.
Samsung has tried to cover all bases by offering an Easy Mode for first-time smartphone users, which essentially simplifies the device’s home screens to make it easier to get used to, which I liked. Finally, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s impressive display is certainly worth a quick mention; with a pixel per inch density of 441, all of the phone’s graphics are crisp and bright; a definite improvement on the Samsung Galaxy S3.
S Voice Drive
After hearing about Samsung’s S Voice Drive function at the device’s grand unveiling in New York, I was pretty eager to try it. Offering more than just your bog standard navigation app, as with most other driving-related apps, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s S Voice Drive promises to send and receive text messages, emails and calls all by using just your voice.
So, naturally, I put the app to the test on a drive to a country pub on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Well I tried to, anyway. The app for some reason simply didn’t pick up on where I wanted to go, instead directing me to locations well over an hour away, which forced me to reach for my trusty sat-nav.
However, the second function of the app, to keep you in contact with your friends and work colleagues while you are driving, did manage to impress me. By telling the device to ‘Text’, I dictated a text message to my friend to tell her I was on my way. I then simply said ‘Send’ and the message was sent, all without my hands moving from the steering wheel. Pretty remarkable!
Story Album is one of the many Samsung apps pre-installed on the Samsung Galaxy S4, and is one which, though being fun to play around with, isn’t the most useful on a day-to-day basis.
That said, the app is still really cool if you are a regular photographer wanting to display your photos in albums more exciting than just on Facebook.
Simply choose from your phone’s gallery or your tagged photos online, and the Galaxy S4 will automatically turn them into a cool and creative photo album, where you can change the style and theme to suit your taste. What’s great is that you can even order a hard copy of the story albums that you create, bridging the gap between technology and tradition nicely.
And while I enjoyed uploading my images taken with the device into an artistic photo album, I found that the feature didn’t quite compare with the HTC One’s automatically created movies as a means of showcasing my photos, meaning that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Story Album fell slightly short of my expectations.
S Translator is another app that was acted out in a rather cheesy fashion at the S4’s grand unveiling event in New York, and is one that functions pretty well. You can either type or speak into the app in your own language, and by selecting the language you want to translate into, the app does all the hard work by formulating a written translation on the main screen. You can then press a button to have this read aloud in your chosen language, which is helpful to keep up communications when you’re on your travels.
And while this app does help the Samsung Galaxy S4 fulfil its role in becoming your ‘life companion’, I felt that the rarity with which I would actually use S Translator rendered the app more of a gimmick than anything else.
Group Play is a feature which turns your Samsung Galaxy S4 into a stereo when it comes into contact with other S4 devices, as you can see in Samsung’s promotional video:
However, this again is a hit or miss feature; if you count up all of your closest friends that actually have the same phone as you, how useful would Group Play be? In my opinion, having higher quality speakers, like the HTC One’s dual-frontal BoomSound speakers, would be of more use, particularly because you could use them when you are in your own company.
S Health is a Samsung-made app which, as the name denotes, helps fulfil the S4’s role as being your ‘life companion’ by keeping track of your well-being.
The Walking Mate tab essentially becomes your personal pedometer which you can carry around all day without giving exercise a second thought. The app also offers Exercise Mate, which allows you to choose from a huge list of activities, from walking upstairs to hula hooping and from horse riding to aerobics, and tracks your progress by recording your activity and relaying how many calories are burnt.
The app’s Food Tracker even becomes your own dietician by tracking how many calories are in various foodstuffs; you can take a photo of each meal to ensure you don’t forget to count it, adding in the various components later.
I enjoyed using the S Health app, though it did remind me of various other health-related applications that are available in the Google Play Store which essentially do the same thing…
Smart Scroll and Smart Pause
One feature that I really didn’t expect big things off was Smart Scroll and Smart Pause. However, I will eat my own words in ever doubting Samsung’s patented technology!
Smart Pause perhaps works better than Smart Scroll in my experience, and actually does exactly what the promotional videos, well, promote. When watching a video or trailer, just turn your head and the clip will pause, then turn back and it will start again.
However, I didn’t have as much success with the S4’s Smart Scroll and I felt that I ended up nodding at the device rather than it automatically following my gaze. Also, I often found that the page just kept on scrolling down quicker than I could read, which led me to getting somewhat frustrated!
However, Samsung does give you the option of turning Smart Pause and Smart Scroll off and on according to what you’re doing on the device.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 features an Optical Reader, which, again, isn’t an app I’d use all the time, though is one that did come in handy when in a rather upmarket French restaurant last week. Simply open the app, hover the pointer over the word you don’t understand, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 will give you a dictionary definition to help you out. Perfect for doing crosswords or trying to impress your colleagues with the use of big words!
The only problem is, the app didn’t always pick up on the exact word that I wanted to define, which led to a bit of embarrassment at my end when trying to demonstrate the app to friends!
Camera & Video
With a 13MP lens, I was really expecting big things with the Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera. However, while the phone’s camera did produce some decent photographs, I wasn’t blown away.
The main thing making the Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera stand out, however, is the range of modes that users can take shots in. For example, in addition to the usual Auto, Beauty Face, Sports, Panoramic, Best Photo and Best Face modes, which are great for taking portrait shots, you have the option of selecting other, more interesting ways to take your photos.
For instance there’s Sound & Shot, which records up to 9 seconds of audio to accompany a still image; Drama, which takes multiple moving photographs and merges them together; Animated photo, which allows you to rub out and animate certain moving objects in an image; and Eraser, which, as you’d imagine, lets you erase moving objects in the background of a photograph.
However, it took me a long time to get to grips with all of the different uses of these modes, and I found that I spent more time flicking through all the options that I often missed the opportunity to capture the object that I wanted in the first place. Although the Sound & Shot mode can be fun, especially to accompany a photo with a verse of ‘Happy Birthday’ for example, I think the novelty would soon wear off. Also, compared with the HTC One’s HTC Zoe, I felt that many of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera features were purely gimmicky, particularly the ability to use the front and rear-cameras at the same time.
Overall, I would rate the Samsung Galaxy S4’s camera for its actual camera quality above the device’s many camera-enhancing features, which I feel I would rarely use.
Last but not least is an analysis of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s battery life.
When I turned the phone on, I had 43% of juice remaining, and after leaving the device idle overnight, this had gone down to 37%, which isn’t too bad for a smartphone offering so many features.
However, when I used the phone on a more regular basis to take photos, sample apps and watch videos, the phone’s battery started to dwindle a lot more rapidly, though I would say that it performed just as admirably as most other smartphones that require charging once a day, perhaps stretching to one and a half days of regular use at a push.