Samsung Galaxy S4, hands-on: Does this year's biggest phone deliver?

Samsung Galaxy S4, hands-on: Does this year's biggest phone deliver?

Summary: The Galaxy S4 is Samsung's (and Android's) flagship smartphone - here are my first impressions after getting some hands-on time.

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  • Samsung's own branded Hub is still present on the handset, but instead of offering different Hubs for music, books, films and games, they are now all found in one place, making it much more convenient to access your content.

    The music service 7Digital will continue to provide the musical element of Samsung Hub as it has done in previous generations of Samsung's Galaxy S devices. It also provides the store for BlackBerry Music.

     

     

  • Another notable feature found on previous generations of Galaxy but evolved for the S4 include Group Play for music, photos and games.

    This feature allows multiple people to view or listen to the same content in real-time by sharing it between handsets without the need for a mobile or Wi-Fi signal using Wi-Fi Direct connectivity.

    Connecting up two phones to play music creates a stereo set up and this can be increased (if there are enough handsets in the room) up to creating a 5.0 surround sound set up. The image above shows a two speaker stereo setup. 

     

  • By now there should be a pattern emerging: while the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks a lot like the S3 on the surface, Samsung has put considerable efforts into enticing customers to stick with the brand through custom software on the devices.

    Another of these tweaks is the Samsung Health app that allows you to track calories consumed and calories burned. However, rather than restrict you to items on a pre-populated list, you can add to your Health tracker by inputting custom items, either by text or by taking a photo using the phone.

    There are lots more of these little touches throughout the handset such as S Translator or the 'Story Album' photo mode, adding value to the core Android Jelly Bean OS proposition.

    Overall, because I'm not a fan of overly large screens that border on the phablet category, so I was ready for disappointment with the Galaxy S4. However, with the chassis actually taking up less room in your hand than the previous generation and a number of innovative, if somewhat gimmicky, software tricks on board, the S4 looks set to make its mark on the Android market.

     

Topics: Smartphones, Mobility, Samsung

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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51 comments
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  • Not much of a "hands-on" review

    NT
    Mike Marquis
    • WOW!

      All those spec details blew me away! NOT!!!
      What a waste of (cyber)space!
      LOL
      HBCASurfer
      • There is different problem than that: obviously, SGS4 is no way "this ...

        ... year's biggest phone" -- neither literally (there are bigger ones from both Samsung and competitors like HTC), nor metaphorically (iPhone is way bigger). Also, this hands-on article omits crooked AMOLED colours issue, as well as the fact that 441 PPI is fake, not true resolution due to PenTile matrix. Finally, cheapo plasticky enclosure for such a pricey device is not mentioned, too.
        DDERSSS
        • iphone5 is so 2011

          iphone 5 is last year's phone with 2011 features with a battery that can't last a whole day.
          warboat
        • Crooked amoled colour issues?

          S4 has Adobe RGB mode which renders accurate colours.
          It has been tested by Russian testlab to render the full gamut more accurately than the iphone5 so there goes your fanboy argument.
          As for fake resolution, please mate, still hanging onto that old line.. jeez.
          Note2 has non pentile Amoled and it doesn't look as sharp as Note1 pentile Amoled. I have both of them right here as well as iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 to compare with. at 440 PPI, you won't be able to distinguish pen tile or RGB or whatever matrix.
          They are all retina class and you need a new angle for your argument.
          warboat
          • Almost none of users even know that SGS have sRBG mode, so they get highly

            ... crooked colours anyway. And the PenTile resolution of SGS4 is fake. It is not SGN2-type PenTile, it is bad PenTile. So this 440ppi is just marketing.
            DDERSSS
      • Not exactly.

        You see, for it to be a COMPLETE waste of cyberspace, it would have to be an iPhone article.
        Richard Estes
  • 11 pages...

    Mike did you scroll through all 11 pages?
    johnriches
    • My bad!

      No I didn't. Apologies to Ben.
      Mike Marquis
      • me too

        Missed it. Not a fan of slideshow format on phone. Should roll back to "normal" nav format, eg page numbers at bottom of article, next page, full article, etc
        goombawa
    • Scrolling? NO!

      Scrolling is up & down! NOT page after page!
      ZDNET NEEDS to STOP doing this multiple pages mess and start putting it all on one page!
      I have told them that as have many!
      Write & tell them put it all on one!
      Don't need to annoy us for the sake of ads!!!
      HBCASurfer
  • 11 pages?

    I was interested enough to click my way to the first page, but I'm giving up on thes zdnet articles that make me navigate through ten more pages. Maybe it's just me, but that's too damn many ads for one article...
    gdstark13
    • too many ads?

      What?? You don't have AdBlock Plus???

      If you're still using IE, I strongly suggest you get Firefox and add AdBlock Plus to the browser. After that you'll never be bothered again. Also add DoNotTrackMe and you'll never be pestered again.

      It is a very different experience from ad-financed IE.
      bart001fr
  • Two things

    1) Excellent review, it was detailed enough
    2) CURSE YOU ZDNET, FIX YOUR SYSTEM. Seriously, I shouldn't have to reload the page every time I look at a new picture. I know it's more ad revenue, but... what the heck, dude?
    Michael Alan Goff
    • I don't think it's broken...

      it's deliberate. All those page loads are revenue generating. It makes money so they will keep doing it, in-spite of the fact that it pisses people off.
      alawishis
  • Slide Shows

    I agree! Slide Shows are HORRIBLE; a throwback to the 90s!

    Give us ONE PAGE we can scroll through
    jimbritttn
  • So Much Better . . .

    . . . than WP8. What you didn't say was if the actual performance was in keeping with the specs, or, if the software was intuitive or just Android-like.
    Gr8Music
    • Re: So Much Better . . . . . . than WP8.

      At this stage, picking on Windows Phone is like picking on the slow kid at school. It's just not sporting any more.
      ldo17
      • OMG!!!

        Probably coming from someone who has NOT used WP8 or Windows 8!!!
        Or knows the true direction of MS and the technology that is being developed!
        They are WAY AHEAD of most!
        Example: the technology that is being developed with surface is incredible!
        I had my "doubts" of Windows 8 until I actually used it and kept at it!
        Until anyone has done this, they really should make no comments! and the 5 minutes on it at Best Buy, do NOT count as true "using" it!
        HBCASurfer
      • Give it time

        Strange things, preconceptions. Apple walks on water, Android rules the world. None of the people I know who use WP8 would revert to another platform. Just comparing the home screen in your S4 pic with WP Metro live tiles is like jumping a decade. True, WP is having a tough time gaining traction, but this is more about mindset than product. WP8 doesn't need to be cool, Microkia just needs to convince people that you don't need to spend vast sums to own a decent communications device. As ever, less is more.
        capeleopard