Samsung Galaxy S4 review: Great in 2013, less so now

£580
Price when reviewed

In the SunSpider JavaScript browser benchmark the S4 put in a stupendously quick performance, completing the test in 892ms, compared to the HTC’s 1,154ms result. The S4’s Quadrant and Geekbench results of 12,730 and 3,221 are the best we’ve ever seen, comfortably surpassing the HTC’s scores of 11,617 and 2,733. Only in the browser-based Peacekeeper HTML 5 test did the S4 falter – its result of 588 couldn’t match the HTC’s 673, although web browsing is commendably smooth.

These record-breaking scores translated to predictably excellent games performance. Real Racing 3 was playable – its tiny frame-rate judders are inconsequential and also appeared on the HTC – and Shadowgun, Dead Trigger and Reckless Racing 2 ran flawlessly.

Samsung Galaxy S4

In general use, however, the S4 often faltered: there’s a noticeable delay when the homescreen or app-switcher loads, and Samung’s TouchWiz UI often juddered when applications are being opened or closed, or when the phone was unlocked.

The Samsung’s 2,600mAh battery is a sliver bigger than the HTC One’s 2,300mAh power pack, but the S4 had 60% left on the gauge after our 24-hour rundown test – the same score as the HTC handset and no advance on its predecessor.

There’s 2GB of RAM, dual-band 802.11ac wireless, NFC and Bluetooth 4, and 4G is included, and the usual sensors are joined by a barometer and humidity monitor. One area may cause power users to balk, and that’s storage – the 16GB model has only 9GB of usable space. Samsung hasn’t yet confirmed when the 32GB and 64GB versions will make it to the UK.

Smart features

As expected, the Samsung Galaxy S4 runs the latest version of Android (Jelly Bean 4.2.2), with a heavy dose of Samsung tweaks, courtesy of TouchWiz. The most interesting are the new “touchless” features. The infrared sensor allows you to answer the phone, scroll through photos or skip music tracks by waving a hand in front of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy S4

We successfully swiped through a selection of pictures, but it isn’t the intuitive process you might expect; we had to ensure our hand passed directly in front of the sensor to make it work, and bringing our hand back to swipe to the next image often sent pictures back in the other direction.

The much-hyped Smart Scroll detects eyes and scrolls web pages if you look at the top or bottom of the screen. The feature intrigued the PC Pro office but it’s flawed. The delay before the S4 detects your eyes is irritating, the phone doesn’t always register upwards or downwards glances, and it lacks precision. We soon resorted to using our thumbs.

Samsung Galaxy S4

We’re also nonplussed about Air View, another touchless feature that takes advantage of the super-sensitive touchscreen to sense your finger when it hovers within 1cm of the screen’s surface. The idea is to provide a quick preview of emails and expanded image thumbnails; in practice, we found it awkward. You have to position your finger very close to the screen, previews don’t appear instantaneously, and email previews only work in Samsung’s own app – Gmail isn’t supported. The hyper-sensitive touchscreen does have one, more practical benefit: as with Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 handsets, it can be operated while wearing gloves.

Details

Cheapest price on contractFree
Contract monthly charge£31.00
Contract period24 months
Contract providerwww.mobilephonesdirect.co.uk

Physical

Dimensions70 x 7.9 x 136mm (WDH)
Weight130g
Touchscreenyes
Primary keyboardOn-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity2.00GB
Camera megapixel rating13.0mp
Front-facing camera?yes
Video capture?yes

Display

Screen size5.0in
Resolution1080 x 1920
Landscape mode?yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth supportyes
Integrated GPSyes

Software

OS familyAndroid

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