At first glance, this year’s flagship of Android, Galaxy S4 cellphone looks a lot like the last year’s Galaxy S III model.  Although, when we looked more closely, it became clear that improvements in design do exist – the newest addition to the Galaxy S brand of products at the same time has both bigger screen and battery, and is also thinner, a bit smaller and weighs less than its predecessor. For this feat, Samsung should be lauded, although we suspect that good part of this accomplishment is due to implementation of Gorilla Glass 3 protective screen. It’s thinner, but at the same time sturdier, with a greater resistance to scratches, although if numbers are to be believed, it’s also more fuscous. The “inspired by nature” design choice of rounded edges, present in Galaxy S III, is less pronounced here, corners are sharper and the rim isn’t wavy anymore, rather it has the same scope everywhere. The said rim also has another two strengthenings which serve to additionally simulate a metallic hoop, but are still made from plastic. The edges are higher than the screen for a space of less than a millimeter and the whole of the device is covered with a layer of hyperglaze, as is the case with its predecessor, which under the transparent surface has a lattice of thin lines, whose purpose is to change the monotony of large, white-colored surfaces.
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Samsung implemented the option of opening the back lid, that is, inserting a micro SD card and a replaceable, large-capacity battery, which is rare these days, but we like it. The increase in number of sensors above the screen is noticeable and they allow a lot of new functions which are randomly distributed, as if someone added them as an afterthought. The only mechanical buttons on the sides, left power button and right volume control button have been improved and they feel much better under the fingers. On the top side, next to the audio jack and a microphone for recording the background noise, an IC emitter has been added, whose purpose is to remotely control other devices. On the bottom side are an microUSB and a microphone, and on the back side there hasn’t been many changes – Samsung logo, LED flash, slightly convexed camera lens and the convexed lattice opening for the speaker in order to reproduce the sound better, when placed on a table.

The space between the screen and the bottom edge has been reduced in comparison with the predecessor. As before, there’s one mechanical and two sensor buttons with backlighting. The middle, mechanical button with a short click directs to home screen and with a long click displays a list of currently running applications, and also task manager, Google Now and the option for RAM clean-up.

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As you can see, there are many hardware improvements when compared to the S III, which is a bit strange, considering that it’s appearance is just slightly improved Galaxy S III, which will be a difficulty when competing against HTC One and Sony Xperia Z device which leave a more exclusive impression upon the potential buyer. Because Galaxy S4 supports wireless charging, it would have been great if such charger was included in the packaging and it would help to rise above the competition with such and interesting improvement which they don’t possess.

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Since the first system startup, it’s obvious that the hardware has been significantly improved when compared to the predecessor – booting is extremely fast. In order to check whether it was some sort of hibernate option, we removed the battery and the system startup was still extremely fast. Considering that one of the visible improvements has been the increase in display and resolution size, we were very interested in how do those two combine. Like we have already mentioned in other reviews, the increase in screen resolution from 720p to 1080p is hardly noticeable on screens which have a 5 inch diagonal. But, such an improvement was necessary in order for S4 to stay competitive. The technology Samsung used to make the AMOLED screen of S4 has a side-effect of producing grainy formations in certain tones, which was hardly noticeable in the S III model. Due to the extremely small pixels, those imperfections can’t be noticed with the naked eye, so this improvement is an accompanying effect of the increase in resolution. Of course, all of the listed qualities of the screen are the best possible – black color is the darkest black possible, contrast is simply astounding, excellent viewing angles and intense colors. On previous models, we had an option to choose between a few different color settings, but S4 added another one, called Adobe RGB. That’s because Samsung’s intention was to give the option to the users who wanted the colors to be as natural as possible and they partially succeeded – colors are calmer, white color has less tinges of blue, but it’s nowhere close to perfect. Visibility under direct sunlight is similar to S III – good enough to see the name of the caller and notifications, but not good enough to discern smaller letters. Considering the increase in resolution and screen size, we were wondering whether the increase in battery capacity was enough to provide the same autonomy.  It turned out that S4 with a fully charged battery can last for two full days under heavy use, which is better than S III.

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Camera was significantly improved because the number of pixels has been increased by more than half, it doesn’t jut as much from the surface and many new modes of recording have been added. Among other things, it’s possible to to simultaneously record from front and back camera, and the view from the back camera is added to the recording of the front camera. This miniature window can change its position, shape and, to a limited degree, size. Quality of the recording under good lighting is great, but not as good otherwise. HDR effect present in the images with varying degrees of lighting which helps to express the details is one of the better that we’ve seen. It’s interesting to note that during display on the phone there’s digital enhancing of the image, which doesn’t edit the original, so if you transfer it to your PC, it will be unchanged. As for other hardware changes worth noting, Galaxy S4 supports the advanced LTE (4G) networks, which will be a benefit on markets that support it. Interesting to note and also tied to the implementation of the LTE modem is the removal of the FM radio, so you won’t be able to listen to your favorite radio station on your phone.

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Samsung Galaxy S 4 I9505
Processor Qualcomm quadcore Krait 300 1.9 GHz, Snapdragon 600
GPU Adreno 320
Memory 2 GB RAM, internaly available 14.5 GB, total 16GB,  microSD
Display 5'', 1920x1080 pix, Super AMOLED, Gorilla Glass 3
Interfaces microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi n, DC HSDPA, GPS, LTE, MHL
Camera Back: 13 MP with autofocus and LED flash; Front: 2 MP
Battery Li- Ion 2600 mAh
OS Android OS 4.2.2
Dimensions [mm] 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9
Weight [g] 130 with battery
Price [US $] 900


Anyone who had contact with Samsung’s cellphones starting with Galaxy S II, will adapt quickly to the new user interface of Galaxy S4. Until you start digging through every possible setting, everything is pretty logical and relatively simple. Some of the smaller changes are: the weather forecast gadget, which has been esthetically simplified; settings section has been separated into three parts, which helps the navigation through this segment which has been improved with more capabilities. Lock screen has possibly been changed the most, because not only was a new lighting effect with waves added, but also new capabilities in accordance to the philosophy of the newest 4.2.2 version of the Android OS which is present on the Galaxy S4.

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Previously, TouchWizz, Samsung’s user interface was recognizable by its functions which greatly sped up the use of the cellphone, for example moving to the left or right in the call log in order to call that number or send him a message. In S III, that philosophy has been continued, so when you’re reading a message and you’d like to call the sender, you only need to press the phone to your ear and the phone will call him for you. In S4, all those functions have been retained and so many new ones have been added that we had to wonder what is the size of the user manual and how much time would we need to explore all of the additions. AirView detects the presence of the finger above the screen, and in the applications that use it gives some interesting capabilities. For example, if used in Samsung’s browser, above the list of opened tabs it will show thumbnails of the pictures in them, and if you do the same thing with a video file, it will start playing in a small window. Speaking of video players, it’s probably the best of all pre-installed on cellphones. It supports .mkv file type, surround sound (it supports “downmix” if needed), subtitles, it can work in a small windows and gives a very nice picture quality.

Multiwindow, which was already implemented on Note and Galaxy series, has been slightly improved because it displays multiple programs in the list. The idea is that, by using it, the screen splits in two parts, which are used by different applications. Considering the modest screen size, we think that there will still be more users that will use it as a shortcut to installed applications than for real multitasking.

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Adapt Sound is an idea borrowed from other sound reproduction applications. With a series of beeps of varying frequencies it tests the hearing ability of the user and in accordance to it, changes the outgoing signal. Interestingly enough, it almost has no effect with people who hare of normal hearing. While we’re at Adapt functions, there’s also Adapt Display, which detects the intensity of light in all three of the major colors (RGB) in order to adapt the backlight and color intensity to the present circumstances.

As we have already mentioned, Galaxy S4 has an IC sensor which, in combination with WatchON application, serves as a remote control for other devices, like TV or AC. The setup is easy, you choose a category of the device, then brand and application sends the IC signal in accordance with the desired function. We’ve tried it with Sharp TV and LG DVD player and everything functioned without a slightest hitch. Smart Pause enables you to pause the video you’re watching (only with its own video player) just by looking away and resuming it when you return your gaze towards it.

Samsung Smart Scroll enables you to scroll the browser and email up and down without touching the screen. This functions detects the eyes and screen angle and then scrolls the pages in accordance with them. This, also, works only with specially designed functions like email and browser. If you move your hand close to the screen while it’s off, it will show you the screen with most important notifications, like number of missed calls, unread messages, battery status, clock and weather forecast. These three functions were grouped together on purpose, because they share an attribute – they’re rarely turned on.

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If all of this wasn’t enough for you, there’s an impressively long list of applications at your disposals. S Voice has a great voice recognition capability and along with it come S Health and S Translator applications. The last one is especially interesting because it allows you translate a text or a spoken word into one language to another. We’d also like to mention the Story Album and Group Play functions. Album automatically sorts images by time and place when they were taken, and you can even order a print made, through Blurb service. Group Play can conditionally be named an improved S Beam which allows playing the same music, displaying the same images or documents on multiple nearby Galaxy S4 devices.

You think that’s all? No, no, there’s more – for example, S Voice Drive for voice commands and information during driving, Optical Reader which notes the difference between regular text, a card or QR code and in accordance to the read content gives you options what to do with them. Not to mention a large number of functions and applications from its predecessor, like detecting whether the user is lying down and rotating the screen in accordance with it, not allowing for screen to switch off while you’re looking at it or covering it with the palm of your hand or turning the screen downward in order to switch it off.

King or prince?

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Forming a final opinion on Galaxy S4 wasn’t an easy task. The newest addition to the Galaxy S brand of products is the best Android cellphone that Samsung offers at this moment. At the same time, it’s also the fastest Android cellphone, has a great screen, a solid battery and a decent camera. Its software has been enhanced with a great many functions and it was also decently optimized, although we believe that further system upgrades will provide an ever better performance and fix the bugs present in some functions. However, unlike the situation with Galaxy S II and S III, who, at the time of their appearance, were far better than competition, that’s not the case now. There are many reasons for that. For example, the competition never had such a strong offer – we’re talking about Sony Xperia Z and HTC One devices. All three cellphones are excellent devices which come up at the top in different categories, which hasn’t happened in a long time and only illustrates how the market for top Android devices has become tight. Second reason lies with the fact that there hasn’t been a  clear difference in terms of design of Galaxy S4 when compared to S III – the users don’t like that. If they bought a top quality device for a lot of money, it should appear different than the last year’s model.  Third reason lies with the functions that should make life easier for users. But, there’s so many of them that they seem to be the opposite of that idea, since the large percentage of the users simply doesn’t want to spend that much time adjusting their cellphone. All that aside, it should be made clear that Galaxy S4 is the fastest Android cellphone available and aside from the listed flaws, everything else is top notch, so we assume it will again be the top-selling Android cellphone this year. If for whatever reason you’re thinking about buying it, whether it’s because of its design, screen, speed, software or something else entirely, do it, you won’t make a mistake.