If you’re looking for Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 to define a novel new era of smartphone greatness, it’s time to temper your expectations. The brand-new flagship smartphone, which runs the latest Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, improves hardware significantly and it piles on the features. Compared with the extremely successful Galaxy S3 that came before, it’s a firm stride forward rather than a giant a leap, but it raises the bar again for Samsung’s competitors. And by super-sizing the screen and packing in so much specialized software, the GS4 sets itself even farther apart from the iPhone.
The Galaxy S4 handset steadily draws from the same design language as the S3, but takes almost every spec to an extreme — the screen is larger (5 inches), the resolution greater (1080p), the battery capacity higher (2,600mAh), the processor faster (1.9GHz quad-core or 1.6GHz octa-core), and the rear-facing camera stuffed with more megapixels (13, to be exact). But, once you’ve gone through the features checklist (which also includes lots of internal and external storage space and RAM), it’s the software extras that Samsung continues to lean on to keep its phones one step ahead of the competition.
The problem is, based on my brief time with the Galaxy S4, very few of the extensive list of enhancements stood out as a killer, must-have, cannot-possibly-live-without feature. The TV control app that works with the IR blaster is perhaps one exception (the HTC One has this, too), as are a handy translation tool and eye-tracking and gesture capabilities that allow you to pause a video when you stop paying attention and let you hover your finger over an item to preview what it is. Many other software additions are semi-interesting ideas that some power users may enjoy once they’ve figured them out, but which will hardly convince a prospective buyer to pick the GS4 over, for instance, the HTC One, Nokia Lumia 920, or iPhone 5.
Editors’ note: This analysis is based on my first impressions after using the phone. I’ll continue to update this section as I get more time with the handset after the official launch event, and in the coming weeks and months.
Design and build
At first glance, the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like a cookie-cutter copy of the GS3, but larger. It has the same rounded edges and narrow physical home button as its predecessor, but at 7.9mm deep (0.31 inch) and 130g (4.6 ounces), it’s also a little lighter and thinner. Part of the slim look and feel is a result of Samsung creating sharper, straighter lines with the phone than the GS3’s subtle curves (the Galaxy line is apparently inspired by nature no more).
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Standing at 136.6mm tall by 68.9mm wide (5.4 inches by 2.7 inches), the Galaxy S4 fits right in between the GS3 and the Galaxy Note phones. It’s large, to be sure — very large — but since I’ve grown used to holding big handsets, it didn’t feel overwhelming in my hands. A more dimpled finish on the white version I held reminded me of the Galaxy S2, in contrast to the GS3’s silky brushed feel. The GS4 also comes in “Black Mist.”