Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S4

Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S4

Here's what we like and what we don't like about the Galaxy S4 so far

Samsung officially launched its hotly anticipated Galaxy S4 Android phone in Australia over the weekend and we've spent almost a week with the device. It's not long enough for a comprehensive review just yet, but here's what we like and what we don't like about the Galaxy S4 so far.

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What we like

The Galaxy S4's familiar look and feel will immediately resonate with Galaxy S III owners. The design changes are minimal but most of them are welcomed. Gone is the curved, back edges of the Galaxy S III, replaced by flatter edges and a smaller bezel. The sides of the Galaxy S4 also look much better than the Galaxy S III — they're flatter and squarer and do add a little touch of class to the overall look and feel. The Galaxy S4 is also thinner and lighter than the Galaxy S III despite a larger screen.

The Galaxy S4 is thinner and lighter than the Galaxy S III.
The Galaxy S4 is thinner and lighter than the Galaxy S III.

The aforementioned screen is a 5in, super AMOLED HD display with a resolution of 1920x1080. Like most new smartphone displays, it's bright, clear and displays superbly crisp text. The Galaxy S4's screen also has exceptional viewing angles and works well in direct sunlight, though we found the automatic brightness setting a little erratic.

Compared directly to the HTC One, the Galaxy S4's super AMOLED screen displays more vibrant colours, though some may consider them oversaturated. All in all, we are comparing apples and oranges here: the Galaxy S4's screen is excellent.

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is outstanding. In our experience, it's the best camera on an Android phone we've ever reviewed. The camera is naturally packed with new software features that can be overwhelming at first, but when used on the standard "auto mode" it produces excellent photos with outstanding levels of detail. You can see a sample of some images we've taken so far here.

The Galaxy S4's camera is one of the best we've seen on an Android phone.
The Galaxy S4's camera is one of the best we've seen on an Android phone.

Like the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy S4 has a microSD card slot for expanding the 16GB of built-in memory, and its battery is removable. Many of Samsung's competitors — namely the Apple iPhone 5 and the HTC One — have neither of these features. If you store large amounts of media on your phone and you like carrying a spare battery, the Galaxy S4 may be the best choice.

Perhaps the best feature of the Galaxy S4 is one of the least advertised. There's a small infrared port built into the top of the phone that allows the Galaxy S4 to act as a remote control for your TV and other home entertainment devices. Using the Samsung WatchON app to set up this function took less than a minute and the app also includes a free-to-air EPG that shows you what's on every digital TV channel in your area. You then effectively use the Galaxy S4 to see what's on TV, with the ability change to a particular channel using the remote, save favourite channels, as well as like or dislike particular programs.

What we don't like

Samsung has included a wealth of features on the Galaxy S4. Some, like multi-window, you'll end up using often. Others, like Air View, Air Gesture, Smart Stay and Smart Scroll are party tricks with an initial wow factor that grows thin very quickly. While we certainly aren't complaining about these extra features, they make learning to use the Galaxy S4 a longer process than previous models.

Overkill, anyone?
Overkill, anyone?

Take for instance the quick settings toggle dropdown in the notifications panel. There are no less than 20 toggles for these features and more. The basics, like turning on and off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS are handy, but the others can be very overwhelming, especially for first time smartphone or Android users. The settings menu is also substantially larger, so much so that Samsung has now split the menu into four tabbed sections.

Two of the Galaxy S4's newest features are flawed. Air View allows you to hover over the screen with your finger to display extra information, such as previewing an email, a Flipboard story or a calendar entry. However, it only works on a minimal range of apps and we often ended up tapping the screen anyway, as the margin for hovering your finger is very close.

Similarly, Air Gesture allows you to swipe your hand over the screen without touching it to scroll up and down a web page or swipe through images in the gallery. We found it very sensitive, however, and it often swiped back when we moved our hand back to swipe forward again. It also only works with a selected range of Samsung apps. It's a shame that it doesn't work in Gmail and Google Chrome, for example.

Air Gesture is a neat party trick but it's quite sensitive.
Air Gesture is a neat party trick but it's quite sensitive.

We'll have a full review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in the coming week. if you have any questions or queries about the device, drop us a line in the comments below!

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