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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  • One of the headline-garnering features of the S4's new software offerings are the 'touchless' operations such as AirView.

    AirView lets you preview the content of an email or text message without opening it or touching the handset.

    To use AirView you simply open the messages or email inbox and point at the message you want to preview and it will display it on screen.

    The image above shows a preview of an email without needing to open or tap it to view the contents. If you hover your finger over any email attachments it will tell you what kind of attachment it is, for example, an image or document. 

  • AirView (which was also present on the Samsung Galaxy Note II, but required actually touching the screen) can also be used in other areas of the phone.

    For example, if you assign a speed dial number to a contact, you can then go to the phone dialer pad, hover your finger over one of the numbers and it will pop up the contact assigned to that number, giving you the option to call them.

  • Other notable software tweaks on the S4 include the Smart Pause, however, due to the crowded nature of the event at which I was using the phone, it was hard to work out how accurate and responsive these features are — there was pretty much always someone looking at the screen. 

    However, I had more luck with the Air Gesture feature introduced for the Galaxy S4 which uses sensors at the top of the handset to detect when you are trying to scroll through things. For example, if you want to scroll through pictures in your album or different music tracks in your collection, you just need to swipe your hand left or right in front of the handset and it will move along to the next item.

    Obviously, for this to work you need to be relatively close to the phone but it'll still work from a few inches away.

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