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Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4 review: Still worth buying in 2017?

Christopher Minasians Katharine Byrne
10 Feb 2017
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
600
inc VAT

You can still buy a Samsung Galaxy S4, but the smartphone world has moved on and you can do much better these days

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review: Software

Originally released with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which was the latest version of Android available at launch, the Galaxy S4 later received over-the-air (OTA) updates up to Android 4.4.4. This added support for the company's Galaxy Gear smartwatch along with other Bluetooth Low Energy peripherals. 

An update to Android 5.0.1 was then later rolled out to S4 owners.

Looking back at Android 4.4, it added several new features to the S4, including a camera app shortcut on the lock screen, Google Cloud Print support and redesigned status bar icons, which match Google's white theme instead of Samsung's own coloured icons seen in previous Android versions.

The status bar itself is now transparent, at least on the home screen and lock screen, which again matches KitKat on newer phones and Google's own Google Nexus 5. Google+ Photos has been changed to Photos, Play Magazines is now Play Newsstand, and Google Hangouts now supports SMS messages out of the box. Samsung's Multi-Window multi-tasking mode now supports a few extra apps, too.

Don't expect to get all of the features found in Samsung's recently-launched Galaxy S5, however; KitKat doesn't add anything major to the S4, and is mostly a bug fix update. Some changes are for the worse, too; you can't hide apps in the App drawer any more, and must instead put the ones you don't use into folders.

At least performance hasn't changed. Following the update, our handset scored a near identical score in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, so there's no reason to hold off installing once your handset gets prompted to update.

Samsung Galaxy S4

^ Your settings, just where you want them

Even in this latest version, Android on the Galaxy S4 has been customised in numerous ways by Samsung's TouchWiz interface; for example, the custom keyboard has a row of numbers above the standard layout, so you don't have to use a switch key or long press to type them. We particularly like the highly customisable list of shortcuts buttons you can add to the notification menu. There's nothing in the UI layout itself that will particularly wow or frustrate those used to vanilla Android or another Android launcher, with the possible exception that you can't move the app drawer icon from the bottom right of the shortcut tray.

Samsung has packed a lot of extras into the Samsung Galaxy S4. So many in fact that it's unlikely that anyone but a smartphone reviewer or the most ardent Samsung smartphone fan will ever realise they're all there, let alone use them. It does mean though that there's bound to be something that you find useful, or even indispensable.

A quick overview of such features includes: S Health, which tracks food intake and exercise to help you improve your fitness; S translator, which translates speech or text into nine different languages; Knox Tracking, which lets you track down your handset if its lost or stolen.

WatchON might initially appear to be a Samsung-only video store for TV and films, but it's actually a fully-featured TV guide and universal remote control. It uses the IR transmitter built into the top of the handset to control your TV, PVR and AV amplifier - as long as it's from a list of supported models. There's a huge list of manufacturers for each device, but if you happen to have an unsupported gadget there's no way to teach the phone the relevant IR commands. It isn't as comprehensive as a Logitech Harmony but could come in handy if you misplace your remote, or want to know what will be on when you get home from the office.

There's also a far wider range of eye and motion tracking features than we saw on the S3. You can hover your finger over the screen, much like hovering your mouse cursor over a link on your PC, and engage high-sensitivity mode for use with gloves on. Eye tracking will now pause videos when you look away and you can even scroll up and down webpages by tilting your head up or down.

Then there's Group Play, which lets you share music, video and even some games with other S4 users, plus you can even use multiple handsets to create stereo or surround sound effects; plus a built-in IR blaster for controlling your home cinema kit.

Reports are suggesting an Android 5 Lollipop update is due soon, but as yet nothing has arrived. When the update does eventually appear, expect a modified interface, better lock screen and more useful notifications, as well as the ability to search for settings within the Settings menu.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review: Verdict

It's no longer Samsung's latest handset, but there's still an overall feel of quality here. The storage is measly and the mono speaker and lack of FM radio may be a downer for some, but despite these, it's still a lot of phone for your money. It still feels quick, battery life is good and the camera is excellent. However, there's been a lot of new hardware released on the market since 2013 including the Galaxy S5, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. These newer phones are technically superior, so it's worth checking to see if you can get a bargain on an S5 in particular before you settle for an S4.

You can get an16GB S4 for around £200 these days, which is a fair chunk of change if you ask us. For a little more, a 16GB S5 can be yours, which may be preferable if you want your phone to be future-proof for a few extra years. The S4 still represents good value for money given the range of features, the quality of the OLED displays and the great camera. Budget handsets have come a long way, but if you want a good 4G phone then this is still a good choice.

Hardware

Main display size5.0in
Native resolution1,920x1,080
CCD effective megapixels13-megapixel
GPSyes
Internal memory16384MB
Memory card supportmicroSD
Memory card included0MB
Operating frequenciesGSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 850/900/1900/2100, LTE 800/850/900/1800/2100/2600
Wireless dataGPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, LTE
Size137x70x7.9mm
Weight130g

Features

Operating systemAndroid 4.2.2
Microsoft Office compatibilityN/A
FM Radiono
AccessoriesUSB Charger, headphones

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