The S4 nestles into the hand perfectly. Its edges aren’t too sharp or too rounded. It feels very solid and has a pleasant weight. The chrome bezel that wraps around the perimeter gives it a good gripping surface.
The hardware has a standard layout. There’s a power button on the right, headphone input on top, volume rocker on the left, Micro USB on the bottom, camera on the back, and screen in front. The physical home button, bordered by menu and return capacitive buttons, is handy when waking the phone. It is so much easier to press this than to feel out the practically flush power button.
Press that home button and watch the S4’s 5 in 1920 x 1080 HD Super Amoled screen light up. Do you need that translated? Basically, it is a beautiful, vivid, incredibly detailed screen. Text, video, and graphics are sharp and crisp.
The back cover has a tiny diamond pattern coated in glossy, slippery-as-a-fish finish. (Say that five times fast!) It actually slipped out of my hand once when I was trying to juggle too many things. Keep in mind that I treat my tech like it’s made out of glass. Samsung, please stop making the back covers of your phones so slick!
Software and Apps
As all flagship phones should, the S4 runs the most up-to-date version possible of Android: Jelly Bean. As with all of its Galaxy phones, Samsung has applied a “skin.” A “skinned version” of Android has manufacturer-applied tweaks to icons and home screen gadgets such as clocks, menus, etc. In this case, Samsung hasn’t just changed the icons. The company added many apps and tweaks. In fact, the extras are one of the S4’s main selling points. Some are additions carried over from the S3 and Note 2, and others are new additions. Multi-window viewing, the slide-out app tray, and the “personal assistant” S Voice come from the S4’s predecessors.
By detecting a hovering finger over calendar entries, messages, and photos, Air View shows previews of items. In real life, I found it a little tricky to hold my finger the right distance from the screen. By detecting a swiping hand motion, Air Gestures scrolls, answers or ignores phone calls, moves widgets and app icons, and browses between items in a series. Neither of these features turned out to be useful in my life.
The home screen style Easy Mode simplifies the S4 drastically. It clarifies the experience by enlarging icons and text, reducing the amount of apps on the homescreens, and simplifying menus.
There are so many S apps! These aren’t the typical pre-installed apps like Calculator or Calendar. These are specialty apps that you might buy from an app store. Some of them are very helpful, and others don’t add any value for most users. My two favorite and most-used apps are S Health and S Memo.
S Health monitors daily calorie intake, exercise, and activity level. By importing nutrition information of the foods you ate, calorie intake is very simple to use. It also can import the amount of calories burned by type of exercise and duration. It even features a built-in pedometer. Overall, it makes monitoring nutrition less tedious. S Memo is also a useful app. It allows the user to jot notes via handwriting, handwriting to text recognition, or on-screen keyboard, insert pictures and voice recordings into memos, e-mail them, and export them as PDFs or JPEGs.
Samsung WatchOn provides personalized recommendations on movies and TV shows and syncs your Samsung phone with your Samsung Smart TV. This sounds like a great app for those who own a Samsung Smart TV, but it’s useless for the rest of us.
Next, let’s move on to the vaguely useful apps. The multi-lingual S Translator is self-explanatory. It translates nine languages from one language to another via speech-to-text or text-to-speech. Samsung Hub wants to sell you apps, music, and other content. It’s similar to the Google Play Store. Samsung’s Story Album feature creates photo books from photos taken on the S4 and integrates it with printing company Blurb’s printing service.
As always, the S4 has requisite carrier apps. There’s AT&T DriveMode, AT&T FamilyMap,
AT&T Locker, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, AT&T U-Verse Live TV, AT&T Hotspots, and YpMobile.
In this section, I have nothing but good news. The S4 is responsive, speedy, quick, and did I mention speedy? I never encountered a lag or stutter. With 2 GB of RAM and 1.9 Ghz quad-core processors, you shouldn't expect anything less.
Residents of my area are lucky to get AT&T voice coverage. 4G LTE data speeds on any carrier are available, at closest, 100+ miles away. Hence, I can’t give you my opinion on data speeds.
Overall, the S4's 13 MP photo quality is very good. Focusing is always very accurate, colors are correct indoors and out, and details are reasonably sharp even in low light.
With so many software tweaks, it only makes sense that the S4’s camera have a few whiz-bang features as well. HDR, Eraser, Beauty Face, Best Photo, and Drama Shot are just a few of them. The only fancy setting I tried, HDR, did make a big difference. HDR (High Dynamic Range) made shadows brighter.
Thanks 2600 mAh. battery, power users can get through the day without seeing the dreaded red battery level indicator. With light usage, the S4 went two whole days (even when left on at night).
Overall, the microphone and speaker were was clear and crisp. Both ends of the line were happy with the call quality.
Competitors and Conclusion
On AT&T, the Galaxy S4 is pitted against the other Android top-of-the-line flagship from HTC, the One. The One has gotten very positive reviews, thanks to its aluminum design, nice screen, and good performance. The One also comes in $199 32 GB and $299 64 GB versions, while the S4 is available in $199 16 GB and $249 32 GB versions. So, the One is $50 cheaper for the 32 GB version. The main complaint against the One, however, was the busy HTC Sense “skin.” All in all, I think that the choice between the One and the S4 is a personal decision. Both of them are great phones, but both have individual negatives, too. While the S4 has more extra features, the One is a bit cheaper and is built from better materials.
All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a powerful, gorgeous, long-lasting superphone. Those who don’t mind the slippery construction, price, and a few unpractical features will be happy with it.