Samsung Galaxy S4 Hands-on (video)

Daniel Bader

March 14, 2013 9:53 pm


Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S 4 was introduced with tremendous flourish, polish and a bit of cheesiness.

The spectacle at Radio City Music Hall was befitting a Broadway venue: there were great dancers, bad actors and a gorgeous symphony with which to herald the debut of what will likely be the world’s most popular phone.

Brotherly Love

At first glance, the Galaxy S 4 looks almost identical to its predecessor. Samsung stuck to the design language that informed the Galaxy S III, Note 2 and most of its other 2012 products for its first major launch of the new year. Although the device is slightly larger — its 5-inch, 1080p Super AMOLED display has an astounding 441ppi pixel density — it should feel immediately familiar to anyone picking it up for the first time.

That isn’t to say Samsung didn’t improve the build quality of the device; there is a hardiness to the polycarbonate and a robustness to the glass that we haven’t seen before from the company. Owing to a new manufacturing process and Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 substrate, the GS4 feels a lot less plasticky.

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The similarities to the GS3 run through to the chrome bezel and removable back plate, though the metallic finish on the phone’s side appears far less garish than before. There is a maturity to this device, a toned-down confidence that appears to be borne from a sense of place; this will be a popular phone, and all Samsung needed to do was make minor adjustments in every department.

Feeds & Speeds

The Galaxy S 4 will come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC in North America, owing to the need for integrated LTE, but will be clocked at 1.9Ghz. It comes with 2GB RAM and between 16GB and 64GB of internal storage, plus a microSD card for expansion. The 13MP rear camera has been drastically improved, both in size and quality, over the GS3, and the 2MP front-facing shooter is also backside-illuminated. Both cameras can shoot 1080p video, though the rear camera claims zero shutter lag and the ability to shoot 100 shots in four seconds.

The camera also boasts a huge range of new features, including Dual Shot, where users can shoot with both the front and back cameras — photo and video — at the same time. Dual Shot can be used to add a thumbnail view of the front camera to rear-taken shots and insert audio after the video has been shot, like a voiceover. There’s also Eraser, which combines a composite of several shots to eliminate distractions in the shot. We’ll cover more of the photo features in a separate article.

Obviously the talk of the town here is the new 1080p display which, though it has a PenTile matrix, does not appear any worse off for it. In fact this is one of the most gorgeous screens I’ve ever seen on a mobile device, and we can’t wait to compare it to the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z.

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There’s a 2600mAh NFC-capable removable battery in the phone, which is in the middle of the GS3’s 2100mAh cell and the Note 2’s 3300mAh. Due to the inherent efficiency of the Snapdragon 600 SoC, the device should last the whole day, though there are a lot of things that could potentially get in its way.

Two of which are sensors that have been added to the phone — a barometer  and temperature/humidity — that work with the company’s new S Health initiative to report calorie intake, steps taken and overall health. There will be a scale and a fitness band sold separately to work in conjunction with the new sensors, but they are largely unnecessary — the S 4 can do most of it on its own.

- Network: 2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz; 3G (HSPA+ 42Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz; 4G (LTE Cat 3 100/50Mbps) : up to 6 different band sets(Dependent on market)
– Display: 5 inch Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 441 ppi
– Processor: 1.9GHz quad-core processor / 1.6GHz octa-core processor (will differ depending on market)
– OS: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
– Rear Camera: 13 Mega pixel Auto Focus camera with Flash & Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
– Front Camera: 2 Mega pixel camera, Full HD recording @30fps with Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
– Camera Features: Dual Camera: Dual Shot / Dual Recording/ Dual Video Call Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, 360 Photo, Cinema Photo, Eraser, Night, Best Photo, Best Face, Beauty Face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Panorama, Sports
– Additional Features: Group Play: Share Music, Share Picture, Share Document, Play Games
– Story Album, S Translator, Optical Reader
– Samsung Smart Scroll, Samsung Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View,
– Samsung Hub, ChatON (Voice/Video Call, Share screen, 3-way calling)
– Samsung WatchON
– S Travel (Trip Advisor), S Voice™ Drive, S Health
– Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Adapt Sound
– Auto adjust touch sensitivity (Glove friendly)
– Safety Assistance, Samsung Link, Screen Mirroring
– Samsung KNOX (B2B only)
– Google Mobile Services: Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Latitude, Google Play Store, Google Plus, YouTube, Google Talk, Google Places, Google Navigation, Google Downloads, Voice Search
– Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (HT80), GPS / GLONASS, NFC, Bluetooth® 4.0 (LE), IR LED (Remote Control), MHL 2.0
– Sensors: Accelerometer, RGB light, Geomagnetic, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer, Temperature & Humidity, Gesture
– RAM: 2GB
– Internal Storage: 16/ 32/ 64 GB User memory + microSD slot (up to 64GB)
– Dimensions: 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm, 130g
– Battery: 2,600 mAh

gs4-5TouchWIZ 4.2.2

This is Android 4.2.2, but you’d barely be able to tell based on our initial impressions. Samsung is encouraging users to migrate to its own services — there is a new all-encompassing Samsung Hub, for starters — and certain features, like S Voice Driver, S Translator, S Health, ChatON Video Conferencing, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, etc., only work while within the TouchWIZ UX.

The sheer number of software enhancements here is astounding; there isn’t a signal portion of it left unchanged. Many of these will trickle down to the GS3 and Note 2 over the next few months, but the GS4 uses its proportionally faster hardware to make everything run that much faster.

For example, S Translator integrates into the OS, allowing you to activate the service anywhere there is a dialogue box. Improvements to the WiFi chip allows for ad-hoc networks with up to eight phones at 300Mbps; users can play multiplayer games together (Gun Bros 2 and Asphalt 7 are launch partners) in real time.

Samsung has partnered with Peel to promote its IR Blaster feature, similar  in implementation to the HTC One. And, rather quietly, Samsung announced perhaps one of the biggest features to come to the Galaxy S 4, Air View and Air Gestures. This allows users to interact with the phone without touching the screen (which, like the Lumia 920, can be used while wearing gloves) or wave over the screen to answer an incoming phone call.

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Legacy & Accessories

The Galaxy S 4 will be available to purchase in Q2 of this year on every major Canadian carrier. We’re guessing it will come in at $159-$179 on a three-year term and $699 outright, but that’s just speculation based on previous Samsung products.

There will be a range of accessories available as well, including a new Air View case which allows you to see who’s calling you without opening the device and, when closed, will put it to sleep.

It’s bittersweet to acknowledge Samsung’s choice to maintain much of what made the Galaxy S III so good. On one hand, why fix what isn’t broken, but I know many people were looking forward to a brand new design and lots of cool new hardware.

Instead we got a nice-looking, iterative smartphone with a great spec sheet and broad appeal; many of the new software features are going to be welcomed with open arms. The camera, the screen, the processor all received substantial overhauls, bringing the phone in line with its 2013 counterparts. But there is nothing genuinely original in Samsung’s plans for world domination; this is the company’s iPhone 4S.

We’re sure more will be revealed as we get closer to the Q2 launch date. We’ve got lots more Galaxy S 4 coverage coming in the days and weeks ahead, so stick around.