What has an excellent 5" full HD display, TouchWiz and is clad in shiny, slippery plastic? You got it: the Samsung Galaxy S4. In this review we look at the ATT version, which so far hasn't made it into reviewer rounds, and that means we get to test this flagship Android smartphone on a robust LTE network. Good times. For those who aren't up to speed on this lovely smartphone's specs, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 1920 x 1080 Super AMOLED display, a very good 13 megapixel rear camera, LTE 4G, a removable 2600 mAh battery and a microSD card slot. It's the follow-up to the very popular Samsung Galaxy S III, and though the display is a bit larger, the S4 itself isn't larger and it's a tad lighter. It will be available on all major US carriers, several smaller US carriers and on many carriers overseas. The phone will be available first on AT&T in the US starting today (in limited quantities), followed by Sprint, T-Mobile and finally Verizon Wireless by the end of May.
For a 5" smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is remarkably compact. It's the same size as the 4.7" HTC One, smaller than the 5" Sony Xperia Z and just a hair taller than the 5" Sony Xperia ZL. And yes, we will be doing comparison reviews between the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One as well as the Xperia Z. Though it looks like a near clone, the GS4 is significantly smaller than my 5.5" Samsung Galaxy Note 2, but it still feels like a seriously big screen phone. Nice.
Yes, it's shiny plastic and doesn't exude the sense of quality that the aluminum body HTC One X does, and it's not machined and finished in an interesting fashion like the also polycarbonate Nokia Lumia 920 or HTC One X+. It's still a nice looking phone, and the faux metal side trim is convincing. That trim also breaks up the plastic monotony and makes the phone look good. The bad news is that it's still incredibly slippery and the rear camera lens protrudes a little bit, so it's the first thing that hits the table. The good news is that the finish and materials are very durable and the back is removable so you have access to the battery and a microSD card slot.
Samsung has thrown a heck of a lot of software at their "evolutionary" flagship, and while some of it is indeed gimmicky, we found a few gems like Smart Stay (a feature we love on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2) and the ability to hover a hand over the sleeping phone to see time, missed calls, messages and battery level. S Translator actually works better than Samsung's voice command and we tested it with German, French, Chinese and Spanish with perfect results. Smart Scrolling? Dubious in its current incarnation and it makes me feel like a bobble head. Air Gesture (wave your hand across the display to advance the display): entertaining and futuristic, but not something I find myself using much. A few years from now when it works better, maybe. The new Watch On AV Remote with companion IR? Excellent and for some reason it lists more cable TV providers than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 version of Watch On that came out only weeks prior to the S4. And the enhanced sensitivity for the touch screen, much like the Nokia Lumia 920, means it works with gloves on (or callused fingertips in the case of this acoustic guitar player) is possible.
In daylight, the rear 13MP camera is superb, and Samsung's many modes and features make it a lot of fun to use. We wish it had optical image stabilization like the Lumia 920 and HTC One when shooting video, but it takes extremely detailed and colorful photos. Low light, not so much. Even Night Mode let us down and yielded blurry shots (HTC scores one with the HTC One here).
Here's our Samsung Galaxy S4 video review. Our full written review will follow very soon.