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Samsung Galaxy S4 deep-dive review: A real-world evaluation

JR Raphael | April 30, 2013
Some things in this world need no introduction. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is not one of those things.

Whew! Like I said -- lots going on with this phone's software. A few final odds and ends to close things out:

By default, the Galaxy S4 uses a Samsung-customized version of the SwiftKey keyboard; it's basically a lesser version of the standalone SwiftKey app. Fortunately, the fix is easy enough: Download the regular SwiftKey app from the Play Store or snag any other keyboard you like (Swype is also preloaded on the device).

Samsung had discussed plans to offer a new enterprise-level security layer called Knox on the Galaxy S4. The function, however, is not currently on the phone; reports indicate the software will become available at some undisclosed later date.

There's bloatware a-plenty on the GS4, ranging from the standard Samsung stuff to preinstalled apps like Dropbox and Flipboard. Most of those can be disabled but not removed. The carriers pile on even more junk, which -- in the case of Sprint, at least -- can be uninstalled if you want.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention upgrades: With any non-Nexus device, it's important to remember that future software upgrades are in the hands of the manufacturers and carriers -- and Samsung, like most phone-makers, has a spotty track record when it comes to ongoing support.

Bottom line

With its established brand and ubiquitous marketing, Samsung's Galaxy S4 is bound to be a commercial success -- but that doesn't mean it's unconditionally the best Android phone you can buy.

To be sure, the Galaxy S4 has a lot of good things going for it: It's thin and light, has a sharp-looking 1080p display and has solid battery life with the option to replace the battery as needed. The phone also has an SD card slot for expandable storage, a commendable camera with oodles of fancy options and some innovative and cool software features like Multi Window and Smart Scroll.

But compared to other high-end phones, the Galaxy S4's hardware looks and feels cheap and decidedly less premium. Its display is difficult to see outdoors, its performance leaves something to be desired, and its user interface is a bloated, ugly mess. That, combined with the phone's dated and peculiar button configuration, takes a serious toll on the user experience.

In the end, it comes down to what matters most to you in a phone. Hardware design is more important to some folks than it is to others. Many of the GS4's UI issues can be covered up with a custom Android launcher. And if you're already used to the old-style Samsung button configuration, its presence here might not bother you a bit.

The Galaxy S4 isn't a cohesive, undefeatable-champion sort of device. But it is a standout smartphone with a lot of attractive elements. And despite its drawbacks, I think it's safe to say it's going to make a lot of people awfully happy.


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