Instead of Galaxy S4, Samsung should have called its new phone the KS 4, for “kitchen sink,” because when designing this phone, Samsung threw in “everything but the kitchen sink.”
It has its strengths. I came away with a pretty positive first impression when I attended the press conference announcing the phone in March. And now that I’ve had a chance to use the phone in real world settings, I can say that I am impressed with the overall phone though not so dazzled with all of its “gee whiz” features.
You name it, this phone can do it. Air Gestures let you wave your hand in front of the screen to scroll through pictures or web pages. Air View lets you hover your finger over the screen to read a message or preview a story. You can use the phone as a universal remote control and personalized TV guide and there are tons of things you can do with the camera including inserting a little picture of yourself into a photo you’re taking of others or removing someone who’s “photo bombing” you. You can animate objects in photos and you can use “drama mode” to shoot up to 100 frames in a single burst to capture moving objects.
Before focusing on all the features, lets just review the basics. This is a very impressive piece of hardware with a fast quad core processor, a stunning 5-inch high resolution (1,920×1,080 screen, at 441 pixels per inch) screen and a microSD slot that allows you to easily expand the 16 or 32 GB of built in storage by up to 64 additional GB. And it runs Google’s lastest “Jelly Bean” (Android 4.22) software.
Some reviewers have complained about the plastic body but I think it’s fine. Sure, the iPhone’s anodized aluminum and glass may be better and more durable, but does anyone really care what their phone is made of? I don’t once I stick a case on it.
It’s definitely among the larger phones on the market (but far from the largest) and there are those who might prefer a smaller phone. Still, it’s thin and light and even with my small hands, I was comfortable using it. If you want details, here’s a CNET chart with all the specs on this phone compared to the Apple iPhone 5, the HTC One and the Blackberry Z10.
So, as Android phones go, this one is really nice. It’s fast, it has the latest software and it does everything a smartphone is supposed to do with relative ease. And speaking of easy, I really like its Easy Mode feature that simplifies the home screen. Samsung says that its intended for “first time smartphone owners,” but I think it will also appeal to some smartphone veterans who like simplicity and large icons.
And as per those features…
If I were to elaborate on all of the phone’s features it would take days to write this post and hours to read it. Let’s just say that there is a lot here which means there is a lot to learn if you want to take full advantage of what this phone can do. And, at least based on my experience, not everything works out-of-the-box as advertised. I couldn’t, for example, get the phone to pause a video by looking away from the screen. I was able to get Air Gestures to let me scroll through web pages and flip through photos in the gallery but, aside from avoiding smudge marks on the screen, I can’t figure out why in the world anyone would want to do this. It’s actually a lot easier to just swipe the phone with your finger.
I actually liked using Air View in the message app because it allowed me to preview a message without opening it just by hovering a finger over the closed message.
The camera modes are certainly interesting but I question whether they’ll be all that useful for all that many people. I tried the Dual Camera feature and got a shot of myself photographing my dog Yuri but as can tell from this picture, it’s not a very flattering photo of me and that’s partially because I, of course, am looking at my subject and not directly into the camera when I took the picture.
Some techies will love this phone while others might like it
There are lots of great phones on the market and this is certainly one of them. Personally, I’m not about to trade in my iPhone 5 for the Galaxy S5 because I neither need nor even want most of features. If you’re the type of techie who loves to play around with a myriad of features, you will no doubt have fun figuring out all that you can do with this phone. If you’re not a techie, you can still use this phone and you actually might find it easy to use if you turn on Easy Mode.
My verdict, while positive, is that it’s not for everyone. A worthy phone but — for most people — nothing to get too excited about.
As always, my advice is to try before you buy by checking out the phone and its competitors at an AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon store.