Samsung Galaxy S4 SGH-I337M 16GB 4G LTE (Black Mist) Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 Smartphone Review @
By: Michael Phrakaysone

I've had the opportunity to review the Galaxy Note line of Smartphone's from Samsung, and both the original Note and Note 2 have left a lasting impression on me.  A couple of weeks ago Samsung contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their latest Galaxy S4.  This would be my first real life introduction into the S series, but I've heard countless things about their past S, S2, and S3 Smartphone's over the years.  I could not pass on the opportunity to give it a try.  Today I get to share with you about my experiences with the latest Samsung Galaxy S4 SGH-I337M.  I will be reviewing the 16GB Black Mist model with the Android 4.2.2 operating system.

This would be a great way to compare my experiences with the Galaxy S4 and Note Smartphone's and be able to pinpoint the differences between both models.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Product Overview

The Samsung Galaxy S4 lets you experience more, live more and accomplish more. It’s the Smartphone with infinite possibilities. Now you can preview content simply by hovering your finger over the screen, run two apps at the same time with Multi Window, safely use your phone while driving, and even create personalized photo stories with the help of Story Album. With the Samsung Galaxy S4, the possibilities are infinite.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Product Features

  • A high-quality display that provides the perfect picture every time: The incredible full HD 1080p display always presents the best picture quality possible. By adjusting the screen’s brightness and contrast depending on the type of image you’re viewing, all of your HD videos and images are displayed brighter, sharper and easier on the eyes. With seven automatic modes and four manual modes, the Samsung Galaxy S4 consistently makes your content look its best.
  • A camera that brings shared experiences to a whole new level: Taking photos and videos will never be the same once you use the Samsung Galaxy S4’s Dual Camera. Dual Shot lets you snap a photo of what’s in front of you and a photo of yourself at the same time, so you can share what you see and your reaction in the same photo. With Drama Shot, the camera takes a sequence of action photos, then strings them together into a single picture, letting you tell an entire story with a single photo. And with Eraser Shot, photo bombers beware. You can remove background elements and unwanted intruders from your photos.
  • Share the fun like never before: Now you and all of your friends can share a single experience with the help of the Group Play feature. Group Play enables a unique connection with up to 10 different devices so you and those around you can all share the same content on separate screens. So whether it’s a competitive online game, a great song or video, or even a document between co-workers, everyone gets to experience it at the same time.
  • Communicate clearly wherever you go: Thanks to the incredible new S Translator, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a perfect travel companion. With S Translator, you can remove language barriers by simply saying or typing what you need translated. The phone will then display or even read back the translation so you can stay in the conversation. So whether you need to ask for directions, need to know what’s on the menu, or when the next train arrives, the S Translator will help you communicate in over eight different languages.
  • Share and connect with ChatON: Nothing can replace the sentimental value or the closeness of a face-to-face conversation, so the Samsung Galaxy S4‘s innovative Dual Camera allows you to use ChatON. ChatON provides HD video chat between you and up to two other people. So now no matter how far away you actually are, you can always feel close to those that matter.
  • Track your fitness from your phone: Imagine a Smartphone that also works as your personal trainer. The Samsung Galaxy S4 makes this a reality with the new S Health app. The S Health app helps you reach your fitness goals as it tracks your steps and the calories you eat. Now the best motivator to get in better shape comes with the device that fits right in your pocket.
  • Transferring your content is easier than ever: The Smart Switch app makes transferring music, photos and videos from your old device simpler than you can imagine. Smart Switch allows you to transfer files from your old phone to your PC, then transfer those files from your computer to your Samsung Galaxy S4 with just a few simple steps.
  • Easy to learn for new Smartphone users: When you first pick up a Samsung Galaxy S4, the thing to remember is simplicity. If you start by using Easy mode, you can customize the entire interface and the settings to fit your comfort level. You’ll also be able to easily navigate through the phone to find exactly what you need when you need it.
  • Browse content simply by hovering your finger above the screen: With Air View and Smart Gesture, you can access content and preview folders without touching the screen. Air View allows you to preview emails, text messages and your photo and video galleries simply by hovering your finger over them. You can also use Air View to zoom in on web content to preview. Smart Gesture lets you enjoy fast, simple navigation by browsing photos and answering incoming calls, all by moving your hand over the screen.
  • Multi-task like never before: Watch more, browse more and simply do more at the same time. Thanks to Multi Window, the Samsung Galaxy S4 lets you run two different applications at the same time, on the same screen. Now you can check the score of the game while checking your stock quotes.
  • Drive safely while never missing an important call: Now you can make calls, answer calls and even ask for directions, all with both hands on the wheel. S Voice™ Drive mode lets you safely stay in contact while driving. If you’re anticipating an important call and you know you’re going to be on the road, simply switch your phone to S Voice Drive mode to access a simpler interface and voice-activated controls
  • Stay connected while driving: S Voice Drive on the Samsung Galaxy S4 allows employees to safely drive while never missing an important call. A simpler interface and voice-activated controls make for touchless calling and answering, allowing employees to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Product Specifications

First Impressions

The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes in an interesting and eye popping compact design, reminiscent of what I have seen with the Note Smartphone, however, this is fully jazzed up with faux wood grain accented across the entire packaging.  I've never seen this before on packaging, very cool.  Would have liked a superimposed real image of the S4 Smartphone on the front, but the wood accents makes up for it with the logo in the middle helping it not be plain.

Galaxy S4

The back of the box contains information such as the product overview, product model number, capacity, and product features.  The product overview reads...

"Live in a world of infinite possibilities.  Experience more, live more, accomplish more.  Capture those unforgettable moments in more ways than ever before.  Share your experiences with those who matter to you, no matter the distance.  Call a friend, answer the phone, preview an email and stop a video without even touching the phone.  Samsung Galaxy S4 lets you live in a world of infinite possibilities."

The product features showcased in the back are in regards to the Full HD Super AMOLED 5.0" display, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system, Bluetooth 4.0 and support for all major Wi-Fi standards including the latest 802.11n and ac standards (2.4/5GHz) through the Broadcom BCM4335 combo chip, 4G LTE, DivX HD, and SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) features that include Advanced Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync features, On-device AES 256-bit encryption, VPN connectivity, Top-tier, multivendor Mobile Device Management support.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a powerful device featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC (System on a Chip) Quad-core Krait processor that is clocked at 1.9GHz.  I can't believe the strides that have been made for these Smartphone devices in a very short time.  1.9GHz in the palm of your hand is quite an accomplishment. Rounding off the S4 is 2GB of RAM, Adreno 320 GPU, 13-Megapixel camera, and the ability to record in 1080p. 

One of stars of this device is the 5.0" Full HD Super AMOLED display giving it 1920x1080 of resolution or about 441 (PPI - Pixels Per Inch).  That's full HD in a 5 inch screen.  The S4 has a slightly smaller screen than the Galaxy Note but the 1080p resolution certainly makes it superior. 

There's a whole lot more to the Galaxy S4, but that's the gist of it.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a large 2600mAh battery making it slightly larger than the Note, but smaller than the huge 3100mAh battery in the Note 2.

Found within the Samsung Galaxy S4's box are the following items...

  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Smartphone (Black Mist)
  • High-Capacity 2600mAh Li-ion Battery
  • Samsung microUSB data/charge cable
  • Samsung noise isolating in-ear-canal phone/headset with silicone ear tips
  • Samsung USB 5v/2A Wall Charger
  • Warranty and product information cards

Visual Overview

The Galaxy S4 looks quite familiar because it resembles that of that which I've seen before with the Galaxy Note.  The design philosophy within the Samsung lineup is quite interchangeable, they all look recognizable.  The S4 comes in a color called Black Mist, though it's not black as it claims to be.  It is very interesting as it changes colors depending on the way the sun shines on it.  It's got a weaving pattern to it, almost  carbon fiber looking.


The S4 is a bit smaller than the Note with its 5.0" Full HD Super AMOLED display, but still large for a Smartphone device.  The S4 is quite the looker and has attributes that I've been clamoring for on the Note.  The S4 comes housed in a light weight body weighing approximately 130 grams, it's also slim too coming in at 7.9mm.  It's measurements are 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm.  So it's lighter and slimmer than the Note 2.  The S4's 1080p display contains the latest and greatest Corning Gorilla Glass 3 that gives that extra protection with more scratch resistance (than previous generations), reduced scratch visibility, and added durability.
People ask me when they see the Galaxy S4 where I keep it, and I mention that I keep it my pant pocket or breast pocket! In reality the S4 fits in regular pant pocket and breast pockets without hassle.  In today's market, bigger is better!

The 5.0" Full HS Super AMOLED Plus display (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) is glossy in finish and has anti-glare characteristics with visible color hues seen on the screen. Fingerprints while shown, are hard to see on the screen. It was as if the screen was immune to showing the oils on my fingers. This is one of the benefits at having Gorilla Glass 3.

I didn't like the rounded curves the Note had for its bezel.  They looked good in style but didn't function well in real life, for example when taking photos.  It threw off the handling during this scenario.  I like that with the S4, Samsung chose to have a flatter bezel so that you can grip the Smartphone with your thumb or finger.  In general the S4 is very elegant and minimalistic.  It has a classy feel to it.

The front contains rounded edges, chrome accented outline, carbon fiber looking weaving pattern, physical home button, front facing 2-Megapixel camera and sensors, all of these help add to the style of the S4.


Flip the S4 around and see all that Black Mist weaving pattern.  From up top is the 13-Megapixel rear facing camera, LED flash, Samsung logo, and the speaker at the bottom.  One of the great features with the S4 is that the front and rear cameras can be used at the same time.  This ‘Dual Camera’ function allows simultaneous use of both front and rear cameras so that you can achieve dual video calls, dual camera shots, dual recording.  For example on the S4, imagine you are on vacation and want to send an electronic post card back to your loved one, this is precisely what you can do.  The rear facing camera shoots at the lush beach while the front camera takes your photo in a stamp border effect.  This is very neat stuff.

This is something I've complained about the original Galaxy Note and Note 2, that is which the Smartphone needs some rubber grips, especially for the rear.  The phone feels too slippery since everything is glossy and smooth.  I'd more prefer the chrome outline of the phone be rubberized and have some rubber strips on the back plate to prevent the phone from slipping and sliding away.  Heck I'd rather have a completely rubberized or texturized back plate!  I'd suggest people to "plasti-dip" the back plate.

S4 Galaxy

The S4 construction feels completely plastic. Everything nowadays is plastic so I'm not sure if I can complain much.  But I will have to anyway.  Even the chrome strips outlining the phone is plastic.  I think this is a bit too much plastic for a top of the line Smartphone, I'd like to see at least a little exotic material and tough material used. Though I have to say that in general the S4 feels tough enough to withstand normal usage, not sure how it will do in a drop though.  It's strange, with the original Note, that felt really strong, then with the Note 2 things felt weaker.  Now the S4 seems to be following the same sentiment.

The whole casing is translucent to a degree. You cannot see the symbolized icons within the casing below for the touch sensitive buttons but when activated they are illuminated from the backlit LED's inside.  There are the touch sensitive menu button and back buttons.

The S4 has a physical home button.  I much prefer the touch sensitive one seen on the original Galaxy Note.  This is the one you press down on, like on an iPod. It doesn't sit flush but pokes up a bit. It also needs to be pushed a little harder, doing so then moves the whole Smartphone in your hand.

The left side maintains the volume rocker on the left side, while the right has the power on/off button which allows you to also reset the device through the operating system.  

One of the features added to the Samsung Galaxy S4, borrowed from the Galaxy Note 2, is the inclusion of 'Air View'.  If you remember in my Note 2 review, it had the ability with its S Pen stylus, to be used as a floating cursor.  I found this to be a wonderful addition at that time. 

The S4 does not have a stylus but is able to do the same with just your finger.  As with the Note 2, the level of sensitivity is quite amazing.  You can hover over on screen for hints for example.  But with the S4 it will take some getting used to as unlike a stylus, it's different judging how far away the finger is from the screen, sometimes it jumps when you don't want it to.

One issue people with small hands will likely have is with the S4's large size. You're thumbs cannot reach all of the buttons at the bottom of the device, nor can it reach the whole real estate of the screen. There's just too much real estate and effectively you are regulated to using two hands to fully operate the Galaxy S4. It's next near to impossible to use a single hand (unless you have large hands).  In the end you need to make the necessary adjustments to adapt to the Galaxy S4. But once that is done, the experience is enjoyable. I would have liked the Galaxy S4 to have an eyelet for a wrist strap, that would be the most secure way in preventing any possible drops of the phone. It REALLY needs one, no matter how dumb it may look.

The 1080p resolution Full HD Super AMOLED display is indeed the star of the show!  With its 441 PPI resolution screen, the S4 outputs an amazing 1080p resolution in all of its 5-inch real estate. Boy oh boy is it ever detailed!  This is one of the best screens you will ever see on the market.  Literally you cannot see the pixels on the screen, the display is bright, super sharp, super colorful, and high definition in every sense of the word. Viewing angles with the Full HD Super AMOLED display was excitingly great, you can see the objects on screen just about any way you tilt the S4.  You'll never want to go back to a screen inferior than this ever again!

I downloaded the Simpsons game on the Play Store and once I ran it for the first time, geez I was floored with the 1080p screen while the loading screen came on screen.  The yellow skin, the colors popped on screen with intensity.  It almost looked like a Simpson's sticker was placed on top the S4's screen.  It looked unreal.

If you've read my HDTV reviews, you will know that LCD is a technology that has a light source behind the LCD screen, where it then blocks light to create an image. Well with AMOLED its different. AMOLED is a technology that essentially emits light rather than blocking it to create an image.

The result of AMOLED technology, according to Samsung, is increased contrast ratio, incredibly clear images, better color rendition, 3000 times faster response rate than compared to LCD, brighter, less power consumption, thinner and the ability to be viewed from any angle without color fade, and being able to viewed even in bright sunlight. I have to say from my experiences with the Galaxy S4, everything is true and the best part from this AMOLED screen from any other LCD screen out there is the ability to be used in sun. It's not perfect in the sun, but its substantially better in the sun than anything I've used before because it has the ability to get bright. Can it be brighter, sure it can, but it's definitely not bad the way it is now.

Android Operating System - 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

Jelly Bean is already a mature operating system, it's been out for quite some time with multiple updates during the course of its life.  Jelly Bean is streamlined, efficient in the way it operates, multi-tasking options, dragging and dropping icons to create folders, features that are convenient to organizing apps on the phone.

With the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Android OS is paired with Samsung's own TouchWiz touch interface, basically it's just a customized skin that separates Samsung phones from others and allows it to make use of features within the operating system. It's a very cool and smart interface. For example, it knows when you plug in an earphone and immediately launches a notification and related applications such as music, movies, all in one window for you to choose from.

There are basically 5 different desktops (you can add more and remove them too) that you can navigate across that contain various widgets, icons, and tickers. All of these screens are customizable and can be tweaked to your personal preferences. You can move icons to which screen you desire by pressing and holding the icon and moving it where you want it. You can remove items and customize the style of each desktop screen.

At the bottom are 5 main icons that pertain to the Phone (keypad, logs, contacts, favorites), Contacts, Messaging, Internet Browser, and Apps. These too are customizable to your liking by simply dragging and dropping which app icon you want to replace.

In each desktop screen you can add apps and widgets, create a folder and dragging and dropping the apps you want into that specific folder for organization, set the wallpaper for the home screen and lock screen or both, you can edit each page and select which is the home screen, you can search through Google by text or voice recognition, and go into the settings menu.

Pull down a hidden menu from the very top of the screen and down comes a window that shows you a multitude of options that can be disabled or enabled.  I was taken back at how many options were present because I've never seen so many before.  The list of options in this hidden pull down menu are the following...

  • Wi-Fi
  • GPS
  • Sound
  • Screen Rotation
  • Bluetooth
  • Mobile Data
  • Blocking Mode
  • Power Saving
  • Screen Mirroring
  • Multi Window
  • S Beam
  • NFC
  • Air View
  • Air Gesture
  • Driving Mode
  • Smart Stay
  • Smart Scroll
  • Sync
  • Airplane Mode

Geez!  The pull down menu has 19 different selections!

I love one of the new features embedded on the Galaxy S4; the Multi Window mode.  This feature alone has allowed multi-tasking to be even more efficient and easier on a Smartphone.  Enable Multi-Window mode and a small tab is positioned just to the very left of the screen.  Pull this tab out and there are icons to the most used apps, you are able to customize the apps you like to be on this Multi Window tab.  So this means you are checking your email, but want to directly to the Browser, just simply pull out the tab and select the Browser icon, pull out the tab and go to Angry Birds, vice versa.  It also allows you to pull two apps side by side on the single screen, which is simply quite productive.  For example you can have your email and a stock app side by side.  Or it means you don't have to always hit your home screen button and then click on the app you desire.  It ends up being faster both ways.

Another feature that was really interesting and worked surprisingly well was Smart Scroll.  This feature uses the sensors in front of the S4 to basically track and monitor your eyes.  Yes its basically eye-tracking, almost scary in a way.  Once enabled it gives you a few instructions while it monitors your eyes.  Once completed, when reading news on your Browser, you simply tilt your head either up or down and the S4 automatically goes in the same direction.  It sounds funny and weird but it really works.
The Galaxy S4 - Any good?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a very powerful computer and its easily shown in how fast and smooth navigating and shifting through the menus are, and watching how all the animations such as fade and motion tilt are executed without hesitation. Everything generally is snappy.  

However, I've noticed times that visible slowdowns happen.  Just swiping across the list of applications at certain times, you can see it not be as smooth and fluid as it once was.  Mind you that out of the box the S4 is super smooth functioning, its I believe when the internal flash memory is filled up with many applications or when there are many applications running in the background, that these slowdowns occur.  An analogy I can give is it's as if you were playing a game at 60 fps and then all of a sudden it dropped to 28fps.  I have got to think it has something to do with many applications in the background and or the internal flash memory being filled.  Internal flash memory does not run at its best when the capacity is nearly filled.  I've seen lag and slowdowns happen even when loading a page and trying to swipe down while Internet browsing, which I thought was annoying.

Another example of where I've seen visible slowdowns or lag was when Dropbox was uploading photos and videos, the applications menu would not be smooth when I swiped left and right, it looked slower than smooth, you just knew right away that it was not smooth.

This S4 took a little over 20 seconds to fully load to the lock screen, showing the prowess it contains. Waking up from standby needs only a second, sleeping the same thing.  Shutdown is less than 10 seconds, but I don't see why one would need to shut down.

The thing I like about the Android operating system is that it's not fully locked out as opposed to other mobile platforms. You are still able to download and use a Linux based terminal tool in order to navigate around the directories, get Super User root access, connect to a secure server and perform other commands.

The S4 with its quad-core processor and potent graphics card is capable of doing just about anything you throw at it.  During my time with the Samsung Galaxy S4, it took everything I gave, even able to play back super high-bit-rate Blu-Ray demo files at full 1080p resolution (a bit with some buffering while rewinding/fast forwarding), that says a ton about how powerful the S4 really is!
I did have an issue though, I believe it's due with either the actual hardware or incompatibility.  It arose after a few weeks of testing the S4.  I am using a 32GB SanDisk Ultra microSDHC card.  Initially I had no problems, but after the few weeks of testing I felt the back of the S4 getting abnormally warm, almost to the point of hot at times.  The top portion where the camera, LED, and microSD slot is located became quite warm, I measured over 45 degrees Celsius one instance.  The S4 then kept giving an error saying the microSD card kept being unexpectedly removed. 

The S4 continues use of the alternative Swype keyboard but is hidden and tucked away in the keyboard settings menu.  This is my favorite type of keyboard to use.  You have to navigate to Language and input --> Samsung Keyboard * --> Continuous input and enable that setting where it will enable the sliding finger across the keyboard movement into the Samsung keyboard.

Browsing & Multimedia

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is capable of connecting with all major wireless interfaces from A, B, G, N and the newly formed AC standard, single and dual band are supported. Whatever the wireless standard, the S4 has no issues connecting to it. The antenna seems to have great strength being able to pick up signals from distances quite far. If you have a data plan with your network carrier, you are able to utilize up to 4G LTE speeds for quick lightning downloads.

As for the signal strength of the antenna that connects to the cell phone carriers network, it's always locked on to full strength or just below full strength indoors. Mind you this is on a Rogers network up in Canada. Outside, the signal strength was excellent. Call quality is good, and the call volume can be hazardously high for your ears, while the speakerphone is equally loud. You'd want to lower the volume. The speaker for phone calls is sufficient and for music its loud but lacks any real depth, which I find is the same for all of the other phones out there.

Internet browsing on the Galaxy S4 is very good minus the lag I've experience with the S4.. The more built-in memory of 2GB helps even more. I can have multiple tabs and jump back and forth without issues and it doesn't have to reload the website, it already has the cached image of it on memory. The issue I mentioned was lag or intermittent slowdown.  I've had this skippy lag when trying to move downward on the screen while the webpage is loading, quite annoying.  This is not something I've seen with the Galaxy Note's I've previously tested.

The built-in Android Browser is compatible with most website pages and renders them without any issues on the 5.0" Full HD Super AMOLED display, and the amount of detail shown is amazing.  Adobe Flash objects are shown without problems on webpages.  Browsing along websites, you can copy, cut and paste text and images like you can do on your desktop machine.
For the Full HD Super AMOLED display, the color is beautiful, fonts are razor sharp when zoomed all the way, and it's possible to view them zoomed out tiny but still very readable, it's just super sharp like a laser printer. You can save pages to view them offline too with the integrated browser.

I had a YouTube issue with the original Galaxy Note. Before when watching YouTube videos, the video slow down and lagged a bit when you increase or decrease the volume. It's was as if the GUI indicator causes a slowdown in the YouTube video. With the S4 none of that is seen, that's a thing of the past. Everything is super smooth and looks fantastic. The Full HD Super AMOLED screen makes crappy quality YouTube videos look good, it makes everything look superb.

The Apple App Store is by far the largest app store but how many apps do you really need? I use the same argument for television channels. You don't need cable or satellite. Over-the-air is free and in HD. How many television channels do you need? How many can you watch at one time? The same can be said for apps, in this case now called the Play Store on the Android platform.

Android apps can be found on Play Store and the number of apps that is able to be downloaded via your Google account is more than you will be able to handle. Some if not most of the apps that have become popular are now cross platform and will work on Android devices. Programs and games such as Instagram, Angry Birds, Grand Theft Auto, Need for Speed, VLC and Torque Pro are available to download as well as a host of apps from Google.

Play Store is not only about applications, but also about books and movies. It combines everything as one. You can buy eBooks and read them on the Galaxy S4 like a real novel flipping through the pages electronically with folds through the pages, and you can also rent and watch recent and older movies on your device.

You can also use the Samsung Galaxy S4 as your movie playing device and it works superb. It can support just about any file formats you throw at it no matter the size, resolution or how they are encoded. And because of the Full HD 1080p Super AMOLED display, they look excellent. I've had no issues with AVI, MKV, MP4, WMV, XVID, H.264 and using subtitles, 720p or 1080p.  Even Blu-Ray source files work, a bit with some buffering while rewinding and fast forwarding. Playing high-bit-rate Blu-Ray files on the Galaxy S4 should say enough to you regarding the processing prowess of the S4. You can also download other media players as well such as MX Player if you want more features.

With the original Note, I complained about dark scenes looking a little blotchy with some shimmering artifacts in the dark shadowy areas when playing videos. With the new S4, I no longer see those issues. Now it's fully dark with no weird artifacts.
The shadows still look very black to me but that is because the AMOLED screen is so direct with its colors. To combat this problem, the S4 borrows from the Note selectable display mode settings.  The Galaxy S4 includes 5 user selectable Screen Modes: Adaptive, Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo, and Movie.  These modes affect the look of the whole display in different ways, the tones change, saturation gets punchier or less saturated, the brightness and contrast changes among other things.

This is a great idea and implementation. Movie mode does help make movies look better and helps with shadows, it operates less saturated and at half brightness. I think the Movie Mode screen mode has the most accurate color of all the modes. Beyond movie mode, it's just more punchy saturated to make it look better, but that makes the black too black crushing the shadows. I am curious but I wouldn't be surprised if staying on such a mode will help extend battery life.

The built-in speaker on the S4 has the room to become real loud, which is a good thing. It's sufficient for general YouTube usage, phone call speakerphone use, but it lacks any depth and passion.  But it is louder than other Smartphone's I've heard. Using the 3.5mm headphone jack would solve this problem.

Sound quality when using a earphone/headphone is the best way to go.  I've been so impressed with how it sounds.  Not sure what type of DAC it contains but this is better than I've remembered the Note and Note 2 sounding.  First thing that impressed me is the amount of bass, it just pounds with intensity.  It provides you with a much fuller dynamic range. The clarity is there as well and is not taking a back seat to the bass. Great audio quality!

Voice Recording

There is an app that comes preinstalled on the Galaxy S4 and is named Voice Recorder. This is useful if you would like to save a conversation or lecture for later use. It's a very simple app that has an image of a microphone and the record/stop button right below. Head into the settings menu and you're able to choose the level of recording quality, give it a contextual filename, but are not able to know the bit-rate that you're recording at.

Recordings are saved in 3GA file format and file size is very small telling me that the recording is obviously compressed during playback. Quality is still quite good but not as vibrant as it could be. I suppose this is a good compromise between file size and sound quality especially for a long speech or lecture, but if you are looking for the best recordings possible, it's better to look for something in the Play Store that will allow you to output to another format with greater flexibility and more format choices such as PCM and MP3.

The 13-Megapixel camera -- An Improvement?

I've reviewed the original Note, Note 2 and those had 8MP rear facing cameras and 2MP front cameras.  I loved the image quality that was present inside the original Note Smartphone.  It left a positive and lasting impression on me.  It still is the best Smartphone camera I've come across.  The photos it produced could literally rival entry level DSLR offerings on the market (sans low light). The camera on the original Note was an excellent still camera that produced super sharp photos from end to end with little to no softness around corners. I honestly fell in love with it. It provided great colors that really popped and it was generations ahead of what could be done on a little point & shoot variety. It was significantly better than any other Samsung digital camera I reviewed an even the DSLR-like NX series interchangeable lens camera from Samsung couldn't compare. Equally as impressive was the macro function because you could literally autofocus right beside the object without issue, there was no need for a dedicated macro lens. If you saw my comparison between the original Note's picture quality vs. the Samsung WB550 digital camera, you saw that they were worlds apart.

Then I reviewed the Note 2 and I felt the camera, while still very good, was not quite the same as the original, it looked like it took a minor step back.  There were some auto white balance issues that I didn't like, it wasn't exactly as sharp from end to end asthe original Note was, and I did not think it had as eye-popping colors as the original Note.

With the new Galaxy S4, Samsung upgrades the rear facing camera to 13-Megapixels and keeps the front at 2-Megapixels.The Galaxy Note's had an F-stop of f/2.6, the S4 as a quicker F-stop of f/2.2, meaning it can let it more light.  It borrows the same focal length of 4mm, and can now achieve a resolution of 4128x2322, both offer the same limited range of ISO from ISO 100-800.  The S4 a max aperture of 2.28 (Note 2.76, Note II 2.81). But how do the photos compare?

The rear facing camera is a 13-Megapixel autofocus camera that is based on the BSI (back-illuminated sensor) variety that they have used on a few of their other digital cameras. The theory is with a BSI sensor is that the technology presents more efficiency, and better lower light performance.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 contains a 2.0-Megapixel front facing camera. The front facing camera is for situations such as the new features of Dual Video, Dual Photo, where you can use the front and rear cameras simultaneously.  I think Dual Photo is a brilliant feature to have.  With the S4's front facing camera, it's got a wider frame of view than I remember both generations of Note's had.  It's almost the same as a webcam (just about all front facing cameras aren't that great) meaning it has no autofocus, colors aren't colorful, it's just a little dull.   Check out the samples below, there's one picture that's clearly different, and that is from the front facing camera. The picture quality from the 2.0-Megapixel front camera is nothing to write home about.

The image quality from the 13-Megapixel autofocus rear facing camera on the new Galaxy S4 is comparable to the ones I've already tested on the Note and Note 2, its just upgraded further from previous iterations.  The major difference is the extra 5-Megapixels.  Other than that, I feel it's essentially the same after comparing number to number.  Does 5-Megapixels make much of a difference?  We shall see but I predict that it does not make much difference, as stated in my DSLR reviews.  The megapixels don't really matter, what matters is the sensor, and for that matter, the size of the sensor.  Rule of thumb is that the larger the sensor, the better picture quality and performance. 

The camera on the Galaxy S4 is par for the course of what you would expect with a top end Samsung Galaxy Smartphone, meaning the one on the S4 is very good.  I think it's as good as the one offered on the Galaxy Note 2, though as is the case, it's not as good as the one on the original Note after comparing. 

The picture quality was at a high level, though I felt that the color with out of the box settings were a little flatter than I was used to with the original Galaxy Note.  It kind of felt dreary in some sense, it didn't pop out as I've seen in the Note and Note II.  The great part is that the camera is generally the same, so that means the S4's pictures are still quite sharp from end to end, the detail captured is high, the macro mode is superb allowing you to get in very close to the subject, you are able to record in 1080p, it's just a very capable camera.  That's not to say there aren't some negatives.  I feel that it isn't as sharp from edge to edge as the Note.

The Galaxy S4 continues the trend of zero shutter with the Jelly Bean operating system, meaning you can take photos almost instantly.  It automatically focuses on the subject even before you do it manually, so you can capture the photo quicker.  It doesn't mean, however, the elimination of blurry photos.  For the most part, blurry photos are kept to a minimum with zero shutter lag, auto focusing, and integrated anti-shake options in the S4.   

The S4 is capable of achieving much better photos than point & shoot cameras, and is up there with reaching DSLR-like photographs out of this camera.  I was surprised at the image quality and general performance of the camera. The picture quality is truly wonderful from a Smartphone. Forget the traditional point and shoots, because why would you carry multiple devices when it can be done with your phone?

Operation of the camera is simple. From the home screen, head into the applications menu and run the Camera app (camera icon).  

Camera options are scattered across different sections of the camera.  On the right side is the camera shutter button, video recording button, Mode button, and the battery charge indicator directly on top.  Located lower left is the thumbnail of the previous picture taken where you can enter Playback menu via the Gallery.  Top left icons are there to allow you switch to the front facing or rear facing cameras, enter Dual-Shot mode where it displays the front facing camera with already the rear facing camera in operation (think of picture in picture on a TV), and the Quick Settings icon to change even more options.  Directly at the bottom is an up arrow that pulls out some real-time effects such as Black & White, Sepia, etc. 

You can use the manual shutter button to the right of the screen or just use the small square in the center of the screen, that acts as the focus point, to lock onto the subject and take the photo.  You can either hold the shutter button as the focus point turns green (signaling that its focused on the subject) and letting go to take the photo. Or simply touch and hold anywhere on the screen to choose the focus point, while the camera does everything automatically capturing the photo.

With the rear facing camera, you are given a bundle of options to your disposal. The S4 now has more options, more effects, and more shooting modes than before.  

Here are the types of pre-determined camera modes offered on the S4:

  • Auto, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Best Face, Sound & Shot, Drama, Animated photo, Rich Tone HDR, Eraser, Panorama, Sports

The camera (and video) settings offered:

  • Photo Size, Burst Shot, Face Detection, Metering (Matrix, Center, Spot), ISO (100-800), Anti-Shake, Auto night detection, Video Size, Video Stabilization, GPS tag (add GPS location to photo), Review, Volume Key, Timer, White Balance, Exposure Value, Guidelines, Flash, Voice Control, Contextual filename, Save as flipped, Storage, Reset

Editing Photos Functions

  • Rotate, Crop, Color, Effects, Portrait, Sticker, Drawing, Frame

Most of these settings are borrowed from existing features already found on the Note 2.

The Galaxy S4 contains an LED flash below the camera lens.  It acts as the camera's flash and I'm happy to report that it's still very bright as the Note's were.  It has a nice smooth even diffusion.  The LED isn't exactly white, it has a yellowish type of tint to it.
Under camera option, I did notice that the S4 did struggle with nailing the correct white balance when the LED light is being utilized in poor lighting conditions.  I wasn't too happy with this as original Note Smartphone didn't have much trouble as this seemed to have.  The Note 2 did have this similar issue that the S4 has. The color balance was just too cool bluish in tint, it just didn't look natural.

Noise in photos are not a problem when shot outdoors in bright conditions.  Coming indoors you will start seeing noise from ISO 400 and 800.  I would stick with ISO 100 and 200 at all costs.  Samsung hasn't really made any strides with ISO values with the Note, Note 2, and the S4, they all have a limited ISO range, nothing above 800 is offered.

The panorama function is very simple to use because instructions are given. Simply press and hold the shutter button and start slowly moving from left to right while using guideline to help keep the picture level.  Once completed the camera automatically stitches the photos together creating the panorama.  If not done correctly, parts of the image will not be stitched correctly looking blurry and not straight.

The Rich Tone HDR option is very good at bringing out the dark areas of the photo. It reveals the dark shadowy areas on the photo making the overall image better. Though you'll find in certain scenarios, using HDR will make the photo look unnatural at times.

Burst mode is another feature borrowed from the Note 2.  Burst mode is enabled by default and displays a message box going over how it works.  Simply hold down the shutter button and it fires off audible consecutive photos, sounding like automatic gun fire.  I personally don't use Burst Mode because I find that for me, it's a little annoying since there are times when I only want one photo, but end up getting 5 photos. The animated photo mode basically uses these burst shot photos and puts them together as one file.

Full HD 1080p resolution is possible with the S4, its becoming the standard in today's Smartphone market.  Most of the settings in the S4 were already seen in the Note 2. You can also record in 720p and smaller sizes if you like. The anti-shake option is available (cannot take a photo while recording if you enable anti-shake feature) and the great bit is that you can pause while recording and resume later on allowing you to make a video of only parts you want to record.

Test Images: Full 13-Megapixel, Original Samples

 Picture Effects Available


Battery Life

Android Smartphone

This is a very important area for most customers because they don't want to be charging their phones all day long.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a large 2600mAh battery making it slightly larger than the Note 1, but smaller than the huge 3100mAh battery in the Note 2. I would have loved if the same enormous 3100mAh battery was put in the S4, but you will have to settle with the 2600mAh unit.

I'm going to be honest and say that out of the box, I was very disappointed with the battery life performance.  I was only getting about 8 hours of battery life and ONLY Wi-Fi was the only optioned enabled.  I couldn't believe what was happening, I wasn't getting anywhere close to a full day of battery life that I saw with the Note 1 and Note 2. 

I solved the battery life dilemma and found that a certain setting were causing the battery to drain constantly, even after the S4 was put to sleep.  The main culprit was under the Wi-Fi settings, the option to "Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep" was set to Always.  Once I set that to Never, the battery life improved dramatically.  I was now able to achieve 1-day of battery life before the battery was depleted, this was with numerous functions turned on such as Wi-Fi, GPS, Multi-Window, Bluetooth, Smart Scroll, Screen Rotation, and automatic brightness.

With moderate usage of movie playback, YouTube, GPS, Internet Browsing, Video Recording, 3D game playback, I managed to get around 14 hours with 21% of battery life remaining.

Okay, Where Do You Buy it? For How Much?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 can be found on Amazon below.


Some Amazon Deals That May Interest You!


This is one of those reviews where it's a bit tricky, because in this case, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has done nothing majorly wrong.  The problem on the other hand, is that it's just an incremental upgrade of what we've already seen with the Note and Note 2, but with a few upgraded hardware and a few extra features, some of those borrowed.  The only real upgrade is a faster quad-core processor, a faster GPU, and 1080p screen.  Apart from those items, I don't see that much innovative change.  But has those additions really set it apart?  That is ultimately up to you, but for me personally, I'm not sure it has done enough. 

The 720p screens on the Note and Note 2 were already knockouts, the camera on the original Note, though only 8-Megapixels, compared to the S4's 13-Megapixels, was producing better results than the S4, regardless of the higher pixel count, and it had the same 2GB of RAM.  Do you really NEED that amount of extra power, likely not, though it would be great to have.
The S4 does have a smaller battery capacity, some issues with its white balance when the LED flash is used, out of the box the camera didn't really execute as well as the original Galaxy Note did. 

It also had some issues with web browsing, especially the slowdowns and lag.  It also slowed down visibly outside of the web browser when there were many applications opened in the background or when the internal flash memory was close to being full.  Furthermore, I had some intermittent microSDHC card issues with it unexpectedly being removed and the back of the S4 heating up upwards of 40+ degrees Celsius.  To me these are things that should not be happening.  Samsung has got to solve these issues with a firmware updates somehow.

Don't get me wrong, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is one heck of a Smartphone, it just needs some tweaking here and there.  But it does just about everything really well.  It's a beast on paper and in reality it's just as powerful being able to play back high-bit-rate Blu-Ray files.  It was indeed a joy to use.