The Samsung Galaxy S4 was released as a high-end powerhouse back in 2013, but has since been superseded by the superb Galaxy S5, which was followed itself by the Galaxy S6.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.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.