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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review!

Samsung Galaxy S4

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It’s nothing new for a company to establish a design language and stick to it.  Motorola and its RAZR series, alongside Nokia’s 3210 series and its various evolutions, brought the importance, or at least persistence, of design language to the smartphone industry.  And so it’s been over the last few years, at least for many of the top tier handset manufacturers.  Find an aesthetic the pleasing enough and market said design until it’s synonymous with your brand.  Apple does it best.  Samsung does it second best.

Enter the Galaxy S4.  An iteration on the Galaxy line of phones if there ever was one, the S4 arrives as a refinement to the formula that Samsung has embraced across all of its recent Android devices.  The sensors on the face of the device are located roughly in the same sequence where you’d expect them.  The face of the phone, on the whole, is essentially a larger S3.  Turn the phone sideways, you’re looking at a thinner, sleeker S3.  Turn the phone on its face and the camera is roughly in the same spot as you found it on the S3.  And so it goes.  Not a bad thing, per se, if you like Samsung’s design language.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Screen

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The screen on the Galaxy S4, in most cases, is absolutely beautiful.  When it occurs to you that the device you’re holding is almost entirely screen area, well, there’s a childish excitement that arises.  There are a couple caveats here. For one, if you’re new to the Galaxy line of premium smartphones, you’ll notice the display, when recreating whites, is incapable.  There’s an inherent blue hue to the screen that distorts all lighter colors.  It’s agitating and makes the user experience, at least when browsing the web, a slightly sour experience.  Secondly, the visibility in sunlight is shit.  While Samsung successfully created a screen with almost limitless viewing angles indoors, it’s almost always difficult to view the screen without extra effort when outdoors during the day.

Samsung Galaxy S4 OS

The OS utilized on the S4 is Android v4.2 Jelly Bean.  But that’s a half lie.  Despite the underlying OS, this phone is absolutely buried under bloatware, not the least of which is Touch Wiz, itself.  I’m sure there are some people out there that genuinely appreciate the time and resources Samsung has put into its Android skin. I’m not one of them.  Nor should you be.  This phone, despite its beast of a Qualcomm 600 quad-core chipset running at a screaming 1.9GHz, stutters.  Seriously.  All the time.  That’s not ok anymore.  I recall a time when I’d pick up an Android phone, hold it next to an iPhone 4 or 4s and scoff almost instantly as I began scrolling through web pages, switching through apps or returning to the device’s respective home screen.  Android has gotten infinitely better, though, and phones like the HTC One or the latest Experia don’t experience this lag.  The lag is now Samsung’s doing, or Undoing of what Google has worked so hard to achieve.

UPDATE:  Google I/O, which launched today, 5/15, was home to an announcement that Google will be making available a fully stock ‘Nexus’ S4 running 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, replete with a fully unlocked bootloader, on June 26th for the same MSRP as the carrier versions.  This changes [most] everything.  More to come there.

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Still, the phone is so thin, the screen is so large, and the design, despite its material shortcomings, is so minimalist and clean that it’s hard not to admire it. Just don’t expect to easily navigate the device with a single hand as it proves quite cumbersome.  Looks like Samsung’s flagship smartphone has finally crossed the phablet barrier and there’s likely no looking back (although a budget friendly, mid-level S4 Mini has recently shown up in leaks across the web).

There’s more to come on this smartphone.  It’s worth a few hundred more words and a bit more detail because, regardless of some of the glaring shortcomings here and a merely iterative upgrade halo, millions of people are going to buy it.  If you’re reading this and still intrigued, you should know why before you buy.