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Samsung Galaxy S4 hands-on review

A close look at the most talked about smartphone of the year
Wed Apr 17 2013, 13:58

KOREAN PHONE MAKER Samsung is gearing up for the launch of its thoroughly hyped flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone.

Ahead of this hotly anticipated launch, Samsung brought the Galaxy S4 to London for the first leg of its Galaxy S4 World Tour event, and we managed to get some hands-on time with the smartphone following Samsung's somewhat bizarre presentation.

The first thing that struck us about the Samsung Galaxy S4 is how similar it is to its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Given the handset's extended 5in display, we were expecting a much larger device, but in hand we barely noticed a difference between the two phones. The Galaxy S4 is much thinner, though, measuring just 7.9mm thick.

Samsung Galaxy S4 blue design

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is constructed from the same polycarbonate plastic as its predecessor, and that failed to impress us during our hands-on time. Sure, it's light and comfortable to hold, but it lacks the high-end feel of the HTC One and the iPhone 5, despite costing more than its two closest rivals.

However, the Samsung Galaxy S4 redeemed itself with its display. The handset features a 5in 1920x1080 HD Super AMOLED display, which is just as impressive in the flesh as it sounds.

Although the screen is larger than the one on the Galaxy S3, Samsung has managed to squeeze it into an almost identical case, which means that there's very little bezel surrounding the display.

Samsung Galaxy S4 hands-on

That's not the only good thing about this screen, as its vibrancy and clarity are among the best we've ever seen on a smartphone. We compared it to the display on both the HTC One and iPhone 5, and it was impossible to call a clear winner. However, if we had to decide based on vibrancy, the Galaxy S4 is a clear champion.

The screen is also exceptionally smooth to operate, and it almost made our iPhone 5 feel sluggish in comparison. That's probably due to the quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor under the bonnet, and although it's not the octo-core chip that many were expecting, potential buyers needn't worry about performance.

The same can be said for the handset's 4G speeds. We got our hands on a Samsung Galaxy S4 equipped with an EE LTE SIM. Loading The INQUIRER website was fast, as was streaming Youtube videos. We're yet to do a speed test, but we'll be sure to do so in our full review.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Youtube app

Software is an area where Samsung has often struggled to impress given its overdone Touchwiz user interface.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes running Google's latest Android 4.2.2 mobile operating system, and this is barely recognisable thanks to Samsung's custom user interface. On first impression Samsung hasn't overdone things too much, but its endless list of pre-installed apps and software features often proved overwhelming, and we struggled to find what we were really looking for.

The software features themselves did manage to impress us, though. First off we tested air gesture, which lets you scroll through menus by waving over the screen. Although the feature seemed a little buggy - not to mention how stupid we looked doing it - air gesture is very cool indeed. It's by no means necessary, but it did make us feel as if we were in the future.

Another of these software features is eye scroll, which although it took a while to get used to, was just as impressive. Eye scroll automatically scrolls down websites when you reach the bottom of a page, and although at first we had our chin on our chest before it would move, we soon got the hang of things.

Of course, we're yet to explore Samsung's wealth of applications and software add-ons, but on first impression - once we'd scoured through the clutter - the latest version of Samsung's user interface is definitely its best yet.

There's a 13MP camera on the rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4, as the firm looks to challenge the Sony Xperia Z. We had a quick play with the camera, which proved very impressive, even in harsh artificial lighting. Samsung's added camera features such as Erase, which lets you get rid of unwanted objects in the background of photos, proved intuitive and easy to use, and we'll be sure to test these further.

Based on first impressions, it's clear why there is so much excitement surrounding the Samsung Galaxy S4. It's a great phone with innovative software features that show the Korean phone maker is pushing to do something different. However, we can't help but think that the Galaxy S4's plastic design might put off some potential buyers, and that its similarities to the Galaxy S3 might see some people deciding not to upgrade.

Check back soon for our full Samsung Galaxy S4 review, and check out our roundup of Samsung Galaxy S4 prices and where to buy. µ


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