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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review - Design and Screen

Luke Johnson

By Luke Johnson



Our Score:


Samsung Galaxy S4 Design

On first glance, the Samsung Galaxy S4 design appears little more than a carbon copy of its predecessor. On closer inspection, however, it quickly becomes clear that Samsung has made a number of small, subtle improvements over the S3 that, when combined together, make a considerable difference.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 design shuns the option of a premium, brushed metal or unibody design in favour of a largely plastic body. It doesn’t look or feel like a £600 phone, but it doesn’t feel offensively cheap as some have suggested or feared, either.

Build quality is reassuring, too. The Samsung Galaxy S4 feels less rigid and unforgiving than its predecessor, with just a little flex in its body when faced with large amounts of pressure, but not so much as to cause concern. The Gorilla Glass 3 protective screen, meanwhile, does its job, with no visible marks left on the screen having let the handset rock about our pockets in company with keys and coins, two things we do not recommend you do on a regular basis. Fine, so it’s not waterproof like the Sony Xperia Z, but the Sony unusual in that respect.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Compared to the S3 it replaces, it has a slightly squarer, flatter finish, while the faux-metal trim on the outer edge is a simple alteration that gives the S4 a visual one-up on the S3. More striking is incredibly slim bezel – the reason the S4 is no larger than the S3 despite its extra 0.2-inches of screen real estate. It looks fantastic and is a welcome improvement, even if it results in accidental presses from time-to-time.

Having faced manufacturing issues with last year’s ‘Pebble Blue’ Galaxy S3 colour scheme, Samsung with the S4 has opted for new White Frost and Black Mist hues. In a further effort to aid the S4’s premium appeal, it’s adorned with a fine checkerboard effect that, surprisingly, does look considerably nicer than the bland plastic approach of the S3.

So far the Samsung Galaxy S4’s design is a marked improvement over the S4, but despite these improvements, removing the handset’s rear plastic panel in order to insert a SIM or microSD card is still an unpleasant, nerve-wrenching experience that is best avoided whenever possible.

It may be more resilient to knocks and drops than the glass backing found on the likes of the iPhone 4S and Google Nexus 4, and less likely to show scratches than the brushed metal of the iPhone 5 and HTC One, but the plastic back panel of the Samsung Galaxy S4 feels unnecessarily fragile, flexible and a likely snap hazard.

The saving grace, of course, is the removable battery and customisation the removable rear case allows. It’s down to you decide which you’d rather have.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Button Arrangement & Connections

Contrary to a number of pre-release rumours, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has retained its physical home button as just one of three physical controls on the whole phone, lining up alongside the power/sleep button and the customary volume toggle.

The S4’s power/sleep button is handily located towards the top of the handset’s right hand side; within easy reach no matter you hold the phone. But the S4’s volume toggle is slightly less accessible. Pitched on the left side, higher than the parallel power button, the volume control is a bit of a stretch to use when holding the S4 in your right hand – a small irk, but one you’ll notice.

With a microUSB port, used for charging, at the base, a 3.5mm audio jack sitting comfortably on the handset’s upper edge, and microSD and SIM card slots residing under the plastic rear, the Samsung Galaxy S4 connections are pretty much standard fare, all unobtrusive and accessible when required. Likewise, the speaker in the lower left corner of the phone’s rear is safely out of reach of stray fingers.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4 Design – Final Thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy S4 design is arguably the easiest area in which to criticise the phone, but doing so feels like a cheap shot. Sure, the handset is not as visually appealing or nice in the hand as some of its rivals, but this has never been Samsung’s speciality and S4 is more than good enough. What’s more, the S4 design is definitely a step up from that of the S3 and the predecessor’s less than appealing construction hardly held it back from dominating the smartphone market.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Screen

From first viewing, the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen marks itself out as one of the best on the market. With a stunning 1,920 x 1,080p Full HD resolution, the S4’s 5-inch Super AMOLED display benefits further from an eye-popping 441 pixels-per-inch image density. In fact, we’d go so far to say the S4’s screen is a masterpiece and the best of any smartphone currently available.

Although not the first phone to have a 1080p display, it is Samsung’s first Full HD phone and the most obvious difference between it and the S3. It instantly makes the Samsung Galaxy S3 look dated, diluted and dull, and it’s another reminder that screen quality is one of the key differences between this year’s phones and the last.

It’s crisp and sharp, with not even a trace of pixelisation creeping in, even when viewing the detailed edging on application icons or text extremely close up. Samsung has even reigned in the over saturated, almost exaggerated colours of its phone displays. Colours still aren’t as faithful as on the HTC One’s screen, but Samsung has found a good balance between accuracy and richness.

Samsung Galaxy S4

The only noticeable problem with the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen is there’s a considerable amount of discolouration when viewing the Samsung Galaxy S4’s screen from anything but a front-on angle – a familiar problem that plagues most AMOLED screens.

It’s not a deal breaker, however, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen has one more trick up its sleeve – it now works when you wear gloves, just like the Nokia Lumia 920, which will save your freezing digits in winter months and performs exactly as suggested.

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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