Is the Samsung Galaxy S4 really a life altering game changer? We went hands on to investigate with a pre-production model.
Officially unveiled with a 5-inch Full HD touchscreen display, the world’s most eagerly awaited smartphone will definitely have an impact in 2013. Carrying Google’s current android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS and claiming the world’s first eight-core processor (available in some markets only) this heart-throb of a device is will undoubtedly disappoint some Aussie fans.
Sporting a 13-megapixel camera and sleek design the S4 will come with a selection of new software features including Smart Pause and Smart Scroll, providing the HTC One with a real challenge in the market. Read on to see what we make of the Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Design
Taking on a near identical form to that of the S3, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is an inoffensive yet somewhat uninspiring affair with Samsung’s trademark plastic finish detracting slightly from what is otherwise a high-end, cream-of-the-crop device. Lining the two handset’s up against each other, and front-on it is slightly difficult to distinguish between the two.
Weighing in at a comfortable 130g, the Samsung Galaxy S4 feels secure in the hand, not too heavy as to cause distress while also offering enough heft to offer reassurance against the inevitable knocks and drops that will occur over the course of a typical 24-month contract.
Featuring a heavily reduced bezel, Samsung has managed to squeeze a larger 5-inch display on to the Samsung Galaxy S4 without having to make a jump in size over the Samsung Galaxy S3’s form factor. What’s more, at a mere 7.9mm thick, the handset is in fact slimmer than its 8.3mm predecessor.
In addition, even with the larger screen it is exactly the same height as the S3 at 136.6mm and is ever so slightly narrower at 69.8mm as compared to 70.6.
Although the removable back panel of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is still crafted from extremely flimsy plastic, the handset feels sturdy and well built, offering little flex when placed under considerable pressure. Further adding to the handset’s high-end appeal, an almost checkerboard effect has been ingrained within the plastic body, adding some variety to the Samsung Galaxy S4 design. It would be reasonable, however, to expect a higher quality build from a flagship device.
With Samsung scrapping the Pebble Blue colour scheme that caused manufacturing woes with the S3, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is set to land in ‘White Frost’ and ‘Black Mist’ colour schemes. Both devices look impressive with either hue providing a strong, high-end look.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Screen
Measuring in at a considerable 5-inches, the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen is a bit of a beaut. With a stunning 1920 x 1080p Full HD resolution matched with an iPhone Retina display trumping 441 pixels-per-inch, the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen is a Super AMOLED HD marvel, helping create an immersing user experience from the off.
During video playback, the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen provides strong, bold, detailed colours with strong contrast ratios able to show the nuances of scenes. With motion blur practically non- existent, the handset’s display further benefits from a Full HD 1080p resolution meaning images look impressively detailed.
Protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 coating, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s screen is further enhanced by a 441 pixels-per-inch image density, a PPI that, whilst eclipsing that of the iPhone 5’s Retina display, ensures ultra-crisp text-based content when browsing web pages or viewing emails and message based content.
Although there is no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen is a stunning affair, and one capable of offering highly impressive video playback, like many AMOLED displays, there is a slightly undesirable blue hue to content at times, especially when the device is viewed from more acute angles. Further inspection of this potentially performance depleting issue will be required during our full Galaxy S4 review in the coming weeks.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Operating System
Running Google’s Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS, the S4’s operating system is much the same as that of the S3 before it. A familiar affair with the usual Android heart, the Korean manufacturer’s much loved TouchWiz UI is also in residence offering a selection of performance-improving software features such as the customary Swype keyboard interface.
The Samsung Galaxy S4’s keyboard is a well spaced affair, making use of the handset’s new 5-inch display to provide a simple and fluid usability. With no accidental key presses recorded during our hands-on time with the device, we were impressed with the intuitiveness of the keyboard – an aspect of the handset that will receive heavy usage.
With the usual selection of Samsung and Android apps pre-installed on the device, the Galaxy S4 OS is complemented by the likes of the Chrome browser and the Google Play Store. What’s more, the Samsung Hub offers wide-ranging access to all manner of music, movie, gaming and educational content direct from the device.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Camera
Avoiding the Ultrapixel route taken by the HTC One, the Galaxy S4 instead sticks with the numbers game, pairing the device with a 13-megapixel rear-mounted camera. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, a 2-megapixel snapper also features on the front of the S4 to allow for improved video calling.
Initial testing reveals the Samsung Galaxy S4 camera to be a strong performer, able to produce seemingly impressive results in somewhat less than ideal shooting conditions. Although at this stage we have only been able to view images taken with the device on the handset’s display, first impressions are good with strong colour management and good light balance.
Where the Samsung Galaxy S4 camera comes into its own, however, is in a selection of new features. Kicking off with Dual Camera shooting, the S4 camera is also enhanced by the likes of Eraser Shot (which can remove unwanted moving content), intuitive Story Album creation and the same interface as the Samsung Galaxy Camera.
On the Galaxy Camera interface, the usual stoic list of menus is gone, replaced instead by an intuitive touch-based scroll which houses options from cinema and panoramic shooting to the likes of filters and effects. One of the best Samsung Galaxy S4 camera features, however, is the Dual Camera shooting mode, which allows you to snap an image with both the rear and forward-facing cameras simultaneously, featuring the two snaps either side-by-side, or as picture-in-picture options.
In practice, based on our hands-on with the device, the Dual Camera shooting functionality is fast and responsive with both cameras tracking content quickly and with little fuss or motion blur. Bolstering the nifty new option, either camera can take the lead allowing you to focus on either what’s in front of you, or your reaction to an event. Although requiring further testing, we can see this option being a favourite amongst party goers, gig attendants and those at special occasions.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Processor
With the Samsung Galaxy S4 processor set to be a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon in some markets, the Korean manufacturer will also offer a 1.6GHz octa-core Exynos 5 powered device for other markets. While the tech world waits to see how the eight-core powerhouse will distribute its four big, four small cores across everyday usage to provide considerable grunt with less battery strain, the Samsung Galaxy S4 device we were able to gain some hands-on time with was the less tantalising quad-core option, the one we will be bestowed with on Aussie shores.
On first usage, the device is a strong, speedy performer with all manner of applications, programmes and functions opened and explored with minimal fuss or fanfare. What’s more, thanks to the simplistic multitasking features of the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS, we were able to effortlessly jump between open apps without any hesitation or undue delays.
Samsung Galaxy – S4 Battery Life
While it’s too early to tell exactly how well the Samsung Galaxy S4 battery life performs, early indications are promising. During our 40 minutes of hands-on time with the new device – including 30 minutes of heavy usage – the battery did not appear to drop by an unreasonable amount. That said, the device did however became very hot during use, although, as this is a pre-production model, this may not be the case with the final consumer device.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Features
Smart Scroll and Smart Pause were two features heavily mooted to appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4 prior to the handset’s formal unveiling, and both have come to fruition. A simple set-up process is required, but from here Smart Scroll and Smart Pause both impressed, tracking the movement of our hands and eyes to complete their desired tasks.
With Smart Pause the device recognises that you are paying attention to it, automatically pausing content if you turn your head away from the screen for more than a second, kicking it back into action again once you readdress the device. Smart Scroll with just a tilt of your hand will scroll up and down, and it will only do this when it knows you are paying attention. From first use these appear more than a simple gimmick, with Smart Pause especially appealing as a feature that will prove useful during prolonged use ensuring you never miss a moment of video content again.
On top of this, two other highly impressive Samsung Galaxy S4 features are its Air View and Air Gesture options. While the Air Gesture capabilities allowed us to swipe through content without ever touching the display, Air View offered glimpses of previously hidden content, such as messages and emails, again without ever having to physically touch the screen.
Brilliantly intuitive from the off, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Air View feature is a true time saver, letting us hover a finger a centimetre or two above the screen and be offered pop-up access to email content, text messages and contact information.
Although it’s perhaps not the out-and-out game changer some were expecting, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is, on first impressions at least, certainly a new dominant force on the Android smartphone scene. Sure to go head-to-head with the likes of the iPhone 5 and HTC One over the coming months, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is set to benefit from a raft of immersive, engaging and performance enhancing features that will complement the improved hardware to create an all-round impressive device. With the likes of the 13-megapixel snapper’s dual camera mode offering more entertaining usage and the incoming octa-core processor to provide power with battery survival, the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks set to take off exactly where the Samsung Galaxy S3 has made its home, as the market leading Android handset.