Samsung Galaxy S4 Android Smartphone - Is It The Greatest Phone Ever? (Part 1)

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 ($699) is the most hotly anticipated smartphone ever from the Korean brand, and with a glut of top end features, it’s the most powerful and desirable device Samsung has created yet. One of the most impressive things about the phone is the fact the size hasn’t changed from its predecessor - the Galaxy S4 comes in at 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm, meaning there’s no extra heft to try and work with in your palm.

However, the screen on the S4 has been increased once more, to a whopping 5-inch display with Full HD resolution. Let’s not pretend that Samsung is a pioneer in this area though; like a great many features of the Galaxy S4, the phone borrows a lot from the other top smartphones of the moment. Both the Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One have screens that rock the same resolution, but neither of them have the jaw-dropping clout of the Super AMOLED HD screen on offer here. On top of that, there’s a much faster processor packed under the hood, ample storage, and the likes of 4G/LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and pretty much any other connection you care to mention on board...

Samsung has added eye-tracking technology to the S4

The design of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is impressive. Where its predecessor felt a little bit cheap in the hand, the S4 manages to bring a much more solid build and better construction to boot. This is thanks to the sub-8mm thickness, and at 130g the S4 manages to still be light without shaving off so much heft that you feel like you’ve got a cheap piece of plastic.

In the hand, the Samsung Galaxy S4 feels much better than any other Samsung phone we’ve felt. The screen’s increase to closer to the sides of the phone means a much narrower bezel, and the effect is certainly impressive. It might look very similar to the S3, but when you take the Samsung Galaxy S4 up close, you really start to appreciate the nuances.

Button positioning has barely changed from before, though; the power button has been shifted slightly on the right-hand side, and is now much easier to hit. Samsung has clearly learned some lessons from the Galaxy Note 2.

the power button has been shifted slightly on the right-hand side, and is now much easier to hit.

the power button has been shifted slightly on the right-hand side, and is now much easier to hit.

The volume key is less easy to hit, and could be lower down in our eyes, but the travel on both of these buttons is satisfying, and you’ll always know when you’ve hit them. The plastic used on the home key has been upgraded too, with a more solid feel under the thumb when you press down to get back to the main home screen.

There are loads of sensors on the front of the phone above the screen, and include cameras to track your eyes, a 2MP camera for HD video calling and a proximity sensor for knowing when the phone is close to your ear. On the darker models this is less of an issue, but on the white review unit we had, their presence looks rather ugly either side of the generous earpiece.

The other notable addition to the design of the Galaxy S4 is the infrared blaster on the top of the phone. This allows you to control your TV, satellite box, DVD player, amp and even air conditioner, according to the reviewer notes. Again, this isn’t a new feature, but it works well in practice and despite being small is powerful enough.

The other notable addition to the design of the Galaxy S4 is the infrared blaster on the top of the phone.

The other notable addition to the design of the Galaxy S4 is the infrared blaster on the top of the phone.

Screen and interface

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has an all-new screen, and well state it now: the Samsung Galaxy S4 has the best display you can find on a smartphone. It’s the same Super AMOLED technology used in other Galaxy smartphones, but this time it’s been cranked up to Full HD resolution, which is 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. It might not be as high resolution as the HTC One, simply because it’s larger with the same amount of pixels, but viewed up close you’ll struggle to find a flaw with it.

You can change the brightness from the notification bar by sliding your finger up and down the screen - but if you want to make things easier you can just tag the Auto button and have the Galaxy S4 working away at deciding the optimum brightness for you.

Another feature, which is both good and bad, is the improved capacitive technology used in the screen. This is designed to ape a feature brought by Nokia on the Lumia 920, which allows the user to wear gloves and still use the phone - which will be a key feature to those in colder climes, who like to wear gloves for sport or similar.

The interface on the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t an officially new release of TouchWiz, the Korean brand’s name for its Android overlay, but it does bring a whole host of new features to the Galaxy range, working best on the S4.

It’s built on top of Android Jelly Bean 4.2, which means there are several significant upgrades from the previous version, found on most of the other top-end Galaxy devices and, crucially, ahead of the likes of the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z.

Performance and power

When it comes to performance, considering that this phone is running the quad-core Qualcomm 600 chip, clocked at 1.9GHz and combined with 2GB of RAM, we would have expected this phone to run faster than anything we’d ever seen before.

While that is true for the most part, it’s only a touch faster than we’ve seen on the Galaxy S3. Apps will open and close faster, but elements like the time taken to open the multi-taking menu (triggered by holding down the home key from anywhere in the phone) still take a beat to activate.

While that is true for the most part, it’s only a touch faster than we’ve seen on the Galaxy S3

One area that has been changed massively from S3 to S4 is the lock screen. Firstly, there’s a new way to mess around with this UI: where once you could only touch the screen and watch the water ripple around, now you can choose to have your touch trigger a little light that hovers under your finger.

Combined with the S4’s improved screen technology that’s been super-boosted, in terms of sensitivity, to allow you to use gloves with it, you can now hold your finger a centimeter or so above the display and watch the light flicker along under your digit. It’s not a big thing, but one that we found ourselves constantly playing with like tiny children.

The lock screen, thanks to the Android 4.2 update, now allows you to have widgets on there before you open the phone, allowing music control, remotes to display and messages to preview.

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