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Very, very impressive: Samsung’s Galaxy S4 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 3:11 pm 30/04/2013

Samsung has been on a winning streak lately, producing some top-notch handsets and winning acclaim around the world. The newest model in the four year strong Galaxy range has certainly been hyped up, and this handset now grabs almost as much attention as Apple’s coveted iPhone. Can Samsung’s S4 steal the show?

Features

For the S4 released in Australia, Samsung has decided on using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, with this particular quad-chip clocked at 1.9GHz. The almost two gigahertz processor will work in tandem with 2GB RAM, Adreno 320 graphics chip, and on the model we’re reviewing, there’s 16GB of internal storage for you to work with, as well as a microSD card slot for expanding that considerably.

Google’s Android operating system is being used here, though outside of LG’s Google Nexus 4, this is the first time we’ve seen the very latest version of Android – 4.2, Jelly Bean – used out of the box when you buy it. New features to this version include standby screen widgets and a “daydream” screensaver, among other things.

One of the more important features of any smartphone released in the past few years is the screen, and on the S4 that’s a 5 inch Full HD (1920×1080) display, managing a pixel per inch count of 441, similar to the Sony Xperia Z.

The display is protected by the third-generation of Corning’s scratch-resistant glass technology – Gorilla Glass – and even incorporates some new technologies to reduce power consumption on the screen, a touch technology that expands the scope of the touchscreen to include activity happening just above the screen, brightness and colour profiles that can automatically switch on, and the ability to use the touchscreen while wearing gloves and other garments.

Multimedia is an important part of any handset, and here in the Galaxy S4 you can find a 13 megapixel rear camera capable of blending consecutively shot images to remove people and elements unintentionally in the frame, take photos with background sound included, dramatic shots with merged frames, and of course Full HD video.

The front camera on this smartphone sits at 2 megapixels and can record Full HD video, too.

A first for smartphones, both camera modules can be activated simultaneously and blend images shot from each, allowing you to appear in the photo you’re taking.

Connections on the Galaxy S4 cater to pretty much everything under the sun, and as such include Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, AptX, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 4G LTE, Near-Field Communication, GPS, and even infrared, with the latter of these sitting in a small dot at the top of the handset.

With regards to ports and buttons, the Galaxy S4 follows on from its S3 brother, and as such has very few of either.

You’ll see the typical three Samsung front-facing buttons here – menu, home, and back – while the volume rocker sits on the left side and the power button sits on the right. Ports are more or less the same, too, with only a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB that doubles as HDMI video with an optional MHL cable at the bottom.

Unlike most of the phones this competes with, the back of the handset isn’t soldered on, and you can remove it, showing the 2600mAh battery underneath, microSD slot, and microSIM section.

Performance and what works

It’s been a whole year since we first laid eyes on the Galaxy S3 (SIII), and since then, Samsung has decided to do away with the Roman numerals for the Galaxy series, hardly surprising given people would probably call it the “Galaxy Siv,” a slightly different sounding name than “Galaxy S4.”

In this incarnation, Samsung has kept much of the design of its older brother, tightening up the form with a look inspired by that of the bigger Galaxy Note 2.

The front hasn’t changed considerably, though the screen is a little bigger and the corners are less round, looking more like a softened rectangle now than before, which feels like a Galaxy Note 2 thing. The edges no longer feature a wavy line, and everything on the S4 looks more professional. Even the back is tightened, with a very minimalist look: camera lens and flash going down the back, with the Samsung logo, and then the speaker at the bottom.

Certainly from a design point of view, Samsung appears to be learning about simplicity, and that works for us.

Samsung is still relying heavily on plastic, though. In the hands, this is – like its brother – a very comfortable handset, and even though plastic is the dominant material, the S4 still manages to feel very solid, albeit slippery.

Turning it on, we’re greeted by that Full HD screen, which stretches out almost the entire front-face. At five inches, it’s big, bright, and very clear, and if anyone complains about the clarity of this screen, they’re either lying or having eyesight troubles in ways this display can’t fix.

While the 441 pixels per inch isn’t the highest on the market (beaten out by the HTC One’s 468ppi), it is still insanely clear, with full-size webpages, Twitter, documents, and pretty much anything showing up on screen clear and readable.

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Price (RRP)

$899; Available on plans from Telstra, Optus, Virgin, and Vodafone

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Very fast performer; Two days battery life possible from a 4G phone is excellent; Fast virtual keyboard; Works as a remote control;

Product Cons

Unique camera modes aren't easy to use; Finger-less touch modes need a lot of work; Still a very plastic phone; Can't change the bottom icon dock;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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