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Inspect-a-gadget: Samsung Galaxy S4

Updated August 28, 2013
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Headset Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 Headset Pictured. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo
Samsung Galaxy S4 pictured with accessories provided. — Bilal Brohi Photo

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the Korean brand’s most powerful device yet. It boasts specs that would make most smartphones question the reason for their existence and is successor to Samsung’s best selling smartphone to date, the Galaxy S3.

Granted, the much awaited and hotly anticipated S4 has big shoes to fill, but after spending a week with it, I feel this device has the capability needed, to be able to step up to the challenge. However, this particular phone comes with too many unnecessary whistles and bells of sorts.

It feels as if the gimmickry is in place to compensate for the lack of something else. In reality, this phone can only show its efficiency and capability once you get rid of all the excess baggage that you will never need.

The S4 is a robust device with a beautiful display, but is it worth the price tag?

Design

The S4 is similar to the S3, among other Galaxy products in design, but better. It has the same round-edge rectangular look with a chrome trim wrapped around the edges, housing the power button to the right, 35mm audio jack on top, the volume rocker to the left and micro-USB port at the bottom.

It’s remarkable, that Samsung has managed to make the phone lighter, faster and narrower while increasing the screen size from 4.8 inches to a full 5 inches on the S4. It also deserves to be said that although it’s lighter and narrower, it feels like more of a premium phone, build wise, than its predecessor.

Unlike its nemesis, the S4 has a removable battery, under the detachable plastic cover, a feature applauded by a surprising amount of people. I personally don’t think much of it; I’d rather have a fixed metal finished back cover that represents the feel of the price tag it carries like say, the HTC One.

Micro-SD storage and Micro-SIM ports are placed adjacent to each other, above the battery and beneath the LED Flash. Other manufacturers use a nifty tray that houses the SIM or external storage and slides into the profile of the phone.

Display

The Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen boasts a 1080 x 1920 resolution, coughing up a mind blowing 441 pixels per inch (ppi). There is absolutely no problem under direct sunlight, or any other surrounding.

The display on the S4 has to be without a doubt the best screen Samsung has ever put into production. Adjusting the brightness is as easy as pulling the notification menu down and making your choice; alternatively you could select the auto-mode that adapts according to your surroundings.

The incredible pixel density can really be put to the test while reading long documents. Generally when you view an entire page worth of text on a phone, the words tend to blur, but not here: the text is sharp and very readable even from a distance without having to zoom in.

Usability

Samsung has a whole array of features lined up to enhance user experience with the S4.

‘Air view’ allows you to preview before selecting while hovering over different areas of the screen, you can essentially preview information or numbers before you choose to click on them. We saw this feature in the Galaxy Note 2 as well, only difference is that previously it was dependant on the S pen.

‘Air gesture’ enables users to scroll web pages in screen size jumps through air jump. The user can also move between pictures, pages or music tracks via air browse. You could wave your hand over the screen to accept incoming calls. All of these tricks sound great but are not as functional as I would have hoped.

‘Smart stay’ ensures that the screen stays on as long as you are looking at it. Smart rotation adjusts the display direction to the angle of your sight and Smart pause makes sure that the video will pause when it detects that you are facing away from the screen. Again, this sounds great but if more than one person is watching the video or you happen to be a multi-tasking while doing something else this feature falls flat since you do not want your eye movement to interrupt the process.

‘Smart scroll’ is meant to detect your eye movement with the front camera so you can scroll pages by tilting your head or the device. It may not work when the front camera fails to detect your eyes, when the source of light is behind you or in dark situations. It will also not work when the device is shaking, or you are interacting with the device in other ways such as tapping the screen or using palm motions.

S beam can be used to transfer files through Wi-Fi as oppose to Bluetooth on Android beam resulting in quicker transfer speeds. The S4 can also be set up as a Wi-Fi hotspot for others to share internet usage. In Pakistan this would be very expensive since most of us do not have unlimited mobile data plans.

WatchON and S Health

Samsung has developed applications that will integrate your lifestyle with your S4. Through an infra-red blaster located on the top of your phone WatchON can act as your universal remote with separate devices setup in different rooms of the house.

Those of you like me who spend entirely too much time looking for the TV remote will be very satisfied with this setup. For once you can actually call the remote to see where it rings and additionally, you can customize it with as many setups as one may have in their house. The bedroom, TV lounge etcetera can all be saved as presets and with the touch of your fingertip you’re in control.

WatchON takes it up a notch by allowing you to control not just TV but the set-top box, dvd player, AV receiver, Streaming media player and blu-ray player.

Furthermore, you can have programs chosen or recommended for you. This feature again does not work so well in Pakistan because of the lack of digitization with respect to cable operators; most of us do not have access to on demand television.

S Health is a new application that keeps track of your weight, comfort, calorie intake and movement. Once you feed in the necessary information the application tracks how many steps you’ve taken and puts it in perspective with how many calories are burnt and how much a person with your particulars should exercise daily.

Processor and Memory

The Galaxy S4 comes with two separate configurations depending on where you live for the most part. We got the S4 with the Exynos 5 Octa 5410 chip which has two quad-core processors, 1.6GHz Cortex-A15 and 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7. The other setup comprises of a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip. The latter is available throughout North America and other parts of the world where LTE is available.

There is no lack of power here. You can easily multi-task while streaming video, surfing the internet and reading documents. Every game that I have played has felt better than before, while background apps are not the cause for any problems, which is a first.

Generally if I do not restart a phone or flush background apps for a few days, I can notice the device eventually starts to lag and then hang. On the contrary, this phone takes everything head on and still asks for more - the 2GB of RAM available is plenty.

Camera

The S4’s main camera has a whopping 13 Mega pixel sensor bundled with an entourage of tweaking options. There is an endless list of filters and effects apart from settings for sports, outdoor, landscape, indoor, portrait, low light and High Dynamic Range (HDR).

Geo-tagging, touch focus, smile detection and image stabilization are also on board to assist the shutterbug most people become once they get their hands on a smartphone with a decent shooter.

The front facing camera has a 2MP sensor; both cameras are capable of recording HD video - the quality maxes out at 1080p and 30 frames per second (fps).

Dual video call and recording is new to the Galaxy series. This function allows you to use the main camera and super-impose footage from the front facing camera into a frame which you can reposition and resize accordingly.

The S4 allows you to do a fair amount of post-production on images before you choose to share them. All the bundled effects and filters are easy to use and fun to play with. Regardless of the situation around you the camera will supersede your expectations.

It must be said that the Super AMOLED display does add some superficial life to pictures which was not there once they were transferred to other devices. As commendable as the camera is, I think image reproduction should be as natural as possible so it’s not misleading for the photographer.

The Verdict

No doubt, the folks at Samsung have outdone themselves; the technology available on the Galaxy S4 is proof of the fact. The mind numbing display, processor and camera can almost justify the expense by themselves. However, similar to my reservations with the automotive industry sidelining leather interiors for plastic, I wish that Samsung would downplay their use of materials that feel inconsistent to the price tag they carry.

Definitely among the top 3 phones available in the world today, the Samsung’s Galaxy S4 boasts specs and features that could perhaps only be matched by the HTC One at this point, but irrespective of what your pick is between the two your money would be well spent.