Time to crown a new Android king, or is the Samsung Galaxy S4 a pretender to the Galaxy S3’s throne? After a long old wait, and more leaks than a boat made of Hula Hoops, we’ve finally got the Samsung Galaxy S4.
But was it worth the wait and, more importantly, is it worth your money? We put the latest Samsung handset up against its predecessor to see if any major improvements have been made over last year’s impressive model, and whether or not it’s worth investing in the Galaxy S4 or picking up a bargain-priced Galaxy S3. Based on what we’ve found out tonight, hopefully this guide will help you pick between the two if you’re stuck.
Design and Build Quality
The Samsung Galaxy S4, at least in terms of aesthetic design, looks almost identical to the Galaxy S3. Available in “Black Mist” and “White Frost” colours, it measures just 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm and weighs only 130 grams, making it a tad lighter than the S3. Still rocking a plastic polycarbonate build rather than an aluminium one (likely to keep costs down), the handset plonks a giant 5-inch 1080p display on the front, making it .2 of an inch larger than even its sizeable S3 older brother. Slim enough to fit comfortably in a trouser or jacket pocket, it’s still a very large device that will put off some people looking for a smaller phone. It does have its advantages though, especially when browsing the web and watching video. 4G download speeds are also included, while there’s also an IR blaster for controlling home cinema kit.
Thin at just 8.6mm and light at 133g, the Galaxy S3 feels great in the hand, and slips almost invisibly into a pocket. Available in Pebble Blue and Marble White, as well as other exclusive shades depending on your carrier, Samsung said last year that its curved edges are meant to conjure memories of nature. However, its plasticy “Hyperglaze” finish lacks that premium feel, and some may decide the Galaxy S3 is a little flimsy, albeit unfairly. The Samsung Galaxy S3 also has NFC features, as well as including 4G connectivity.
Winner – Though very similar, the slimmer, lighter, more-feature packed S4 wins it
Phone screens rarely come bigger than the one packed into the Galaxy S4. A massive 5-inch display sits up front, with a Retina-beating 441ppi full HD 1080p resolution. The handset uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED display technology, which should also keep images and videos bright and vibrantly colourful on the handset, as well as offering wide viewing angles. It’ll be a great phone for consuming media on or browsing the web with as a result, and even features screen tech that will let you use its touchscreen features whilst wearing gloves. Sturdy Gorilla Glass 3 is also used in its construction.
A 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display sits on the front of the Galaxy S3 and it’s gorgeous. Though its extra size and resolution mean it “only” hits a 309ppi pixel density, to the naked eye that won’t make a difference. Vibrant and colourful, it’s still one of the finest displays on the market, but it has been surpassed in both size and definition by the S4.
Winner – Galaxy S4 is easily superior, providing you want an even bigger screen
Samsung have opted for their 1.6GHz Exynos Octa 8-core processor in the Galaxy S4. Seeing as even quad-core chips clocked considerably lower than the beast of a processor found in the S4 normally see Android apps and software features ticking over nicely, the Galaxy S4 looks to be a real powerhouse of a phone. It’s arguably even overkill – we can’t think of a single Android feature that would truly be able to capitalise on such a chipset.
Samsung popped a quad-core 1.4Ghz Exynos processor in the Galaxy S3, and there isn’t a stutter or hang to be seen with it. This remains one powerful phone, best presented by the Pop Up Play feature that offers true picture-in-picture multitasking, offering windowed HD video playback. Impressive is an understatement.
Winner – Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will come in three different sizes: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Each handset can also be expanded with microSD cards, up to an additional 64GB, making for plenty of flexibility when it comes to storage options. It’s not yet certain whether or not the Galaxy S4 also includes the Galaxy S3’s 50GB free Dropbox cloud storage promotion – it’ll be a shame if it’s lost this nifty feature.
Samsung’s generous storage options are seen in the Galaxy S3 too. For starters, you’ve got 16GB and 32GB handset options. A 64GB model was also touted, though released far later into the handsets life cycle and is a little hard to come by. The S3 too had the option of popping in as much as an extra 64GB from a microSD card, not to mention a superb 50GB of FREE Dropbox cloud storage that comes as standard with every Galaxy S3 purchase. Either way, the Galaxy range is hard to beat when it comes to generous storage options.
Winner – For now we’ll give this one to the S3 based on the Dropbox functions. If the S4 is confirmed to have it too, we’ll change this verdict to reflect it.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 includes a whopping 2,600mAh battery. That’s over a fifth larger than the battery found in the Galaxy S3, and it’s removable too, meaning you’ll be able to hot-swap batteries on the go if you’re running short on power. However, we’d imagine both that screen and processor churn through power at an incredible rate, so you may not see a dramatic jump in battery life despite the capacity bump.
Samsung popped in a 2100mAh battery for the Galaxy S3. It’s a sturdy performer, but even it struggles to get a full day’s use out of a single charge. Remember there’s a massive screen to power, as well as a quad-core processor draining juice all the time. Touches like the Smart Stay tech keep battery usage as low as possible, but not by much.
Winner – We’re going for the S4, hoping that the additional capacity is enough to improve its battery life despite the added bells and whistles.
The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the latest build of Android while we await the launch of Key Lime Pie later this year. When it comes to apps, Android has grown remarkably over the last few years, with virtually every major app present on iOS now available on Android too. Android, unlike iOS, also comes with Google Maps as the default mapping provider, the premier mapping application on the planet. Jelly Bean also offers the Google Now service, which offers at-a-glance information provided by Google’s search engine based on your interests and location. Everything from bus timetables to sports scores to local restaurant reviews are covered. It’s a great feature.
Android is however a far less user-friendly OS, but what it lacks in dummy-proofing, it excels with customisation options. You can make your Android device look and act pretty much however you want it to, freely adding widgets and personal touches throughout the device, and even adding custom ROMs that totally change the way Android looks and feels.
Samsung have included plenty of their own software features through their own TouchWiz UI reskin too.For instance, there’s a feature called S-Translator that can translate languages automatically. You type words out in English and the Galaxy S4 then speaks them in one of nine languages, making it a valuable travel buddy. The camera system can also recognise text in foreign languages and translate it.
Smart Scroll web-page eye-tracking and Smart Pause media pausing are also included, with the front facing camera following your eye movements and angle of the handset in your hand to pan pages automatically, or pause videos if you look away from the screen. The screen’s “Adapt Display” will also kick in automatically, adjusting settings such as brightness depending on the apps you’re using and ambient brightness so that it is comfortable to your eyes.
The S4 also has Group Play, a shared music feature which lets users sync and play music on up to eight devices simultaneously, while video calling has been enhanced so it now works with up to three people – or you can have a video call but show an image.
S-Health is a suite of health and fitness related features. It will tell you how many calories you are burning, gauge your heart rate and sleeping patterns. You can also monitor your blood sugar levels with an add on.
The TouchWiz UI however isn’t as easy on the eye as stock Android, now anywhere near as attractive as Apple’s iOS.
The Galaxy S3 shipped with Android Ice Cream Sandwich, though a 4.1 Jelly Bean update has slowly rolled out from many carriers. Even if you’re stuck on Ice Cream Sandwich, it’s still a great OS without the Google Now features, and is just as highly customisable as Jelly Bean. The Galaxy S3 also saw the debut of many now-standard Samsung Galaxy features, including picture-in-picture Pop-Up Play and Smart Stay screen sleep tech. It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move for Samsung to eventually roll out some of the Galaxy S4’s headlining software features to the Galaxy S3 over time either, which would further extend the possibilities of the handset.
Winner – Galaxy S4, as it has everything the S3 had and more.
Camera and Video Recording
The S4 sports a 13 megapixel camera, a significant spec-bump up from the 8 megapixel one found in the S3. 1080p video recording is also onboard.
Plenty of nifty shooting software features accompany the now-standard HDR, panoramic and photo filter shooting options.
For instance, It also includes a “Dual Camera” record feature, letting you shoot videos or photos from both the front and rear cameras at the same time, enabling you to be in the picture if you are taking the image. You can also add voice to an image as it can capture a few seconds of audio simultaneously.
The S4 also has a feature called “Drama Shot” that can snap 100 images in four seconds, and then make a composite of the most interesting moments captured. All these images and videos can then be stored in the “Story Album” gallery, that automatically makes a library of related shots based on date and location data.
Though many of the Galaxy S3’s best camera features are now in the Galaxy S4, it’s still a very capable snapper in its own right. The Galaxy S3 camera is an 8MP offering, with impressive start up speeds of 990ms, and the ability to fire off 3.3 photos a second. A 20 in a row, six photos per second burst mode also features, alongside Best Shot, which takes 8 pictures and picks out the best based on framing, lighting and blur, as well as elements such as open or closed eyes on the subject.
Then there are the facial recognition features. Snap a friend, tag them in one photo, and every subsequent picture you take of them in the future should automatically be tagged accurately by the handset. Groups of people appearing in the same shots can also have group tags associated with them, making organising large photo libraries incredibly easy. Images can quickly be shared via email or social networks using this feature too.
Elsewhere, more standard features like High Dynamic Range (HDR), panorama, Smile Shot and Beauty Modes are onboard too, as well as plenty of manual settings for things like exposure values.
1080p video recording is also onboard. Just like the S2 before it, the results from our tests look a real treat, with video stabilisation options working superbly. Up front, a 1.9MP camera for video calling and shooting 720p video is also available.
Winner – Galaxy S4
Pricing has yet to be revealed, but expect it to be a lot more than what you can currently grab an S3 for.
Unlocked, the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S3 now sits at around £350, with the 32GB available at around £400 if you’re willing to shop around a bit. Those are bargain prices considering how well the phone still performs. 24 month contracts sit at around £30 a month – depending on the deal you may even get the handset for free, though expect most of the time to spend a £30-£50 upfront cost, depending on the nature of the contract. With the S4 now out in the wild however, expect even these relatively low prices to drop further.
Winner – Galaxy S3
Was there ever really going to be any winner here other than the Galaxy S4? As a major update to Samsung’s leading smartphone range, it of course ups the ante over its predecessor in pretty much every department. From screen improvements to a faster processor, cool new software features to nifty new camera tech, it’s the superior handset in almost every way.
Of course, it does mean however that the Galaxy S3 is about to get very, very cheap indeed, and in the coming days and weeks expect it to hit bargain basement prices. If that proves true, you could be picking up a really excellent handset for considerably less than the S4 will sell for. If you don’t mind being just a step behind the cutting edge, the Galaxy S3 still comes highly recommended.
By Gerald Lynch | March 15th, 2013