Samsung Galaxy S 4: Forget the Hype, Try Out the Advanced Features

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-05-13
Samsung Galaxy S 4

Samsung Galaxy S 4: Forget the Hype, Try Out the Advanced Features

Samsung bills its new Galaxy S 4 smartphone as a Life Companion. According to the company's publicity material, this phone will give you a "richer, simpler and fuller life." Samsung also claims that this phone has a camera so good that it yields professional results and touts its effortless experience.

Folks, this is a smartphone, not a lifestyle. If you actually believe the company's claims, you'll be disappointed. However, if you simply approach the Galaxy S 4 as a really good smartphone with some advanced features, then your expectations are more likely to be gratified.

So here's what you should expect from the Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone. First of all, it's a really nice Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) phone that works well even in weak-signal areas. It has a large screen, but it's easy to handle. And it's very fast. In fact, the S 4 has a processor that's about twice as fast as what's on the iPhone; it supports Evolved High Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) up to 42 megabits per second and WiFi up to 802.11ac;  and, of course, it supports Long Term Evolution (LTE).

Samsung is, of course, doing everything it can to wrest the title of top phone maker away from Apple and its iPhone. To accomplish this, the company launched its Galaxy S series of phones, each one of which offers an increasingly large feature collection, the last two of which surpass most of what Apple's latest iPhone model offers. The Galaxy S 4 has features that you probably didn't realize you needed until Samsung thought them up.

For example, the Galaxy S 4 can now detect gestures you make in the air near the phone. This means that you can turn pages while reading by moving your hand across the screen. You can also wave your hand over the phone to turn on the status screen. Likewise, if you reach for the phone when it's ringing, the phone will turn on.

The Galaxy S 4 can also detect the proximity of your hand, so you can hover your finger over a Web page, for example, to magnify it. And of course, Samsung phones have had the ability to see if you're watching the screen and act accordingly.

This means that if you're looking at the screen as you would be if you've got a movie running or are reading an ebook, the phone won't turn off the screen. Likewise, the phone can tell if you look away while watching a video, and pause the video until you look back.

Galaxy S 4 Delivers Good Usability

I was a little worried about the potential usability of the Galaxy S 4 when I learned that the phone had a 5-inch display. I'd found the Galaxy Note II with its 5.5-inch display to be too large to use comfortably as a phone and I wondered if the Galaxy S 4 might also be too large.

It turns out that it's not. In fact, the Galaxy S 4 fits nicely into the hand. It's large enough so that the display is easy to read and the keyboard is easy to use. Unlike its larger sibling, the Note II, there's no stylus, but the device does a decent job of speech recognition and had fewer mistakes when I tried it than I found when using Apple's Siri voice software.

Like Siri, the home button summons the voice-control system, so you can give the phone voice commands or use voice for search. The voice control system worked well, but you don't get the verbal feedback you get from Siri.

Samsung Galaxy S 4: Forget the Hype, Try Out the Advanced Features

On the other hand, searches are fast and accurate. I ran across problems using the phone to find a good restaurant because it summoned, which seemed to have a great deal of outdated information. But I could have used a different database and it would have been nice if Google had integrated the search results more completely.

But that's a quibble. The Galaxy S 4 was quite intuitive for most things. There was a problem where the phone briefly thought it was in Iceland rather than near Washington, D.C., but that was quickly fixed by giving the internal GPS a better view of the satellites. The phone comes with a short introduction to all of the new features, which you should make sure to watch when you're starting up because it does not seem to be available once the set-up process is complete.

In addition to the usual things that phones do, the Galaxy S 4 also includes WatchON, which is universal remote control software for your home theater. There's also a television guide for most cable systems and most set-top boxes, and there's a tiny infrared LED in the top of the phone for sending command signals.

And, of course, there's the phone's camera. Samsung makes a big deal out of claiming that you get professional-quality photos from this phone with its 13-megapixel camera. You don't. You get very good photos, considering it's a phone, but there are other phones that do as well or better. In addition to comparing photos from the Galaxy S 4 to photos from the Nikon D-200 that I used to take the photos in the slide show that goes with this review, I also compared it with photos taken with professional-grade cameras.

To find some examples of such cameras I called Eldar Tariverdi, owner of Photocraft near Washington, D.C., where many of the working photographers here buy their gear. I also spoke to Sally Wiener Grotta, the legendary professional photographer who created the American Hands collection. Both pointed to cameras such as the Nikon D-800 or the Pentax 645 as examples of what to expect from professional-level photography. There is no phone, including the Galaxy S 4, that takes professional-quality photos.

The important thing to know here is that if you want a phone that will take nice snapshots, then the Galaxy S 4 will do the trick. While the Galaxy S 4 does have a 13-megapixel image sensor, there's more to photography than pixels.


Once you learn to ignore the hype that accompanies this phone, you begin to realize that this is a very nice phone on its own right. I found it a pleasure to use and vastly easier to type on than the iPhone 5. While there are features on the Galaxy S 4 that you'll probably never use, it's still a nice upgrade from its predecessor, the Galaxy S III.

Because it's such a nice phone, there's every likelihood that this phone will sell as well as the Galaxy S III. This means that the Galaxy S 4 will probably give the iPhone a serious challenge. This is good, since strong competition gives rise to sustained innovation, and Samsung demonstrates some real innovation in the design of this phone. In short, I like this phone a lot.

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