Review: Samsung Galaxy S 4 for Sprint
The Galaxy S 4, Samsung's most important phone of the year, arrives at U.S. carrier stores this month. The Galaxy S 4 may be Samsung's best, but is it a worthy competitor in the crowded smartphone arena? Find out in Phone Scoop's in-depth report.
Is It Your Type?
The Samsung Galaxy S 4 is one of the biggest phones of the year. It's Samsung's flagship device for 2013, and comes with a feature list long enough to put most stand-alone computers, cameras, and home theaters to shame. Considering the success of the Galaxy S 3, the GS4 is more or less guaranteed to be a smash hit. For the shopper who wants all the bells and whistles, the GS4 is ringing loudly and tooting your tune.
From a short distance, most people will not be able to tell the Galaxy S 3 and Galaxy S 4 apart. Their appearance is almost identical, save for a few details that only the sharpest eyes will see. It is only upon close inspection that some of the differences really begin to take shape, and even then they are subtle. The GS4 has a pleasing look that's typical of the design language Samsung has used for the last year or so. It is smooth, has rounded corners, and is somewhat conservative.
The design detail that I like most is the metal-like band that encircles the edge. It's not actually made of metal mind you (Samsung says it is polycarbonate,) but it passes for metal. This polycarbonate band is also incredibly strong, and lends the GS4 a much-needed solid feel.
The GS4 comes in two colors, black(ish) and white. Both have unique characteristics that I find appealing. The black, for example, has a texture that catches light and reveals a dimpled pattern when held at the certain angles. The whole device is wrapped in what looks like lacquer, as it is glossy, reflective, and prone to collecting grossly apparent fingerprints.
Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.
Samsung was able to reduce the thickness and the weight of the GS4 compared to the GS3. It’s an amazingly thin and light phone. Samsung was able to do this, in part, because it used no metals to build the frame or outer shell of the GS4. As with every Galaxy S before it, the GS4 is made mostly of plastics. Though it clearly makes gains over the GS3 in terms of quality, it doesn't go far enough to compete with the superb build of devices such as the HTC One and Apple iPhone 5. There's simply no comparison: HTC and Apple have crafted devices that exude the best in modern design. The GS4 is an evolutionary step from Samsung that makes no attempt to offer owners high-class anything. It’s clear that Samsung is not paying attention to complaints of its phones being too plastic. Instead, it is paying attention to the huge number of Galaxy S phones it has sold over the years. One clearly speaks louder than the other. For my money, the GS4 still comes off somewhat cheap-feeling in the hand, but it is comfortable to hold and use, and slips into any pocket with ease.
It is a big phone, though. I have large hands, and sometimes found reaching my thumb all the way across the screen to be a balancing act. Those with smaller hands might find the GS4 to be too large.
The GS4's front surface is nearly all display. The bezel along the side edges is minimal, and even the framing above and below the display are slim. There's barely enough room for the Samsung logo, earpiece grill, and camera above the screen, for example. As with last year's model, the GS4 has a physical Home button that has an excellent feel to it. Not only is it easy to find, it offers satisfying travel and feedback. The capacitive Menu and Back buttons flank it, to the left and right, respectively.
There are only two other buttons adorning the Galaxy S 4. As expected, Samsung has placed the volume toggle on the left edge of the device, and the lock button on the right. Both buttons have a good shape and offer excellent travel and feedback. The lock button, in particular, is among the best such buttons from Samsung. The microUSB port is tucked into the bottom edge; the stereo headphone jack is on top. There are no hatches, nor is there a dedicated camera button.
One design element that Samsung uses as a selling point is the GS4's removable back cover. The HTC One and Apple iPhone 5 have sealed batteries; the GS4 does not. The GS4's battery cover is easy to remove, and is incredibly flimsy. It fits snugly against the back portion of the GS4's chassis, and the seams are nice and tight, but nothing prevents me from cringing about how cheap this piece of plastic really is. Once you've peeled it off, though, you have access to the battery, the SIM card, and microSD card. It's great that the GS4 supports memory cards up to 64GB, and even better than you can remove the card without removing the battery.
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