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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

Luke Johnson




Our Score:


User Score:


  • Stunning 5-inch Full HD screen
  • Vast array of features
  • Powerful quad-core processor


  • Plastic design
  • A little bit expensive
  • Limited storage space

Key Features

  • Full HD Super AMOLED 5-inch screen
  • 1.9GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • Air View and Gesture
  • Smart Pause and Scroll
  • Infra Red remote
  • Temperature and humidity sensors
  • 13 megapixel camera
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £579.99

Samsung Galaxy S4 Update - Living with the Galaxy S4

Evan Kypreosupdated by Evan Kypreos - 29/04/2014

The Samsung Galaxy S4 was released as a high-end powerhouse back in 2013, but has since been superseded by the superb Galaxy S5, which was followed itself by the Galaxy S6. While it hasn’t been the runaway success that Samsung anticipated, it’s still one of the best-selling flagship phones of all time and a worthy successor to the outstanding Galaxy S3.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 was one of the best phones of its day, but the mobile market is fast-moving and unforgiving. Two years since the S4 was released, it’s looking a little long in the tooth.

The competition at the top end of the market has been fierce. Apple’s steamrollered on with the iPhone 5S and subsequently the iPhone 6, and the likes of the LG G3 and HTC One M8 and their successors have put up a worthy fight for Android. Other manufacturers have also pitched in with surprisingly great flagship phones, most notably the Sony Xperia Z2 and the great-value Nexus 5.

Since the Galaxy S6 has taken up the mantle as Samsung’s flagship model, the S4 has been further reduced in price. It cost around £579 SIM-free at launch, but since dropping down the Galaxy pecking order it can now be picked up for just £250/$300.

So with stiff competition out there can the Samsung Galaxy S4 still hold its head high and be called the best of the best? And how does it cope with the rigors of day-to-day life?

We discuss some of the best and worst aspects of living with the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Watch the Samsung Galaxy S4 review video:

SEE ALSO: All the latest on the Samsung Galaxy S5

Next read: Best Mobile Phones

While the 1.9GHz quad-core processor is no longer one of the fastest on the market it still gives the Galaxy S4 plenty of pep. It doesn't matter what you throw at the S4, it will guzzle it down and asked for seconds.

Watching full HD video or intensive 3D gaming is a doddle, and browsing the internet or multi-tasking a breeze. Scrolling through menus is quick and smooth, with the only very occasional stutter occurring when something is updating while you’re trying to open an app at the same time.

Unfortunately there's one issue with the Samsung interface and it's that there is a split-second pause between pressing a icon, to make a call for example, and it actually initiating the process. It's not a deal-breaker but many will find it a little clunkier than stock Android phones or iPhones, which seem to register actions quicker. In addition once you've used it for a while and added a host of apps the S4 does tend to suffer from some inconsistencies such as occasional jittery performance. The Galaxy S4 Android 4.3 roll-out has improved some of these issue, however.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S4 VS S5 VS S6: Which is the right upgrade for you?

Samsung has made a number of tweaks and additions to the Galaxy S4 TouchWiz interface, the software layer that sits on top of Android. If you’re being very kind you could call Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Air View and Air Gesture innovative. If you’re being cruel you could call them gimmicky bloatware.

We found that we quickly grew tired of trying to get Smart Scroll, or any of the other apps mentioned, to work effectively enough to be worth the hassle and battery drain. They’re not quite intuitive enough and sometimes actually make using the phone trickier than when they’re turned off. Within a few weeks we had disabled them all and we’re much happier with the experience the Galaxy S4 provides.

One of the best things we found about the S4 is that you stop thinking about it. It’s a 5-inch phone that fits easily in a pocket and can be used one-handed without too much trouble. It’s dependable; the screen is one of the best in class and the performance great, other than issues we've already described. The camera is impressive but has been surpassed by the Xperia Z2, Nokia Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5S.

It does the basics well though, and the call quality is solid. When the Galaxy S4 was released it had the best stamina of any phone in its class. Yes some newcomers have come along that challenge that, but it's still more than good enough. Unfortunately some battery problems have become apparent. We broke the story about Samsung offering S4 battery replacements to affected users, but it does appear that it depends on the country you live in.

The vast majority don't suffer from this issue, however, and the battery life and quick charging alone have saved our skin on many occasions. It’s the first top-of-the-range phone we’ve used in a while that we can forget to charge the night before and still scrape a full day’s use out of. Even a dead battery shouldn’t hold you back for too long. A 15 minute charge from empty gives you up to 20% of your battery back.

If all the aspects we’ve just spoken about are what’s really important to you then the Galaxy S4 is at least as good as most of the competition and has had a price drop, significantly so since the launch of the Galaxy S5. You should probably stop reading and just go away and buy it right now.

For the rest of you let’s cover what the Galaxy S4 struggles with. It plain and simply lacks desirability and build quality. It’s like a pair of slippers. You’d just about venture to the local sweetshop with them on, but you wouldn’t want to go out to a nice restaurant. By contrast the iPhone 5S is a pair of loafers, the HTC One shiny dress shoes and the Sony Xperia Z21, to really put this simile out of its misery, flippers. All serve a purpose, but you’ll probably be as comfortable using the S4 on a daily basis as any other phone. The plastic is not quite as robust as we'd like though and you should invest in a case for it. If waterproofing is a requirement then you could opt for the Galaxy S5 which has a water-resistant rating that's a little lower than that on the Xperia Z2.

It’s mightily impressive that Samsung has managed to cram the Galaxy S4’s 5-inch screen into a body smaller, in all important aspects, than the S3’s. Let's not kid ourselves though, it's still a big phone and some will struggle with it if they're used to smaller phones.

For many this will be a minor point, however. As we’ve already mentioned on a day to day basis the Galaxy S4 just keeps doing what you need it to with aplomb. It’s solid, dependable and powerful – it just won’t make you feel sexy.

Now read on as we delve deeper into the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Check out all the Samsung Galaxy S5 release date, news, rumours, specs and price latest right here.


The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a lot to live up to. Follow-on to the Samsung Galaxy S3, the most successful Android handset to date, the Galaxy S4 pits itself against renewed efforts from old rivals as well as the ever-present threat of Apple.

Given the hype surrounding the handset’s launch, however, a period that has seen months of build-up paired with countless rumours that would be the envy of any Apple launch, Samsung’s latest flagship phone looks set to face no issues in once again storming to the top of smartphone sales charts.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 and rivals

Off the bat, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a truly impressive powerhouse smartphone. On paper, it’s Samsung’s most impressive handset to date, not least as it jumps from the 4.8-inch S3 to a 5-inch screen without any added bulk.

At 7.9mm thick, 136.6mm tall and 69.8mm wide, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is actually 0.8mm narrower and 0.7mm slimmer than the S3. It tips the scales at just 130g – 3g less than the S3 and a genuine featherweight. Unlike past models, however, it doesn’t feel unnervingly light, instead, balancing its weight evenly and reassuringly across the handset’s full length.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung hasn’t just made the screen larger. The stunning 1,920 x 1,080p Super AMOLED Samsung Galaxy S4 screen is a serious boost from the S3’s 720p screen that creates an instant wow factor. It’s arguably the best screen ever seen on a smartphone and proves the Samsung Galaxy S4 is more than a spec baiting feature fest – it’s a quality product.

But it’s far from the first phone to have a 1080p full HD display, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 faces stiffer competition than its most recent predecessor. It goes head-to-head with a reinvigorated collection of high-end Android handsets, with both the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z lining up as the best smartphones ever produced by their respective manufacturers. There’s always the looming presence of Apple and the iPhone 5, too, though if anticipation is anything to go by then Samsung’s execs won’t be losing any sleep.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Key Features Explained

What might be an issue, however, is the Samsung Galaxy S4’s less than ideal start to life. Less than a week after it was announced, Samsung backtracked on its promise to deliver the much-touted 1.6GHz Exynos 5 eight-core powered version of the phone originally pegged to hit the UK, instead sending the 1.9GHz quad-core option to British shores.

Although this revised British spec lacks the battery saving prowess promised by its eight-core sibling, it certainly has the grunt – the Samsung Galaxy S4 suffers virtually no lag, even when tackling all the heavy-duty tasks, power-hungry apps, games and multimedia content we could throw at it.

Other hardware upgrades on the Samsung Galaxy S4 follow recent Android trends. Its 13-megapixel rear-mounted camera is akin to that of the Sony Xperia Z, while 1080p Full HD video recording and an integrated flash ensure it’s equipped for any occasion.

Combined with a second, 2-megapixel snapper upfront – again with 1080p Full HD video recording at 30 frames-per-second – the S4 cameras are excellent and the new Dual Shot feature lets you make use of both cameras simultaneously.

Dual Shot lets you take a photo or shoot a video with both cameras, with the front camera view appearing as a small ‘picture-in-picture’ thumbnail. It’s largely a gimmick that won’t appeal to everyone, but for those interested, Dual Shot gives the option for more personalised tourist snaps and party shots. It’s joined by Panorama, Eraser and Animated photo options that are quick and easy to set up and use, adding a new realm of possibilities.

At its core, Samsung has paired Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with the most recent iteration of its TouchWiz UI, creating an experience that is equal measures intuitive and brimmed with high-end features and options. Indeed, it’s the Samsung Galaxy S4’s software where Samsung has innovated over the S3, and how it distinguishes itself from the competition.

See the following pages of the review for a more detailed look the numerous unique software features, such as the S Health fitness app, Smart Pause, Smart Scroll and Air Gesture

There’s a raft of premium add-ons, like NFC, 4G LTE and even IR remote control, too, and unlike the HTC One it has a built-in microSD card slot to expand the standard 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities – although actual available storage is considerably less than advertised, more on which later.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Price & Deals

All this muscle and a hearty collection of headline grabbing features come at a price, however, and in terms of the Samsung Galaxy S4 price, it’s a considerable one.

Indeed, the Samsung Galaxy S4 price exceeds Apple and the iPhone, usually the benchmark for costly smartphones, as the entry-level 16GB Samsung Galaxy S4 SIM-free price is around £580 – £50 more than the iPhone 5. It’s pricey on 24-month contracts, too – a little more expensive than its closest rivals, with some retailers offering the handsets for free when taken on a £37 per month two-year deal.

If you’re looking to buy, we suggest you look at our round-up the best Samsung Galaxy S4 deals.

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Quick Verdict

There is no getting away from the fact that this phone has more hype surrounding it than any Android device that has preceded it. Fortunately, Samsung has backed up much of this anticipation with action, offering a well-rounded, extremely powerful device that, although lacking something on the aesthetical front, is sure to impress the masses.

Given the Samsung Galaxy S4’s near identical looks to the S3 and the somewhat run of the mill hardware updates, some will argue that the handset is more of a Samsung Galaxy S3S in the vein of Apple’s incremental updates than a true S3 successor. In truth and practice, however, the handset is a whole new beast and one which far outstrips what has been, until now at least, the world’s most successful Android smartphone.

To compare the S4 against rivals, take a look at our best mobile phones 2013 round-up.

For a more detailed look at all the new features, hit the next page button below to delve deeper into our in-depth review.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Camera 9
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 10
  • Screen Quality 10
  • Usability 9
  • Value 8
Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 1:16 am

Do you have a capacity for the battery?

Simon Hughes

March 15, 2013, 7:49 am

2600mah and user repalceable ofc

Simon Hughes

March 15, 2013, 8:00 am

sad to read the article - `not and out and out game changer` - at least samsung are innovating - all apple do now is litigate.


March 15, 2013, 10:39 am

"engrained"... sp! See me after class!

On a more serious note though, these reviews always highlight the blue hue of Amoled screens when watched from an angle. Seriously though, who watches a mobile phone screen from an acute angle? Sure, it might be an issue on the very rare occasion when there's more than one person watching the screen, but mobile phone usage tends to be a very personal experience. I think more is made of this issue than necessary.


March 15, 2013, 11:47 am

Give us a break we were up all night :)

I agree with you about the acute angles. This is not anywhere near as much of an issue for mobiles as it is with TVs/laptops. As you say most of the time you'll be looking at your screen on your own so can find the sweet spots without an issue. The the blueish tinge and inaccurate colour reproduction is a problem. I'm not a fan of the oversaturation and colour reproduction from AMOLEDs and would rather sacrifice deep blacks than have to put up with it. Horses for courses though and for other people the blacks might be more important.


March 15, 2013, 11:54 am

It's a shame the 8 cores are not the full monty, rather than 2 sets of 4 cores that it flips between. IOW: It would have been nice if it worked like core i7, eg. made it so it can Turbo or under-clock cores instead. Also do you know if this flipping between cores is all for one, or can all 8 cores still run at the same time, eg. changes the affinity of threads based on load?

Be interesting to see what benchmarks show, as this is running at a slower clock speed than HTC, so for none thread based tasks, the HTC is likely to win. A lot of times this is Games, as games tend not to make too much use of threads. And if the core flipping is all for one, multi-threaded tasks all would also go HTC.

Of course the nice thing no matter how the cores are flipped, is that hopefully this is going to make for good battery life.


March 15, 2013, 11:54 am

Painful as the cheesy press conference was there was a lot more innovation with the S4 than I've seen from Apple in a long time. I'd like to spend more time with some of the features such as Smart Pause and Scroll and Air View/Gesture to make sure they are more than a gimmick. Probably the biggest innovation, and the one that will be most important to most people, is the eight-core processor. If this new configuration of 4 thirsty processors for heavy duty task and 4 processors for day-to-day use can eke out an extra 20%,or evern 10%, of battery life then that will truly be a great thing.

I found it very odd that no mention of this was really made by Samsung. This may suggest it hasn't worked as well as they hoped but we'll test it thouroughly when we get the chance.


March 15, 2013, 11:59 am

Which app will you use which needs 8 cores working in tandem? Power for power's sake is pointless, that's just bragging rights - I'd rather have increased battery life which is the weakness of every high-end smartphone currently on the market.


March 15, 2013, 12:18 pm

I agree,.. So in this case I'd say it would have been nice to just have 4 cores, with the i7 ability to under/over clock. The thing is there going to sell like mad based on the number 8, and people won't instantly relate this to battery saving, they will think it is about power. So the interesting thing here, all this talk about the Samsung stealing HTC limelight, on the benchmark front HTC here might still take the lead, apart from the 1.9GHz 4 core version they have, and I bet that's why Samsung have that one in production too.


March 15, 2013, 1:01 pm

Luke, did you know you've just be quoted on the BBC ?

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 2:12 pm

Thanks. After posting the question, I found it on the next TR news story I read.
So it is 300mAh bigger than the HTC One. Not enough to convince me to change.

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 2:13 pm

Good response.
Just to clarify, are you saying the blue hue is there whatever angle you watch from?
Thanks for staying up and reporting it!

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 2:14 pm

I thought I saw somewhere where it benchmarked slightly lower than the HTC one on the normal phone measuring suites.

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 2:20 pm

Indeed. I find it bizarre why manufacturers don't cater for this. It would be a great way to set yourself apart, and yes talking about mAh is geeky, and won't appeal to most of the customers, but it is easy to market it up. For example:

The New Ebner Phantom 2

*Runs Faster
Marketing guff

*Lasts Longer
With our BatterySaving (c) suite of power saving tools, you can manage your battery like never before. Add to that a huge battery, that is double the size of many of our competitors, and you can be freed from the shackles of daily charging.

*Is Harder
Waterproof, metal body yada more marketing guff

Nate Ebner

March 15, 2013, 2:22 pm

Good point.
If that works it should be great, although the five core Tegra 4, sounds even more promising. I am almost tempted to wait for that and Key Lime Pie before upgrading, but I really love the way the HTC One looks, and am excited about the functionality it will provide.


March 16, 2013, 1:17 am

It's not the capacity that matters, it's how long it lasts in the phone. That's still a big unknown.

Nate Ebner

March 16, 2013, 1:19 pm

Thanks Captain Obvious ;-)

If it cam with say a 3500mAh capacity battery, you'd have to think it would easily last a whole day of heavy use. So the capacity matters in that sense. Ideal world, a power efficient phone, with a big battery behind it.


March 16, 2013, 2:00 pm

Well the Note II come with a 3200mAh battery and is reasonably power-efficient and yet somehow my gf still manages to run it down to around 20-30% most days. She uses her phone far more than most people though. She mostly uses it for browsing, in which case hopefully the slower A7 cores would be used most of the time if she had an S4 (or a Note III) and she'd see a real benefit.

If she did a lot of 3D gaming she'd probably get worse battery life than ever on the S4, as the A15 cores are likely to be very power-hungry. That's probably the main reason ARM is encouraging manufacturers to go big.LITTLE, and AFAIK this is the first product released with that new architecture so we really have to wait and see how it behaves.

My point is that the 300mAh isn't what's relevant and shouldn't be what you base your buying decision on. The S4 might have a bigger battery and yet have worse battery life, or it may wipe the floor with the HTC One.

I'm pretty sure it'll be a mixture of both depending on the usage scenario, not just because of the cores but also because of the differences between LCD and AMOLED power usage.

Personally I prefer to have a normal-sized battery, for weight and size reasons, and carry a spare when I think I might need it. The S4 allows that, the HTC One doesn't.

Bear in mind there are also extended battery packs for the S3 which are just bulkier cases, so you'll no doubt have the choice with the S4.

Nate Ebner

March 16, 2013, 9:26 pm

Well I won't be getting the S4, and am not a fan of those external cases.
I don't really mind not being able to remove the battery, as I'd rather not have to power down to swap batteries. But I would want my battery to last the day with reasonable but heavy use.


March 19, 2013, 2:06 pm

What innovation? Sorry but I thought this was the least interesting Galaxy yet. Sure it's bigger and better, but to me this is Samsung going beyond just copying the iPhone (ala Galaxy 2 vs iPhone 3), now they are actually copying Apple's business practice of minor spec bumps and some gimmicks. It's the same as the iPhone 4 to the 4s and I don't see why anyone with an S3 would bother upgrading.
It's still the same cheap plastic design, just a bit bigger. I really wish with all those cool bits of hardware inside they'd make some effort to come out with a premium design. If they'd only come out with a nicer design, like the HTC One for instance it'd at least feel it deserves to be the top selling Android phone. As it is HTC One's will languish on the shelves while this will sell like hot cakes; and I know which i'd rather have.
Though i'd rather get a Nokia, better design, solid and professional, amazing cameras. Samsung have totally failed to impress me here, they'd had their chance after all their success to really go in new directions and overtake Apple, but it's just another cheap looking Android which just continues to make Android look like a cheap copy of iOS which is undeserved. Google need to get Motorola into shape and create something that properly shows of Android.


March 20, 2013, 1:47 am

"Not out-and-out game changer?" LOL!

If any of these features came out for the iphone only one word would describe it...magical. As much as this article wants to make the S4's glass look half empty, it's not. It's like saying that Ferrari goes 200MPH, but why doesn't go 201MPH? Enjoy your turtle-speed game-not-changer iphones.


March 21, 2013, 2:40 am

I was just curious of Samsung S4's battery life. Is it good?


March 21, 2013, 10:22 am

You know what I would like to see? A smart battery save mode. When the battery falls beyond 20% th phone asks you to move into that state and switches your screen view to 4 inch, dims it and runs only on the two processors dissabling multitasking. Without me needing to go through the settings, it knows what drains the battery and what I use mostly and is smart enough to be super efficient. It's just software so PLEASE, do it! First one, gets my money and appreciation!


March 21, 2013, 10:26 am

Simon, Samsung is not innovating. They are gimicking. Just like the Siri that was ment to change the world for Apple users and ofcourse noone is using, unless they want to look like crazy people. None of the functionality presented is for me, and I'm really not a difficult man to please jumping to any new hype out there.

tony lau

March 22, 2013, 5:30 pm

Ive been waiting for this phone to come out so i could buy it. if its going be released in uk with a quad core processor. i dont want it. the only thing that attracts me to this phone is the exynos 5 octa processor.

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