It's good to be king, especially when Samsung knows it has reached the top after some early missteps. The Behold didn't make many friends for the Korean manufacturer, but the Galaxy S showed that Samsung could just tweak Android software enough to combine interesting features with cross-border hardware. The Galaxy S II proved that Samsung is no accident, and the success of the Galaxy S III has confirmed Samsung as the leading Android manufacturer. Heck, the Galaxy line has achieved so much success that Samsung has become the leading smartphone maker with no operating system qualifications required.
Now comes the hard part of being king – staying at the top. If the Galaxy S III was Samsung's coronation, the Galaxy S 4 will be the first defense of the throne.
On the heels of one rival's flagship, and a few months before another's expected reveal, the Galaxy S 4 will prove whether Samsung will continue its trend of advancement or become as predictable as the old guard who mocked it. Of course, we have to ask ourselves: How good is the Samsung Galaxy S 4?
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Hardware & design
You may have noticed that this is the Galaxy S 4 – not the Galaxy S IV as many expected. The change from Roman numeral branding to a modern numbering system is no accident. The Galaxy S 4 is unmistakably a continuation of its previous design, but it's a sleeker and more recent version of it. The phone is familiar but new. The Galaxy S III's rounded corners are still visible, but the S 4's frame looks like it's stretched to take on a thinner shape. In reality, the size is almost the same at 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm (5.4 x 2.7 x 0.31 inches). The small setting makes for a nicer build and an even larger screen that has been pushed up to 5 inches.
A flat rim connected to a hard silver ring has replaced the nature-inspired flowing bezel and edge of the S III. The back and front of the phone are made of glossy plastic that is seamlessly smooth to the touch. The only break in this fluidity is the hardware home button at the bottom of the device. The button is thin and protrudes from the phone, but it requires a little more pressure than Samsung phones usually need. It's located between a menu button and a back button that only appear when the screen is touched.
There is a power switch on the right, thin volume buttons on the left, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and an IR LED controller on the top of the phone, and an MHL-enabled micro-USB port on the bottom.
There is a loudspeaker on the back of the phone that reaches a high volume with average sound quality. There is a notification light in the upper left corner for pending alerts.
Performance & key specifications
Although Samsung has promised its octa-core processor will appear in phones this year, the US version of the Galaxy S 4 has a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. A quad-core Processor doesn't disappoint as the Snapdragon is ridiculously fast, efficient, and powerful.
- 4G LTE and Wi-Fi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac
- IR LED remote control
- MHL 2.0, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 (LE)
- Highly sensitive glass that works with gloves
The 2GB of RAM and superb 3D rendering never led to moments when I thought the phone was sluggish. The game skills are also strong. Unreal Engine's horn and the racing game Riptide both play at great speed.
Samsung sells the Galaxy S 4 in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB versions. Samsung software uses 6GB of ROM, so only about 9.7GB of storage is available in the 16GB base version we're testing today. This limitation turned out to be problematic after downloading a few games and quickly running out of space when adding part of my music collection. The memory can be expanded with a 64 GB microSD slot.
There are no surprises with the Galaxy S 4 display. The 5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display is just as good – or bad, depending on your preference for display technology – as any other AMOLED Plus display. Colors are high in contrast and high in saturation, so tones of red can appear in ways not normally seen when using other types of screens. The disadvantage is that the white balance is not as true to color as with IPS displays.
Even at maximum brightness, white backgrounds have a hue that deviates slightly from the ideal settings. Super AMOLED Plus has its drawbacks, but the 1080p HD resolution still looks gorgeous thanks to warm, sharp images and text that looks amazing. It also works well outdoors when the brightness is set to 100 percent.