Samsung (SSNLF) has been on tear this year with record-setting profits. In Q3, its mobile phone sales were up 40.5% over the previous year, with sales numbers topping the next four manufacturers — including Apple (AAPL) — combined. A big part of that success has been the company’s flagship Android smartphone: the Samsung Galaxy S4.
During its first month on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S4 sold 10 million units. After six months the total had surpassed 40 million. Samsung spun off variations on the Galaxy S4 as well, including a Galaxy S4 Zoom (sporting a 16MP, 10x optical zoom lens), the Galaxy S4 Mini (a smaller sized version that’s still larger than an Apple iPhone 5s), a Google (GOOG) Play Edition Galaxy S4 (an unlocked version that runs pure Android, free of Samsung’s Touchwiz UI) and a collection of different colors.
Anyone in the market for a new Android smartphone should have Samsung’s flagship on their shortlist (it’s tough to find a Samsung Galaxy S4 review that’s negative). And if you’re looking for a first smartphone, this one just might be a better choice than the Apple’s iPhone 5s.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – The One to Beat
When Samsung released its new Galaxy S4, it quickly became clear that this was the flagship smartphone to beat. At the time of its May launch, the Samsung Galaxy S4 was even outselling the Apple iPhone 5 — an impressive feat.
Powered by a fast, quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB of RAM and sporting a huge 5-inch display at full HD resolution, the Galaxy S4 remains an impressive piece of hardware. Samsung also packed the device with innovative features including activity monitoring capability, advanced photo editing, sharing and organization options, support for gestures and eye-tracking, SAFE mode for enterprise security and even the ability to act as a remote for a TV.
The full list of Samsung Galaxy S4 features is huge. And if there’s one fault you’ll find in a typical Galaxy S4 review, it’s that Samsung may have tried to stuff too much functionality into this device.
Another issue that might bother some potential buyers is the polycarbonate plastic case. Other flagship smartphones like the HTC One and Apple iPhone 5s make use of aluminum that offers a more upscale appearance. Some people prefer the plastic, though; it’s one of those things you’ll just have to try out to see if it matters.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is also an expandability champ, offering a user-replaceable battery (so you can carry an extra battery for extended sessions away from power outlets) and it also has a microSD card slot so storage can be boosted using inexpensive microSD memory cards.
Plus, the Galaxy S4 is also now compatible with Galaxy Gear — Samsung’s take on the smartwatch.
Samsung Galaxy S4- Standard or Google Play Edition?
Samsung and Google also combined to make the Galaxy S4 choice even more compelling for Android smartphone fans. It was announced during May’s Google I/O conference that Google Play would offer an unlocked version that strips away all of Samsung’s user interface element, leaving the owner with an extremely powerful smartphone running pure Android.
This remains a top choice device for Android smartphone purists, although CNET’s Google Play Edition Galaxy S4 review points out that by removing Samsung’s software the camera functionality loses some features while multi-window capability, Air View and Air Gesture controls are also gone. Then there’s the fact that you can’t get a carrier subsidy on this version — it’s a straight $649, unlocked, from Google Play.
The good news: If you opt for the Google Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4, you’re going to get the newest version of Android –4.4 (KitKat)– now, rather than at some point in the future.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Specs
Note: Samsung has released multiple versions of this smartphone internationally. Any Samsung Galaxy S4 review published in Asian markets will reflect different specs, including an octa-core Exynos processor that’s not offered in the U.S. version of the device.
- 5-inch Super AMOLED display at 1920 x 1080 resolution (441 PPI) with Corning (GLW) Gorilla Glass 3
- 1.9 GHz quad-core Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB RAM
- 13MP rear camera with LED flash, 2.0 MP (1080p) front-facing camera
- 2600 mAh Lithium ion replaceable battery rated at up to 17 hours talk time
- 16/32/64 GB storage
- IR Blaster TV remote
- microSD card slot for storage expansion
- Dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- microUSB 2.0
- Polycarbonate case
- Weight 4.59 ounces
- Runs Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) and Samsung Touchwiz UI
- Multiple colors including black, white, blue and red
- Price starts at $649 unlocked, currently going for $49 on contract
Note: As pointed out in the Google Play Edition Galaxy S4 review, the Google version of this smartphone is available unlocked at $649, offers an Android 4.4 (KitKat) upgrade and does not include Samsung’s Touchwiz UI.
Samsung Galaxy S4 – Conclusion
There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S4, making it a top choice for anyone looking for a flagship smartphone offering a premium experience. So long as you’re not stuck on iOS (in which case an Apple iPhone is your only choice) or a Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone –that would be a Nokia (NOK) Lumia — Samsung is ticking off all the boxes on the buying checklist.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is fast, has a big, brilliant display, has a decent camera and offers expandability that other smartphones don’t. The primary choice a potential Galaxy S4 buyer has to make is between the standard version –running Touchwiz over Android with all the extra Samsung features and available on contract– or the Google Play edition.
Still not sure if this is the smartphone for you? Continue from this Samsung Galaxy S4 review to our comparison of the 5 Best Smartphones for the Holidays to see how the Galaxy S4 holds up against competitors like the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.