The Samsung Galaxy S4 is here, and it is on track to become one of the top-selling phones, ever. But is it really that much better than the Galaxy S3?
We've compared the two phones to see if this is an upgrade worth spending money on.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 – Video Comparison
If you want a closer look at these phones without having to read a bunch of text, have a watch of our video comparison below, complete with a side-by-side look at these mobiles.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 – Design
Galaxy S4 – Plastic rear, Gorilla Glass 3 front, removable rear cover
Galaxy S3 – Plastic rear, Gorilla Glass 2 front, removable rear cover
Like its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S4 features a plastic body, rather than the ceramic and metal bods you’ll find on some rivals.
However, clever improvements to the design let the phone fit in a larger screen while making the Galaxy S4’s bod smaller. It’s the same height as the Galaxy S3, a teeny bit less wide and almost 1mm thinner. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a fair old amount when you’re slimming down from under 9mm to under 8mm.
The S4 is super-slim
The feel of the phone is not a massive improvement, though. The glossy plastic rear of these Galaxy phones isn’t super high-end, and neither phone feels quite as snazzy as the aluminium-bodied HTC One.
A key benefit of using a slim battery cover rather than featuring a unibody design is that you get access to the battery – with both these phones.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 originally shipped in black and white finishes. However, Samsung has just announced a bunch more. Blue, purple, red, brown and pink versions are on their way – although as yet we’ll have to wait to see how many actually make it to shops in the UK.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has shipped in a wide variety of shades, including blue, red, black and white. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung started making other colours further down the line.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 – Storage
Galaxy S4 – 16/32/64GB, with microSD
Galaxy S3 – 16/32/64GB, with microSD
One of the most geek-friendly aspects of the top Galaxy phones is their continued use of microSD memory card slots throughout the range. This lets you cheaply and easily expand the memory of both the Galaxy S4 and S3. You’ll find the microSD slot under the battery cover, by the SIM slot.
Having a memory card slot ensures that the higher-capacity versions of the Galaxy S4 aren’t very popular, though. Samsung makes up to 64GB versions of both the S4 and S3, but most places in the UK sell the 16GB edition exclusively. The extra cost of that internal storage just isn’t attractive when a microSD card doing more-or-less the same job is available for a fraction of the price.
The S3, naked
At present, these phones won’t let you install apps directly to the memory card slot, but Samsung has confirmed it’ll come to the Galaxy S4 in an update.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 – CPU
Galaxy S4 – Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.9GHz CPU, 2GB RAM
Galaxy S3 – Exynos 4212 quad-core 1.4GHz CPU, 1GB RAM
Before the Galaxy S4 was released, we believed it would use an eight-core processor. However, the version we have in the UK is a plain old quad-core edition.
It has a Snapdragon 600 quad-core chip, which uses the Krait architecture, and is clocked at 1.9GHz. From a pure numbers perspective, it doesn’t sound all that much more powerful than the quad-core Exynos 4212 1.4GHz processor of the Galaxy S3.
However, there is quite a gap between the two, largely down to the generational shift in processor architecture. The Cortex-A9 cores of the Galaxy S3 are 32nm in construction, the Krait cores of the S4 28nm. This enables the Krait processor to be more efficient.
Samsung Galaxy S3
The Galaxy S4 much more RAM than its predecessor, with 1GB instead of 2GB. The difference in day-to-day operation isn’t hugely obvious, as both phones are snappy, but the benchmarks show the true gap between them.
In the AnTuTu bench, the Galaxy S4 scores around 23,000 points, the Galaxy S3 around 12,000. This separation will become all the more obvious as time goes by, and the older Galaxy phone begins to age – struggling with the latest snazzy games. We’re not quite there yet, though.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 - Screen
Galaxy S4 – 1080p 5-inch Super AMOLED screen
Galaxy S3 – 720p 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen
The Galaxy S4 screen sounds like a pretty simple upgrade of the S3’s, but in person it’s a huge one. And all without any negative hardware hit, too. The Galaxy S4 squeezes-in an extra 0.2 inches of screen without making the phone any wider – by cutting down the screen bezel.
The Galaxy S3’s display – despite being ‘HD’ 720p – is visibly a little blocky thanks to the kind of display used. It has a PenTile AMOLED screen, which has an uneven pixel structure that reduces how sharp images and, in particular, text looks. There’s a fuzziness to text in the S3, which is disappointing given how much fuss was made over the phone’s screen at launch.
Is this all better in the Galaxy S4? The phone continues to use the PenTile sub-pixel array – which is at the root of the problem – but as the resolution is no much higher, it’s not noticeable. If you get your eyeball right up close to the screen, you may notice it’s a tiny bit less sharp than the non-PenTile HTC One, but in day-to-day use the S4 seems perfectly sharp.
The problem has effectively been solved.
The two Galaxy phones do tend to oversaturate colours a tad – common to many OLED-based displays, but this can be solved using a feature within Settings that reduces colour vividness. We recommend setting these phones to ‘natural’ mode.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 – Software
Galaxy S4 – Android 4.2 with TouchWiz
Galaxy S3 – Android 4.1 with TouchWiz
Samsung has introduced a bunch of new features with the Samsung Galaxy S4. These include, but are not limited to, Air Gestures, Smart Scroll, WatchON, S Translator, a redesigned camera app and Group Play.
These are gadgety extras that let you interact with the phone without touching the screen, let you replace your remote controls with an app, translate emails and texts on the fly and let you scroll through text by tilting your phone.
However, in time the Samsung Galaxy S3 will get most of these features, just as it’ll get the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean core OS that the S4 will launch with. You just need a bit of patience. The Galaxy S3 currently runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and a slightly earlier version of Samsung’s custom UI.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 - Camera
Galaxy S4 – 13-megapixel main camera, LED flash, 2-megapixel front camera
Galaxy S3 – 8-megapixel main camera, LED flash, 1.9-megapixel front camera
Samsung has given the Galaxy S4 a solid camera upgrade. It features a 13-megapixel sensor. This is in-line with the Sony Xperia Z’s snapper, but represents a big upgrade from the 8MP sensor of the Samsung Galaxy S3.
In good lighting conditions, the Galaxy S4 should produce shots with more detail than the Samsung Galaxy S3. However, as the sensor size isn’t a great deal larger than the smartphone average, it’ll struggle in low-light conditions just like most phones.
A sample shot taken with the Galaxy S3
The Samsung Galaxy S4 features a live HDR video mode, though. HDR involves merging two exposures, taking the image detail from both to create a slightly larger-than-life looking image. It’s a fantastic way to mitigate the limited photo capabilities of a phone camera when shooting stills, and should hopefully have the same effect with video.
Samsung has redesigned the interface of the camera app too, making it look a lot like the interface of the Samsung Galaxy Camera, based around feature dials you can flick around. Once again, though, the Samsung Galaxy S3 will get this at some point.
Samsung Galaxy S4 - Should You Upgrade?
The Samsung Galaxy S4 offers more power, a larger, more detailed screen and a higher megapixel-rated camera. It is a much better phone, in particular because of the higher-resolution screen. However, the Galaxy S3 is yet to age significantly so at present there’s no rush to upgrade. If you’re only entering the Galaxy series right now, though, we recommend spending the extra on an S4.