News Samsung, HTC, Mobile phones, samsung, smartphones, Technology — April 25, 2013 17:57 — 1 Comment
Samsung Galaxy S4: review roundup
US reviewers have got their hands on Samsung’s new flagship smartphone – is it better than the iPhone 5 or HTC One?
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 – its new flagship smartphone – is in the hands of reviewers in the US, who have given their verdict. Here’s a roundup.
AllThingsD/Wall Street Journal: “Galaxy S4 is a good, but not a great, step up.”
Walt Mossberg has been testing the Galaxy S4 for four days but doesn’t feel it’s a game-changer:
It’s an evolution of the prior model and despite some improvements, it still is especially weak in the software Samsung adds to basic Android. I found Samsung’s software often gimmicky, duplicative of standard Android apps, or, in some cases, only intermittently functional.
He recommends readers “carefully consider” the HTC One as an alternative if they’re in the market for an Android smartphone.
Weight? Size? Compared to the iPhone 5, it’s 30% larger and 17% heavier; the camera is 13MP against the iPhone 5′s 8MP.
What really seems to rile Mossberg is duplication:
Nearly all Android phones already come with two email apps — one reserved for Google’s Gmail. But on the Galaxy S4, there are also two online video and music stores, two music and video players, two calendars and two browsers.
Yet out of the box, there’s no camera icon on the lock screen so you can immediately take a picture. (You can add this feature, via the settings menu, in – you guessed it – two different ways.)
He didn’t have any particular success with “Smart Screen” (which pauses video if you look away). The plastic body felt “insubstantial” and the mono speaker on the back “only fair”. But voice call quality was good. He also tried out the LTE functionality, and got only just under 7Mbps (on T-Mobile US), against nearly 21Mbps for an iPhone 5 (on Verizon). That could be due to network build differences.
He seems to lean more towards HTC’s One:
The HTC has a handsome, sturdier, aluminum body, dual stereo speakers, an excellent camera, better screen resolution than the new Samsung and twice the base memory for the same price.
His conclusion? The Galaxy S4 is “a good phone, just not a great one.”
GigaOM: “too many features or just right?“
Kevin Tofel thinks it’s the latter.
I can’t stress enough that while the hardware is nice, the Galaxy S4 is chock full of software features that push the experience in a positive direction. Android 4.2.2 is the base operating system that Samsung builds its TouchWiz user interface upon.
Simply put, [Samsung's Android skin] TouchWiz has evolved as a powerful software environment that contains so much functionality that Samsung has had to put a tabbed interface in the Settings. In fact, if you enabled all of the buttons in the Notification panel — think one-touch buttons for Wi-Fi, Sound, Bluetooth, etc — you’d have 19 options to choose from. That’s because of the Samsung-specific features.
He highlights Air View and Air Gesture (the former produces a cursor or details from a calendar when you hover your finger over the screen; the latter lets you control the screen, say with swiping, without actually touching it).
He’s keen on the camera:
“As an “all-rounder”, most will be happy with the camera, which uses the same interface as Samsung’s digital cameras.”
So to the question in his title: are there too many features?
I’ve only briefly touched upon most of the major features. You’ll likely find more if you take your own look at the phone. So is this a problem to the casual phone user? Perhaps, but Samsung has an improved Easy Mode for these folks.
Easy Mode is what it sounds like: A simpler interface with larger buttons that show the most likely used apps and features. In fact, some of the advanced functions aren’t even accessible in Easy Mode. At first, I didn’t like that idea, but I’ve come around to appreciate it. Why? It gives new smartphone users a way to “graduate” to the full-featured Samsung experience without them having to buy a new Samsung phone.
Tofel says he would recommend the S4 “without hesitation” and says that it’s “Samsung’s defining phone” – and given that Samsung pretty much defines what Android looks like these days, that means it’s the Android phone too.
ReadWrite: “Sometimes, more is less“
Unlike GigaOM’s Tofel, Dan Rowinski feels overwhelmed.
Your smartphone should not be a source of stress. With its new Galaxy S4, it seems Samsung may not have gotten the memo.
It seems that every feature Samsung could possibly dream up ended up in the Galaxy S4. The company pushes the envelope with technologies and features that keep the rest of the industry on its toes. Yet it packs the Galaxy S4 with so many of its own branded apps, so many features of questionable value that don’t even work properly, that it detracts from the overall quality of the device.
He suggests that Samsung has a touch of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. He cites the many (many many) features and camera functions available (noting that some of the camera functions – animated photo, sound+photo) are saved as Samsung-proprietary formats that “can be shared only with other Samsung devices”.
Really, the Galaxy S4 is a solid smartphone, in just about every way.
You just have to put up with Samsung’s insistence on loading you down with bloatware, pre-loaded apps and features that you will likely never use and just get in the way. Once you cut through all that, the Galaxy S4 is a first-rate smartphone.
David Pierce notes that “Thanks to its high quality and wide availability, not to mention Samsung’s sheer brute-forcing marketing effort, the Galaxy S3 became the face of the Android universe.” But even after a week’s use, he wasn’t in love:
I don’t like holding this phone, and I can’t overstate how much that informs the experience of using it. It makes an awful first impression, slippery and slimy and simply unpleasant in your hand. My white review unit is completely smooth and glossy, with a subtle checkered pattern that looks textured but is neither grippy nor textured anywhere on its body. Even the silver band around the sides, which is obviously supposed to look like metal, is plastic. Everyone I showed the Galaxy S4 to frowned and wrinkled their nose as if it smelled bad, before rubbing their fingers on the back of the phone and then handing it back to me – that’s the opposite of the standard reaction to HTC’s One, which everyone wants to ogle and hold.
In fact he compares the Galaxy S4 to the HTC One – a metal-bodied device – repeatedly.
The HTC One is a powerful, feature-rich device that is also beautiful and classy, while Samsung’s handset feels like an overpowered children’s toy.
Still, the screen is, he says, “big, beautiful and seriously eye-catching.” He suggests that some colours are overdone by the super AMOLED screen; but at least it catches the eye.
He finds Air View and Air Gesture “useful – sometimes”. Air Gesture was over-sensitive (“it also tended to jump just as I was pointing something out or showing someone a photo, which became a pain”). But he did like being able to wave at the phone to change the song playing. Even so he felt
Much of what Samsung offers seems to be just for show, designed to give sales clerks something to demo that makes the Galaxy S4 unique … I wound up using the Galaxy S4 like I would any other phone, with most of the additional features off, and as much as I’d be thrilled to watch people waving at their phones on the subway, I’m not betting it catches on.
The Galaxy S4 is fast and impressive, but it’s also noisy and complex. The One is refined, quiet, comfortable, beautiful, and above all simply pleasant. I love using that phone, in a way I haven’t experienced with anything since the iPhone 5.
Harry McCracken goes over what may now seem a familiar tale: bright screen, glowing hardware specifications, though he says the camera doesn’t do so well in low-light conditions as rivals.
With things like Air View, Air Gesture and Smart Screen (pausing the video if you look away), McCracken is the only reviewer to point out that:
None of these features are transcendent breakthroughs. For the most part, they work only in Samsung’s own apps — Air View also appears in the Flipboard reader, which comes preloaded — not in third-party apps. In fact, they don’t even work in all the apps that are standard with Jelly Bean, such as Gmail and Chrome browser.
Smart Screen also won’t work in a darkened room, he points out, because it uses the front camera, and has to get enough light there.
In fact McCracken points to problems that others don’t seem to, such as:
Samsung may have barely mentioned Android at its Galaxy S4 launch event, but there’s plenty of evidence of Google’s handiwork in the S4, and at times, the handset’s joint authorship results in competing features, overlapping functionality and a general sense of redundancy. For instance, when you set up the S4, you’re asked to enter information for two accounts – a Google account and a Samsung account – rather than the one required by an iPhone.
In fact make that three, he says – because you get 50GB of Dropbox storage too. If you didn’t have an account, that would be a lot of logging in.
If you want the most polished phone with the best selection of apps, the iPhone 5 still has no peer. If you crave Apple-like panache but love Android, HTC’s One is a fine choice. And if what you want is the mainstream phone with the biggest screen and the most built-in stuff, the Galaxy S4 is your most logical option.
And he also has what sounds like the plea of an exhausted reviewer: “the Galaxy S4 should mark the end of Samsung’s strategy of more, more, more. When the Galaxy S5 shows up in a year or so, I hope it’s not just a Galaxy S4 with an even bigger screen and even more new features crammed into a phone that’s already bursting with them.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010