Very, very impressive: Samsung’s Galaxy S4 reviewed

The camera is another area where Samsung has been working hard, upping last year’s 8 megapixel Galaxy S3 camera to a more capable 13 megapixel module, which puts it on par – at least megapixel-wise – with the flagship offerings from Sony and LG.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 camera now looks more like the Galaxy Camera than ever.

Samsung’s camera interface has been enhanced too, redesigned to look more like that of the Galaxy Camera, complete with a selection of modes to choose from, including one that will remove people from the background, one that will fix faces, and a ton of filters that will show what your photo looks like through those filters as you take the photo.

Images from the camera look sharp and bright in daylight, and while they lose some clarity when you get in close, it’s a phone camera, and so won’t compete on zoom when there is only digital zoom to work with.

When the lights go down, the low-light quality from images leaves something to be desired, with little detail in the blacks.

Retro effects on tap.

That said, stick the image on HDR and you’ll find some light in the dark, while in daylight, the high-dynamic range images simply pop off the screen.

We’re also intrigued by the double image mode in the S4 that lets you take photos from both the front and rear camera at the same time.

While we’re not exactly sure who this is good for, it’s good for creating some very strange photos, such as the one below, where the reviewers head looks on above people in a darkened park.

Floating heads for the win.

Touch-less features

Flagship phones generally perform, and Samsung’s S4 certainly manages this, but not every feature shines.

Interestingly, it’s the ones that Samsung has added to make this handset a finger-less experience that feel like they haven’t been truly finished, with Smart Stay, Samsung’s feature that purports to watch you when you’re watching the screen and stay on, pausing videos and switching off only when you’re not looking at the screen.

In theory, this is a neat idea. You could watch a flick, turn to talk to a friend, have the video instantly pause, and then return to it having missed nothing.

Or you could be reading the screen and have it stay on without you touching it.

Cool, right?

Sensors and the camera work to track your viewing.

In our experience, it only worked some of the time, and generally when the room you were in was very well lit. At one point, while reading cello sheet music off the screen and trying to play it while watching the screen, it would, sadly, switch itself off.

Samsung’s “Smart Scroll” – a technology that is designed to scroll on-screen apps for you by just looking at them – suffered the same sort of problems, and comes with the added bonus of not working in all apps, which we suspect is a problem with many of the Samsung bonus features.

In testing these features, we tried in direct light, in not so direct light, and in darkened rooms, and found that Smart Scroll would maybe work twenty percent of the time.

The problem with features like this, though, is that for all the time you sit there trying to get them to work, you could always just use the opposable thumb on your hand and flick the screen instead.

That action takes no time at all, and isn’t reliant on the camera picking up your eyes with light in the background, or watching the position of your pupils. Rather, flicking the screen with your thumb – or even a finger on the other hand – works quickly, easily, and without fail.