A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of using the HTC One and when my time with it was up I just knew what phone I had to get next. It just had to be the Samsung Galaxy S4. I had heard a lot of fuss online about the build quality and the plasticy nature of the S4 so when I opened the box up I was pleasantly surprised, the S2 or the original Note are what I’d call plasticy, the S4 from the front and the sides looks nice. Although saying that the backplate of the S4 is an odd choice for such a premium priced product, it really lowers the tone of the S4.
Design wise I really quite liked the S4, I own an Ativ S and a Note II. I found the S4 to be very similar to the Ativ S, it was like a more refined higher spec version running Android.
There were a few things I wanted to try out with the Galaxy S4, the camera mainly, the TV IR Blaster, a brief play with the Nature UI and then some of the “features” that Samsung had installed.
Having used many Samsung Galaxy phones over the years I thought I was prepared for what was to come when I turned it on. Each successive generation of Galaxy devices gets more and more “features” that are all enabled out of the box. But with the S4 the setup process was quite intensive. It would have been quite daunting for a new Android user. My Android devices are rather minimal in their setup, I have a few icons, a nice clock and sometimes a full screen weather widget. So turning on the Galaxy S4 during my lunch break was a bit much for me. Once I was at home and had time I set about the task of adding the dozens of different accounts that I’d need for my daily grind.
The main thing I wanted to try out was the camera and it is great, but it is a little fiddly. In use it doesn’t feel as intuitive as the camera on the HTC One, with many of the settings and options being hidden away within sub-menus. I particularly liked the Auto Macro mode on the camera and the auto focus as well, although you can tap to focus as well. I’m one of those people who tend to photograph stuff very close up. Pictures are nice and sharp when inspected on a pc. There are a lot of software features included in the camera such as person removal, burst mode, adding sound to photos, night mode and they all work, they just don’t feel easy to use. You want to just get the camera out use it and then worry about editing afterwards. In low light the S4 seem to struggle a bit, producing grainy shots.
Below are a selection of images I’ve taken with the S4.
The software features on the Galaxy S4 seemed a little odd, the launcher feels like it is designed for a smaller phone, with the 4×4 icon grid on a 5″ screen just feeling strange, I prefer the 5×5 grid on the Note II. The software also is a two edged sword, Samsung have installed a whole pile of software out of the box and because of that the internal storage is a little lacking. If the Galaxy S4 was a 32GB model it really wouldn’t matter. Yes apps can be disabled or hidden but they’re still taking up space.
I quickly installed an alternative launcher on the Galaxy S4 and barely ever used any of the Samsung apps, I think I’d quite like the Google Edition with stock Android on it. More so than I’d like a Google Edition HTC One as the HTC software added useful features such as social media integration into the contacts app. The Samsung additions just take up space and get in the way.
The IR Blaster is a nice addition, I’m really liking the ability to control my TV and Sky+ box from the comfort of my sofa without having to reclaim the remote from my wife.
Battery life on the Galaxy S4 was ok, it seemed to last longer than the HTC One but still not enough for me to get through the day. I use my phones a lot though so unless you spend the whole day sending and receiving emails, loitering on Twitter, Google+ and Instagram and checking your RSS feeds like your life depends on it, then I imagine you’ll make it through the day. Being able to put a new battery in as well is really handy.
Overall I really liked the Samsung Galaxy S4, with a little work it is a really handy device, more so than the HTC One, mainly because I really like the Samsung menu, back and home buttons, if all app developers added support within the app for a settings option the menu button wouldn’t be an issue, but when using the HTC One the 3 dots appearing at the bottom of the screen was infuriating. If you’re willing to install and set up alternative launchers, possibly root it and uninstall the bloat and generally spend time configuring the Galaxy S4 I could see this being an ideal device.
I suppose at some point I should mention the memory card and removable battery issue. These two features really add to the usability of the Galaxy S4. You can get a spare battery or two and a battery charging dock, meaning you’ll never have to plug the Galaxy S4 in ever again. Much the same way as have done with my Note II.
So which next generation 1080p device am I going to get? I don’t yet know, I’ve still to try a few out. For me I’d say the HTC One and Galaxy S4 are pretty much neck and neck. Both have good and bad points that balance out. Lastly I should say thanks to Vodafone for lending me the Samsung Galaxy S4 and if you’re interested you can get one from them here.