Mobile Phones Guide

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Higher Expectations Expected (Updated!)

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Overall rating 8.5/10
Design:
7.5
Features:
8.5
User-Friendliness:
8.5
Performance:
9.5
Value:
7.5
THE GOOD
Vibrant display
Excellent overall performance
Great camera
Removable battery
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS
THE BAD
Plastic build, boring design
Gimmicky software features
Most accessories not available yet
Not using Exynos 5 Octa processor
Not a big leap from predecessor


Performance

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is one of the few smartphones in the market to be powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.9GHz processor. The ASUS PadFone Infinity, HTC One and LG Optimus G Pro are the other three phones which are equipped with similar chipsets. Unveiled at CES 2013, the Snapdragon 600 processor comes with an upgraded Krait 300 CPU architecture and a speed enhanced Adreno 320 GPU to deliver over 40% increase in performance.

To find out if this claim is true, we pitted the Samsung Galaxy S4 against its counterpart, the HTC One, and the recent range of Android flagship devices which include the 5-inch HTC Butterfly, Sony Xperia Z, and the 4.7-inch LG Optimus G. We also throw in the Samsung Galaxy S III LTE to see the performance improvements. We used the Quadrant test as a benchmark, which evaluates the CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics of Android devices

How the Phones Stack Up

Device Samsung Galaxy S4 HTC One HTC Butterfly LG Optimus G Sony Xperia Z Samsung Galaxy S III LTE
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
quad-core 1.5GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
quad-core 1.5GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
quad-core 1.5GHz
Exynos 4212 Quad
quad-core 1.4 GHz
GPU Adreno 320 Adreno 320 Adreno 320 Adreno 320 Adreno 320 Mali-400MP
RAM 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB
OS Android 4.2.2 Android 4.1 Android 4.1 Android 4.1 Android 4.1 Android 4.1.2

 

Not surprisingly, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One locked horns for the top spot in the Qudrant benchmark. The previous generation of S4 Pro-equipped Android smartphones (HTC Butterfly, LG Optimus G and Sony Xperia Z) is simply outclassed. 

The Galaxy S4 will come in another variant that is powered by the Exynos 5 Octa mobile processor. In a nutshell, the Exynos Octa processor consists of two sets of quad-core chips - four Cortex A15 and four Cortex A7 chips to handle workloads of different intensities. For now, Samsung Mobile Singapore has no plans to bring in the Exynos model, which is said to be available in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Philippines. It will certainly be interesting to see how the top two mobile processors fare against each other. We'll find out how that pans out in the near future.

Synthetic benchmarks aside, we found the user experience on the Galaxy S4 to be splendid even though we used it for less than a day. The jerkiness and stutters that plagued previous Samsung mobile devices appear to be eliminated - at least for the period of our usage. We wouldn't say it is Nexus standard, but the Galaxy S4 comes close.

 

Multimedia Performance

In addition to the new processor and software features, the other main highlight of the Galaxy S4 is its 5-inch Full-HD Super AMOLED display (4.99-inch to be exact). Samsung makes it clear to the competition that it also wants a share of the 5-inch phone market, and is prepared to fight it out with the best with its AMOLED screen technology.

As expected of Super AMOLED displays, the color saturation may be a tad too much for some consumers. Nonetheless, it makes up for an unrivalled multimedia viewing experience. Photos and videos look especially vibrant. Samsung offers five different screen modes (Adapt Display, dynamic, standard, professional photo and movie) to cater to different preferences.

Adapt Display adjusts the colors and brightness according to the user's surroundings and usage. For example, it changes the color of the background on e-book mode to enhance readability. It has seven automatic modes and four manual modes to provide the optimal viewing experience while watching videos, playing games, reading books and emails.

The Galaxy S4 is the first mobile device to be equipped with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which was first introduced at CES 2013. The new glass comes with native damage resistance that can provide improved durability to withstand deep scratches and cracks. So while the glass used is getting tougher, we can't say the same for its plastic body, which could be the weakest link of its physical design. We cannot foretell how it will stand up in reliability and quality aspects as that will require actual usage of the device for months before anything conclusive can be mentioned. For now, here's a video demonstrating the toughness of the Gorilla Glass 3:-

Currently, all three telcos are only bringing in the 16GB model although Samsung announced two other storage capacities (32GB and 64GB). There is no real concern with the omission of the other two storage capacities since the Galaxy S4 comes with a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 64GB in capacity.

 

Imaging Performance 

Samsung joins the megapixel race by housing a 13-megapixel rear BSI camera sensor in the Galaxy S4. It also has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera which is used not only for video calls, but also in a couple of software features such as Smart Stay and Smart Scroll. Samsung's flagship smartphones have traditionally excelled in imaging aspects and the Galaxy S4 looks to be no different.

Low light photography is an emerging trend these days in the mobile world, thanks to Nokia's heavy emphasis on its PureView technology in its Lumia 920. HTC decided to buck the trend by introducing its custom-designed 4-megapixel camera sensor with enlarged pixels to take in three times more light. Naturally, the focus now turns to Samsung on whether its Galaxy S4 is able to fight with the other big boys in low light conditions. We took the Samsung Galaxy S4 out for a spin and this is what we got:-

Due to time constraints, we were unable to carry out an elaborate shootout between the top Android smartphones. Keep your eyes peeled to HardwareZone in the coming week as we will compare the imaging performance of the various Android flagship phones.

 

*Updated as of 25th April 2013 - This section was added after our battery tests were completed. 

Battery Performance

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

• Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%

• Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on

• Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

Test Phones Compared
Specifications/Device Samsung Galaxy S4 HTC One HTC Butterfly LG Optimus G Sony Xperia Z Samsung Galaxy S III LTE
Processor
  • Quad-core 1.9GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.5GHz
  • Quad-core 1.4GHz
Display Size
  • 5-inch
  • 4.7-inch
  • 5-inch
  • 4.7-inch
  • 5-inch
  • 4.8-inch
Display Type
  • Super AMOLED
  • Super LCD 3
  • Super LCD 3
  • True HD IPS+ LCD
  • TFT LCD
  • Super AMOLED
Display Resolution
  • 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 1280 x 768 pixels
  • 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 1280 x 720 pixels
Dimensions
  • 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm
  • 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm
  • 143 x 70.5 x 9.08mm
  • 131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45mm
  • 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm
  • 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm
Weight
  • 130g
  • 143g
  • 140g
  • 145g
  • 146g
  • 133g
Battery
  •  2600mAh
  • 2300mAh
  • 2020mAh
  • 2100mAh
  • 2330mAh
  • 2100mAh

The Galaxy S4 lasted a whopping 10 hourrs 47 minutes, which is miles ahead of the current 5-inch competition. For example, the HTC One only managed a battery uptime of four hours and 17 minutes and the Sony Xperia Z came in shorter at four hours.

This is not entirely unexpected since Samsung's flagship devices have always performed well in this aspect, thanks to the larger battery capacity, power efficient AMOLED display and good power management. As you can see in the power consumption chart, the Galaxy S4 has one of the lowest power consumption figures of 0.92W - well ahead of the competition.

Due to its slim and lightweight form factor, the Galaxy S4 also topped our Portability Index where each device is assessed on its ability to balance battery mileage. with its size and portability.

Our battery tests are quite strenuous and are used to help us establish a base line for comparison between the various smartphone offerings on the market. In actual usage scenario, the Galaxy S4 could easily last through a day of our regular weekday schedule of calls, email, web-surfing and social media usage. If the battery runs low on juice, there is a Power Saving mode that you can enable to maximize its mileage. And if you're a really heavy user, an extra battery is always an option.