It’s fair to say that Samsung’s success with the Galaxy S3 has been nothing short of astonishing. The handset even gave the lauded iPhone 5 a run for it’s money in terms of pure numbers, and for good reason.
Great performance, a slim plastic (sorry Samsung, polycarbonate) shell and a great camera along with some features such as ‘smart stay’ not featured in other Android handsets. Since it’s launch, the S3 has been regarded as one of the best, and certainly the most popular Android handsets.
So how does the successor to this behemoth hold up? Will you actually use any of the new features Samsung announced? Read on for my thoughts on the Korean giant’s latest flagship.
(NB – there are two reasons I will be mentioning the HTC One a lot during this review.
1) It’s a direct competitor for the S4 for many, and both are recent Android ‘flagships’.
2) I own one, so have had enough time to compare them properly and fairly.)
It’s fair to say this is a point of some debate on the Galaxy S4. Yes, it’s very much like the Galaxy S3. It has Polycarbonate casing, where other phones are using metal contruction (such as the HTC One). It is light and durable, but there’s no denying it feels cheap. When paying £580 for a phone (more than the 16gb iPhone 5) I would expect a more premium feel. The design itself also feels rather out of date. That’s not to say it poor, because this is not an ugly handset, but we’ve seen it all before. There are subtle differences between this and the S3, but blink and you’ll miss them.
If I had to mention one reason to buy this phone, and give the one reason people will buy this phone, it would be the screen. Superlatives fail me. It’s astonishingly beautiful. I’ve often joked that the Galaxy S3 is an average phone tacked on to an amazing screen. I don’t think this is necessarily the case with the S4 but the screen is certainly the stand out feature. It’s beautiful.
The combination of saturated colours, thin bezel and lots and lots of pixels means everything just looks terrific. I currently own the HTC One, and there are pluses and minuses for both screens, I’d say they end up being about as good as each other. Both are amazing, for different reasons.
The HTC One looks marginally sharper, and with more accurate whites, whereas the S4 has that over-saturation and better blacks which AMOLED tech is famous for, and is slightly larger. (Both screens are 1080p, the S4 is 5.0 inches at 441 ppi, the HTC One is 4.7, giving 469 ppi – both thrashing the iPhone’s ‘retina display’)
These points are only really noticeable when comparing directly, whichever phone you choose, you won’t be disappointed with the screen.
Performance is a big deal for me. I’m impatient. I was therefore, slightly surprised to find the Galaxy S4 felt quite sluggish at first. Part of this is by design (Samsung introduce more animations when doing various operations) and part of it is just strange. For example, Samsung’s home button (and this applied to the S3 too) when pressed once introduces an intentional delay, just to check you’re not going to press it a second time to invoke S-Voice. this means every time the user goes back to the home screen and doesn’t want to use S-Voice (the majority of the time I would suggest) they are waiting for no reason. This is not good UI design. It is possible to turn off this functionality, so the home button always goes straight to home with no delay, but it shouldn’t be there in the first place. Naughty Samsung.
Also, comparing directly to HTC’s flagship, application performance is not as snappy. Apps took noticabley longer to open, and there were occasional pauses which I don’t see on my HTC One. The camera also feels much slower, but more on that later.
Also, placing a call, selecting a contact etc? All faster on the HTC One.
Battery life was good on the Galaxy S4. It’s always difficult to review battery life, since once user’s usage pattern will vary from another’s, but the S4 would comfortably last a day of usage (approx 7am to 11pm) whereas my HTC One *just* lasts a day. This makes sense given the S4 has a 2600mAh battery, as opposed to the HTC One’s 2300mAh effort.
The camera is fairly easy to sum up. It’s the same as the S3 but with more pixels. It feels the same to use, has the same overall great results, and has lots of new features you’ll probably never use. Seriously, I can’t think of a single use case where I want to remove passers by from a photo. The ‘eraser’ mode has to be selected in advance. If I knew someone was going to walk in front of my photo, why not just wait until they’e done so and then take the picture? I’ve never needed this feature with a point and shoot, nor do I need it on my smartphone. Beauty face just makes it look like someone has rubbed vaseline all over your mush, sound and shot just makes me wonder why I didn’t just take a video.. you get the idea. Buy the S4 because it is a competent camera, not because of these gimmicks. I didn’t find any of them particularly useful (burst shot is easily the most useful to me, and doesn’t even get it’s own menu!).
Some sample pictures and a video from the S4 can be found here, stay tuned for a camera comparison between the S4, HTC One, Nexus 4 and Nokia 808.
No problems here, callers were able to hear me, and me them, loud and clear. Both on headset and loudspeaker. Music sounded great, although I did miss Beats audio from my HTC One. I’m sure the same could easily be achieved using a downloaded player and tweaking the EQ settings though.. I didn’t use Samsung’s stock music player, because I’ve never liked the design, and I use Google Music for everything anyway.
The Touchwiz conundrum
People say iOS needs a makeover.. TouchWiz is just horrid. In terms of functionality it works fine, but the design language was awful a year ago and nothing has changed for the better. This is personal taste, for sure, but I can’t help think the sharper screen has made it look even worse. From the cartoony icons, to the horrible fonts, it’s all just fairly ‘my first smartphone’.
To illustrate this point I’ve attached some screenshots, from the Galaxy S4, then the HTC One.
First up is the messaging app
Now the phone dialler
You get the idea.
I liked the Samsung Galaxy S4 a lot. The screen is wonderful, and I found myself switching to it every time I needed to check out a YouTube clip or a film trailer. I can’t say the same for the rest of the device however. Yes, having a removable battery and an SD card slot is great, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of a premium feel handset, and performance on a phone this expensive (and with these specs) should be blazing. I’m not talking about benchmarks, I’m talking about real world use. There’s not point having the fastest CPU out there, if the software running slows it down. This seems like something Samsung can fix, but will they? I don’t know.
For many, the choice will be between the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. For me personally, the better construction, faster performance and more useful (if lower resolution) camera have won me over. If battery life, a terrific screen, higher resolution camera and maybe a lighter handset are all important to you, consider the Galaxy S4.
I’m happy to answer any questions relevant to this review, use my contact details which can be found beneath each of my posts.
Thanks for reading!