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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

Samsung Galaxy S4 Review
Samsung Galaxy S4 is a phone riding high on hype, much of it justified. All top Galaxy phones have been market leaders so far. Packed with unique features and powered by top hardware, Galaxy S, Galaxy S2 and Galaxy S3 have been best-selling Android phones in their category. Galaxy S4 is supposed to not only match the popularity of its older siblings but also surpass them.

So does Galaxy S4 meet these expectations? Is it the best Android smartphone yet? Is this the phone to beat? Short answer: Yes. Mostly. For long answer, read on...

Slim and powerful: There are two models of Galaxy S4. In India, Samsung is selling the Galaxy S4 powered by Exynos 5 Octa, an 8-core processor. The US and several other markets, especially those with 4G availability, have got the Galaxy S4 that is powered by Qualcomm's S600 chip.

We are reviewing the Indian version of the Galaxy S4. In terms of design, the Galaxy S4 is an evolutionary successor to the Galaxy S3. It looks similar but when you pick it up, it feels different. The material used to build the outer shell of the phone is glossy plastic. But the device looks better than the Galaxy S3. Galaxy S4 uses a plastic back cover that has a fine diamond-shaped pattern. This gives the phone a more premium finish. In terms of look and feel, the plastic in Galaxy S4 is no match for the fine aluminium alloy used to make device like the HTC One and the iPhone 5.

Compared to the Galaxy S3, the new device is also noticeably slimmer. Despite a 5-inch screen compared to 4.8-inch screen on the Galaxy S3, it retains the similar height and weight. We prefer the feel of the Galaxy S3 because of its gently curved sides compared to the Galaxy S4 that has more straight lines. But it is a personal preference. We are sure most people will find the Galaxy S4 compact, light and easy to use despite its big screen.

The Galaxy S4 is world's first phone using an 8-core processor. But only four cores can be used at a time. You can read more about the processor here. The CPU cores are aided in their job by 2GB (low power) DDR3 RAM and PowerVR 543MP3 graphics chip. In a demanding benchmark like 3D Mark Ice Storm it scores 10,164 points, ahead of any other smartphone. This is over 1000 more than what HTC One manages. You can see how the HTC One and the Galaxy S4 fare in benchmarks here.

In India, the Galaxy S4 will be available with only 16GB storage, of which only 8.82GB is available to user. This is too low but users do have an option to add a microSD card of up to 64GB. The rear camera can shoot images in 13 mega pixels while the front camera is capable of taking 2MP images.

The Galaxy S4 has an AMOLED screen, which shows rich colours and has fantastic contrast. With a resolution of 1080x1920 pixels it is razor sharp. Watching high-resolution films is especially a great experience on this screen. The outdoor visibility is good, though under direct sunlight we wished the screen could have been brighter.

Butter smooth. Mostly: The Galaxy S4 is a fast phone. Though given the hardware inside it, this is expected. Scrolling or pinch-to-zoom while web browsing is smooth. The phone handles popular video codecs and music files with ease and plays FullHD videos like a champ. Apps install and open within seconds. GPS is fast and accurate. The call quality is excellent. The speakers in the phone may not be as loud as those on the HTC One but they are capable of filling a small room with music.

Yet, we noticed some lag while navigating through the user interface on the device, especially while switching between apps using the multi-tasking feature of Android. This is unexpected. This lag is random and barely noticeable but if you have used a phone like the iPhone 5, the HTC One, or even the Galaxy S3, you may not like it.

The Galaxy S4 is powered by Android 4.2.2 aka Jelly Bean. The OS has been heavily modified by Samsung with Touchwiz user interface, which unfortunately is not as elegant as the stock interface. Thankfully, you can remove or hide most of these default widgets and customizations.

Special features: The phone is packed with unique features. But are they useful enough to give it an edge over other Android phones? Let's check them.

  • Dual shot: It will allow you to use the front camera to superimpose you're your stamp-size photo on any scene you are clicking with the main camera. It works very well and is fun to use!
  • Sound and shot: Captures up to 9-second of sound after taking an image. Works well but feels a gimmick.
  • Group Play: Not a very useful feature unless everybody on the family picnic has the Galaxy S4.
  • S Translator: We spoke to Galaxy S4 in Spanish and it translated in English. Very impressive!
  • Watch On: Allows a user to control a TV with the Galaxy S4. Works as advertised though support for set-top boxes in India is not that great.
  • Smart Pause: This feature pauses the video playback when a user is looking away from the device. Works very well and is useful.
  • Air View and Air gestures: You can navigate on the phone using gestures. Didn't work very well in our use. Also a gimmick. Using touchscreen was easier.
  • Smart Stay: If enabled this feature is supposed to keep the screen on if you are looking at it. Sounds useful but didn't work very well.
  • Smart scroll: A web page scrolls up or down depending on the head movement of a user. Didn't work very well.
  • S Health: This is our favourite feature of the Galaxy S4. This app can track your activity level (like how much you walk everyday) and how much calories you burn. It also uses the sensors in Galaxy S4 to record temperature and humidity around you in real time. Unique, well-designed, useful and fun app.
  • Multi-window: Also available on the Galaxy Grand, the Galaxy Note II, the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy S3, this is a feature that allows two apps to be used at the same time in multi-window mode. This means you can open web browser in top half of the while on the second, you can compose an email. Very useful.

A sharp shooter: Samsung doesn't talk about the camera in the Galaxy S4 the way HTC, Apple and Nokia talk about shooters in their phones. But Galaxy S4 clicks insanely good images! It clicks photos that have nice colours and loads of details. It is especially good with close ups and macros. The camera in iPhone 5 is considered the gold standard and we feel that Galaxy S4 surpasses it. Even the performance in low light is good because of the new lens module that uses F2.2 aperture instead of F2.6 found on the Galaxy S3. In fact, when used in the night mode, the device matches the HTC One and the Lumia 920.

The video performance is equally good and we recorded clear and sharply focussed FullHD videos from the device.

Falls short on battery life: The Exynos 5 Octa processor in the Galaxy S4 is supposed to provide very good battery life. But in our use we found the Galaxy S4 to have poor battery life. On full charge, the device lasted a little over 12 hours (with around 3 and half hours of screen on time) when used with 3G connection with a lot of web browsing, social networking, emails and some calls. This is enough to provide full-day smartphone experience but falls short of the battery life HTC One, iPhone 5, and Galaxy Note II offer.

We are sure that battery life can be improved if you turn off several features and sensors that you don't need but that defeats the purpose of buying the Galaxy S4.

Worth its price? The Galaxy S4 has a price of Rs 41,500, making it cheaper than the HTC One by over Rs 1000 and cheaper than iPhone 5 by over Rs 4,000. This is a good price and if you are out in the market looking for a powerful and feature-rich smartphone, Galaxy S4 should definitely be your first choice.

As a total package, the device is undoubtedly better than iPhone 5. Compared to the HTC One, the answer is not definite. Galaxy S4 is a more flexible device with superior camera, better multi-media performance and some unique features that are really useful. The HTC One, however, has better battery life and a much better design. The HTC phone also has more internal storage (though no support for microSD card). Between these two, it is all about what is important to you. Camera or design? Flexibility or polish? Battery life or features like multi-window? All we can say is that whether you chose the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, you won't go wrong.

Pros: Slim and light, powerful hardware, very good screen, fantastic camera, useful features like S Health and multi-window

Cons: Poor battery life, TouchWiz not as elegant as default Android UI, shell made of glossy plastic, only 8.8GB internal storage available to users

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