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Review Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505 Smartphone

Florian Wimmer (translated by A Kammel), 05/18/2013

Evolutionary update of a bestseller. Samsung managed to sell more than 40 million copies of the Galaxy S III. Now the successor has been released, set to trump the flagship of 2012. The Galaxy S4 ships with a Full HD Super AMOLED display, a quad-core CPU and all kinds of gimmicky features. But is this enough to defend the top spot?

In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4
In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

For the original German review, see here.

Retina display vs. Super AMOLED, industrial design vs. organic shapes, California vs. South Korea - ever since the first Galaxy S hit the shelves in 2010, the fight for the top spot in the smartphone business has been on. For the last three years, Samsung's pride has been its flagship devices, the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II and Galaxy S III, technological pinnacles within the Android ecosystem.

Now a new top model is out, the Galaxy S4. Its specifications are remarkable: A Full HD display, which makes use of the Super AMOLED technology, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, a fast Adreno 320 graphics board, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash memory. In addition, a vast array of software novelties ranging from different display profiles (in order to generate even more brilliant imagery) to contact-free gesture controls, voice commands, eye tracking and much more have been implemented. By the middle of June, a variant with 64 GB of internal memory is supposed to be released, while Russia is rumored to be the first European country to get an octa-core variant by the end of May.

However, the competition is not sleeping, either. Apart from the eternal rival, Apple with its iPhone 5, a number of manufacturers have assembled very competitive high-quality devices as well: The HTC One has been extremely well received, not just in our review. The LG Optimus G offers great performance while being distinguished by a backside made from glass. Both the Sony Xperia Z and the Sony Xperia ZL are high-end smartphones with fast processors and Full HD displays. The Google Nexus 4 is famous for its phenomenal value-for-money-ratio. Then there is Nokia with its Windows Phone 8 flagship, the Lumia 920, a smartphone with its very own colorful design language, wireless charging functionality and nifty little details such as a touchscreen, which can be controlled with gloves as well. The HTC 8X is another Windows Phone 8 top-tier device. And then there is always Blackberry with its new Blackberry Z10 and a revamped OS fighting for a chance to get back to the top.

Some competitors stem from within Samsung, for example, the very well equipped Samsung Ativ S, a Windows Phone 8 device that has come to sell for less than 300 Euros (~$385). Last, but not least, the Samsung Galaxy S III remains on the market so that the new flagship model is condemned to offer a significant improvement in order to prevent potential customers from just choosing the more affordable predecessor. Samsung appears to have done its homework. But is this enough to keep its top spot in the market? Our detailed analysis will show.

The Windows Phone 8 Ativ S is also made by Samsung.
The Windows Phone 8 Ativ S is also made by Samsung.
There is a lot of competition for the Galaxy S4, e.g. the LG Optimus G.
There is a lot of competition for the Galaxy S4, e.g. the LG Optimus G.
Or the eternal rival, Apple's iPhone 5.
Or the eternal rival, Apple's iPhone 5.
High-end Windows Phone 8 devices: The HTC 8X ...
High-end Windows Phone 8 devices: The HTC 8X ...
...and the Nokia Lumia 920.
...and the Nokia Lumia 920.
Sony's Xperia Z.
Sony's Xperia Z.
The Sony Xperia ZL.
The Sony Xperia ZL.
The HTC One is probably one of the toughest competitors.
The HTC One is probably one of the toughest competitors.
Still great value for money: The Google Nexus 4.
Still great value for money: The Google Nexus 4.
Inhouse competiton: The Galaxy S III will still be available.
Inhouse competiton: The Galaxy S III will still be available.

Case

How we test - Case

Nothing but plastics - Samsung sticks true to the same material choice for all of its smartphones, including its high-end devices. This is not all bad, though: Next to keeping the costs down for Samsung, it also allows for more lightweight smartphones. Still, critics dismiss the haptic of such devices as inferior since they lack a first-class feel when compared to the likes of the iPhone 5 or the HTC One. Samsung tries to appease its critics (as it did with the Galaxy S III) by implementing a chrome-colored frame running around the sides. Still, the material remains what it is: Plain polycarbonate.

Whether this is to be liked or not remains a matter of taste. The same holds true for the new design choices that include numerous tiny dots on both the front and back sides of the smartphone. Our test device was a black one. Here, the dots on the rear are rather dominant due to a highly reflective surface while they appear to be less pronounced (almost like small dents) on the white version. We do not really appreciate the dominance of this effect on the backside of the Galaxy S4, particularly so since the glossy surface is not fingerprint-resistant at all. However, the rear panel can be removed completely and swapped for a different one, should this be desired. Despite the ongoing patent war between Apple and Samsung, the Galaxy S4 appears more chiseled than its predecessor, taking a step closer towards the industrial design of the iPhone 5; its curves remain more pronounced than its edges.

Talking about facts instead of taste: The Galaxy S4's build quality is excellent. Although it is crafted from plastics, the case is extremely sturdy and stable. Even when strong pressure is applied on the rear panel, no changes can be discerned on the screen itself and there are basically no clearances anywhere on the phone. The cracking of its case due to accidental drops - as it can happen with the Google Nexus 4, the LG Optimus G or the Apple iPhone 5 - is almost impossible thanks to its plastic design. In addition, the Galaxy S4 is one of the first smartphones to make use of the new Gorilla Glass 3 which is supposed to be extremely scratch-proof and next to unbreakable, as some web users have shown.

The material choice helps keep the weight down to 130 grams (~4.59 ounces), which is actually a little bit less than its predecessor which sported a screen of "just" 4.8 inches. The iPhone 5 weighs 20 grams (~0.71 ounces) less, but its 4-inch screen is considerably smaller. Thus, the Samsung Galaxy is very lightweight for its size. All of its competitors with comparably sized (often smaller) displays weigh more, especially so the Nokia Lumia 920 with a 4.5-inch display and a weight of 185 grams (~6.53 ounces).

The Apple iPhone 5 remains the thinnest one of all of the Galaxy S4 competitors, with just 7.6 millimeters (~0.30 inches). The S4 itself is almost as thin (7.9 millimeters/~0.31 inches), a feat which is only shared by the Sony Xperia Z. Most of the other devices are around 9 millimeters (~0.35 inches) thick while the Nokia’s Lumia 920 remains the most massive with 10.7 millimeters (~0.42 inches). The biggest surprise, however, is that Samsung managed to actually shrink the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4 a little bit when compared to its predecessor with its smaller screen. Samsung thus manages to fit an extraordinarily large display within a comparably compact case - which is exactly what one expects from a premium smartphone. The design - especially that of the backside - will definitely be a matter of taste, but stability and weight are top-notch. 

Connectivity

How we test - Connectivity

The choice of ports taken with the Galaxy S4 shouldn't come as a surprise when compared to other smartphones: The only two physical connections to the outer world are a micro USB 2.0 port at the bottom for charging or connecting the smartphone to a PC and a 3.5mm Line In/Out port at the top. Next to the latter, a second microphone can be found for noise-canceling and stereo recording purposes. On the left, the volume rocker is situated while the standby button can be found on the right.

The micro SIM slot and the micro SD slot (for cards with up to 64 GB) are both hidden under the removable rear panel. The phone's internal storage size is 16 GB of which 9.15 GB can be accessed by the user while the rest is needed for the operating system.

Bottom: micro USB 2.0 port
Bottom: micro USB 2.0 port
Left: Volume rocker
Left: Volume rocker
Right: Standby button
Right: Standby button
Top: 3.5mm Line In/Out, second microphone (noise-canceling and stereo recording capabilities)
Top: 3.5mm Line In/Out, second microphone (noise-canceling and stereo recording capabilities)

Operating system

The Galaxy S4 makes use of the most up-to-date version of Google's Android operating system: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean brings along a number of improvements when compared to the Galaxy S III, e.g. widgets on the lock screen, a Swype-like keyboard which allows to write not only by typing but also by moving the finger from letter to letter without ever lifting it and enhanced options of content playback on other devices and screens.

The Samsung Galaxy tablets are known to support a split screen feature, which allows two apps to be displayed simultaneously. This is now also possible on the Galaxy S4. For example, one could watch a video in one part of the screen while composing an SMS in another.

Samsung chose to stick close to the basic structure of Android. However, its TouchWiz skin does still include some major changes: Its large widgets drastically change the look of Android, strengthening the optical influence of the widgets' background images, almost resembling a magazine. Despite these alterations, one can still skim to the left and to the right to access the other home screens and the start screen can still be remodeled easily. An alternative for children, the elderly or just anybody who prefers a simpler appearance might be the "easy mode" which can be accessed from the settings menu and which is meant to help people navigate their phone with more ease through the use of larger symbols and pictograms.

Options

Even stock Android is already so full of different settings that it can at times be hard not to feel overwhelmed. Samsung packs even more options into the Galaxy S4, but at least sorts these into four distinct categories, which helps with staying on top of things.

It is also possible to activate a silent mode that suppresses certain kinds of notifications during certain timeframes. One might for example want to silence all notifications about incoming calls between 12pm and 4am, with the exception of some hand-selected contacts. Then there is also a safety assistant, which can be activated by pressing both volume buttons at the same time. Apart from taking pictures with the cameras, it also informs a number of pre-selected emergency contact persons that you are in need of help.

Samsung installs its own TouchWiz skin.
Samsung installs its own TouchWiz skin.
This brings along a number of changes.
This brings along a number of changes.
Most noticeable, widgets dominated by vivid imagery.
Most noticeable, widgets dominated by vivid imagery.
Everything looks very clean.
Everything looks very clean.
There are numerous options, but at least they are sorted into four distinct categories.
There are numerous options, but at least they are sorted into four distinct categories.
Should this still be a little bit too confusing, a "simple mode" can be activated.
Should this still be a little bit too confusing, a "simple mode" can be activated.

Software

Samsung includes a number of homegrown apps, which can usually be recognized due to their "S"-prefix. "S Voice" is the name of Samsung's integrated voice recognition software, which is comparable to Apple's Siri. "ChatON" is an alternative to "What's App", "WatchON" can be used to control Smart TVs and other devices, "S Translator" marks a decent translation software and "S Health" basically boils down to your own virtual fitness trainer. "S Travel", on the other hand, was developed in cooperation with TripAdvisor and offers travel information about specifically selected or randomly chosen locations.

But this also leads us to the bad news concerning some of the software: Apparently, Samsung wants to make even more money from its customers, offering a lot of content to purchase via not one but two Samsung shops next to the Google Play Store: The "Samsung Hub" as well as "Samsung Apps". Both (as well as some preinstalled apps) require a Samsung account next to the obligatory Google account. But it gets worse: Samsung chose to install bloatware, useless promotion software, which rarely adds any value apart from providing Samsung with another income stream from its advertiseing partners by pre-installing their software.

In summary: Samsung has created a beautiful and useful Android skin, which adds many convenient enhancements and new options to the operating system. Some great apps come preinstalled, but the bloatware is extremely annoying, especially with such an expensive device.

Communication

As a high-end smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S4 naturally supports quad band GSM and quad band UMTS as well as hexa band LTE with up to 100 MBit/s downstream and up to 50 MBit/s upstream. Thus, the device should have little trouble with many different carriers in many different countries. Reception quality was decent, even though the Galaxy S4 only showed three out of four bars when the Samsung Ativ S reported four. Speech quality and data transfer rates were still very good, though.

There have been reports about LTE problems for some carriers, but in our cellular network, no such problems arose. We neither experienced connection terminations nor did we have issues reaching full LTE speeds.

Apart from mobile phone and data connections, the Samsung Galaxy S4 supports all Wi-Fi standards - next to 802.11 b/g/n even 802.11 ac, a standard for the 5 GHz band which is still under development, but which is supposed to reach speeds of up to one Gigabit per second. Again, the reception quality is worse than with the Samsung Ativ S: Ten meters (~33 feet and two walls) away from the router, just three out of four bars remain, at times dropping down to one bar when another five meters (~16 feet) and another wall) are added. In all of these scenarios, the Ativ S showed full reception.

The settings menu reveals a number of other communication technologies built into the Galaxy S4: NFC can be used to exchange data with nearby devices, Screen Mirroring helps in sending images and videos to other screens within the same network, DLNA allows for communication with a wide variety of gadgets. In addition, the S4 supports Wi-Fi Direct and of course also Bluetooth 4.0Tethering, turning the phone into a wireless access point to the web, is possible via USB cable, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. All connection options that we could test worked flawlessly, although it can be hard at times to find out which technology is currently being used to transfer one's picture. For example, we accidentally sent a picture to a Smart TV instead of another smartphone. Great: By using a special cable, the smartphone can be connected via USB to HDMI-capable devices.

In addition, an infrared emitter allows - in conjunction with certain apps - the Galaxy S4 to be used as a remote control for TVs and numerous other devices. This worked exceptionally well without a long set-up procedure with a Sony Smart TV via the preinstalled "WatchON" app.

In summary: Samsung  supports almost all wireless communication standards out there. It is a pity that its reception strength is reduced in comparison to other smartphones and the sheer number of implemented technologies can get confusing at times.

The GPS test results are impressive.
The GPS test results are impressive.
Even indoors, the GPS module is very well capable of locating its position.
Even indoors, the GPS module is very well capable of locating its position.

GPS

Samsung's smartphone is capable of both using GPS and the Russian Glonass satellite network. What is even more impressive is that the Galaxy S4 is even capable of finding enough satellites indoors in order to locate itself with an accuracy of approximately 30 meters (~98 feet). Many cheaper smartphones do not manage to do this.

Telephone functions

The telephone app does not differ from that in other Samsung smartphones. When compared to the standard Android app, it offers a different design and a number of improvements, mostly concerning the way contacts are handled: It is for example possible to define favorites in one's contacts, which can be accessed quickly via a separate button. The telephone app works reliably and is easy to use.

Cameras

No high-end smartphone is complete without a decent camera - or, better, two. The Galaxy S4 utilizes a 13-megapixel rear camera with a maximum resolution of 4128x3096 pixels resulting in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Commonly, a somewhat lower resolution of 4128x2322 pixels is chosen, matching the 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen. The sensor is manufactured by Sony; it offers an aperture of f/2.2 and a focal length of 31 millimeters. This is 5 millimeters more than the focal length of its predecessor, resulting in a slightly protruding camera. Of course, the camera system includes autofocus, an LED flash and a 4x digital zoom. The front camera is an in-house Samsung model capable of reaching a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.

The camera of the Galaxy S4 is best suited for delivering great image quality in bright daylight, while both the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 920 are optimized for producing great photos in low-light situations such as in bars and discos. A direct comparison with our reference DSLR camera reveals a noticeable blue tint within Samsung's pictures. The resulting photos are a little bit over-sharpened with some weak fringing in the corners. Still, these are just details. Overall, this is one of the best smartphone cameras, actually taking pictures with a higher resolution than our digital single lens reflex camera while offering tons of options. The 2-megapixel front camera, on the other hand, yields somewhat grainy and lifeless photos, but its image quality is more than sufficient for its main application, video calls.

Camera app and settings

Users of a Samsung Galaxy Camera will immediately feel at home in the Galaxy S4's camera app. At the top of the screen, all of the most important settings can be found. On the right, the trigger and the mode-changing button is located while all the effects (including live preview functionality) are situated below. All of this can be used quickly and intuitively while still opening up numerous possibilities: Samsung offers twelve different imaging modes, allowing the user to cut some part out of the picture for example, or put himself in there as well with the help of the front camera. In addition to dozens of effects (like vignettes or a cartoon feel), there are also continuous shooting modes, HDR images, panorama features, animated GIFs, photos which include a short sound file and more.

Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, HDR mode
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, HDR mode
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, auto mode
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, auto mode
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, vignette effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, vignette effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, vintage effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, vintage effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, cartoon effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, cartoon effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, pastel effect
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, pastel effect
Galaxy S4 front camera, 2 megapixels
Galaxy S4 front camera, 2 megapixels
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, no zoom
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, no zoom
Reference: Canon EOS 450D, 12 megapixels
Reference: Canon EOS 450D, 12 megapixels
Reference: Samsung Ativ S, 8 megapixels
Reference: Samsung Ativ S, 8 megapixels
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, 2x zoom
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, 2x zoom
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, 4x zoom (max)
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, 4x zoom (max)
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, panorama
Galaxy S4 rear camera, 13 megapixels, panorama
 
 

Speech quality

It is easy to forget that the Samsung Galaxy S4 can also be used as just a mobile phone. Speech quality is very good: The person at the other end of the line can hear everything very clearly and without any disruptions. Sound on our end was a little bit duller, but this may have been due to the caller's landline phone. The phone's maximum volume is more than sufficient as well - unless one is using the speakers. It would not have hurt for them to be a bit louder.

Accessories

As should be expected from every high-end smartphone, the Galaxy S4 ships at least with a power adapter, a micro USB cable and a quick start guide. This is not much, but there are a large variety of things that can be bought separately.

The S-View Cover (~29 Euros/~$37) reminds us of the good old times when flip phones with two screens prevailed. The smartphone recognizes whether the cover is closed or open, displaying all-important information within a small viewing window in the S-View Cover. Once the cover is opened, the usual lock screen appears. Samsung also offers a special cover for inductive (wireless) charging, quite like the Nokia Lumia 920. Cover and charging station together cost around 79 Euros (~101). The more traditional Flip Cover and Cover+ (each ~19 Euros/~$24) are available in many vibrant colors, and there is also a separate charging station with another spare battery for 39 Euros (~$50).

Two unusual accessories: Samsung also sells a heart frequency monitor (~79 Euros/~$101) and a personal scale (~69 Euros/~$89) which can be connected to the smartphone, resulting - in combination with the S Health app - in a virtual personal fitness trainer.

Warranty

As always, Samsung offers 24 months of warranty based on a bring-in service so that the device has to be sent to a Samsung service partner. There are no warranty extension programs for Samsung smartphones.

The S-View Cover causes the most important bits of information to remain visible.
The S-View Cover causes the most important bits of information to remain visible.
A special case allows the Galaxy S4 to be charged inductively.
A special case allows the Galaxy S4 to be charged inductively.
The Flip Cover is available in a large variety of colors.
The Flip Cover is available in a large variety of colors.
The charging station (includes an extra battery) may be useful for traveling.
The charging station (includes an extra battery) may be useful for traveling.
Unusual: Samsung also offers a heart rate monitor for your workout.
Unusual: Samsung also offers a heart rate monitor for your workout.
Unusual as well: A personal scale which transfers its data to the smartphone.
Unusual as well: A personal scale which transfers its data to the smartphone.

Input Devices & Operation

Touchscreen

The 5-inch capacitive touchscreen of the Galaxy S4 recognizes up to 10 fingers simultaneously. There have been no input issues at all during our test, even multi-touch gestures like two-finger pinch-to-zoom worked reliably. More so, it was actually fun due to the extremely responsive system leading to very fluent scrolling and zooming thanks to the Galaxy S4's high system performance. Samsung even includes two new gestures: Sweeping over the screen with the side of the hand creates a screenshot, while covering the phone with the entire hand stops all media playback.

Touchscreen sensitivity can be increased in the system settings so that it can even be used with gloves on, a feature Samsung borrowed from the Nokia Lumia 920. However, while it worked well for the Nokia device, the Galaxy S4 takes its time. It is usually best to start by touching the screen with a bare finger in order to let it know that it is going to be needed soon. Afterwards, thin gloves work rather well - still, thick winter gloves are not going to register with the device.

No matter whether handwritten, ...
No matter whether handwritten, ...
...dictated ...
...dictated ...
...or photographed (in this case, an URL), ...
...or photographed (in this case, an URL), ...
...the options for text input are next to endless.
...the options for text input are next to endless.

Software keyboard

Samsung has expanded its virtual keyboard. The most striking difference to earlier iterations: A new row just reserved for the numbers. This comes in extremely handy since it eliminates the need to switch between the letter and the number mode, but the keyboard also grows slightly in height. This is not too much of a problem due to the Galaxy S4's large display, especially considering that the keys themselves are not as large in height as those of Android's stock keyboard. Luckily, we were still able to type without missing the keys during actual usage, but it is of course always possible to replace Samsung's keyboard by the stock keyboard or to download another one from the Google Play Store.

The keyboard offers a vast number of settings, ranging from the traditional T-9 layout to voice dictation and handwriting recognition. The latter works surprisingly well, although whole words seem to be recognized more easily than single letters. The touchscreen can only be used with one's fingers though, not with a touchpen. Voice dictation works reliably as well, most words are identified correctly even when we talked fast or mumbled.

Voice control

Speech can be used to control many other services of the Galaxy S4. The standard "Hello Galaxy" command unlocks the smartphone if no security code is used, directly opening the voice command software "S Voice". Incoming calls can be accepted or rejected via voice commands. It is also possible to deactivate alarm clocks, change the wake-up time or to activate the camera trigger (which is actually quite nice as it eliminates the danger of blurring the image by pressing the camera button). All of this works astonishingly well in quiet surroundings - the main problem is to remember that these voice commands can be used!

Eye control

The eye recognition software is capable of tracking your eye movements, keeping the screen active as long as you look at it. In addition, the Galaxy S4 can scroll on web pages or in documents according to where you look. Last, but not least, videos are paused when you stop glancing at the screen.

Scrolling worked rather well in our test, although it has to be taken into account that the smartphone should not be tilted as this changes the viewing angle, causing the system to react by scrolling accordingly. Once one has grown accustomed to this effect, it is actually possible to use it to simply scroll by tilting the smartphone while looking at it. The video playback feature was another thing: Sometimes, we did not manage to force the Galaxy S4 to pause the video just by looking elsewhere. Only after it had actually recognized our eyes, did it work, in fact overshooting in the process: Sometimes, we just glanced sideways for a short moment, causing the video to pause before finally continuing, but only after a short delay.

Other input methods

Samsung has even more to offer when it comes to controlling your smartphone: You could for example set it to show missed calls or automatically call a previously selected contact once it is lifted up. In addition, by simply hovering with your finger a few millimeters above the screen, additional "mouse over" information about objects can be shown in certain apps, which are optimized for this feature.

Display

How we test - Display

Samsung's Diamond Pixels layout (magnified).
Samsung's Diamond Pixels layout (magnified).

In contrast to the screen of the Galaxy S III with its 1280x720 pixels, the new generation offers a Full HD Super AMOLED display with 1920x1080 pixels - a better-than-retina pixel density of 441 pixels per inch (the iPhone 5 sports "merely" 326 pixels per inch). Of course, on a 5-inch display the human eye cannot really make out the difference between these densities any more.

Due to the organic nature of the LEDs, there are some differences in the efficiency of the three basic colors blue, red and green from which the screen is assembled. In order to compensate for this effect, Samsung has chosen different sizes for the green, blue and red dots while arranging them in a pattern of diamonds (blue and red) and ovals (green) - something Samsung calls "Diamond Pixels".

Samsung's OLED displays tend to fall behind in terms of brightness when compared to its LCD competitors. This does not change with the Galaxy S4: Its average brightness of 300.6 cd/m² is still less than what most LCD displays offer.

309
cd/m²
298
cd/m²
294
cd/m²
306
cd/m²
296
cd/m²
296
cd/m²
310
cd/m²
298
cd/m²
298
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 310 cd/m²
Average: 300.6 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 95 %
Center on Battery: 296 cd/m²
Black: 0 cd/m²
Contrast: ∞:1

Subjectively, image rendition is not only extremely colorful, but also extremely sharp due to the high resolution and pixel density of the Galaxy S4. Its contrast and its deep black levels are extraordinary, with a contrast ratio of 2478:1 and great black levels of 0.119 cd/m². None of its competitors can compete with these values.

Samsung offers four distinct display modes, as is known from TVs: Contrast and color saturation are changed in a manner that allows them to fit the screen content - or simply the user's taste. Alternatively, one can choose to let the system decide instead. The four modes are:

·        Dynamic: Very high color saturation

·        Standard: Normal saturation and contrast

·        Professional Photo: Color reproduction as natural as possible

·        Video: Decreased color saturation

We are examining the screen in all four modes using the CalMAN software and a colorimeter. The resulting screenshots can be found below.

The "dynamic" mode tends to overemphasize all colors; "video" comes closest to the objective ideal, including its grayscale rendering. In the "dynamic" mode, on the other hand, grays tend to come with a (barely) noticeable greenish tint. Still, grayscale reproduction works rather well, remaining almost lifelike in all modes on the Galaxy S4.

Since even today, some scenes in Hollywood movies are taken with a smartphone camera - which only get better over time - it may be useful for professionals to see how professional material taken in the sRGB color space or even Adobe's RGB color space is rendered on the screen. The "professional photo" mode is actually called AdobeRGB in some countries, emphasizing Samsung's claim that the Galaxy S4 is capable of covering the Adobe RGB color space (which is much larger than the sRGB color space). We are putting this statement to the test using the color checker of the CalMAN software. And indeed, with an average Delta E of just 2.78, the Galaxy S4 seems to be well suited for Adobe RGB while the sRGB color deviations were considerably larger.

So, which color mode should you choose? If you prefer strong colors, "dynamic" might be a good choice, especially since it fits the colorful interface Samsung has decided to implement in the Galaxy S4. The most natural color reproduction can be reached with the "video" mode while the other two come to lie somewhere in between. It might be best to just try out all the different options in order to decide which one to choose.

CalMan color accuracy, mode: dynamic
CalMan color accuracy, mode: dynamic
CalMan color accuracy, mode: professional photo
CalMan color accuracy, mode: professional photo
CalMan color accuracy, mode: standard
CalMan color accuracy, mode: standard
CalMan color accuracy, mode: video
CalMan color accuracy, mode: video
CalMan greyscale, mode: dynamic
CalMan greyscale, mode: dynamic
CalMan greyscale, mode: professional photo
CalMan greyscale, mode: professional photo
CalMan greyscale, mode: standard
CalMan greyscale, mode: standard
CalMan greyscale, mode: video
CalMan greyscale, mode: video
CalMan color saturation, mode: dynamic
CalMan color saturation, mode: dynamic
CalMan color saturation, mode: professional photo
CalMan color saturation, mode: professional photo
CalMan color saturation, mode: standard
CalMan color saturation, mode: standard
CalMan color saturation, mode: video
CalMan color saturation, mode: video
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: dynamic
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: dynamic
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: standard
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: standard
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: video
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: video
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: professional photo
CalMan color checker sRGB, mode: professional photo
CalMan solor checker Adobe RGB, mode: professional photo
CalMan solor checker Adobe RGB, mode: professional photo
 
Outdoor usage
Outdoor usage

Even outdoors, you will be happy with your Galaxy S4, at least on cloudy days: The boosted maximum brightness (in comparison to its predecessor) and its extraordinary contrast levels make it usable if the display brightness is turned way up. It takes direct sunlight to really bring the Galaxy S4 to its knees, making it strenuous to decipher the screen. Luckily, the display is not as reflective as we feared, so that the Samsung Galaxy S4 ends up being usable outdoors.

Viewing angle stability is nothing short of perfect: Both horizontal and vertical tilting does nothing to diminish contrast or brightness (even at extremely narrow angles), resulting in basically no quality loss at all.

No matter the angle, ...
...colors and contrast are always great.

Performance

How we test - Performance

Of course, a high-end smartphone has to deliver high-end performance. Thus, the Galaxy S4 ships with the proven SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. The same quad-core CPU is used in the HTC One as well, but clocked at 1.7 GHz instead of Samsung's 1.9 GHz. The GPU is an Adreno 320 with two cores and a clock speed of 450 GHz, accompanied by 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of flash memory. An octa-core Galaxy S4 has been announced, but no availability date for Europe has been released yet.

However, the quad-core processor within the Snapdragon 600 SoC is already more than sufficient to catapult the Galaxy S4 to the top spot of nearly all of our CPU and system performance smartphone ratings. The difference to its predecessor, the Galaxy S III, is tremendous: At least 34% and up to 82%. This helps to further corroborate the impression that both the operating system as well as all apps are running extremely smoothly, staying responsive at all times.

AnTuTu Benchmark v3 - Total Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
23181 Points ∼65%
Samsung Galaxy S3
15395 Points ∼43% -34%
HTC One
23500 Points ∼66% +1%
Sony Xperia Z
14244 Points ∼40% -39%
Sony Xperia ZL
19942 Points ∼56% -14%
LG Optimus G E975
17554 Points ∼49% -24%
Google Nexus 4
17555 Points ∼49% -24%
HTC One X+
16276 Points ∼45% -30%
Geekbench 2 - 32 Bit - Total Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
3216 Points ∼26%
Apple iPhone 5
1648 Points ∼13% -49%
Samsung Galaxy S3
1816 Points ∼15% -44%
HTC One
2332 Points ∼19% -27%
Sony Xperia Z
1918 Points ∼15% -40%
Sony Xperia ZL
2036 Points ∼16% -37%
LG Optimus G E975
1831 Points ∼15% -43%
Google Nexus 4
2054 Points ∼17% -36%
BlackBerry Z10
1755 Points ∼14% -45%
HTC One X+
1566 Points ∼13% -51%
Smartbench 2012 - Productivity Index (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
7353 points ∼71%
Samsung Galaxy S3
4116 points ∼40% -44%
HTC One
6850 points ∼66% -7%
Sony Xperia Z
4831 points ∼47% -34%
Sony Xperia ZL
5031 points ∼48% -32%
LG Optimus G E975
4951 points ∼48% -33%
Google Nexus 4
3178 points ∼31% -57%
HTC One X+
4907 points ∼47% -33%
Linpack for Android
Single Thread (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
304.848 MFLOPS ∼40%
Apple iPhone 5
365.18 MFLOPS ∼48% +20%
Samsung Galaxy S3
56.35 MFLOPS ∼7% -82%
HTC One
308.211 MFLOPS ∼40% +1%
Sony Xperia Z
210.109 MFLOPS ∼27% -31%
Sony Xperia ZL
227.808 MFLOPS ∼30% -25%
LG Optimus G E975
232.225 MFLOPS ∼30% -24%
Google Nexus 4
76.841 MFLOPS ∼10% -75%
HTC One X+
56.759 MFLOPS ∼7% -81%
Multi Thread (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
617.879 MFLOPS ∼43%
Apple iPhone 5
574.95 MFLOPS ∼40% -7%
Samsung Galaxy S3
137 MFLOPS ∼10% -78%
HTC One
733.333 MFLOPS ∼51% +19%
Sony Xperia Z
569.82 MFLOPS ∼40% -8%
Sony Xperia ZL
587.689 MFLOPS ∼41% -5%
LG Optimus G E975
540.598 MFLOPS ∼38% -13%
Google Nexus 4
221.638 MFLOPS ∼15% -64%
HTC One X+
166.667 MFLOPS ∼12% -73%

Legend

 
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505 Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 APQ8064T, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 16 GB iNAND Flash
 
Apple iPhone 5 Apple A6, PowerVR SGX543MP3, 32 GB SSD
 
Samsung Galaxy S3 Samsung Exynos 4412 Quad, ARM Mali-400 MP4, 16 GB SSD
 
HTC One Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 APQ8064T, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 32 GB SSD
 
Sony Xperia Z Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064A, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 16 GB SSD
 
Sony Xperia ZL Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064A, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 16 GB SSD
 
Nokia Lumia 920 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960, Qualcomm Adreno 225, 32 GB SSD
 
HTC Windows Phone 8X Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8260A, Qualcomm Adreno 225, 16 GB SSD
 
Samsung ATIV S Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960, Qualcomm Adreno 225, 16 GB SSD
 
LG Optimus G E975 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064A, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 32 GB SSD
 
Google Nexus 4 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064A, Qualcomm Adreno 320, 16 GB SSD
 
BlackBerry Z10 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960, Qualcomm Adreno 225, 16 GB iNAND Flash
 
HTC One X+ NVIDIA Tegra 3, NVIDIA GeForce ULP (Tegra 3), 64 GB SSD

The Adreno 320 GPU with its two cores clocked at 450 MHz is responsible for the phenomenal 3D performance of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Again, it takes the top spot, beating the Galaxy S III by up to 73%. Only the Google Nexus 4 (or the structurally identical LG Optimus G) is at times able to keep the pace of the Galaxy S4.

Antutu 3DRating
--- (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
5243 Points ∼46%
Apple iPhone 5
11353 Points ∼100% +117%
Samsung Galaxy S3
3269 Points ∼29% -38%
HTC One
5459 Points ∼48% +4%
Sony Xperia Z
4151 Points ∼37% -21%
Sony Xperia ZL
5218 Points ∼46% 0%
LG Optimus G E975
5532 Points ∼49% +6%
Google Nexus 4
5731 Points ∼50% +9%
HTC One X+
3377 Points ∼30% -36%
1024x2048 Off-screen (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
2037 Points ∼71%
Apple iPhone 5
1373 Points ∼48% -33%
Samsung Galaxy S3
2038 Points ∼71% 0%
HTC One
2377 Points ∼83% +17%
Sony Xperia Z
1856 Points ∼64% -9%
Sony Xperia ZL
2132 Points ∼74% +5%
LG Optimus G E975
1809 Points ∼63% -11%
Google Nexus 4
1702 Points ∼59% -16%
HTC One X+
1335 Points ∼46% -34%
Epic Citadel
High Performance (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
59 fps ∼97%
HTC One
57.5 fps ∼95% -3%
Sony Xperia Z
57.1 fps ∼94% -3%
Sony Xperia ZL
56.5 fps ∼93% -4%
LG Optimus G E975
57.3 fps ∼94% -3%
Google Nexus 4 (1196x768)
54.9 fps ∼90% -7%
HTC One X+
48.4 fps ∼80% -18%
HTC One X+
48.4 fps ∼80% -18%
High Quality (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
58.7 fps ∼96%
HTC One
57.1 fps ∼94% -3%
Sony Xperia Z
51.1 fps ∼84% -13%
Sony Xperia ZL
54.8 fps ∼90% -7%
Google Nexus 4 (1196x768)
54.3 fps ∼89% -7%
HTC One X+
46.2 fps ∼76% -21%
HTC One X+
46.2 fps ∼76% -21%
Basemark ES 2.0 - Taiji Free (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
47.24 fps ∼78%
Samsung Galaxy S3
37.1 fps ∼61% -21%
HTC One
41.08 fps ∼68% -13%
Sony Xperia Z
38.14 fps ∼63% -19%
Sony Xperia ZL
38.23 fps ∼63% -19%
LG Optimus G E975
45.7 fps ∼75% -3%
Google Nexus 4
53.54 fps ∼88% +13%
HTC One X+
15.53 fps ∼26% -67%
NenaMark2 - --- (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
60.2 fps ∼89%
Samsung Galaxy S3
58.8 fps ∼87% -2%
HTC One
60.4 fps ∼90% 0%
Sony Xperia Z
60 fps ∼89% 0%
Sony Xperia ZL
59.7 fps ∼89% -1%
LG Optimus G E975
59.8 fps ∼89% -1%
Google Nexus 4
59 fps ∼88% -2%
HTC One X+
56.5 fps ∼84% -6%
GFXBench (DX / GLBenchmark) 2.7
1920x1080 T-Rex HD Offscreen C24Z16 (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
15 fps ∼2%
Apple iPhone 5
6.7 fps ∼1% -55%
Samsung Galaxy S3
4.1 fps ∼1% -73%
Sony Xperia Z
13 fps ∼2% -13%
Sony Xperia ZL
13 fps ∼2% -13%
Nokia Lumia 920
3.6 fps ∼1% -76%
LG Optimus G E975
9.3 fps ∼1% -38%
Google Nexus 4
13 fps ∼2% -13%
T-Rex HD Onscreen C24Z16 (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
15 fps ∼25%
Apple iPhone 5
13.6 fps ∼23% -9%
Samsung Galaxy S3
5.6 fps ∼9% -63%
Sony Xperia Z
14 fps ∼23% -7%
Sony Xperia ZL
13 fps ∼22% -13%
Nokia Lumia 920
6.3 fps ∼11% -58%
LG Optimus G E975
17 fps ∼28% +13%
Google Nexus 4
20 fps ∼33% +33%
GLBenchmark 2.5
Egypt HD Fixed Time (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
34 fps ∼57%
Apple iPhone 5
34 fps ∼57% 0%
Samsung Galaxy S3
11 fps ∼18% -68%
HTC One
31 fps ∼52% -9%
Sony Xperia ZL
31 fps ∼52% -9%
LG Optimus G E975
37 fps ∼62% +9%
Google Nexus 4
35 fps ∼58% +3%
HTC One X+
15 fps ∼25% -56%
1920x1080 Egypt HD Offscreen Fixed Time (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
35 fps ∼6%
Apple iPhone 5
22 fps ∼4% -37%
Samsung Galaxy S3
11 fps ∼2% -69%
HTC One
30 fps ∼5% -14%
Sony Xperia ZL
32 fps ∼6% -9%
LG Optimus G E975
20 fps ∼4% -43%
Google Nexus 4
27 fps ∼5% -23%
HTC One X+
11 fps ∼2% -69%
3DMark (2013)
1280x720 Ice Storm Standard Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
11344 Points ∼8%
Apple iPhone 5
5721 Points ∼4% -50%
HTC One
10752 Points ∼7% -5%
Sony Xperia ZL
8971 Points ∼6% -21%
LG Optimus G E975
10233 Points ∼7% -10%
Google Nexus 4
11396 Points ∼8% 0%
1280x720 Ice Storm Standard Graphics (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
11395 Points ∼2%
HTC One
11192 Points ∼1% -2%
Sony Xperia ZL
10382 Points ∼1% -9%
LG Optimus G E975
10616 Points ∼1% -7%
Google Nexus 4
11625 Points ∼2% +2%
1280x720 Ice Storm Standard Physics (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
11170 Points ∼21%
HTC One
9451 Points ∼17% -15%
Sony Xperia ZL
6080 Points ∼11% -46%
LG Optimus G E975
9087 Points ∼17% -19%
Google Nexus 4
10660 Points ∼20% -5%

With the exception of the Peacekeeper benchmark, the Galaxy S4 delivers the best results of all smartphones in all browser benchmarks. Again, during actual use, browsing felt fast and delay-free.

Mozilla Kraken 1.0 - Total Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
13779.3 ms * ∼8%
Apple iPhone 5
20380.2 ms * ∼12% -48%
Samsung Galaxy S3
15411.3 ms * ∼9% -12%
HTC One
13058.6 ms * ∼8% +5%
Sony Xperia Z
21140.9 ms * ∼12% -53%
Sony Xperia ZL
22540.3 ms * ∼13% -64%
Samsung ATIV S
45665.6 ms * ∼27% -231%
LG Optimus G E975
23662.7 ms * ∼14% -72%
Google Nexus 4
21389 ms * ∼12% -55%
BlackBerry Z10
41401.5 ms * ∼24% -200%
HTC One X+
18124.1 ms * ∼11% -32%
Octane V1 - Total Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
2290 Points ∼11%
Apple iPhone 5
1663 Points ∼8% -27%
Samsung Galaxy S3
1954 Points ∼9% -15%
HTC One
1986 Points ∼9% -13%
Sony Xperia Z
1214 Points ∼6% -47%
Sony Xperia ZL
1182 Points ∼6% -48%
Samsung ATIV S
616 Points ∼3% -73%
LG Optimus G E975
1163 Points ∼6% -49%
Google Nexus 4
1248 Points ∼6% -46%
BlackBerry Z10
925 Points ∼4% -60%
HTC One X+
2089 Points ∼10% -9%
Google V8 Ver. 7 - Google V8 Ver. 7 Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
2222 Points ∼12%
Apple iPhone 5
1457 Points ∼8% -34%
Samsung Galaxy S3
1978 Points ∼11% -11%
HTC One
1899 Points ∼10% -15%
Sony Xperia Z
1279 Points ∼7% -42%
Sony Xperia ZL
1271 Points ∼7% -43%
Nokia Lumia 920
785 Points ∼4% -65%
HTC Windows Phone 8X
785 Points ∼4% -65%
Samsung ATIV S
792 Points ∼4% -64%
LG Optimus G E975
1479 Points ∼8% -33%
Google Nexus 4
1381 Points ∼8% -38%
BlackBerry Z10
829 Points ∼5% -63%
HTC One X+
2136 Points ∼12% -4%
Vellamo Mobile Benchmark 2.0
Metal (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
835 Points ∼47%
Samsung Galaxy S3
514 Points ∼29% -38%
HTC One
788 Points ∼44% -6%
Sony Xperia Z
632 Points ∼35% -24%
Sony Xperia ZL
627 Points ∼35% -25%
LG Optimus G E975
589 Points ∼33% -29%
Google Nexus 4
625 Points ∼35% -25%
HTC One X+
524 Points ∼29% -37%
HTML5 (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
2105 Points ∼68%
Samsung Galaxy S3
1834 Points ∼59% -13%
HTC One
2375 Points ∼76% +13%
Sony Xperia Z
2186 Points ∼70% +4%
Sony Xperia ZL
2194 Points ∼71% +4%
LG Optimus G E975
1756 Points ∼56% -17%
Google Nexus 4
1339 Points ∼43% -36%
HTC One X+
1997 Points ∼64% -5%
Peacekeeper - --- (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
555 Points ∼9%
Apple iPhone 5
863 Points ∼14% +55%
Samsung Galaxy S3
664 Points ∼11% +20%
HTC One
683 Points ∼11% +23%
Sony Xperia Z
388 Points ∼6% -30%
Sony Xperia ZL
386 Points ∼6% -30%
Samsung ATIV S
338 Points ∼5% -39%
LG Optimus G E975
545 Points ∼9% -2%
Google Nexus 4 (Chrome 27)
236 Points ∼4% -57%
BlackBerry Z10
361 Points ∼6% -35%
HTC One X+
667 Points ∼11% +20%
Browsermark - --- (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
2502 points ∼35%
Apple iPhone 5
2383 points ∼33% -5%
Samsung Galaxy S3
1898 points ∼26% -24%
HTC One
2152 points ∼30% -14%
Sony Xperia Z
1773 points ∼25% -29%
Sony Xperia ZL
1814 points ∼25% -27%
Nokia Lumia 920
1194 points ∼17% -52%
Samsung ATIV S
1494 points ∼21% -40%
LG Optimus G E975
1316 points ∼18% -47%
Google Nexus 4
1839 points ∼26% -26%
BlackBerry Z10
1905 points ∼27% -24%
HTC One X+
1723 points ∼24% -31%

* ... smaller is better

Samsung's engineers seem to have thought about every detail, because even the flash memory offers better data transfer rates and access times than all of its competitors. This helps the system and its apps to start faster and without unnecessary lag.

The overall performance of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is nothing but impressive: The device is faster than all its competitors are - by far. Even the super-fast, fabled HTC One falls behind in almost all benchmarks.

AndroBench 3
Sequential Read 256KB (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
75.1 MB/s ∼42%
Samsung Galaxy S3
38.08 MB/s ∼21% -49%
HTC One
58.75 MB/s ∼33% -22%
Sony Xperia Z
48.79 MB/s ∼27% -35%
Sony Xperia ZL
48.71 MB/s ∼27% -35%
LG Optimus G E975
60.08 MB/s ∼34% -20%
Google Nexus 4
49.7 MB/s ∼28% -34%
HTC One X+
36.88 MB/s ∼21% -51%
Sequential Write 256KB (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
13.11 MB/s ∼23%
Samsung Galaxy S3
7.44 MB/s ∼13% -43%
HTC One
16.37 MB/s ∼28% +25%
Sony Xperia Z
14.49 MB/s ∼25% +11%
Sony Xperia ZL
13.55 MB/s ∼23% +3%
LG Optimus G E975
13.88 MB/s ∼24% +6%
Google Nexus 4
13.97 MB/s ∼24% +7%
HTC One X+
13.45 MB/s ∼23% +3%
Random Read 4KB (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
12.28 MB/s ∼59%
Samsung Galaxy S3
7.13 MB/s ∼34% -42%
HTC One
11.83 MB/s ∼56% -4%
Sony Xperia Z
12.84 MB/s ∼61% +5%
Sony Xperia ZL
11.65 MB/s ∼56% -5%
LG Optimus G E975
11.64 MB/s ∼55% -5%
Google Nexus 4
12.14 MB/s ∼58% -1%
HTC One X+
9.99 MB/s ∼48% -19%
Random Write 4KB (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
1.13 MB/s ∼36%
Samsung Galaxy S3
0.58 MB/s ∼18% -49%
HTC One
1.19 MB/s ∼38% +5%
Sony Xperia Z
1.15 MB/s ∼37% +2%
Sony Xperia ZL
1.12 MB/s ∼36% -1%
LG Optimus G E975
1.06 MB/s ∼34% -6%
Google Nexus 4
1.07 MB/s ∼34% -5%
HTC One X+
0.62 MB/s ∼20% -45%

Games

The dual-core Adreno 320 graphics card clocked at 450 MHz is also used in the Sony Xperia Z, the Sony Xperia ZL, the HTC One and the LG Optimus G. It has proven time and again that it offers more than enough power for even the most demanding games out there (including those to be released in the foreseeable future).

No matter whether its casual games such as "Angry Birds: Star Wars", demanding 3D games like "Real Racing 3" or "Iron Man 3", fast Jump'n'Run games such as "Vector" or action games such as "Zombiewood", we never experienced any stuttering at all. Of course, both the fast flash memory and the powerful CPU contribute to this result.

Input via the position sensor and the touchscreen was very responsive and precise, as seen in "Iron Man 3", where both elements are combined. The same impression holds true for the other games as well: Precision was always top-notch.

Whether demanding 3D action games such as "Iron Man 3" ...
Whether demanding 3D action games such as "Iron Man 3" ...
...or fast Jump'n'Run games such as Vector are played - the Galaxy S4 never stutters in any available mobile games.
...or fast Jump'n'Run games such as Vector are played - the Galaxy S4 never stutters in any available mobile games.

Emissions

How we test - Emissions

Temperature

All this raw power squeezed inside the Galaxy S4 has to produce a lot of waste heat. Luckily, Samsung's engineers have managed to keep the Galaxy S4 cooler than the Galaxy S III. Despite all performance improvements, we never measured more than 42.5 degrees Celsius (108.5 degrees Fahrenheit), a value only achieved after hours of stress tests under full load. This maximum temperature, which occurs next to the ear speaker on the front, is actually 4 degrees less than what we measured for the Galaxy S III. It is only while idle that the increased excess heat becomes noticeable: In this case, the entire surface of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a few degrees warmer than that of its predecessor.

Heat generation is still very much acceptable, even though the HTC One feels cooler to the touch thanks to its metal case. The hottest device was the Nokia Lumia 920 with up to more than 50 degrees (122 degrees Fahrenheit) under full load, much more than what the Galaxy S4 reaches. Fortunately, the small power adapter remains rather cool as well while charging the phone.

Max. Load
 40.9 °C36.3 °C33 °C 
 42:5 °C38 °C34.1 °C 
 41.3 °C38 °C34.4 °C 
Maximum: 42:5 °C
Average: 37.6 °C
31.2 °C35.4 °C39.5 °C
31.4 °C37 °C40 °C
30.8 °C36.3 °C39.5 °C
Maximum: 40 °C
Average: 35.7 °C
Power Supply (max.)  35.6 °C | Room Temperature 22.6 °C | Voltcraft IR-350

Speakers

Sound quality is becoming a more important topic for high-end smartphones. Since the HTC One includes great speakers on the front (and an amplifier), Apple uses "magnetic sound transducers" with its iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920 employs stereo speakers, Samsung has to up the ante, right? Unfortunately, not much has changed in comparison to the Galaxy S III. Samsung does not even mention the speakers in its marketing brochures.

The speaker still sits on the back, although it has moved down. Once the rear panel is removed, the speaker is revealed to be more than decently sized. Indeed, sound quality is very good: The speaker sounds loud, vibrant and is barely distorted even at high volume. Quality does not even diminish considerably when the opening is pressed shut since the speaker uses the entire case as a resonance chamber. Still, it is not as good as the excellent stereo speakers of the HTC One.

Then again, most every music buff will choose external solutions that can be connected via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm Line In/Out port at the top. In both cases, the sound quality was good and distortion-free.

Energy Management

How we test - Battery Life

Power consumption

Power consumption has usually been a strong suit of Samsung smartphones since their displays tend to employ the economical Super AMOLED technology. This still holds true for the Galaxy S4, consuming somewhat less power than the HTC One that uses the same SoC. The difference is measurable, but small due to the large display. Under full load, the Galaxy S4 actually requires more power than the HTC One.

Power consumption while idle has actually decreased slightly when compared to the Galaxy S III, while having increased considerably under full load. Despite its incredible performance, the Samsung Galaxy S4 still uses less power than other high-end smartphones such as the Sony Xperia Z or the Nokia Lumia 920.

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.2 / 0.4 Watt
Idle 0.4 / 0.8 / 1.2 Watt
Load 3.2 / 5.1 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         Voltcraft VC 940

Battery Life

The Galaxy S4 employs an enormous 9.88 Wh Li-Ion battery that beats that of the predecessor (the Galaxy S III) by approximately 2 Wh and that of the HTC One by 1 Wh. Is this enough to guarantee great battery life?

Not quite. The strong battery was likely installed in order to offset the increased display size and performance. Under full load, the Galaxy S4 dies half an hour earlier than its predecessor does while its battery life during our Wi-Fi browsing test was a bit better than the Galaxy S III at 8:53 hours. This is on par with most other smartphones (and with reports on the web of 8 to 9 hours of continuous usage), but less than what the HTC One has to offer. If used less intensively, around two days can be reached before the smartphone has to be recharged.

Thus, the Galaxy S4's battery life is just average. One huge advantage is the possibility to replace the battery, taking along a spare pack for longer journeys - something that just cannot be done with the HTC One.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
27h 22min
WiFi Surfing
8h 53min
Load (maximum brightness)
3h 50min

Verdict

How we test - Verdict

Who has come up with the figure of speech that it's lonely at the top, anyway? There are numerous promising high-end smartphones, and not all of them are made by Apple or Samsung. Now, the Galaxy S4 has to fend off the HTC One, the Nokia Lumia 920 and the Sony Xperia Z. However, Samsung is off to a good start: When compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy S4 has been improved significantly in almost all relevant fields.

Superficially, not much has changed. The Samsung Galaxy S4 takes an evolutionary approach, staying true to its time-honored tradition of using plastics. Despite excellent workmanship, the inner values seem to be more important to Samsung. Almost all possible means of communicating with the web or other devices have been thought of and operation by the user is possible via gestures, touch, speech, eyes and facial recognition. In addition, while the screen might not be the brightest in its class, the razor-sharp Full HD Super AMOLED display is impressive.

The rear camera is capable of taking good pictures with an extremely high resolution. The smartphone accessories are well thought out and the superb performance of Galaxy S4 should be more than sufficient for the next few years. Then there is the outstanding TouchWiz skin, which not only looks beautiful, but runs quite smoothly as well. Samsung also encloses numerous useful apps.

Despite of all this enthusiasm, some reason for criticism remains. All this preinstalled bloatware is too much for such an expensive device. In addition, the countless options and modes of operation may be too confusing for some users. After all, the quick access toolbar already contains 20 toggles! While the battery can be removed (enabling use of a spare battery while traveling), battery life itself is nothing to write home about. Then again, our test results do not corroborate the complaints of some users that can be found on the web.

Despite the fact that Samsung has unmistakably delivered what it had promised - an outstanding high-end smartphone - there is no denying that the gap between Samsung and its competitors has narrowed: Full HD displays have been presented by other manufacturers before and most of the new features are gimmicks, which work well, just not always and in all apps. In addition, the HTC One beats the Galaxy S4 both haptically and with respect to audio quality - Samsung's new flagship just is not that innovative.

Nevertheless, it is easily justifiable to be every bit as impressed by Samsung's new Galaxy S device as by its predecessors because the Galaxy S4 is something like a giant Swiss army knife. Ranging from the remote control for a Smart TV and a fitness coach to a travel guide, the Galaxy S4 is capable of replacing numerous other devices and services that we use in our daily lives. Even after months of use, it will surely still be full of surprises due to its incredible variety of operating modes and settings.

In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4
In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

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In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4. Test device provided by Samsung Germany.
In Review: Samsung Galaxy S4. Test device provided by Samsung Germany.

Specifications

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505

:: Processor
:: Memory
2048 MB, LPDDR3 RAM
:: Graphics adapter
Qualcomm Adreno 320, Core: 450 MHz
:: Display
5 inch 16:9, 1920x1080 pixel, capacitive touchscreen, Samsung Full HD, Super AMOLED, glossy: yes
:: Harddisk
16 GB iNAND Flash, 16 GB
:: Connections
1 USB 2.0, Audio Connections: 3.5mm Line In/Out, Card Reader: micro SD card (up to 64 GB), Sensors: G-Sensor, GPS, Glonass, NFC
:: Networking
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (a b g n ac), Bluetooth 4.0 Bluetooth, GSM: quad band (850/900/1.800/1.900 MHz) UMTS: quad band (850/900/1.900/2.100 MHz) LTE: hexa band (800/850/900/1.800/2.100/2.600 MHz)
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 7.9 x 137 x 70
:: Weight
0.13 kg
:: Battery
9.88 Wh Lithium-Ion, 2600 mAh
Talk time 2G (according to manufacturer): 1020 h, Standby 2G (according to manufacturer): 22200 h, Standby 3G (according to manufacturer): 22200 h
:: Price
729 Euro
:: Operating System
Android 4.2
:: Additional features
Webcam: Rückseite: 13 Megapixel (4.128 x 3.096 Pixel) mit LED-Blitz, Front: 2 Megapixel (1.920 x 1.080 Pixel) , Speakers: Speakers at the rear, Keyboard: software keyboard, Headset, quick start guide, 24 Months Warranty

 

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Does Samsung's new flagship really get shipped in a wooden crate?
Does Samsung's new flagship really get shipped in a wooden crate?
Nope. It's just a cardboard box designed to look like wood.
Nope. It's just a cardboard box designed to look like wood.
Is this supposed to emphasize Samsung's special relationship with nature?
Is this supposed to emphasize Samsung's special relationship with nature?
Or is it even a side blow at Apple, where there is currently a dispute about the use of wooden textures in iOS.
Or is it even a side blow at Apple, where there is currently a dispute about the use of wooden textures in iOS.
Probably the former - after all, even soy ink has been used!
Probably the former - after all, even soy ink has been used!
So what's inside?
So what's inside?
A 13-megapixel rear camera, a Full HD Super AMOLED display and even a infrared transmitter turning the smartphone into a remote control.
A 13-megapixel rear camera, a Full HD Super AMOLED display and even a infrared transmitter turning the smartphone into a remote control.
A glance at the back gives us some hints.
A glance at the back gives us some hints.
SAFE is an acronym for "Samsung for Enterprises", which is supposed to state that some of its features have been designed with business customers in mind.
SAFE is an acronym for "Samsung for Enterprises", which is supposed to state that some of its features have been designed with business customers in mind.
It is equipped with 16 GB of flash memory.
It is equipped with 16 GB of flash memory.
The color of our test device is called "Black Mist", but a white version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is also available.
The color of our test device is called "Black Mist", but a white version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is also available.
On a first glance, the Galaxy S4 seems to be large: After all, it houses a 5-inch display.
On a first glance, the Galaxy S4 seems to be large: After all, it houses a 5-inch display.
But when taken out of its box, it reveals itself to be surprisingly wieldy and light.
But when taken out of its box, it reveals itself to be surprisingly wieldy and light.
The accessories are hidden below.
The accessories are hidden below.
Of course, there is a power adapter, a quick start guide ...
Of course, there is a power adapter, a quick start guide ...
...and also a decent headset.
...and also a decent headset.
The choice of materials has remained the same: Plastics everywhere.
The choice of materials has remained the same: Plastics everywhere.
Even the chrome-colored frame can't hide this fact.
Even the chrome-colored frame can't hide this fact.
Still, construction quality and sturdyness are top-notch.
Still, construction quality and sturdyness are top-notch.
The back side has become the victim of a strange design choice:
The back side has become the victim of a strange design choice:
It is basically a mirror, interspersed with tiny black dots.
It is basically a mirror, interspersed with tiny black dots.
Of course, whether this is to be liked or not boils down to personal taste.
Of course, whether this is to be liked or not boils down to personal taste.
The back panel can be removed completely (or replaced by another).
The back panel can be removed completely (or replaced by another).
Below lies ...
Below lies ...
...a micro SD card slot which allows for a storage extension by up to 64 GB, ...
...a micro SD card slot which allows for a storage extension by up to 64 GB, ...
...a micro SIM slot, ...
...a micro SIM slot, ...
...and the extraordinarily large 8.99 Wh battery.
...and the extraordinarily large 8.99 Wh battery.
Still, above-average battery runtimes are just wishful thinking - the screen is just too large, and the system too high-performing.
Still, above-average battery runtimes are just wishful thinking - the screen is just too large, and the system too high-performing.
The 13-megapixel rear camera comes with autofocus and an LED flash.
The 13-megapixel rear camera comes with autofocus and an LED flash.
The sensor is manufactured by Sony.
The sensor is manufactured by Sony.
The resulting high-resolution photos offer very good image quality, if one takes into regard that this is a smartphone camera.
The resulting high-resolution photos offer very good image quality, if one takes into regard that this is a smartphone camera.
The 2-megapixel front camera is better suited for video calls.
The 2-megapixel front camera is better suited for video calls.
Also, you can use it to photograph yourself while taking a picture with Samsung's dual camera function.
Also, you can use it to photograph yourself while taking a picture with Samsung's dual camera function.
Samsung's TouchWiz surface is very prominent once the phone is turned on.
Samsung's TouchWiz surface is very prominent once the phone is turned on.
It is based on Google Android 4.2.2 - the most recent version of Android.
It is based on Google Android 4.2.2 - the most recent version of Android.
The layout of the TouchWiz skin is not that different from stock Android, but it offers several new features:
The layout of the TouchWiz skin is not that different from stock Android, but it offers several new features:
Two apps can be displayed next to each other in splitscreen mode.
Two apps can be displayed next to each other in splitscreen mode.
It is also possible to watch a video while doing something else.
It is also possible to watch a video while doing something else.
All of this runs very smoothly thanks to the Galaxy S4's great system performance.
All of this runs very smoothly thanks to the Galaxy S4's great system performance.
Samsung's S Voice offers powerful voice control functionality.
Samsung's S Voice offers powerful voice control functionality.
Widgets can now also be shown on the lock screen.
Widgets can now also be shown on the lock screen.
You can even write your own welcome text.
You can even write your own welcome text.
Samsung offers its own app store.
Samsung offers its own app store.
Also, music ...
Also, music ...
...as well as videos can be bought here - and not only via Google Play.
...as well as videos can be bought here - and not only via Google Play.
However, the offerings don't really differ. In addition, a Samsung account is necessary to use the Samsung store.
However, the offerings don't really differ. In addition, a Samsung account is necessary to use the Samsung store.
The Galaxy S4 ships with some great apps ...
The Galaxy S4 ships with some great apps ...
...but unfortunately also with a decent amount of useless bloatware.
...but unfortunately also with a decent amount of useless bloatware.
The software keyboard has been revamped as well, including a dedicated row for the numbers. Handwriting recognition or voice dictation are alternatives.
The software keyboard has been revamped as well, including a dedicated row for the numbers. Handwriting recognition or voice dictation are alternatives.
Texts scroll automatically once the Galaxy S4 has got a lock on your eyes. It realizes when your glance reaches the lower end of the screen. Unfortunately, this only works in some apps - and not always reliably.
Texts scroll automatically once the Galaxy S4 has got a lock on your eyes. It realizes when your glance reaches the lower end of the screen. Unfortunately, this only works in some apps - and not always reliably.
Screen sensitivity can be increased if one wishes to use it with gloves. Light gloves work reasonably well, thick ones don't.
Screen sensitivity can be increased if one wishes to use it with gloves. Light gloves work reasonably well, thick ones don't.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 makes use of practically every conceivable wireless communication technology, e.g. LTE, Bluetooth ...
The Samsung Galaxy S4 makes use of practically every conceivable wireless communication technology, e.g. LTE, Bluetooth ...
...and NFC.
...and NFC.
The performance of Samsung's new flagship is incredible.
The performance of Samsung's new flagship is incredible.
In terms of raw speed, it takes the crown in front of all other smartphones.
In terms of raw speed, it takes the crown in front of all other smartphones.
Games such as "Iron Man 3" run very fluently thanks to its quad-core CPU and its dual-core GPU.
Games such as "Iron Man 3" run very fluently thanks to its quad-core CPU and its dual-core GPU.
Fast Jump'n'Run games such as Vector ...
Fast Jump'n'Run games such as Vector ...
...also pose no challenge.
...also pose no challenge.
There are just a few shortcomings:
There are just a few shortcomings:
Such as the slightly protruding camera which makes the smartphone somewhat unstable when lying on a table.
Such as the slightly protruding camera which makes the smartphone somewhat unstable when lying on a table.
The speaker is quite good, but it could be better.
The speaker is quite good, but it could be better.
And of course many people don't like the fact that Samsung has chosen to use plastics yet again.
And of course many people don't like the fact that Samsung has chosen to use plastics yet again.
According to the web, some people have problems with the LTE radio.
According to the web, some people have problems with the LTE radio.
The competition in the high-end market is strong.
The competition in the high-end market is strong.
Samsung manages to counter this threat with a very well-made smartphone.
Samsung manages to counter this threat with a very well-made smartphone.
Still, the air has become thinner up there.
Still, the air has become thinner up there.
And real innovation looks different - there is no killer feature.
And real innovation looks different - there is no killer feature.
But despite all this, the Galaxy S4 will undoubtably become a success.
But despite all this, the Galaxy S4 will undoubtably become a success.
It is definitely easy to feel impressed by this "Swiss army knife".
It is definitely easy to feel impressed by this "Swiss army knife".
The Galaxy S4 markes just an evolutionary step up from the Galaxy S III - but one which does almost everything right.
The Galaxy S4 markes just an evolutionary step up from the Galaxy S III - but one which does almost everything right.
And it comes with so many features that this onslaught might actually feel overwhelming to some.
And it comes with so many features that this onslaught might actually feel overwhelming to some.

Similar devices

Devices from a different Manufacturer and/or with a different CPU

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» Review Sony Xperia Z Smartphone
Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064A

Devices with the same GPU

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» Review HTC One Max Smartphone
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» Review LG G Pad 8.3 Tablet
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Links

  • Manufacturer's information

Price comparison

Pro

+Extremely high system and 3D performance
+Includes basically all existing communication technologies
+Excellent Full HD display
+Comprehensive set of accessories
+Numerous ways to control the phone
+Surprisingly compact and light
+Ships with some useful pre-installed apps
+Good camera, great camera app
+Replaceable battery
 

Cons

-Plastic case
-Multitude of ways to control the phone can be overwhelming
-Many features only work in specific apps
-Pre-installed bloatware
-Speakers could sound better

Shortcut

What we like

The Samsung Galaxy S4 manages to live up to its great legacy: Display, performance, haptics, camera, software and handling are top-notch.

What we'd like to see

The Galaxy S4 marks a successful evolutionary step in the development of the series, but it arrives without any groundbreaking innovations.

What surprises us

That Samsung chooses to include annoying bloatware, even in its flagship device.

The competition

Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung ATIV S, Apple iPhone 5, HTC One, HTC One X+, LG Optimus G, Google Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 920, HTC 8X, Sony Xperia Z, Sony Xperia ZL, Blackberry Z10

Rating

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505
04/01/2014 v4
Florian Wimmer

Chassis
92%
Keyboard
65 / 75 → 87%
Pointing Device
97%
Connectivity
48 / 60 → 80%
Weight
94%
Battery
94%
Display
87%
Games Performance
57 / 75 → 76%
Application Performance
38 / 65 → 58%
Temperature
80%
Noise
100%
Audio
77 / 91 → 85%
Camera
85%
Average
78%
88%
Smartphone *
Weighted Average

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9505 Smartphone
Author: Florian Wimmer, 2013-05-18 (Update: 2013-06- 6)