Following on from Samsung's highly popular Galaxy S3 handset, Samsung clearly has big hopes for the S4, having predicted a massive boom in sales and profits come its release in its last quarterly sales forecast. The S4 is doubly interesting as it marks the first serious attempt by Samsung to market one of its Android smartphones to business customers.
Design and build
Samsung has openly said that the S4 is designed to look a lot like its predecessor the Galaxy S3. It features the same rounded, pebble looking polycarbonate case and metal sides as the S3 and measures in at an equivalent 137x70x7.9mm. The Galaxy S3 by comparison measures in at a slightly fatter 137x71x8.6mm.
The only immediately noticeable difference on the black version we tried in Samsung's demo room is that the S4 features a patterned, rather than matte finish. However the pattern is only aesthetic and the S4's finish is still smooth meaning that in hand it feels all but identical to the S3.
This fact is aided by the fact that the two phones are pretty much identical in weight, with the S4 weighing 130g and the S3 133g.
For us this is a good thing as it means the S4 features the same ergonomic design as the S3, making it feel far more comfortable and less unwieldy than most similarly sized devices.
However, the use of polycarbonate did leave us concerned about the S4's build quality. In the past Samsung's Galaxy devices, while looking nice, have proven far more delicate than competing metal HTC and Apple devices, being more susceptible to accidental damage.
Interestingly, despite being slightly smaller than the S3, the S4 actually features a larger display. The S4 packs a 5in full HD super Amoled 1920x1080 display, 441ppi display, that during our opening hands-on tests put the S3's 4.7in, 800x400 resolution display to shame.
Testing the S4 head to head with our S3 we found the new Galaxy's display was brighter, crisper and features astoundingly good colour balance levels. Though we didn't get a chance to test the S4 in more adverse lighting conditions our opening impressions of it are very positive and we're thinking its screen may prove a key selling point.
The S4 runs on the latest Google Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system overlaid with Samsung's own Touchwiz user interface. Like previous Touchwiz versions we weren't immediately enamoured with the S4's UI, with many of the touches at first looking either pointless or detrimental to the Android experience.
Key offenders include the host of custom widgets Samsung's loaded onto the S4 and needless apps and stores like the Samsung Hub, which generally don't offer better services than their inbuilt Google equivalents.
That said we did notice a number of useful features that more than made up for the inclusion of these needless apps and widgets during our time with the device. Key among these were the S4's Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View and Eye Scroll services.
Smart Pause is a feature designed to automatically pause videos playing on the screen when the user looks away from the device.
Eye Scroll is a similar feature designed to let the S4 know when its user has finished reading a page and automatically scroll down to the next section of text. Air Gesture lets users navigate the device's menus without touching the S4's display, via swipe gestures.
Testing the features during our hands-on time, we found that in general they were fairly responsive and worked hassle-free once we got the hang of using them.
Our only qualm with the features was that on a few occasions the S4's Air Gesture and Eye Scroll features could take a few seconds to activate and could very occasionally not recognise our commands. However a Samsung spokesperson on hand said that these issues are the result of bugs on the pre-release software used on the demo handsets on show and have been fixed on the production models.
Samsung's Knox security software was also notably absent on the demo unit we were using. Knox is a nifty feature designed to offer business S4 users a similar sandboxing service to BlackBerry Balance, letting them set up separate work and home areas on the phone.
The Korean firm has confirmed Knox will run on the S4, but has remained hazy on the details of when, leaving it ambiguous whether the service will be included on the first run of handsets set for release on 27 April.
Sadly the UK isn't going to get the octa-core version of the Galaxy S4, instead receiving the more modest quad-core model. While this will be disappointing to spec connoisseurs performance-wise we didn't have any issue with the quad-core demo unit we used.
Packing a sizable 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, while we didn't get a chance to really put the phone through its paces or properly benchmark it, we found the S4 is very fast.
Running on an overloaded press Wi-Fi, we found the S4 was very slick, loading multiple web pages and streaming multiple videos. Being honest, we never once found the S4 to be lacking power-wise during our opening tests.
The S4 comes loaded with a 13MP rear camera and 2MP front camera. Testing the rear camera we were fairly impressed how well it performed in the brightly lit showroom conditions.
Even with bright lights surrounding us, photos taken on the S4 didn't come out over-exposed and didn't suffer from the noise issues we've seen on certain other 13MP camera phones.
Sadly though we didn't get the chance to test the camera in low light, or try some of its custom camera modes, like dual shot - a nifty option that lets you take simultaneous shots with the front and rear cameras to superimpose yourself in the photo. (Picture on right taken with Galaxy S4)
Chances of success
Overall our impressions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 are positive. While the device doesn't have the wow factor of the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 920, which brought much more in your face innovations to the table, the score of software innovations made by Samsung more than make up for the S4's understated redesign.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
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