Samsung Galaxy S4: Plenty to like, but nothing to love


A Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S4 smartphone is held for a photograph during the Galaxy S4's release in Times Square in New York, U.S., on Thursday, March 14, 2013. (Michael Nagle/BLOOMBERG)
April 24, 2013

Samsung has high expectations to meet with the Galaxy S4, its latest flagship phone and main competitor for Apple’s iPhone.

In an increasingly crowded smartphone market, Samsung has tried to set its phones apart by adding stronger software features to its already impressive hardware.

With the S4, Samsung has taken that strategy and run with it, by offering a wide variety of new features meant to appeal to tech enthusiasts and novices alike. The result is a solid phone that still lacks a killer feature to propel it to must-have status.

Samsung certainly comes through on the hardware. The most remarkable part of the Samsung Galaxy S4, by far, is its screen. The company has managed to pack in a whopping 5-inch display while actually making the phone a hair smaller than its predecessor, the Galaxy SIII. That, combined with Samsung’s signature screen quality, gives users more real estate to browse or watch video.

The phone is also very smooth and very fast — it moves easily between apps, doesn’t lag while browsing and doesn’t stutter during video playback.

Its 13 MP camera takes stunning photos in normal and low light, and could easily replace a point-and-shoot for casual shutterbugs.

The phone has a plastic body, which has earned it criticism from those who would like to see Samsung offer a more finished, metal smartphone, but the plastic body helps to make the S4 thin and light.

The phone’s screen does eat up a lot of battery, but Samsung has given the S4 a bigger battery to keep users from having to top up in the middle of the day. The company has also opted to give the phone a removable battery, meaning that users can keep a spare around in case they run out of power. The phone will also support a microSD card to expand on the 16 GB or 32 GB models that Samsung is launching in the United States.

Despite those technical strengths, the phone’s software features are more hit and miss. Some features are genuinely useful, such as a photo-editing feature that can remove passersby from snapshots. The phone can also shoot video and photos simultaneously, and users can hook the phone up to a cable box and use it as a television remote.

While these are good features, there are also some downright strange features — such as the face-slimming “Beauty Face” photo filter — that will probably get very little use.

And other promising features, such as an auto-scrolling feature that detects when you’re looking at the phone, don’t work consistently enough to be useful. As Samsung improves its technology, these kinds of features may change how users interact with their phones but currently are more fun to play with than to actually use.

For those who are interested in the Galaxy S4 but may feel intimidated by all of its new features, Samsung has added an easy mode that strips out some of the bells and whistles to leave you with a fast, basic phone. The company said it included the option so the S4 can be a good fit even for those who feel less comfortable with smartphones.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 is a great phone and users who pick it up will be happy with its performance — but it still lacks a certain polish that dampens its wow factor.

The Galaxy S4 will be available this week. T-Mobile starts its online sales for the phone Wednesday, for a down payment of $149.99, with subsequent payments of $20 per month. It will go on sale Saturday at AT&T, with a starting price of $199.99; Sprint will carry it for $249.99 on the same day. Verizon has not yet announced pricing for the phone, which will be available on its network in May.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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