The Samsung Galaxy S phenomenon keeps getting bigger with every passing year ever since it was launched in 2010. Each iteration of the Galaxy S series has been an incremental update of its previous generation and that trend continues to date. Three things that have stayed pretty much the same in these three years has been AMOLED displays, TouchWiz and Samsung’s love for plastic and faux metal trimmings. If you’ve used any of Samsung’s flagships in the past, you’ll be right at home with the new S4. We quite liked the handset during our brief encounter with it a few weeks back and after using it for about a week, we have come to like it even more. So how does the S4 fit in with the rest of the flagships? Let’s find out.
Design and build
Blending nature and technology works great from a marketing standpoint, but that does not guarantee a good looking product. Asus tried that with the Bamboo series notebooks and last year, Samsung designed the S3 to look like a pebble. Thankfully, this time around, Samsung has ditched the “Designed for humans” playbook and has designed a phone by humans. The S4 has a simple candy bar form factor minus the tapering edges of the S3. This gives it a uniform look – the S4 is a lot more ergonomic as compared to its predecessor. The faux metal trimmings around the edges make a comeback and the bezel is very slightly raised around the display so you don’t accidentally scratch it by keeping it face down. Areas around the screen and the back get a new textured pattern that looks good but doesn’t help in hiding finger prints. The phone looks a lot better in black than it does in white. We’re sure more colour options will soon be announced.
Looks and feels good despite the plastic chassis
The biggest (and impressive) feat that Samsung has pulled off is fitting a larger screen into a chassis that’s a tad smaller and thinner than the S3. Not only that, it has also managed to get the weight down by 3 grams. The handset is incredibly light for a 5-inch phone and even though its weight shedding is mostly due to the plastic chassis, it really doesn’t feel cheap. Besides the weight, the other reason why Samsung hasn’t switched to unibody is for the removable battery. This may not seem like a big deal too many, but if you’re into custom ROMs, then having a removable battery is the easiest way to get yourself out of a boot loop.
Removable back cover is always a bonus
Apart from the usual set of buttons and ports, the S4 packs a truck-load of sensors including a barometer, temperature sensor, humidity sensor and an IR sensor for gestures. The latter is a miniature version of the one used in the Microsoft Kinect. There’s also an IR port on the top alongside the headphone jack, so you can use the S4 as a TV remote. Other than this, we have active noise cancellation, TV-out via MHL and 50GB of Dropbox storage. The rear speaker is placed below and isn’t very loud. Also, alerts easily get muffled when placed on a surface that’s not planar.
The 13MP snapper on the back
We really liked the overall aesthetics of the S4 as compared to the S3. It’s a shame all that faux metal and chrome trim will wear off quite quickly, so you’ll have to be a little extra careful with your usage if you wish to preserve the "premium" look. Our test unit developed a lot of hairline scratches around the camera lens.
One of the biggest changes in the S4 is the new full HD Super AMOLED display. The panel boasts of an impressive 441ppi, which means pixels are virtually indistinguishable to the naked eye. The colours are rich and vibrant, albeit a bit exaggerated. You can fix this by selecting the "Natural" colour profile or choose to set it to auto, in which case the colour is automatically adjusted depending on the ambient light and the content being viewed. The only little gripe we have is that whenever the backlight intensity changes, the purplish tinge of the Pentile matrix display rears its ugly head, which is more prominent on grey backgrounds.
Refreshed user interface
India gets the GT-I9500 variant of the S4, which features the most talked about octa-core chipset. The Official name is Exynos 5 Octa 5410 and it is based on ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture. Here, we have two CPU clusters and a common GPU. The big cluster consists of four Cortex-A15 cores running at 1.6GHz while the LITTLE cluster consists of four Cortex-A7 cores running at 1.2GHz. In a typical situation, only one cluster is on at any given point depending on the task at hand. This is flexible, however as ARM’s architecture dictates that you can have three cores of the LITTLE cluster and one of the big active as well as have both clusters working in tandem if need be. This works seamlessly on the S4 and the handset actually runs very cool. Browsing image-heavy sites and GPS causes the upper portion of the display and the backside to heat up rather quickly. Other than that, the interface is buttery smooth with an occasional hiccup when accessing the widgets page.
Some crazy performance numbers
While most new phones are launching with Jelly Bean 4.1.2, Samsung gives you the latest version of Jelly Bean (4.2.2) along with TouchWiz. The infamous skin hasn’t changed too much from the S3, but there are some new additions. For instance, the scrollable toggle switches in the notification bar can now be viewed all at one by a two-finger pull down.