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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review - Interface and Usability

Luke Johnson

By Luke Johnson



Our Score:


Samsung Galaxy S4 Interface and Usability

On the face of things there is very little change between the S3 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 interface. Both run a TouchWiz skinned version of Google’s Android OS and, superficially, look the same. Delve beneath the surface, however, and it's clear that the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a world apart from the S3 with all manner of new features, functions and software additions thrown into the mix to help create a better-rounded, detailed user experience.

Skinned almost beyond recognition of its Android base, the Samsung Galaxy S4 TouchWiz UI sees Samsung stamp its seal on the phone, ridding it of Google’s traditional Android icons in favour of its own, bespoke and only marginally altered options.

Running Google’s Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean direct from the box, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has all the key features found on the likes of the Google Nexus 4, the handset that launched the latest Android OS. It’s widely expected that Google will launch Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie in the coming weeks, a release that will see the S4 quickly become dated and fall behind the crowd unless offered early updates. However, given the handset’s leading flagship status means peace of mind on this front is all but guaranteed for the foreseeable future, provided your network provider obliges.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Interface

In terms of usability, the Samsung Galaxy S4 couldn’t be more accommodating. Aside from the standard point and press touchscreen controls and simplistic naming system for pre-installed services and applications, the S4 lets less tech savvy users – or those not interested in tinkering too much – to opt for an ‘Easy Mode’ home screen setup.

It rids the phone of all superfluous bells and whistles and replaces them with large block buttons and oversized, strategically placed app icons. While this feature is not for everyone, it is a quick, hassle-free way to make the S4 more accessible to those who require a more streamlined service.

Outside of the Easy Mode, however, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has all manner of software and interface features that enhance it and set it apart from the Android masses.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Usability

Samsung Galaxy S4 Smart Scroll

One of the most publicised and talked about Samsung Galaxy S4 features ahead of the handset’s official launch, Smart Scroll is strangely one of its more irritating attributes and, in our opinion, one of its least useful.

In theory it combines eye tracking with tilting the S4 forwards or backwards to scroll through pages, saving you the ‘trouble’ of using the touchscreen. In reality, Smart Scroll struggles in low light, direct light and if you wear glasses, and the rest of the time it’s just confusing and annoying. We recommend you disable it.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Smart Pause

Samsung Galaxy S4 Smart Pause

Smart Scroll is more useful, albeit only just. Unlike Smart Scroll, it doesn’t clutter the display with all manner of pop-up icons, it simply tracks your eyes when watching video and pauses it when you look away.

Prompt, precise and at times a little eerie, Smart Pause is hard to fool, handling our tests with aplomb and ensuring that we didn’t miss more than a fraction of video when distracted or losing focus. It works fine and is well worth keeping.

Samsung Galaxy S4 S Voice

Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri service, S Voice on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is what we have come to expect from most voice command services – a slightly slow alternative to standard input options that just about struggles its way to the correct result after much deliberation.

S Voice is a strong rival to the better known Siri, but suffers from the same issues. We find it hard to see when users would utilise S Voice over simply carrying out an action themselves. Given the stuttering nature of the voice activated services we found few examples of searches, actions or tasks we couldn’t do quicker and more accurately ourselves instead of relying on sophisticated, albeit still issue ridden, voice recognition software.

Samsung Galaxy S4 S Translator

Samsung Galaxy S4 S Translator

The Samsung Galaxy S4 S Translator app will change the lives of international business users, travellers and holiday makers alike, but will be redundant for many users and just another ‘extra’ to ignore.

In use, the Samsung Galaxy S4 S Translator software is endearingly intuitive to use, with both voice and text-based input methods available to further assist in the simple nature of making the world a smaller place and allowing users to overcome language barriers without struggle.

As a further benefit, having translated your desired phrases into one of many language options, the S Translator then lets you save the translation as a spoken word audio file, ideal for less stilted communications in foreign countries.

What’s more, the S Translator functionality ties in with other functions and applications, such as the mail app.

Samsung Galaxy S4 S Health

Samsung Galaxy S4 S Health

Jumping wholeheartedly on the recent trend of fitness gadgets, and health and wellbeing monitors, S Health is an integrated app that offers insight into personal activity and lifestyle.

On its own, the Samsung Galaxy S4 S Health app is a useful, welcome addition, but one that offers little more than a nicely packaged remodelling of long available third-party apps. Although the handset is set to receive the backing of a number of optional accessories, including a dedicated Samsung Wi-Fi scale and motion tracking wristband, on its own the S4 S Health app is somewhat limited.

With the Food Tracker offering little in terms of upfront assistance, requiring users to manually enter meals and their calorific content, the Walking Mate pedometer is likely to get more use. It gives you a, largely accurate, idea of how far you travel and how many steps you take. But it has to be activated and deactivated either side of every use, otherwise it’ll drain your battery needlessly and give you misleading data. It’s a poor substitute for a proper activity tracker, like the Fitbit One.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Air View

Samsung Galaxy S4 Air View

Where Smart Scroll proved ineffective and more irritating than helpful, Air View is one of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s most impressive features. It provides pop-up previews of all manner of content just by hovering over items, so you don’t have to touch the screen when you have grubby paws.

It’s very accurate and responsive, it keeps track of swift and erratic movements and there’s little lag or stuttering. It’s great for zooming in out of web pages, and also lets you preview messages – so you can check you have the right thread rather than going in and then back again. Further highlights include the ability to preview images from a gallery, again saving considerable time and hassle with repeated jumps back and forth.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Air Gesture

A hit and miss addition not quite as well-integrated as Air View, Air Gesture lets you switch between tabs and images in a gallery simply by waving your hand above the display in the direction you wish content to move. Although perfect for when not wanting to smear the S4’s stunning 5-inch display with greasy food stained finger marks, the Air Gesture options are a little quick on the draw, repeatedly switching us between tabs in the web browser when doing little else other than scratching our face or talking in a somewhat animated fashion.

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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