Samsung Galaxy S4 review
It’s improved in every area, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t good enough to topple the HTC One
Review Date: 11 Jul 2013
Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray
Price when reviewed: Free, on a £31.00 per month, 24 months contract.
Features & Design
Value for Money
UPDATE: Darien Graham-Smith, PC Pro's Technical Editor, has added his thoughts after living with the S4 for a month. Scroll to the end of the review to read more.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is this year’s most anticipated smartphone, but after its glitzy New York launch in March, Samsung has made us wait for the handset. In the meantime, the HTC One has stolen Samsung’s spot at the top of our A-List, and now prospective buyers aren’t only wondering whether it’s better than its rival, but even whether it’s better than its predecessor.
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One
Find out how the Samsung Galaxy S4 compares with its big rival - the HTC One - in our head-to-head review
It’s easy to see why many have been left trying to spot the difference between the Galaxy S3 and the new S4: the two phones share their curved shapes, chrome-effect borders and familiar home buttons. Differences are only noticeable up close. The screen is marginally taller, the bottom lip is smaller, and the sensors above the display have been subtly rearranged. There’s one extra black dot - an infrared sensor, which the S4 uses to power gesture-control features. The top of the phone still houses the notification light, which uses the full RGB colour gamut – an improvement over the HTC’s two-tone light.
The new phone is more compact and pocketable than its predecessor, despite a slightly larger screen: it’s 5mm slimmer and marginally lighter, but it feels sturdier, with barely any give in the rear panel.
The Galaxy S4 range
Samsung has detailed several new devices that will join the standard S4 in its range.
The S4 Mini should be ideal if the S4’s 5in screen is just too large. It has a 4.3in, 540 x 960 Super AMOLED screen and the specification suggests this will be an extremely capable mid-range handset: a 1.7GHz dual-core, an 8-megapixel camera, and both 3G and 4G variants. Samsung hasn’t yet released price details or a release date.
The standard S4 has an excellent camera, but keen photographers should pay attention to the forthcoming Galaxy S4 Zoom. It’s set to be the best combination of smartphone and camera we’ve seen, with a 10x optical zoom and 16-megapixel CMOS sensor crammed inside a 15.4mm, 200g frame. It’s set to arrive in the UK this summer.
The Galaxy S4 Active is a ruggedised phone that should cope with the wettest outdoor conditions – which is ideal, as it’s set for release during the British summer. It adheres to the IP67 guidelines, so it’s protected against various levels of dust and water ingress, and it includes a built-in barometer, and an "Aqua Mode" for underwater photography.
We like the S4’s diamond-pattern rear casing, which is a big improvement on the plain S3, but the casing’s still entirely plastic, and lacks the reassuringly expensive feel of the HTC One’s aluminium shell. It just doesn’t feel like a device worthy of a £500 price tag. At least that plastic rear panel is removable, which gives access to the microSD slot and replaceable battery, winning the Samsung points for versatility.
The S4’s 5in, 1,920 x 1,080 Super AMOLED panel uses a PenTile grid, but there’s none of the blurred edges that can appear on this type of display – the 441ppi ensures the Samsung’s screen is as sharp as anything else on the market.
Black levels are perfect, distinctions between deep-black and light-white shades are handled with aplomb, and the S4’s colours are a tad richer than those on the HTC’s LCD screen. Viewing angles are excellent.
There’s a problem, though, and it’s brightness. The S4’s measured maximum brightness of 221cd/m2 can’t match the HTC’s 481cd/m2, and the deep black level doesn’t make up the shortfall – images, web pages and games lack vibrancy when the phones are compared side by side. The S4’s screen is still one of the best in the business, but it’s the runner-up here.
European S4 handsets don’t feature the 1.6GHz eight-core processor touted at launch; instead, we’re saddled with a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. That might disappoint speed freaks, but it’s the same processor as found in the HTC One and certainly no slouch.
"Beauty Face made no visible difference to our portraits." perhaps you lot are all too gorgeous already for it to make an appreciable difference :-)
By sihaz2 on 3 May 2013
Why so hung up?
I don't get this obsession with a metal case. The same arguments were made about the S2, but I think it's great and feels like a premium phone to me. Plastic makes for a much lighter phone and is what I love so much about the Samsung range.
By alvin on 4 May 2013
I agree entirely. This focus on style over substance is driving me nuts. We have apple to thank for that.
Aluminium phones may look great when you take them out of the box, but they are incredibly easily damaged.
I've had my S3 since launch. Its never been anywhere near a case and I challenge you to find a single mark.
I urge Samsung to continue using the best materials for the job, not the prettiest.
By Paul_ on 4 May 2013
Have they fixed the bug where you cannot see contacts in Navigation? It claims that there are no contacts with addresses, and yet you can go to the contact and use the address to start the sat nav from there. This bug appeared in 2011 and is still present in my up fully updated S3.
Does it charge properly with a normal USB cable. My S3 will only trickle charge unless I use a special cable. This rather undermines the point of using a standard charging connector. For the few who use USB OTG functionality normal charging could easily be disabled in the menus rather than all the time.
Does voice dialing work? Again this doesn't work properly in the S3.
By tirons1 on 4 May 2013
yepppp the great phone caminggg
By moujahid on 4 May 2013
You can have both style and substance
I really don't understand the way fans of the Galaxy phones insist on either style OR substance. I think a phone like the HTC One is the current number one because it manages to be an extremely powerful phone while also being beautiful to look at.
Samsung should have improved the styling with this fourth iteration of the of the Galaxy S range.
By jamesma on 4 May 2013
Everything but the build quality...
The majority of people purchasing a £500+ phone will stick it in a case.
A friend of mine who bought the HTC one last week has already chipped the aluminium body as he put the phone in the same pocket as his keys. A problem he wouldn't had had with an S4.
People judge the phone too harshly on the build materials.
By lukesoad on 5 May 2013
Samsung is good product.
as long as I use no problems.
By vhary on 6 May 2013
The S4's shiny plastic battery cover would easily scratch if a key was to rub up against it - they're both as bad as each other.
IMO the S4 feels naff and the colour reproduction is horribly over-saturated compared to the more muted tones of the One and the One just feels more high-end.
Don't get me wrong, the speed of the unit is immense but it's just not up to the same quality of the One
By EddyOS_2K9 on 7 May 2013
Why did I get an S4?
1. The HTC looks better than the S4 but as either would spend their life in a case it was not really pertinent.
2. It has the biggest screen (my real reason for ditching the iPhone 4).
3. It is light for its size.
By cliffxdavis on 7 May 2013
My GS3 is now starting to suffer random locks, reboots, etc. Judging from what other people in my office are saying, I'm not the only one. If I spend £500 on a phone, I expect complete reliability.
In future, I'll probably opt for something like a Nokia Lumina 620. I'm completely over the 'glamour' of these high end phones.
By grimerking on 7 May 2013
The Samsung Galaxy S2 is the most practical phone I have ever owned. Almost two years on, I opted for a sim only contract at my mobile phone contract renewal, as the S2 still kicks butt. It's light, sturdy, quick, has a battery you can replace quicker than Clint Eastwood could draw his gun (thanks to the easy to remove yet solid once in place back panel.. yes, the same perfectly designed and extremely practical back panel PC Pro criticised for being too flimsy/bendable in the hand), extremely pocketable, and a comfortable, practical size to hold and use. What I would like is a phone with a similar spec to the S4 but with a S2 form factor. It's all gotten a little silly with the ever growing screen sizes.
By alvin on 9 May 2013
Biased reviews from Pcpro - expected better
In this review you keep harping on about the "plastic". Its polycarbonate. If you can refer to it properly in the HTC1 review then why not for the S4? Its either bias or laziness - ie not doing your research. Polycarbonate is tough, hard wearing and light - an excellent material choice.
By Mollusc on 9 May 2013
Used to love HTC
I used to own HTC phones all the time.
I bought an HTC Sensation when my wife had a Galaxy S2.
Her S2 still is fast and responsive, my HTC was almost unusable - used to take 3 mins to connect a call from hitting the green dial button.
I like HTC interface better than Touchwiz but the experience put me off their phones.
On opening the boxes I'm sure HTC wins by a margin but longer term use may be an issue.
Would love to know how the HTC fares after a year of use compared to the S4?
I have an S4 on order based on the above past experience - can't afford to risk HTC again.
By neltek on 9 May 2013
Style v Substance
Like many others I believe their is far too much weight given to matters of little import and features that will barely get used.
I would not buy a phone that I could not put a new battery into. Neither would I buy from a company that makes phones with ropey wireless communication. Neither would I buy one from companies whose software record is miserable. Which rules out both companies in this review even leaving aside the silly prices.
By djmp99 on 9 May 2013
Well, that rules out all companies, doesn't it? Hope that cup and string is working for you.
By TheHonestTruth on 9 May 2013
User memory too small
The only vbersion available in Europe a the moment is the 16Gb version which only gives the user around 9Gb left. As the S4 uses a recent Android version, apps cannot be moved to a memory card and neither can media bought from the Play Store.
The BBC 1 television programme "Watchdog" is to feature the problem of low memory and the unavailability of the 32Gb and 64Gb versions on 15th May at 8pm.
In America, AT&T has responded by making the 32Gb model available from 10th May due to customer feedback.
My advice would be not to buy the S4 until you can you have the option of a 32Gb model.
By lreid999 on 9 May 2013
S2 will do
@alvin I totally agree, I've done the same thing as you -- kept my S2 and switched to Sim only. I think the S2 is big enough thank you, and I am a bit annoyed at all these giant new phones. I was offered an S3 mini on upgrade but it turned out to be worse than the S2 so I rejected it. I will hold on until something better turns up. My wife has just upgraded to a Motorola Razr i and I'm rather impressed with it - probably a good peer for the S2.
By mario_miniaci on 9 May 2013
@grimerking - "My GS3 is now starting to suffer random locks, reboots, etc."
So did mine which I bought a week before Christmas 2012. I read up about the problem and came to the conclusion that it's the power button which is at fault - it can stick in the "in" position. Since coming to this conclusion, I've had no further problems as I'm always careful when pressing this button. It could be a software update but whatever, I'm now happy. I must say that the lack of removable battery and SD card slot makes the HTC One a non-starter for me. I also fail to see the attraction of an aluminium case. As for the S4 looking like the S3, great! I don't want a flash new look that immediately labels me as a mugging target. I much prefer a "wolf in sheep's clothing" to a flashy "look what I can afford!" gadget.
By JohnOfStony on 9 May 2013
Kies updates suck but at least Samsung continue roll out updates for capable legacy products like the S2. HTC on the other hand seem to forget about a phone once it's launched, updates to phones with capable hardware are rare and not very well implemented - so whilst immediate release conclusion would make someone by HTC, it's worth noting that support beyond the phone for any manufacturer should also be considered during the review process.
By eggster007 on 10 May 2013
Just fondle the HTC o
I did and bought
By richard_no1 on 15 May 2013
You fondle an HTC and hold an S4
I did and bought
By richard_no1 on 15 May 2013
Too much rubbish pre installed by Samsung. I want options to strip out anything that isn't core Android
By jeremyiwhite on 21 May 2013
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