Samsung Galaxy S4

A flashy premium offering that breaks little new ground

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Samsung Galaxy S4 The Samsung Galaxy S4 is solid in every department, but its standout features are all gimmicks. (Getty Images)
By  ITP.net Staff Writer Published  July 2, 2013

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Key Specs

Bluetooth: yes
Camera: 13MP
Memory: 16 / 32 / 64GB memory + microSD slot (up to 64GB), 2GB RAM
OS: Android 4.2.2 (Jelly bean)
Price: AED2,799 (variable)

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When Samsung released its new flagship handset in March, we, along with many others, held our breath. What would the South Korean market leader offer to keep it on top of the pack?

Reception, as we now know, was lukewarm, but not without praise for the myriad little tweaks that set the device apart from its predecessor, the S3.

When we finally got our hands on one - two months after its UAE release and a full three months after the New York premier - we had all but forgotten the critics' complaints.

When we took it out of the box it felt as premium handset should: relatively light given the architecture of its innards and with a large enough screen to make it practical as a browser and multimedia viewer.

Its five-inch (127mm) capacitive 1080p (Full HD), 441ppi, Super AMOLED touch-screen is housed in a 0.3-inch (7.9mm) thin chassis (7mm thinner than the S3), incorporating Gorilla Glass 3 for durability. The handset is also 3g lighter than the S3, weighing in at just 130g. And inside is an eight-core Exynos 5 Octa processor, humming along at 1.6GHz.

So it is powerful, portable and robust.

We also approved of the 13MP camera and thought the screen imaging gave real depth to colour and sharpness to displayed images.

However, as we explored the endless features, some of which (like the post-capture image-manipulation tools) appeared not to function, we realised what all the post-launch grumbling had been about. There is nothing earth-shatteringly new here.

Smartphones now launch into a mature global market and while the S4 is certainly a solid product that suffers none of the commercial faux-pas of Apple's iPhone 5, it offers nothing to set it apart. Also, three months after its launch, its main selling points have been eclipsed by rival manufacturers. There are now thinner, lighter models from Lenovo and Huawei. Huawei also claims the fastest LTE model. And Sony's Xperia Z Ultra packs a massive 6.4-inch full HD display. It is also worth pointing out that there are cheaper models to found in Huawei's and Lenovo's ranges.

It appears Samsung opted for functional gimmickry with the S4 and, yes, the sheer number of add-ons (eye-tracking, hands-free texting) are dazzling when you explore the phone, but when you start to use it, day to day, it is difficult to see how these bells and whistles integrate meaningfully into real life. None of us had ever used a smartphone and thought, "This thing really annoys me because it doesn't pause video when I look away."

In the main, smartphones are bought for features. Consumers who value imagery will probably opt for one of Nokia's Lumias; those who prefer the portable will stick to one of the minis from Samsung, Sony or Nokia; media aficionados will embrace a Lumia or a Sony Xperia. While Samsung's Galaxy S4 is solid in every department its distinguishing features lie outside these more practical and lifestyle areas. They lie in flash and style, things Samsung excels in, but in a mature market, these features may not entice new users.

Each of us would have been happy to receive the Galaxy S4 as a present, but if we were shopping around for a single handset, we would probably be going home with something else.

Pros: Powerful hardware; quality screen; great camera
Cons: Plastic cover; confusing features; lack of standout features that are truly practical
Verdict

Great phone two years ago, but other models offer lighter, larger more innovative models

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