Samsung Galaxy S4: Hands on review, price, release date info

Reviews Richard Goodwin 17:06, 18 Apr 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4- we go hands on with the biggest Android handset of the year

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is finally here featuring Android Jelly Bean 4.2, reams of processing power, a brand new camera setup, and a gorgeous 4.99-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display. But was it worth the wait?

If you were expecting something vastly different from the Galaxy S3 then you might be a tad disappointed. The Galaxy S4 looks a lot like the Galaxy S3. Now that’s not  necessarily a bad thing so long as you like Samsung’s design language, don’t mind plastic, and thought the Galaxy S3 was awesome in every conceivable way.

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Design

If you’re after something more premium-looking like the HTC One, then it might not be what you’re looking for. It’s Samsung through-and-through and that means lots of plastics, great visuals but rather a lot to be desired when it comes to build materials. It’s not ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s no HTC One.

There are subtle differences between the Galaxy S4 and its predecessor. Its larger and has a vastly superior 4.99-inch Full HD display. 

The front and back are decked out in traditional black and feature a rather attractive mesh-like finish, though this is a pattern not a physical texture. Again it’s plastic but Samsung’s decision to turn its back on nature, or pebbles, and produce a handset using more traditional colouring does wonders for the device’s overall aesthetics. There is also a white version available.

Exact measurements for the device are: 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm and it weighs just 130g, making it significantly lighter than its predecessor. 

The Galaxy S4 does not break any new ground. It’s a refined version of the Galaxy S3. But that’s okay. It's a smart business move. The S3 was a great handset, lots of people loved it, and many, many more bought it. Why go and screw that formula up? It doesn’t make any sense.

Surely, it’s more logical to add a few new features, tighten up the design, whack in a new processor, and add a better display? That’s what’s happened here and we’re neither surprised or perturbed if we’re honest. I liked the Galaxy S3, despite its jarringly plastic finish, and I like this handset, too.

Want cutting edge design? Get the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, or Apple’s upcoming iPhone 6. For everybody else - AKA the majority - the Galaxy S4 will do just nicely. 

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Processor and RAM

Powering everything along is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor alongside 2GB of RAM. It might not be the Exynos octo-core everyone was hoping for, but at 1.9GHz the clockspeed is going to offer plenty of bang for your buck. More to the point, benchmarks of other phones packing this chip at slower clockspeeds showed it to be the fastest chip on the current market.

The main point of all this is to ensure the Galaxy S4 can utilise all the fancy new features Samsung has added to it and to enable it to run the most up-to-date and intensive apps and games without breaking a sweat. 

In terms of general operation, it's business as usual - there's more than enough power here for navigating Android's TouchWiz-clad, widget-bedecked screens without so much as even the slightest hiccup. But then, we'd expect nothing less.

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Display

The 4.99-inch panel has a Full HD 1920x1080 pixel resolution at around 440 ppi. Visuals were extremely detailed and easily on a par with what we’ve seen on the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z in terms of clarity. Samsung has a good handle on display brightness, colour depth and contrast so none of these areas disappoint either.

Samsung Galaxy S4 - UX

TouchWiz remains largely the same although Samsung has packed it with a myriad of new features that include an IR blaster, Air Gesture control, a pedometer, Smart Switch, and a whole load more.

Air Gesture lets you hover your finger over items on screen to interact with them and to navigate certain sections of the interface with a wave of a hand or digit.

Ahead of launch we were a bit sceptical about the rumoured Smart Scroll feature which lets you navigate web pages by glancing up and down the screen. But, having tried it, it's actually quite fun to use, though we're sure many users will simply stick to swiping.

Disqus - noscript

Keen on hearing about the battery life with all the extras that this new model has. I watched the live stream, and its impressive, but i was hoping for 2800mah or better, and to remain slim fit.

All that extra??????? What extras are you referring to. It's samsung's version of galaxy s3s. If you know what I mean.

Extreme Ugly

The battery, bar the display, is arguably the best part of the S4 - it's a 2600 cell. It should be decent - although TouchWiz is a cruel mistress. Plus all that bloatware... I'm sticking with Nexus for now, thanks

It looks great, if you don't like it, don't buy it.

Motorola has had a 3300 battery in a slim phone for over a year so how is 2600 that great? As light as this phone is, they should have gone to at least 2900

You would have to be nuts,if you walked into a phone shop,and chose this over the the beautiful HTC One.I'm going with David,not Golliath this year.HTC have put their hearts and souls into making their new flagship,whereas Samsung's dominance has made them stagnate and get complacent.I'm sure the masses will buy this crap in droves,just as the same masses bought CrApple phones before whilst I bought The S,S2 etc.,but Samsung have become too big now.It's marketing that drives this company's success not innovation.They have become the establishment,and that just isn't cool in my book.By supporting the little guy in HTC,maybe a sales reduction will hit Samsung and they will come back with a killer handset next year.Competition,is ultimately good for us as the consumer,not one company's dominance...Well done HTC,with a relatively tiny R&D budget you've created a masterpiece...

2600 is an improvement on the GS3's setup - that's pretty good. Combined with the new chipset overall battery performance should be a lot better, at least in theory. 3300 batteries are great, I agree, but would that alone make me get a Motorola handset over an iPhone, Nexus 4, or GS4? Absolutely not.

An amazing bit of kit with incredible hardware considering the size of it. It's way more powerful than my laptop i'm currently typing on. Begs to ask - is all that hardware really necessary? Will S3 users be convinced to cough up for the extra power? IMO a dual core phone is ample to send a text message!!

I love all Samsung products, even if I can't afford one... What I don't like about Samsung is that it tries to outsmart Google's products. An example is the S-Voice, Samsung replaces Google's Google Now with its S-Voice. And now the S Translate... So, meaning to say, Samsung replaces Google's major features, why don't Samsung just remain Google's products instead of creating their own? I think Google has to be afraid of Samsung.. Could Samsung just concentrate to apps/features that has never been released? I read about it in an article from the internet.. Sorry for that, but I will still love all Samsung's products, because they are really smart.. From refridgerators to phones, TVs, and cameras, nothing beats Samsung (except for the price, because I cant afford one :)).

Samsung uses plastics instead of metal because Samsung wants a lighter one to make it more durable when you accidentally fell the device.. I think Samsung uses the best plastics out there. Plastics don't pull me down, so plastics are okay for me..

Not just that, Plastic composite have actually come a long way and the expensive ones possesses thermal, flexural (especially flexural) and tensile strength that can rival that of most metals.

Of course I doubt if Samsung uses the expensive plastic, but then again, Aluminium is in fact one of the cheapest AND weaker AND softer metal. So there is nothing to gloat about there either. So let's go in with your eyes open and know that in terms of materials used, the plastics used by samsung is actually more scratch resistant and flexible than aluminium. Notice how most aluminium phone dents and scuff after a while? Even cheap watches have that problem. So unless you are getting one built with stainless/high speed steel, there is really not much to dwell on and the other factors are much more important.

:P Beautiful? :P perhaps, for beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and HTc One this time is no slouch. And I admit that Samsung has been lazy with the exterior design of S4, although they did spend some thought on incremental improvement, they seems to have focused mostly in the interior. I will give HTC One a win this time in terms of aesthetics .. basically because they tried to be different and came up with something respectable.

But the point is, phone is more than exterior. And while S4 remain true to S3 design, it is still not a mediocre design as it in itself have great merit. So to say that it is crap just shows your hidden agenda .. or your limitation in vocabulary or both.

As for HTC dismal performance, they only have themselves to blame, for copying the Ifruity company in placing so many limits on their phone and not giving their customer what they want. For android, it is about customisation AND choice.

But HTC took away so many of the choices (removable battery, SD card just to name the big two, there are others such as sticking to the old old limit of 2GB for apps when the new android version allows apps to use ALL the storage space etc etc etc) and also made multiple critical mistake such as coming up with such half assed task killing setting in One X that effectively kills the multi tasking. So HTC have no one to blame but themselves for their lousy performance.

And this time, sadly, the benchmark and photo performance of HTC One is still not as good as S4, not to mention the functions. So In terms of aesthetics, and if you just want a phone to gloat and show off, HTC One will be good for that, as it is well designed AND new .. so there is alway the novelty factor. But if you are looking for good old solid performance and range of functions, then S4 should be the serious contender.

obviously biased :P unless you said the same thing for S3 when it came out :P

that is the ugly side of competition :P

seems to be good from the other reviews.

:P did you not read? the improvement over the softwares and features are a lot more than the lousy improvements that the so called iFruit sufficed phone bring.

Hi guys, thanks for commenting :).

Our issue with Samsung's plastics doesn't have anything to do with durability - it's more to do with the look and feel of the device in the hand and how that sits with our idea of getting value for your money on a £500 flagship.

For it to be made of plastic which looks and feels worse than Nokia's bottom-of-the-range Lumia - that speaks volumes.

We're not averse to plastic phones generally. There are plenty of very well-made premium plastic devices on the market.

will the S4 time stamp photos? I have S3 and hate that it doesn't

im sick of articles saying the s4 is no HTC one when it comes to looks making it sound the htc is better looking ,in my opinion the HTC is ugly

More like you would have to be nuts to buy an HTC One. 2 Buttons instead of 3 so they can place their LOGO there. HTC Sense that messed with different UI settings just for the sake of it, making it less efficient in the process (touchwiz looks just as bad but it is less intrusive in terms of usability). A non-removable battery that is small. No sd-card slot. Yes the HTC One looks better but it is not more durable and in terms of hardware/features HTC can only trade off or lose. There is nothing that it is clearly superior to the S4 in, but there is a lot that the S4 is clearly superior to the One in.

But the S4 battery is REMOVABLE. So if after a year or 2 the battery craps out you can get another one for cheap. You can also carry a second battery and get 5200 mah or more. Yes 2900 beats 2600 but in the motorola it is not removable.

So you dont like a phone thats pretty much immune from bent metal or smashed glass?

Sad.

This is not a reliable review, S4 actually uses Exynos 5 Octa (1.6-1.8 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7, which is double the amount of cores of S3. Also, the CPU speed is 0.2 GHZ higher. The camera is 13 megapixel which is 5 megapixel higher than S3, the RAM is twice as big, and the screen is bigger. This review keeps on recommending you to buy Sony Xperia, I guess the reviewer is anti Samsung. The full HD screen is so amazing you do not realize whether you are looking through a 'screen'. S4 has significant changes from its predecessor, and this review just downgrades it.

We do list it as having a 13-megapixel camera. Also, this is a UK site, so we report from a UK perspective. The only model which has been confirmed for the UK is the Qualcomm-powered variant. We haven't said anything about it having less RAM than you mention. Your comments about the display being amazing apply just as much to the Xperia Z, so it is a valid comparison.

As we've said before, we don't mind plastic phones, it's just Samsung's implementation of plastic is unpleasant. It's durable, but it's ugly and distinctly non-premium, many other manufacturers have shown it can be done better. I'd also dispute the idea that just because a phone is made from metal or glass means it's more liable to damage.

Correct front camera is 2 mp and the rear is 13 mp

S4 finishing is high tech polycarbon, which is far better than Apple's cheap aluminum.

Again, we're not disputing its durability, that's never been an issue. It's the aesthetic and tactile properties which we find lacking, which are a very important component of smartphone satisfaction.

Your argument about the look in feel quickly disappears the minute you put a case on. Hmmm and you got to admit , how many puts a protective case on an expensive phone? I think just about everybody I know. You're obviously biased such doing a poor job of being objective reviewing the product.

Is it really that much to expect a premium product to come with a premium finish out of the box? It's £500! That's a lot of money. Yes, putting a cover on makes a difference, of course it does. Perhaps then when Ferrari puts out a new car they should make it from cheap materials because everyone will put a bodykit on it? No, they don't do that, because it would be insane.

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