May 30, 2013

1377 words 7 mins read

Samsung Galaxy S4 – I'm quite impressed

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Oh darn! I ruined the entire review. Here I was, going to tell you what I thought of the Samsung Galaxy S4, after my first week of use… and I gave away the ending in the title. Well, you know what? Screw it. I’m going to tell you what I think anyway because “I’m quite impressed” means very little to you, the discerning internet denizen. You want details, damn it, and I’ll try to provide them.

Size/Weight/Formfactor

Let’s just get right to business shall we? The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a giant phone… on paper. It has a 5” screen, meaning the device is quite sizable when compared to most any phone currently on the market. In the real world this means the phone is ~2.75” wide and ~5.25” long. While it sounds really huge, it isn’t that bad in actual use. Since the phone is almost all plastic with rounded corners, it is very light and easy to hold. I don’t have very large hands and I can hold the phone one handed fairly well. I know some people are concerned with it breaking in their pocket due to its size, but I don’t think that is probable. Also of concern to some is the weight, but the SGS4 only weighs in a touch more than the iPhone 5 — even with the much larger screen and body — yay plastics! After a few days of use I went back and looked at my iPhone 5 again… it just seemed so tiny.

Screen

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The official specs page says the S4 has a “5” Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 441 ppi”. In English, this roughly translates to “OH MY GOD SO SEXY”. I love having a full HD display on my phone. My phone has a display resolution equivalent to some of my LCD screens — how cool is that?!? What it means in reality is that with the high res and the super high pixel density (441 ppi), you can pull up any website in “desktop mode” and be able to make out all of the text. Sure, the text is tiny, but it is in fact readable (if your eyes are that good).

There is just so much detail on screen. Looking at pictures, watching videos, whatever you happen to be up to. In addition to that, Samsung tweaks their displays to be a little more saturated. Some complain about this because it makes pictures of people look funny, but I don’t mind in the least. I’m a photographer so I understand saturation quite well, I purposefully saturate some of the pictures I take because I like that look. Makes things more vibrant and exciting! Plus, who cares about how the pictures of humans look on my phone? All you care about is how they look on Facebook.

Camera

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There are two cameras on the S4, like most phones these days. A 13 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front camera. As you might know, I fancy myself a photographer, so I care a great deal about the camera. The iPhone 5’s camera did great overall, I took 300-500 pictures a month with it. The S4’s camera is, so far that I’ve seen, better in every aspect. Since it has so many pixels, it is even tolerable to use the digital zoom. I’ve put up a gallery of images on Imgur, which cover a variety of situations from cityscape, to macro, to parties, and even some fireworks (Note: I’ve captioned the photos with important details, like if I used digital zoom). There are also a bunch of fun modes built into the camera beyond the standard like panorama and HDR. One of my favorite is “Animated Photo” which means you pick a portion of the picture to be animated and the rest is frozen. I uploaded a (HUGE) animated test photo to flickr (be patient, ~15MB) as a sample.

Battery

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The power source for this device is a 2600 mAh battery with built-in NFC. It also, theoretically, supports inductive (wireless) charging via the Qi standard, but I haven’t tried that at all so I can’t speak to its functionality. What I can speak to is the battery life as I’ve experienced, in the real world, over the first week. Most important note about battery: the “OMG SEXY” screen, sucks up battery like nothing else. How long this device lasts will be directly dependent on how much time the screen is turned on. That being said, while the battery isn’t massive, it has survived for me just fine.

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On Saturday I unplugged my phone at about 9am and left the house. I went to get my haircut which turned out to be a several hour wait — during that time I probably spent at least a solid hour reading reddit. After that I went down the South Bay to pick up a friend and go to a pre-wedding celebration. While there I took a dozen pictures, wasted some time, and sent/received a few dozen text messages. I spent about 4 hours driving different places during the day, all of which I had my music on for. Also for about 2 hours of those drives I had Google Navigation running. After 13 hours on battery, I still had 13% battery left. This is, at least for me, a very heavy usage day. The picture to the side shows my battery usage breakdown from the day and as you can see, screen is the battery killer.

One other battery related anicdote. Last night I hopped on the phone (yes, I actually use this “phone” to make phone calls — GASP) when I was down to about 16% battery. After 1 hour and 45 minutes on the phone, I was down to 5%. Since the screen was off, the Galaxy S4 has damn good endurance. If that math were to hold true for the entire battery, that’s roughly 16 hours of talk time. I doubt that would actually happen, but it is still a LOT of phone time.

Memory/Storage

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Since I live in the US of A, my options for SGS4 storage are: 16 GB, 16 GB or 16 GB. Unfortunately about 8 GB of that is used right out of the box for operating system and other fun bloatware. Many, many, many people are upset about only having 8 GB of storage, “this is a travesty” they say! It sucks, but really, who cares? The only thing you need onboard storage for is applications. Unless you are loading up games, lots of big HD games, you’ll be fine. My biggest apps installed so far: Osmos HD (65MB), Diner Dash Deluxe (64MB), White Noise (63MB), Amazon Kindle (60MB), Angry Birds In Space (60MB), Chrome (50MB), Google Play Music (48MB), and Flight Control (39MB). I’ve installed everything I want to use on a day-to-day basis and I’m using ~1GB of space for apps.

You know what takes up the most space for me? Pictures (I take), Video, and Music. Where do all those things get stored? On the handy dandy Samsung 64GB microSDXC that I purchased for $62. I now have more storage space than I know what to do with. I could rip the entire 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 to the SDXC card and STILL have 30GB left over. Because the cards are hotswapable, I could double my storage for another $62. To me, this is by far better than spending major $$$ buying a 64GB phone. Of course, I’d still love to not have half my phone based storage used up out of the box; that is not cool.

Summary

I think I covered it in the title, but I’m quite impressed with the Samsung Galaxy S4 both from the hardware and the software perspectives. My last Android was the Droid 3 running 2.3.4. From that I jumped to the iPhone 5 and now to the S4. I wouldn’t recommend an Android to everyone. I love the customizability and the ability to tinker, but some people want easier and the iPhone is the king of simple. Only time will tell how the S4 will fare, but it is the best-of-the-best right now and I’m pleased with my purchase. It is worth the upgrade.