On its initial announcement the general consensus about the Galaxy S4 was that it was a very incremental update of the S III. To an extent that is true – the S4 feels like a more polished version of it best-selling predecessor.
The less rounded styling looks classier, the build quality feels a notch better, thanks in part to the metal trim around the edges, and the larger display embedded into a shell marginally smaller than the S III is stunning.
While still no match for the HTC One in the design stakes the market appears to have decided that such factors are unimportant, so the ultra light weight (7.9g) and good feel in the hand are likely to be the main issues that serve in its favour.
As will the screen, whose 1080p resolution offers superb clarity and which truly dominates the front of the device thanks to the reduced bezel. The phone also looks set to live up to expectations of performance. It is extremely responsive in all respects thanks to the quad-core Snapdragon processor and 2GB RAM. (Full Galaxy S4 specs)
The Galaxy S4 is packed with software tweaks including a series of hands-free gestures. We had mixed results with these.
Air View, where you hover a finger over an image or email to see a thumbnail preview, worked as advertised, and could serve as a useful feature for those who need to manage a large email inbox.
Air Gesture, which swipes through photos, changes tracks in the music player or silences a call, was also pretty simple to use, although we’re less clear on how often you’d actually use this in the real world.
The third of the gesture controls we tested was Smart Pause, and this one we couldn’t get working. The idea with this is that when you’re watching a video the playback will pause when you look away from the screen. We’ll reserve judgement on this until our full review.
A quick test of the camera in less than stellar conditions showed it to be fast and of expected quality. The S3 had one of the better smartphone cameras and the S4, upgraded to 13 megapixels, should continue that, without offering anything radically different to match what the likes of Nokia are doing.
Samsung’ s focus for the camera is based more on its unique features rather than the image quality. These range from the impressive-looking Drama Shot mode, which combines multiple images into one, to the rather more cheesy Dual Camera mode.
Overall the S4 looks like it will maintain Samsung’s momentum in dominating the Android market. It’s too early to say how much real value the new software features will add, but the improved hardware and design, along with consistently fast performance are impressive.
The S4 goes on sale from 27th April. Check back soon for our full review.