Samsung's Galaxy S4

Samsung's Galaxy S4

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Samsung's Unpacked Event, Part 1, and watching them pitch the next generation of their phenomenally successful smartphone line -- the Galaxy S4. It was held at Radio City Music Hall, with a simultaneous party at Times Square. And it was an impressive debut, though not one without some important caveats.

Android Central's Phil Nickinson and Andrew Vacca and I went to Radio City, Martin Reich took Times Square. Earlier in the day I spent some time with the HTC One. I've owned several HTC devices, including the Treo Pro, G1, and Nexus One. They make, in my opinion, the best hardware outside of Apple, and the HTC One gives Apple a run for its money. Unibody aluminum with a gorgeous 1080p LCD display and gutsy 4mp, 2 micro shooter on the back, it's a bit big for me personally, but I'm sorely tempted to buy one anyway. Their Sense 5 version of Android is controversial -- some like it, others don't -- and it looks nice enough, though tends to hide as much as it helps. Either way, it set my expectations for Android-based devices in 2013, and what Samsung was competing with.

LG, makers of the Nexus 4 and Optimus series of Android-based phones made the event interesting by placing their own, prominently 4-branded billboards, above Samsung's in Times Square. HTC doesn't have anywhere near the budget of their far more diversified Korean competitors, so they decided to troll the Samsung lineup instead, handing out hot chocolate and chips to the cold, hungry media and guests. Apple, by contrast, had Phil Schiller talk some smack to the papers (sadly, one fairly major point of which would later turn out to be grossly inaccurate).

That by way of pointing out how important this event was not only for Samsung, but how important Samsung has become for their competition -- and that their competition, more than ever, is as much other Android-based manufacturers as it is Apple.

Radio City Music Hall was an impressive venue and Samsung made the most of it. No simple executive or string of executives in jeans and shirts presenting in front of a keynote deck. After a brief introduction of the "Galaxy S4: Life Companion" by Samsung mobile head JK Shin, they had broadway actor Will Chase team up with their head of product marketing, Ryan Biden, and they put on a show. The actor would introduce a narrative and the product guy would explain what features were involved and how they worked, often with the aid of a performance to show it in real-world, if contrived situation. It was, in general, a fantastic idea and much more interesting than BlackBerry's painful CEO + tech demo guy team-ups at events past.

To get it out of the way, yes the show itself was cheesy and sexist. There were, indeed, few stereos left untyped by the end. It was clearly meant to be something out of mid 20th century broadway, where such things were common, but we're no longer in that time, and Radio City aside, were weren't in that context. Samsung is still awkward in their approach to modern, mainstream marketing. They have smart people on their team, however, and they desperately need to listen to them more. In the end, the more cockamamy elements did nothing to help their message, and only distracted from it. Next year, how about Cirque du Soleil?

The Galaxy S4 hardware is a feat of engineering. It manages, in the same footprint as last year's Galaxy S3, to pack in a 5-inch 1080p display, massive 2600mAh (user-swappable) battery, SD-card storage expansion, and additional sensors like IR for entertainment console control, and temperature and humidity sensors. Unfortunately, the display is still OLED-based, and the casing still Hasbro-style plastic. If you hold a Galaxy S4 in one hand and an HTC One or iPhone 5 in the other, the difference in material quality is stupefying.

Everything is a compromise, and Samsung seems to have chosen to add more features while sacrificing material quality to keep the price down -- though OLED is pure stubbornness at this point, given its seemingly insolvable problems -- but I think I could have lived with slightly fewer bells and whistles at this point if it meant a better casing. I use my phone more than anything else in my life. It should feel great all the time.

One area Samsung didn't skimp on was radio support. It has everything you can imagine, including the blisteringly fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It also has a big.LITTLE processor that's essentially 2x quad-core, switching between the lighter and heavier cores depending on what it's doing. However, that octocore chip will only be found in some versions. In other markets -- for a variety of carrier-related issues -- they'll use a Qualcomm chipset instead.

So, stacked but ultimately not premium-packed hardware.

Software was even more interesting. I should preface this by saying that I believe it wasn't finished yet, so what you see in the videos may well be much more polished by the time it ships. Also, while some have complained Samsung didn't mention Android enough during the show, as Phil Nickinson has repeatedly said, Android is essentially an embedded OS at this point. How often does Apple mention their UNIX foundation? (Samsung mentioned Android twice, once for their government Android-based KNOX security feature, and once on the spec slide showing the version to be Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean).

That has disadvantages as well. Samsung has so completely paved over Android with their own stuff that, come Google I/O, if a new version of Android is announced, it will take Samsung a long time to release an update that includes the new version for the Galaxy S4. For mainstream users, it won't matter. They bought a Samsung phone, not a Nexus. For geeks, if you want the latest and the greatest from Google, stick to Nexus. For people who just like to point out that Android's licensed business model, one which enjoys a lot of diversity, also results in slower updates for Android-based phones, have at it.

Back to unpacked. Most of the event, through a series of those fourth-wall breaking, often taste-challenging skits I mentioned earlier, was dedicated to front facing user features. A ton of them. It reminded me a little of older iOS events when new features would be announced at an almost machine-gun lined pace. It was a little hard to keep up with, and almost impossible to keep track of, given how many branded terms were used in quick procession. But it was something to see.

Some of the more interesting stuff included picture-in-picture photography and video chatting. Essentially you can include an insert of yourself from the front-facing camera on photos taken with the rear-facing camera. You can do the same for chats, and even screenshare. You can also record a few seconds of audio and combine it to a picture, a feature I've often longed for when covering trade shows -- attached voice notes to jog my memory later. There's even a drama shot mode, where a burst of images are taken and then auto-composited into something akin to those multi-exposure sports posters you sometimes see in bars, or used to erase extraneous people or objects from the background. That last one I'd like to see in iOS.

You can also do device-to-device Wi-Fi direct sharing. For example, if you have 2 people, you can share a song and make it stereo using both of your devices as speakers. If you have 5 or more people, you can make it surround sound. I don't know how often it would actually be useful, but the idea is delightfully geek.

Voice features got a big boost with a new translation assistant that can convert your English text, for example, to Italian audio, and someone else's spoken Italian response back to English for you to read. 8 languages will be available at launch. That's something I'd love to see integrated into Apple's Siri

Air Gestures -- which I'm guessing is some mix of hypersensitive capacitance and Kinect style camera monitoring? -- let you do things like trigger pop up menus or swipe between views without touching the screen. I like the idea for winter, when I'm wearing gloves, or if I'm eating and want to flip pages without getting any food on the display. However, I don't have great coordination and hitting a hard target like a screen is much easier than trying to hover or wave just right. Fitts' law and all that.

The biggest problem with Air Gestures, at least that I could tell, is that they're not really system-level features, so they only work in some apps that expressly enable. They work in Samsung Mail, but not Gmail, and they work in Flipboard, but not many other 3rd party apps. To make something habitual, it needs to be everywhere.

Samsung also showed off a bunch of accessories, including an fitness band, scale, and blood pressure monitor. They were Samsung branded, and if they were also Samsung manufactured, it shows an advantage that Samsung's massive business model provides them. Not many companies make as much stuff as Samsung does, which means their potential for cross-integration is enormous. Scales, fridges, etc. are just the beginning. Smart worlds await.

That's just some of it. There was a dizzying amount of other features as well. If you're interested in a break down of most of them, Phil Nickinson and I recorded an Android Central Podcast immediately after Unpacked.

Again, everything is a compromise, and throwing so many new features at the wall means, like every years, only a few are likely to really stick.Quantity is never as important as quality or coherency. Just like random words are harder to remember than well-told stories, feature blitzes often result in things most people don't use most of the time.

However, I'm happy Samsung is doing it, if only so that they can be tried out, and the good ideas can be distilled faster. Apple usually waits, usually focuses, and it results in great experience, but Samsung is providing balance through sheer audacity. As someone who loves technology, I appreciate the difference in approaches, and the balance.

The only real software negative for me wasn't a new one and remains a huge one -- user interface. Samsung's TouchWiz still lacks a consistently good design language. At best it's usable but utilitarian. There's little unified about their icons, and little appealing about their apps. Given the half-billion dollars they reportedly spent on advertising last year, it's hard to imagine they couldn't have spared a fraction of that amount to hire and empower a world-class design team.

I'm not talking about cool effects, mind you. Samsung has those in spades. Fast, fluid animation, ripples, glows, the whole bit. That's all frosting, though. They need tastier cake.

All told it was an impressive event for Samsung, and the Galaxy S4 looks like a great phone. Some are, sarcastically, calling it a Galaxy S3S, a throwback to Apple's tick-tock S-style updates. It's probably more than that, but let's be realistic -- there's a limit to how far, how fast, we can take phones now. They're already almost all great. Now everyone is trying to make them better.

Later this year it'll be Apple's turn.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Samsung's Galaxy S4

137 Comments

I heard the reason all these phones are so big is to match Apple's battery superiority. That true at all?

I doubt that is true. People like having different size choices and different styles. As far as the battery, it all depends on the software too. They were complaining when the DNA didn't have a really large battery to power a 5' 1080p screen with LTE, but it does fine. If the software can manage the drain its services have on the battery, then it's okay.

Probably not. The bigger they make the phone, the bigger the screen is. I would think that screen power consumption probably scales up faster than battery life when you increase size.

I don't know. The S4's battery is around 80% larger than the iPhone's in capacity. That's some serious energy being drained by the screen if that is the only place it's going.

Yes it's true. And because it's harder making things smaller and lighter while making them faster and great battery life.

These asian companies don't have the engineering talent for that.

No wrong, for example the s4 phone size to battery size ratio is around the same or more as the iPhone 5...apple are trying to imply is that the iphone has a "huge" battery and everyone else is making there phones bigger just to get the same capacity which is not true...iPhone 5 has like 1500mah where as the s4 has 2600mah so its not like Samsung made there phone bigger just so they could add the same battery size as ip5 they actually added a bigger one. Let's not forget Samsung can also make a phone slimmer,faster AND put in a bigger screen without making the phone bigger but actually smaller, so to say these Asian companies don't have the talent is false as samsung which is a Asian company made the s4 have a bigger 5" 1080p screen,a much larger 2600mah battery and made the the phone slimmer and less wider and lighter than there previous phone.

If the iPhone came with a 2000+ mah battery, no one would come close to it. But they are so damn cheap and get away with it by trying to make their phone 'thinner and lighter.' Utter BS.

Initially, yes and also because the Andorid-based devices had LTE too. I do not think that is the case anymore. The larger screens have an audience and are a differentiator over the iPhone.

I agree with HTC One, If it wasn't the software platform i would have picked HTC One any day over iPhone 5. It is simply brilliant. I am increasingly worried about Apple's stubbornness on one hand usage Smartphone. As it is the peak season where contract for iPhone 4 expires, most are very likely to switch to bigger screen smartphone. ( This trend is increasingly obvious, especially in non English speaking countries ) A 5" iPhone with same resolution would be great way to fill the gap, and to use those excess screen panel capacity being left over from larger Retina iPad.

My girlfriend was Apple thru-and-thru. Macbook, iPhone, and iPad. For years.

She just ditched her iPhone 4S and got a Samsung Note 2. She's had it for a bit over a week and still can't stop gushing about how much better she likes it. Mostly because of the size of the screen. But, also, the various widgets she set up so she can see time, current weather, a summary of recent emails, and the last few things in her Facebook Feed, all on one screen.

Oh, but wait. Maybe that's all because she doesn't just sit around looking at her phone or "feeling" it. She actually USES it - for work and personal.

I continue to think this one hand operation is very "Manly", most woman prefer to have bigger screen and two hand operation.

iTunes Sync, iCloud, Bigger Screen, three things that Apple needs to pour resources into some deep thinking and solve the problem. ( Forth one would be Apple ID )

Making it as good as LCD. Color saturation, the issue with blue, etc. Listen to last week's iMore show. Brian Klug of Anandtech explains it at a near molecular level.

Reports from other tech sites is that the issues with blue and colour satuation has been fixed due to the new screen adapt feature. Don't know if its true but from looking at hands on videos the whites dont have that blueish tint...as for saturation its all personal pref some like true black and vivid colours and some like the "dull" natural colours and dark grey black...i personally don't like too vivid colours but love the true black and on my s3 there's a display mode which allowsit to make the sscreen more natural colour which actually works and you can almost get the best of both world...correct me if I am wrong but dont apple each time introducing a new screen always say its 20% or 40% more saturated than before so are they not each time by doing that themselves going for the more vivid look, same as why the cameras takes more warmer pics because these punchy colours actually stand out to the mass consumers its why when you go to buy TVs etc literally that are all on extra vivid mode.

Of OLED is a terrible technology, then why is there such a thing as OLED reference monitors that sell for over $10,000? It is because of the contrast, precise color (at angles), and consistency.

After years and multiple AMOLED phones starting with the Nexus One and ending with the Galaxy Nexus and GS3 I have to say I agree with Rene. SAMOLED is not a great display. It is expensive (why do you think Samsung keeps using the pentile matrix? I read it is on the GS4 as well), overly contrasted, hard to calibrate, and looks awful (I used to be a fan, but LCD is a much better option and Apple and HTC continue to show this as they always are considered the phones with the best displays).

Wow, makes no sense. But if you're talking about upgrades, the iPhone 5 compared to the 4S was leaps and bounds better than the S3 to S4. Sorry troll. Maybe you should be at imoreandroid.com ?

>>>Maybe you should be at imoreandroid.com ?
androidcentral.com is the place for those who wish Android-centric discussion.

Respected Sir, I am still a fanboy and will remain as long as there is jailbreak but now I have seriously started thinking of having two phones and as you can guess , the second one will be naturally a fast improving "android" like HTC ONE.

fast moving is two words I wouldn't use when it comes to Android and this comes after 3 solid years of only using Android for phones and tablets (I know I shouldn't have and got burned numerous times). Every Android device I've ever used is very laggy and drops a bunch of frames. This happens no matter what hardware they throw at it. It literally feels like I'm swiping and tapping in sand. It didn't bother me much until I came back to the iOS and now it is completely unusable for me. I'm constantly just fighting with the software to get it to do what I want it to.

I've never used android and it's nice to see feedback on how it performs. All u here about these days is how good it is but no platform is perfect and hearing a different side is refreshing.

Really, you seem to keep suggesting that on most of your post when talking about android? This entire article is about android so shouldn't the discussion almost be about android this time?

It is very frustrating to see a mod always say that, I would think as long as they are being respectful they should be able to post about android or whatever as long as they are not trolling.

If not then this article should be deleted or moved.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it. I love Apple too, but I'm ready for something new. Samsung showed off great features and I think that's a good thing, now other companies like Apple can come up with features like them or even better ones. It's all competition, and competition brings new technology, which to me is a GREAT thing. Let's not kid ourselves, iOS 6 and it's features were nothing game changing. I think that's what he means by it's better to do something than nothing. I personally don't notice anything different on my iPhone 5 than on my 4S with the exception of my 5 being slightly faster.

Thanks dear, we all love apple and don't want to see it going down . Remember that a good critics is always better than a extremist fanboy.

Leaps and bounds? Really? Both upgrades were marked improvements in overall hardware, but iPhone 5 used the exact same camera as the 4S. Samsung came out with a ton of new features and even if they aren't all the most practical day-to-day features, it beats out iPhone's coupon folder and panorama.

That's one way to look at it. Apple managed to engineer a camera slightly better than the iPhone 4S but also much thinner. Cameras hate thinness. Apple made the best camera in mobile, and in the thinnest phone of it's time. That's near miraculous engineering.

The problem is, most people probably wouldn't have minded if the iPhone 5 wasn't that thin. Then we could have gotten an even better camera, and likely a longer lasting battery.

You can argue priorities, but not quality.

"You can argue priorities, but not quality."

Exactly. Most people probably wouldn't have minded if the iPhone 5 didn't have crystalline diamond cut chamfers. But the people that don't care about that probably don't care that the only feature Samsung touts about the S4's polycarbonate casing is it's "Unique Textured Design."

Samsung managed to put in a larger screen and a much bigger battery in a smaller and thinner phone than before, thats too great engineering don't you think

Considering Apple went from "LTE" to real LTE - yes it's a larger upgrade when compared to GS3 to GS4. What did Apple provide beyond that? In terms of other upgrades, the S4 received a larger bump in processor speed, display PPI from 306 to 441, screen size from 4.8in to 5in, camera from 8MP to 13MP, and other new features be it gimmicky or not.

If the the 4s to 5 is leaps and bound difference than the s3 to s4 is even bigger...i can gaurantww if you were to write down what got improved the list will be much bigger on the s4

"leaps and bounds?" you really think so?

as a 4s user currently i was very meh on the 5. All i saw was, bigger screen, LTE, & better camera. And honestly i thought the first to were a one cycle late. I'd just say if it was leaps and bounds better both were not leaps but more like tiny spec bump hops.

for your kind information, Sir, I have only one phone i,e, iphone 4 and I love it just like any thing but this is not the case from the very first day I used it , Its only seven days after initial use I had started thinking of changing it but then after googling I decided to JAILBREAK it, OMG, then I met the real iphone , a way better than android . My only aim to criticise apple is to make it "open". Atleast apple can provide some nice themes and tweaks controlled by it.
I DON'T WANT TO LOOSE APPLE BUT " I (WE) WANT FREEDOM .Apple please listen to the cries of millions of jailbreakers.

While Apple may not do things that interest you or matter to you as much as Samsung, to say they do nothing shows incredible detachment from reality and makes productive discussion almost impossible.

No other company on earth could have built the iPhone 5, engineering wise, and few could have built their own new maps client, ultimately disastrous as it was.

Apple did as much as anyone last year. The discussion is whether what they did is what mattered to people outside of Apple, and how much.

Actually, it seems like several could have. Of course, Samsung is the first one that springs to mind. How can you POSSIBLY say that a company like Samsung could not have engineered the iPhone 5? Look at the GS3, which came out sooner, and packs even more "stuff" into a package that is totally comparable in size.

And let's not forget, the iPhone 5 is THE ONLY phone on Verizon that has LTE support but can't do LTE data and voice at the same time. THAT is definitely some engineering, right there!

You're mistaking "stuff" with manufacturing. I'm not arguing who has more stuff. I'm saying when you look at the manufacturing process used to make the actual device casing, that's all Apple.

Apple chose not to include dual radios for battery life reasons. You can argue that choice, of course.

Again, you're mistaking quantity for quality. Some people want the former, some the latter. (You can never have everything.)

Come on René are you seriously saying if Samsung didn't want to have a manufacturing process like the iPhone 5 they couldn't? HTC one arguably has a even better and unique manufacturing process than the iPhone 5...its silly to say ONLY can only do such things.

The GS3 and the ip5 similar in size? You are tripping balls sir. Gs3 is much wider, is taller and thicker and uses plastic casing which is a lot easier in scaling and manufacturing processes. As far as the radios Verizon wont even START pushing out VOLTE until late 2014 which means itll be awhile bfor it spreads. Btw Anybody remember HYPERGLAZE!

There is not even a question or real debate between GS3 build quality and iPhone 5 build quality. It's almost like you're arguing that because a Ford truck has more horsepower, higher clearance, more torque, and a bed, that Ford obviously out engineered the latest Mercedes.

Apple made very calculated choices in order to build the iPhone 5. Their execution of those choices was phenomenal. Just because those choices might not fit your preferred use-case, just because you might rather have a Ford truck than a Mercedes, doesn't mean that your preference should be universal.

It would be just like apple tho to look at the market of phones and just plan a different route altogether. They're thinking, enough of phones lets focus on the next thing. Maybe the next thing is iWatch who knows but it kinda seems to me like apple is gonna do something along the lines of iPad when everyone said build a NetBook.

Great article. I agree. This is a good release for Samsung. It sets their short and long term direction. Soon, the OS will not matter, it will be Tizen, or a fork of Android, or an amalgamation of the two. And as some have said on Android Central, they are just taking existing features and baking them in. My response is good. Yes, iPhones can do many of that "bumping" with the Bump app. Yes, iPhones can filter photos to their hearts content, with any number of apps. But as any Mac/Apple loyalist knows? Built in and seamless is better.

Something I thought of today (perhaps influenced by my 4th grade daughter's social studies homework).

This launch signifies the end of the Revolutionary War. Next up is the Civil War. The stage is set.

Same old low-quality plastic garbage with yr old OS, ugly screen, bloat & malware. Can you freeze this one to access personal data as well? LOL.

How is 4.2.2 a year old? Im fairly certain its the latest version on any nexus. Even as an iphone owner, I would argue that ios 6 is aging quite a bit. Its more of an integral step up from ios 5 than a new operating system.

Ugly screen? 1080p five inches with amazing color reproduction. Sure maybe over saturated but that doesnt mean it doesnt look gorgeous. I agree the hardware leaves a lot to be desired, but have an open mind.

Oh an im fairly certain that the phone does not come with malware.

Yes. 4.2.2 is new. But where Apple uses a number (iOS 4, 5, 6) Android uses Names (Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean) for MAJOR revisions. Jelly Bean first came out in July 2012. So 9 months or so old. Versus iOS 6 which is September (6 months or so)

Yes, there was 4.1 and 4.2 in Jelly Bean. Even then, Jelly Bean 4.2 is 4 months old. So not a whole lot newer that iOS2. And 4.2 wasn't that much of an upgrade from 4.1.

If we want to play the latest and greatest release:

iOS 6.1.2 - Feb 18, 2013
Android 4.2.2 - Feb 11, 2013

Still 4 months, or even 9 months, isnt a year old. I was fairly surprised to see that they were using 4.2.2. That isnt typical these days for android devices, except for a nexus device.

Samsung went as current as they possibly could.

Agreed. As all Android phones should at launch. The nature of the beast is that Google has to release it, then Samsung, then the carriers. It is a wonder they got this that far, but it is to their benefit.

I was just pointing out the "old" thoughts come from

True. Apples update process is so simple that i hardly even think about it, but they do take the cake with keeping all their devices on the same page.

My defense over samsung comes from my own internal conflict ha. I have a phone buying problem and though im very happy with my iphone 5, ipad, and macbook retina, this is a potential future device of mine.

Ha! I'll go play around with it. If I were to go android, the new HTC just passed the Droid RAZR X HD as what is go for, but that is hardware.

I like the S3 but love my iPhone 5! But Apple needs to branch out a little with screen size variations instead of the same old same old!

I tried a Samsung s3 last year and after 10 minutes I was still trying to figure out how to use it. I still think that for ease of use and simplicity the IPhone rules.

There's a lot of pro's and con's of each device, but in 10 minutes you couldn't figure out the S3? I get that iPhone has a reputation of being easier to use, but I wouldn't be too open about admitting that you couldn't figure out the S3 in ten minutes. That is very alarming.

Please tell me what you couldnt too? Cause my 3 and half your old knows how to turn on WiFi, switch games, watch YouTube, download apps

The G4 and HTC One are both very nice smartphones. For quite awhile I was disappointed with larger screens. I wanted a phone that had computing capabilities. However, the trend is for a highly mobile computer that has phone capabilities. In this latter model, these +/-5in screen phones make a lot of sense.

With the IP5 Apple put a whole lot of goodness in a small package. And iOS is consistent and comfortable. For many, that's a winner. For others, that's just Apple being overly stubborn, since it is their only option. I would sure like to try a larger phone, ideally an Apple iPhone. And I would love for that phone to run an updated iOS with some bells and whistles. Why not? We are buying these things as 2 year disposable devices (a story of us in itself), and 2 years in tech is a long time. Apple can push the envelope and still keep the consistency and integrated experience. Simple doesn't have to mean you can't dig deeper and do more, if you want. Simple doesn't mean you can't have size choice or cutting edge (even experimental) features. Apple can either play Microsoft and hold on to what they have with a death grip, or keep moving forward. The competition is not sitting still. Looking backward, Apple is in great shape. Looking forward, Apple feels stubbornly stuck.

Meh.. Doesn't appeal to me. Seems like Samsung is waiting for Apple to come out with something to copy. I'm waiting on my contract to expire so I can pick up an iPhone (6 when it comes out) and drop my galaxy nexus.

I said this before in another post but it looks like everyone is running into the innovation brick wall because of available technology. The screen on this thing looks nice and it looks like the battery has some power but I wonder how much will get eaten up by the bigger screen. Looks like OS, more battery life, and various screen sizes are where everyone is going to have to go now. I heard Rene say "iPhone Maxi" in the last podcast. Hope Apple was listening too!

As an owner of a GS2, I gotta admit that it doesn't really 'wow' me that much. Then again, I've also felt the pain that anyone with a non-Nexus device feels a year down the road when their device still isn't updated. Yeah, it's got 4.2.2 now, but how long until it gets Key Lime Pie (5.0?) after it's announced this May at I/O? And the version of Android after that? I place the new core features that Google incorporates into new versions of Android (like Google Now) over useless features that Samsung puts in, while leaving their OS un-updated putting the REAL goodies (Android updates) out of reach. Most of the features of this new phone are nice, but not anything that I'd actually find useful in the day to day operation of a phone.

Please give us your definition of the word quality, so that we may better understand how an iPhone's aluminum is stupefyingly better "quality" than Samsung's plastic. Is a Harley, with all its steel, stupefying better quality than a Japanese bike that is wrapped in plastic?

Oh, and while I'm asking questions, if you have an iPhone 4S that's at least a year old, how's your battery life? My non-iPhone 4G LTE phone seems to be lasting longer these days than my girlfriend's year-old 4S. Of course, my battery performs just like new - because for $20 and a minute of downtime, my battery IS new. And it appears the S4 will have the same superior battery longevity.

As an owner of an S3 and an iPhone 5 you don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that the metal in a phone is higher quality than plastic. One of the things that I didn't like about the S3 going all the way back to when I first held one at CTIA last year was the plastic, slippery feel of the phone.
I can't believe that there are people defending the plastic used in a flagship phone these days.

From dictionary.com:

quality - high grade; superiority; excellence

So, when it comes to a phone case, what characteristics would you evaluate to determine its quality?

I, personally, in my best effort to be objective, would look at things like:

- how well does it fit? Are there gaps? Crooked lines? Does it come off too easily? Or not easily enough?

- how durable is it? Does it break easily? Does it scratch or crack easily? Does the fit degrade over time, with use? Does the color change or fade over time?

- how well does it contribute to the other design goals of the phone? Is it as light as it could be? Is it as thin as it could be? Does the material it's made of help or hinder phone functionality?

Using these criteria to evaluate the iPhone(s), HTC One, and Samsung Galaxy S4, I note these observations:

- All the phones have excellent fit. Their covers/cases fit on the phone solidly with no unintended gaps or crooked lines. Where the back is supposed to be removeable, it is. And it's easy to remove, without being so easy that it comes off accidentally.

- The polished metal surface and glass surface of some current high end smartphones scratches very easily. The glass ones reportedly break more easily than phone backs of other materials. In contrast, Samsung's plastic backs don't seem to break easily and are more resistant to scratches. For this criterion (durability), I would rate the Samsung plastic back as higher in quality than some and equal to others. When you factor in the cost to replace the back of a phone that is scratched or broken, I would rate the Samsung plastic back as superior to all the others.

- All these phones seem to be comparably thin. I have no numbers to base an evaluation of weight on, but my gut tells me that the Samsung back is lighter on a per square inch covered basis than a metal or glass cover. And there seems to be a pretty good amount of evidence that metal casings can affect internal antenna performance. So, while there is no hard data to support a statement that the Samsung back is better than the other phones in this regard, it does seem clear that it is at least AS good - and possibly better. And the Samsung design for the phone back also offers a clear advantage (though not all users will make use of this particular advantage) in that its ease of removal allows the user to easily replace the phone's battery. For some users, this will be a daily occurence. For others, it may only be something they do once a year, as the battery's capacity degrades (and ALL smarthphone batteries do degrade noticeably in a year's time).

So, by the definition of the word quality, and the criteria I have outlined here, the Samsung plastic back exhibits equal or superior quality to the iPhone(s) and HTC One. If you disagree, I respect that - and ask you to please provide your definition of the word quality, and the particular criteria you used to arrive at that conclusion.

In particular, I would like Rene to give us his definition and explain how he came to the conclusion that those phones have "stupefyingly" better quality. That suggests a huge and obvious difference in the comparison of quality criteria.

And let's not forget majority of people end up with cases lol everyome I know covers there metal iphone 5 with a plastic case so its not like your feeling that metal...agree with everything you said, plastic doesn't mean poor build quality, a thousand pound tv can be ,made out of plastic, people were not exactly calling the 3g and 3gs cheap and plastic, I can list plenty of expensive things that use plastic for durablity, a mobile phone is suppose to be durable cause its going to be out and about where you go, I have seems iphones with the backs with scratches and scruffs from just everyday use, scratch the back of most current plastic phones you can barely tell or if you have a rwmovanke back just buy a new back for less than tenner...now am not saying plastic phones are superiors, my point is plastic doesn't mean cheap or poor build quialty like many tech people like to suggest...if plastic was a problem than the mass consumers would stay away from them.

Considering most Androids out now have larger battery capacities than iPhones, I would HOPE they last longer. :| Seriously, that's a dead argument lol. Next.

I would think so, too. But, if you read this website a bit, you'll see many references to the iPhone's "superior" battery life. So, apparently, it's not a dead argument.

Yes, metal the kind used by Apple and HTC is stupefyingly better than the plastic used by Samsung. That's not the biggest problem, however. The plastic used by Nokia is also much, much better than the plastic used by Samsung.

The casing isn't their priority. Maybe most people don't care either. I do.

You want molecular analysis of the plastics to compare? Rene talks with people in the industry who know what they're talking about, and reports what he learns.

No. A simple analysis in the style of the one I already gave - which demonstrates the Samsung quality is equal or better - is what I asked for.

I am a huge fan of Samsung owning both the S3 and the Note 10.1. I like both styles of build. I like the solid, durable FEEL of the metal casings. That doesn't fool me into thinking they are a better quality, but I do love the feel. The polycarbonate I like because it isn't going to dent like metal. Scratches seem to be hidden better than an aluminum casing. So personally, I would probably enjoy the feel of the iPhone 5 or HTC One better. But that in no way is even remotely close to a deal breaker for me. I will put a plastic or rubber case on any phone I own, so the aluminum casing is nothing more to me than a heart warming afterthought. The iPhone does have the best feeling phone of any that i've ever held. But a solid brick of tempered steel feels even more solid, that doesn't mean it's better. To me, the number one issue is user experience and not the obsession over the build materials. I like a feature rich device that will keep me happy, efficient, and entertained for the life of my contract. As solid as iOS is and as much as I respect their attention to detail, Samsung and Android teaming up keeps me more entertained in a very good way.

How the f*** do you objectively compare material "quality"?! Even an Android fan like me will admit that the iPhone's aluminum feels much nicer than plastic! Granted, it's also the aluminum that HTC used in the One, but seriously!

how do you care when you never own a samsung phone and you hate samsung period, the HTC one is better looking phone than iphone would you switch to htc the answer is no , I don't mind samsung using plastic because have a spare battery with me and I can extended my memory 120G and switch is SD card anytime I want too is better than matal

It seems everyone is hitting an innovation brick wall. Personally, I believe people should take a step back and look at their existing services and vastly improve them. This hover technology and eye tracking thing Samsung threw at us seems like a gimmick. I simply don't understand the need.

I can understand the big screen but only if it doesn't come at the cost of battery life.

A lot of it is a gimmick, but there are people that are always coming up for an upgrade and some people are looking to switch from one brand to another. If Samsung can have a phone out there that meets everyone's needs at any given moment they just might steal an iPhone user away, or steal an HTC user away. It's all about enticing someone away from something else.

Great article Rene (as usual). The presentation was awkward at best and the hardware seems decent for plastic but the Samsung UI is atrocious. I had an S3 for a month and couldn't take it after that. I hope all these new S-gimmicks make Apple add in useful features for their next offering.

"Their Sense 5 version of Android is controversial"

Just a quick point, HTC uses Sense, and Sense 5 is on the new HTC One, Samsung uses TouchWiz.

Looks good but a bit too busy for me and it is not an IOS device...LOL not that it would influence me. :)

I too think it's too busy. While those things are super cool and great to show your friends are you really going to remember each little feature an how to launch it into action? I'd be reading the manual for days lol. I've got some friends who are all for this device and you know what I say? More power to ya! I don't mind playing w theirs and using my upgrade on Apple. Apple has my attention but Samsung sure can produce a wow factor. :)

To me that is exactly why I choose Samsung. I may not use every single feature every day, but is that really a problem? I love having a ton of different "wow factors" on my phone. Maybe i'm a sucker for gimmicks, but I do not think that forgetting about a few features in a very feature packed phone should be viewed as a negative. If Apple would release a 4.8-5" screen, and have a few more features that are exclusive to them, I would be tempted to give it a try. I hope they can knock one out of the park with the 5s or the 6 this year so that everyone can continue to fight and scrap to gain marketshare. That makes for a great offering to us consumers.

Looks like a good device. Im sure people will say its not good enough or its so great. Only thin i don't understand is why we need octo core on a cell . so angry brids can run better lol no real point nothing driving that high end spec. To me its about time android gets a tock update can't throw super awesome specs and changes in every year. That is just crazy to think you can. :)

The best thing about that Samsung GS4 launch was the actress in the white-and-black dress who was having the party with her friends. I forgot all about the gimmicky phone features after she appeared. I like the iPhone5 and will probably also go for the HTC ONE on the Android side. Was not sold by the GS4.

We all can argue about cheap and plastic and software this and software that. They are just phones. We argue about whats great about this phone and that phone and this company and that company. There will never, I repeat, never will be a great perfect phone. It's all about competition and once released another company will have something better than the other. Now it's Apples turn to show us what new they can give us. And then Samsung again (mind if I say 'and again and again and again'?). But remember, each company takes from the other and perfects it or copies it to their own vision. It will never be perfect, but it will always be something to talk about. Don't you wish sometimes a company would just listen to what we want in a phone and just put it all together and release it instead of just using their own ideas and piecing it together? Well then, you'll be in for a bore because then there wouldn't be any surprises or innovations. Long live competition...let's just not make it bloody.

Well I think the S4 is a great phone. But come on Samsung. At least design ur phone better. Give it some metal and throw away all that cheap plastic.. If the phone was really that awesome in design then people would think twice whether to get the HTC One or the S4

Honestly it doesn't matter. Customers will buy this phone because it has the new features and gives them the perception that they have a high quality product. It's the phone that everyone is talking about. That's why the Galaxy sells so well with non-geeks.

I like what Samsung is doing. I think it puts a ton of pressure on Apple to deliver. I think all the software features on the SG4 are kinda gimmicky but to the average consumer who only question is "What does it do?" It's gonna win them over when compared to the iP5. This could be straw that breaks the camel's back as far as Apple's dominance in smartphones. So I think Apple should ditch the iP5s and go forward with the iP6

I respect your take Rene. Thanks for presenting the facts and backing it up with your preferences to justify why it isn't the phone for you. It's so tiring reading the viewpoints that just serve to attack instead of attempting to understand why a competing phone might be appealing to the next person. These are the pieces that make me value iMore over any other site. Keep it up.

Oh, I think the G4 is a great upgrade and will make a fantastic phone for many people. Like I said, we're lucky to live in a time with so many great choices. Every manufacturer has at least one great device now.

Re: "Samsung has so completely paved over Android with their own stuff that, come Google I/O, if a new version of Android is announced, it will take Samsung a long time to release an update that includes the new version for the Galaxy S4. For mainstream users, it won't matter."

BOOM. You nailed it Rene. By covering up generic Android's UI and by replacing its services, Samsung is preparing itself for either of two things:

1. Samsung fork of Android: Instead of wasting time copying-and-pasting all that proprietary Samsung code (Sense, Sam Hub, Knox, etc.) into every single new generic Android release and trying to get it to compile cleanly, they could just stick with 4.2.2 as the base. Less wasted effort, more control of their own destiny.

Oh, and by the way, the Samsung fork would instantly become the de facto standard. The biggest slice of the Android market share pie. Fandroids would need to find another mantra to replace the tired old mindless "market share is everything."

2. Replacing Android with Tizen: Samsung has direct input into the development of Tizen, it's based on open standards, Intel is Samsung's partner in the Tizen Technical Steering Group, and it totally lacks the infamous Google Profit Layer. Samsung nearly owns Tizen, and that gives them near-Apple-like control of a post-PC OS. This is key to the whole "control your own destiny" thing.

And guess what. Tizen runs Android apps with OpenMobile's Application Compatibility Layer. Dump Android for Tizen and few if any consumers would even notice, let alone care. Same old apps. Brand new app store and cloud infrastructure.

I completely agree, it seems to me that Samsung has taken another page from Apple's play-book.

With the move to Tizen, and a revenue stream from their own app store and media centre, Samsung is trying to mimic Apple’s business model.

Great article.
Actually i was surprised by this S4.
I wondered were the technology would go next on smartphones. The samsung approach of integrating new sensors and new functionalities makes a lot of sense, specially if the developers take advantage of them .
I dont think we can continue to blame Samsung for copying Apple. They have made their own choices (features over perceived building quality; screen size over phone ease of handling) and it seems to have served them well.

441 ppi is pretty awesome, especially at this screen size. A lot of neat bells and whistles that I do want, but most of it will probably be ignored or brushed off by Cupertino. I just hope they make the iPod touch a little bigger with wireless data only and maybe I can drop the iPhone altogether. Adding an iPad 4G to my existing shared data plan is $10 per month, but if I get an iPhone, it's $30 for the same data. What's up with that?

I wonder if there is any advantage with those 440 ppi. I got the idea anything over the "retina" resolution would be indiscernible by human eye.

It actually is noticeable, but only if you look reeeeally closely. It's better for playing 1080p video though.

By "look reeeeally closely" you mean 2 inches from the screen? I (and i suspect most smartphones owners) never do that.

Never thought about 1080p video... thats a good point, although i only use it on TV.

To be honest i gave up on watching movies on my iphone, but i admit i might consider it on a 5 inch screen...

Well written article Rene. Unbiased, and in perspective as always. I have never owned an android device and not really sure I want to, but I am curious about how cumbersome a five inch screen is. Does it fit in your pocket? I'm afraid that with the popularity of these huge phones apple is going to follow suit. I want my phone to be ultra portable. If I want a bigger screen I'll go to my ipad or mba.

Note 2 can see issue with fitting in pockets but my s3 which has 4.8" screen easily fits into any of my pockets and considering the s4 is tad smaller than the s3 even with a larger screen it shouodn be a problem unless you wear really really tight skinny jeans..

Eep, another monster sized phablet. The only appealing thing about this from what I read so far was that "picture in picture" thing where you can I guess insert yourself from the front camera into a shot from the back camera, which could be neat for siteseeing on your own. Otherwise....eh.

I REALLY hope Apple does not go bigger with the phone itself on the 5S/6/etc to keep up. It's already too big.

Can't say anything more than... I agree with pretty much what you said here! Samsung is definitely taking the level higher for other Android manufacturers and while some might call some of the new features and mere gimmicks, but honestly they do please. I've enjoyed how Samsung has paved its own path with Android and went full on with their own customizations/additions... which shows complete dedication to the system. Unfortunately, I still wish they had gone with a different form factor (HTC One - Now that phone looks sexy and something else entirely!) and had also updated their TouchWiz with more eye-candy...

Phablet! I love that word! So so true. People with these massive "phones" look ridiculous! It's like holding a novel or a comic book up to your head for cryin' out loud. I'm sure that their mothers used to get after them for standing to close to the microwave. Apple made a great decision to make there larger iPhone 5 taller and not wider. Regardless to whatever anyone says, it truly is the best one handed cell phone on the market AND I don't even have one!

I expected more from the Galaxy S4. Hoped it would have some kind of design change the awesome new screen, sensors, and software.

It's no doubt that Samsung presents stiff competition in hardware, but it comes down to this: You're either an iOS or Droid person. Period. And Apple still sells.

It's no doubt that Samsung presents stiff competition in hardware, but it comes down to this: You're either an iOS or Droid person. Period. And Apple still sells.

Great article Rene, I'm a sucker for design and high quality products and the iPhone and HTC One have that nailed. I'd love to own both but I can't quite get passed having a phone with ever diminishing battery life that cannot be replaced. I put a case on my S3 to hide it's shame, so all I actually see of it is the important bit; the screen. The phone I really want doesn't yet exist.

Rene, regarding your complaint about the shell of the Samsung Galaxy. When you walk around the malls, the city, anywhere in general, look around for people like myself who own an iPhone. 9 times out of 10 that person's iphone will have some sort of "plastic case" around it. You might not but majority do. It's funny that you have this great looking phone only to be covered in a cheap feeling plastic case that you so much hate. So for to complain about that is total nonsense. Fact is majority of people who own iPhones put a plastic case around it to protect it. I would rather have the extra bells & whistles if that meant I had to give up that "solid feel". I'm not a iPhone hater I currently own an iPhone but Samsung definitely raised the bar. This should be a kick in the a$$ for Apple to come up with something better. It's funny every time another company comes out with better tech in their phones die hard Apple fans seems to always find the negative in their products. The iPhone is far from perfect. I want Apple to make an iPhone with those kind of specs/ size screen.

Personally, i've always thought the glass back is on iphones are stupid. And i love my iphone. But if i designed it first. I'd make the back out of something more durable like a harder plastic or metal. I'm not sure what's under the glass anyways but it looks like some sort of colored plastic or metal. I've also seen plenty of people who buy third party backings for various stylized colors. I'd also make it easily swappable or repairable rather than have those strange screw. That way if you break it no big deal rather than having the fact that your backings shatter being this big deal. I mean it's a big deal cause apple made it so it's not a problem easily solved by a user. that's on them in my opinion. they don't need to make things that difficult.

Kudos for getting the latest version of Android on there. Software features sound cool, but I wonder about their implementation and affect on battery life. Even though the S4 seems like a tick-tock upgrade from the S3, I wonder if it benefits from a marketing standpoint compared to Apple going from 4 to 4S. Maybe Apple should just jump a whole revision number.

This phone is way better than the iPhone 5 but it still looks like garbage. It won't make me change my mind about getting Apple products.

While they offered some good new features to the software, it's not the all-impressive "next big thing". The HTC One seems to be a better "upgrade" to last year's model(s). And, since much of the software tweaks are also going to hit the GSIII, Android users may just want to pick up one of those at a much cheaper price now (that's what I did when I got my iPhone 4S this year). :)

As a Korean, I'm very proud of how Samsung makes their smartphones and markets it. But for me all the software features of GSIV are too much. How can I remember all the features and use it in my daily life?
Also, after I've been using the Nexus 4 I'm done with android. It is just not for me so I switched to iPhone 5 just yesterday. I won't change my mind anytime soon as I'm deeply into iOS and Mac OSX which is so easy to use and has a way cleaner look.

The GS4 looks good. Samsung, bring on the Galaxy Note III! Hopefully, Apple will release a version of the next iPhone with a larger screen (iPhone Maxi or iPad Mini with phone capabilities).

Samsung has up'd the camera game big time. But has nowhere near the build quality as brands like apple, htc, or blackberry. The gs4 will probably sell like crazy anyway

How would you get a case on this phone that has any decent protection... the cameras and sensors seem to be right at the edge of the bezel?

So many manufacturers seem to be pushing towards making their phones into mini-tablets. I'd rather keep two devices on hand than to reduce down to one. Well... make that three devices because I still use a laptop at times, too.

One thing i never liked about the samsung phones is the design and materials used, it looks and feels cheap. A few of the new software features seem nice though

All I can see is that G IV has bigger power thursty processor, and bigger screen, and a implementation fof popular social apps, like instagram. Not sure if people will use all those new feauters, since they love using their apps.

I've read all the comments and I like the diversity. The one thing Apple has over Samsung is elegance. Apple makes some beautiful products whether it's an iPhone 5 or the new iMac, Apple makes and awesome product. As an Apple user I do have to say that Samsung has truly made the better product as far as innovation goes. Samsung has tons of new features that Apple catches on to after about a year or two. I'm a loyal Apple guy, my life is in the Apple products. Hands down Samsung Galaxy S4 is an over all better phone than the iPhone 5. Does this make me want to switch over? No. Great phone and features but I'm sticking with Apple.

The Galaxy S4 makes the iPhone 5 look like yesterday's news. Sure, the iPhone 5 is thin, light, and attractive, but other than LTE and a slightly larger screen (4", which is smaller than everyone else's), what is there to really be impressed about if you already have an iPhone 4S? Hopefully Apple brings more to the table than an "S" model with incremental upgrades, as everyone expects them to do. This would be a good time to produce something more than an attractive "quality" handset that looks the same as the 4, 4S or 5, and has the same UI that has always graced the iPhone screen. Some REAL usability innovation needs to happen in iOS. The contact list could use some categories and the ability to merge duplicate entrees automatically. The calendar could use a face lift. The UI needs to do more than just swipe left and right. A way to get back to where you previous were without having to press the home button, would be an improvement. Siri is a useless joke that lost it's novelty a long time ago. Apple Maps should just be done away with altogether. SOMETHING should be done with notifications to improve them. Just doing the same old thing the same old way isn't going to cut it when everyone else is innovating and ADDING SOMETHING NEW that wasn't there before. And making the excuse that "no one will use all of these features" is a lame excuse to not add something new that SOMEONE just might use and feel is IMPORTANT ENOUGH to make them want to switch to an iPhone. I switched to the 4S for stability, usability, and ease of use. There has to be more than that to an iPhone to make people who aren't fanboys WANT to buy them. NEW customers. Apple has to move beyond the fanboy club if it wants to continue to grow it's customer base beyond those wanting to make a fashion statement and those tied to the ecosystem. Apple should just purchase Palm Patents and add the Palm OS features to iOS and revamp it. THAT would be some REAL innovation that no one could copy, legally.

Your analysis is spot on.

Samsung have always preferred quantity over quality. A majority of the features in their phones are gimmicks which the average user wouldn't be using in the long run, though some features are useful. Apple, on the other hand, may not introduce a variety of features as the competition does but the ones which they do are of real quality and intuitive and simple to use.

The design and build quality of the S4 is not up to the mark when compared to the likes of the iPhone 5 and also the HTC One and the Xperia Z. Apple still leads the pack when it comes to design, build quality and the materials used. The design of the phone is important when one makes a purchase.

The hardware used by Samsung is excellent although this of little use if the software isn't optimized for it and is unable to make full use of the hardware.

In today's market, the focus is on the overall experience rather than on only the hardware/software. In this regard, Apple still blows the competition out of the water.