A month with the Samsung Galaxy S4

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When Samsung announced the S4 in March 2013, I, like many other tech enthusiasts couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I even went as far to say that this could well be the iPhone killer with amazing features in both the hardware and software. Most reviewers only have the phone in question for a week or so but I don’t think that’s a long enough period of time to be able to judge a phone so I’ve waited a month before writing this!

Hardware
Form Factor
The S4 has a plastic back case and a metal band around the side so it’s pretty light. In actual fact, it’s 130g – that may sound impressive until you realise that the iPhone 5 is only a minuscule 112g. I thought that sacrificing a premium finish (with an aluminium body like the iPhone 5) would make it the lightest smartphone available, but apparently not! Apart from that it does look pretty nice and is available in both white and black. Due to the size of the screen (which I will cover later) the phone is pretty bulky and isn’t very comfortable to use with one hand, often leading me to tap the physical buttons when trying to reach something with my thumb on the other side of the screen.

Screen
The screen is a whopping 5″ Super AMOLED screen with ~441 ppi (Pixels Per Inch) pixel density, beating the iPhone 5’s 326 ppi by over 100 pixels an inch! As you can imagine, the screen clarity is amazing and it’s beautiful to watch films and TV shows on. But with such a big screen also comes the battery drain, meaning that 9 times out of 10 you’ll have to have the brightness as low as possible to keep your phone going throughout the day and it just doesn’t look the same. It also uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3, the companies latest version of their tough glass but as seen in numerous drop tests, the screen does shatter quite easily so it’d be a good idea to invest in a case!

s4-2

Battery Life
I remember the good old days where I’d charge my Nokia 3410 once and it’d last at least 2/3 days before needing to be charged again. These days? You’re lucky to get a full days use from a single charge meaning that many people carry around their charger with them or opt for portable chargers/case chargers. The S4 has a 2600 mAh battery which means in theory it should last all day without many problems. In reality though it’s pretty much the same as other smartphones on the market and I can’t help but think if the screen was a regular size, that battery it would have no problems playing games, surfing the net and tweeting all day. It also takes a considerable amount of time to charge up once plugged in compared to other smartphones on the market but that’s because of the capacity of the battery. Can’t be helped!

Connections
The S4 doesn’t come without an array of different ways to connect either. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0 meaning that using Bluetooth will drain even less battery power than before. It also comes with NFC, which in America is a good thing because of apps like Google Wallet allowing you to pay with things contactlessly – here in the UK though with no Google Wallet support and hardly anywhere that has any NFC enabled features it seems like a feature that isn’t really needed. It also has WiFi Direct that allows you to, for example, create a wireless network on your phone which you connect to your printer and then print documents directly from your phone! It also has 4G connectivity for those of you on EE’s 4GEE network.

Camera
The camera on the Galaxy S4 is one of my favourite features of the phone, boasting a whopping 13mp camera on the back and an amazing 2mp front facing camera. Perfect for all those selfies you’ll no doubtedly be posting on Instagram! As well as that, they’re both able to record in 1080p HD at 30 frames per second. Samsung also boasts that there is no lag between pressing the button to take the photo and the photo being taken – where I found this was correct, it lacked an external shutter button which I feel is necessary. It’s not the camera itself that makes this stand out from other phones though, it’s the software that accompanies it. I’m talking about all the different camera modes that are available in the camera app:

  • Dual Shot – Dual Shot is handy for when you want to get in a photo but you can’t because you’re taking it. It allows use of both the front and back cameras at the same time allowing you to place yourself (in a variety of frames) in the photo.
  • Eraser – Eraser is my favourite feature of the camera. Have you ever been on holiday and want to take a photo of a landmark? There’s always people walking in front of the camera and ruining your perfect shot. Not any more! Eraser takes photos for 5 seconds and then erases any moving objects in them, leaving you with a pretty empty photo of your landmark!
  • Drama – Drama is supposed to take multiple images of a subject whilst having a static background. Whilst it seems pretty cool, I couldn’t get it to work properly in the majority of cases.
  • Sound and Shot – A feature that Samsung are really pushing. This mode lets you take a photo and accompany it with a sound clip. At a gig? Take a photo of your favourite band and have a section of their performance in the background. Personally I feel that this feature dies out after use once or twice – why not just take a video?
  • Airbrush – Another surprisingly good camera mode. With this mode selected, the person you’re taking a photo of will be automatically airbrushed! Works well on the 13mp back camera but looks fake on the front facing camera, I don’t think a 2mp camera has enough definition to get away with airbrushing!

There are other modes available but these are what set the S4 apart from other smartphones. There is a downside though and it’s a pretty big face palm. I was trying to take a photo of a friend behind a picturesque background but the S4 only managed to capture the light of the background, silhouetting my friend in the foreground. On other phones such as the iPhone 5, you can just tap on the person and the phone will adjust and heighten the brightness but it couldn’t do it on the S4. Boo.

Software
S Features
The S Features that the Galaxy S4 were what originally sold me on the phone. The ability to do various things without even touching the phone fascinated me and is a largely unexplored area when it comes to smartphone technology. I must say at this point that they genuinely a massive letdown and within a week of having the phone disabled all the S features bar the pedometer.

  • Smart Stay – Smart Stay isn’t really a “new” feature as it’s also available on the S3 but it had been improved for the S4. The whole idea behind Smart Stay is to dim/turn off your display when you’re not looking at it using eye tracking technology in the front camera. It worked pretty well on the whole but would turn itself off when I look away from my screen for a few seconds while I’m in the middle of doing something.
  • Smart Scroll – Smart Scroll uses the same eye tracking technologies to see when you’re looking at the top or bottom of a webpage and then scroll down automatically for you. I couldn’t get used to this feature and had to move my whole face up or down to get the page to scroll making the whole feature feel a bit half baked. It also has a mode where you can tilt the screen forwards or backwards to scroll but I didn’t really use it too often. The other down side to this feature is that it’s ONLY available on the built in browser and not the more preferred Google Chrome (or any other app for that matter, it would’ve been nice to integrate it with a Twitter app for example) meaning you have to decide whether you want a decent mobile browser or want to use this feature.
  • Air View – Air View allows you to hover above the screen with your finger and get a preview of something. For example, it’s integrated into the Gallery app where you can hover over a folder of photos and have a preview of the photos that are inside. It’s also integrated into the Messages app where you can hover over a message thread and read the last sent or received message without opening it. These features worked well but on the whole I found them a bit pointless. They’re also featured on the Galaxy Note 2 where they are more useful, displaying a point on the screen when the pen is hovering.
  • Air Gestures – Air Gestures are a variety of gestures that you can do in front of the phones sensor which are then turned into various actions. For example, if your phone is ringing and you’re washing up you can wave your hand over the phones display for the call to be answered and be put on loud speaker. There’s also another gesture where you can wave in a certain direction to change the song that you’re playing. My favourite gesture of all is one that isn’t enabled by default where if your phone is locked, you can wave your hand over the screen to be given a “preview” of all notifications, the time and battery life. I found that one to be quite handy to have when I wanted to just check if I had any missed messages or calls.

Remote Control
There’s also a built in IR sensor in the Galaxy S4 meaning that you can use your phone as a remote control for your TV! It’s an amazing feature that does come in handy when you’ve misplaced the remote. It’s also fun going into pubs and turning off all the TV’s during an important football match. Yeah, guilty as charged. You can add various different “Rooms” to switch between and you can control the Freeview, Satellite or Cable TV service that your TV is hooked up to! As well as just using it as a remote, the inbuilt WatchON app has an inbuilt TV guide that you can personalise to your own tastes. See something you fancy watching? Tap on it for more information and then tap “Watch” to get the phone to change the channel to whatever channel that program is on. A small feature but a favourite of mine.

Dropbox
As most Android users are aware, Android and Dropbox go hand in hand and it even asks you to log in with your Dropbox when setting up your phone. What isn’t being advertised though is the free space that you get when you log into your Dropbox account on an S4 – I got 50GB of storage added to my account for 2 years free of charge. Even if you’re not a fan of Dropbox, you can’t go wrong with 50GB of storage for free!

Keyboard
The keyboard on the S4 is my only real problem with the phone and all I’m saying is thank God that Android support third party keyboards. I found the inbuilt keyboard to be clunky and horribly laid out with corrections/suggestions that weren’t accurate to what I was typing. It was also automatically adding misspelt words to the dictionary which meant typing became more and more of a chore as I went on. Google have released their Nexus Keyboard onto the Google Play Store recently and that was a much better keyboard to use so if you do get an S4, that’s the keyboard I’d recommend!

Accessories
As with any smartphone, there are an abundance of accessories to go with it. My favourite accessory has to be the S View cover – an iPad Mini like cover that wakes the phone up when you take the cover off but also has a touch screen window in the front allowing you to see the time and any notifications at a glance without having to open the cover. These are available in various phone shops around the UK as well as Samsung Stores but I’d recommend getting it from MyTrendyPhone as they offer it for £32.50 instead of the £44.99 RRP.

As well as the S View Cover, I’d also recommend a dock for the S4. The beauty behind this is that you can buy an S3 dock because they still fit the S4. Docks are handy to have if you work on computers a lot – just sit down, dock your phone and let it charge whilst still being able to see the screen for incoming calls or notifications.

If you’re unsure of what accessories are available, take a trip to MyTrendyPhone for discounted RRP prices with all the quality still intact:

Overall, I’m not too sure about what to make of the Galaxy S4. It is a beautiful phone that does some amazing things but at the same time does other things rather terribly. There’s something about the phone that I couldn’t get used to and I can’t quite put my finger on what it  is, but other S4 users feel the same. I’d definitely recommend it to any Android user as they’ll be used to the Android OS on the whole but I don’t think I’d recommend switching from an iPhone to it because after 4 weeks of using it, I can’t wait to start using my iPhone again!

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About Author

22 year old blogger from Walthamstow, East London. An extreme interest is an understatement when it comes to technology! Follow me on Twitter: @LewwyPaints

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