Samsung Galaxy S4 review

11 Jul 2013

It’s improved in every area, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t good enough to topple the HTC One

Price when reviewed 
580
Buy it now for 
5

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.

Samsung Galaxy S4 v Samsung Galaxy S3 comparison

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.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

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.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

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.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active

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 screen

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/m[sup]2[/sup] can’t match the HTC’s 481cd/m[sup]2[/sup], 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.

Performance

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.

You can buy PC Pro's Ultimate Guide to the Samsung Galaxy S4 from Amazon for £7.99 with free delivery.

Pages

Details

Price ex VAT £483
Price inc VAT SIM-free, £483 (£580 inc VAT); from free on a £31/mth, 24mth contract
Cheapest price on contract Free
Contract monthly charge £31.00
Contract period 24 months
Contract provider www.mobilephonesdirect.co.uk
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5

Physical

Dimensions 70 x 7.9 x 136mm (WDH)
Weight 130g
Touchscreen yes
Primary keyboard On-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 2.00GB
Camera megapixel rating 13.0mp
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 5.0in
Resolution 1080 x 1920
Landscape mode? yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Android

Price comparison powered by Reevoo

£266
£304
£329
£329
£350
£401