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printed July 26, 2014
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Review: Samsung Galaxy S 4 for AT&T

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Screen

To call the Galaxy S 4's display impressive is an understatement. The screen measures 5-inches across the diagonal and includes 1920 x 1080 pixels. Though the HTC One (which has a 4.7-inch display and the same resolution) beats the GS4 in terms of pixel density, the GS4 beats the HTC One handily in brightness and viewing angles. There's absolutely no brightness drop-off when the GS4 is tilted to the side, and colors remain accurate no matter what angle from which the GS4 is viewed. These statements do not apply to the HTC One, which sees a big brightness reduction and a slight bluing effect when tilted. Samsung's OLED display is a fantastic screen, no doubt, though colors are a bit oversaturated (which is typical from Samsung displays). Pictures, movies, web sites, and other content look flat-out amazing on the screen.

Signal

I've spent the better part of a week testing the AT&T variant of the Galaxy S 4 around the New York City metropolitan region and came away impressed with the GS4's performance on AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks. The GS4 manages to hold on firmly to AT&T's network no matter where I took it. It performed on par with other AT&T devices in terms of connecting calls the first time, or maintaining calls once connected. Data speeds were a bit more consistent on the GS4 than a handful of other AT&T devices I've tested of late. AT&T's HSPA+ network routinely delivered average downloads in the 3.5Mbps range, while LTE ratcheted things up almost fourfold to 13.5Mbps. The GS4 was better able to maintain a data connection in weak coverage areas compared to the iPhone 5 on AT&T's network when tested in the same spot.

Sound

Similar to the Sprint model, the AT&T variant of the GS4 produced voice calls of excellent quality. I was very impressed with the tone and clarity of calls. In addition to the pleasant calls, the volume of the earpiece is flat-out incredible. Using the volume rocker, setting it all the way up produces calls that are bordering on painful. If you enable the "extra volume" tool, the earpiece speaker is boosted into the "holy-cow-that's-loud" realm. The GS4 also includes noise cancellation, which is meant to reduce background noise for the person on the other end of the call. In that respect, it worked well. When holding a conversation next to a busy intersection, the person with whom I was speaking heard no background noise of any kind.

Calls routed to the speakerphone were just as clear as those sent to the earpiece (this is an improvement over the Sprint version.) Further, the volume was extremely loud (also an improvement over the Sprint variant.) I was able to hear the speakerphone quite clearly even when standing next to a street sweeper as it trundled down the road next to my home. You'll be able to hear calls with the GS4's speakerphone just about anywhere, save for perhaps directly behind a jet engine.

Ringers and alert tones, which are the same nature-inspired, drippy-drops as on the GS3, can be heard in most environments. The GS4 can be set to boost the ringer volume when it senses the device is in a pocket, a feature that works well. I thought the vibrate alert was OK, but could have been better. I missed a few text messages when the phone was in my pocket because I couldn't feel the GS4's vibrations.

Battery

Battery life was average for a device in this class. What does that mean? Well, it will get you from 7 AM to 11 PM, or thereabouts, depending on how you use the phone. Light use (email, Twitter, browsing, and some calls) barely taxes the battery at all and it easily lasted from the crack of dawn until well after I went to bed. Heavier use (streaming audio, watching video, using the camera) had a noticeable impact on battery life. Shooting video sapped the battery quickly. Using the GS4 under LTE data didn't appear to have any negative impact on the GS4, though. Bottom line, you can expect a day from the GS4, but mileage will vary.

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