The Samsung Galaxy S4 was launched in Johannesburg recently where we were finally introduced to the Life Companion. With its amazing features that seem to resemble something from a futuristic feature films I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the device. I wanted to find out if the Galaxy S4 lives up to its magical status once you go beyond the marketing hype and how does it cope in the real-world.
Look and Feel
The Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3 look virtually identical and unless you know what to look out for you can easily mix them up. Yes, the S3 was and still is insanely popular and so sticking with a winning design makes sense, but I do think that people who purchase the top of the range device want something that is noticeably different – its a status thing. I hope Samsung doesn’t make the same iPhone 3/4/5 mistake and by the time we see the S5 there is a visible change.
The device itself is amazing and whilst some have a raised a concern with the plastic-feel to it, I did not find it to be so. The weight of the unit, the size and the rounded metal edges gives the S4 a superb look. Add to that the stunning full HD Super AMOLED, 16M Colour Depth , 5.0″ Display Size with 1920 x 1080 Resolution display and you get a crystal clear screen that resembled high-end HD TV.
In order to power that amazing screen, those sensors and that Octa Core Processor 1.6GHz Quad + 1.2GHz Quad CPU you need a decent battery. The S4 comes with a 2,600mAh standard battery which is slightly better than the 2,100 mAh battery on the S3. Depending on usage, I managed to get around 7 hours per day. Great for a day’s work and with such a small battery size, you can easily carry an additional battery in your bag in case you need it.
A lot of emphasis has been given to the camera on the Galaxy S4. It has a 2 megapixels front-facing camera and a 13 megapixels rear-facing camera. However, the camera has been augmented with many software modes to enhance the photographic experience. Many of these are great to play with such as HDR, Best Face (you pick the best photo from a burst of photos), Animated Photo (make one part of the pic move and the rest static), Sound and Shot (a still image but coupled with the background audio), Eraser (removes moving objects in the background that can ruin the shot), Drama Shot (which captures all the images in a burst and overlays them on top of one photo). The S4 also has the ability to activate the front camera at the same time as the rear-facing camera so your face it overlaid in a photo frame inside the picture you are taking.
Some of these features have lovely effects but can be gimmicky once you get over the initial “look what I can do” excitement. You also have to be in the right photo mode to take advantage of that feature. For example: when you take a photo in the default Auto Mode, you can’t erase someone who photobombs your shot. For that to work you had to take that shot in the Eraser Mode. Not sure how I could predict when someone will come into my frame before I take the shot though…
The one mode I do like is the ability of having sound and images mixed together but even here the feature came up a bit short as I would have like a moving image like the HTC One does. The images are also rather large at over 34megabyte each they are not something you can easily email or upload.
This is where the Galaxy S4 shines and receives the biggest “oohhhh and ahhhhs” whenever I demonstrate the multitude of sensors. To find most of these gestures, you have to tap onto settings, then tap on My Device, scroll to the very bottom and here you will see Input and Control. Tap on Motions and Gestures and here you can switch them on or off HOWEVER if you tap on the name itself eg. Air Gestures, it will open an additional menu where you can switch on or off individual gestures and when you tape again on each gesture you will see a tutorial on how it works.
Each and every one of the gestures works exactly as it says it would. At no point did I battle to show someone a feature and at not point did the device let me down. I change images in the gallery by simply waving my hands over the screen from left to right and right to left and the same with changing music tracks.
There is definitely a bit of “Harry-Potter-meets-Starship-Enterprise” feel when you do these gestures and the S4 reacts. These work superbly well when your hands are wet or dirty too.
There are two features that I just don’t get and irritated me to the point that I disabled them. The fist was the Smart Scroll. This feature lets your device automatically scroll webpages up and down as you tilt the device or as your head tilts. This drove me insane as everything kept on moving with every slight movement of my hands and head. I will re-enable it the moment I need to follow that cake-recipe and don’t want to get butter on the screen. But until then, it remains off.
The second was the Smart Pause which pauses the movie as you look away from the device. When I watch a movie on a small screen (and even on the large screen) I don’t keep my head and eye locked on the screen in a neck-brace-like state. My eyes tend to wonder a bit and this stops the movie. When I gave the kids the phone to watch a video clip they kept telling me that it is broken as the video keeps stopping. It seems that unless you can give your phone undivided attention it will keep pausing. What would have been a great enhancement is if Air View could allow you to rewind or fast forward a movie without touching the screen so if you look away you can rewind the part you missed.
An honorable mention goes to the S-Translator. You can either type your text of speak it through the microphone and the S4 returns the translation on the screen or via audio. Although the amount of languages you can translate to and from is limited, it is a great feature which I can definitely see people using as they travel around Europe. Unfortunately, there are no local South African languages. When and if this happens, this feature alone would make the S4 a vital tool to have in our country where we have many official languages. I am hoping that this will come – perhaps under the Built for Africa umbrella.
The S4 has a Universal Remote control that allows you to control various devices via the infrared blaster located at the top of the device. Whilst other people did manage to control various devices such as TVs and Blue-Ray players, I could not get mine to do the same. This is a really neat feature to have since we watch TV with our phones in or hands anyways.
The Galaxy S4 is a stunning smartphone that will handle everything you throw at it. It has the hardware to handle all those complex gesture tasks as well as the battery to keep the phone powered. I found that the Galaxy S4 can suit my business needs just as well as it can suits the play-world. If you are in the market for the latest Android phone the Galaxy S4 is an obvious choice and especially when you consider the Samsung Accidental Device Handling warranty that covers your phone for screen and water damage – now the S4 is an Android must have !