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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.

The same can be said for the GS4's Eraser mode, in which the camera captures five consecutive photos in order to let you "remove" an unwanted object from the background. The effect works well enough, but you'd have to think ahead to enable it; if you're taking photos in any other mode and fall victim to an unwanted photo intruder, you're going to be out of luck.

Other Galaxy S4 camera features sit more on the gimmicky side of the spectrum -- like a Drama mode that allows you to capture multiple photos of a moving subject and merge them together into a single Sports Illustrated-like action sequence. It sounds neat in theory, but I found it works only with multiple attempts and when the action is carefully staged for your benefit.

Then there's the really silly stuff, like Sound and Shot mode -- an option that lets you record up to nine seconds of audio to go along with a still picture. The audio has to be recorded at the time of capture and can't be exported into any standard format, meaning you can only play it back on your phone or another Galaxy S4 device. In other words, it's kind of like a video -- which the Galaxy S4 can capture at 1080p quality -- only in this case, it's using a still picture instead of moving images and audio no one else will be able to hear.

Equally gimmicky is the GS4's Dual Camera mode, which allows you to add a small floating photo of your face from the phone's 2-megapixel front camera onto an image you capture simultaneously with the rear camera. The photo of your face is superimposed over the main image in a small, cheesy-looking frame. I'm not sure what to say about that beyond a short and simple: "Why?"

The Dual Camera function can also be used for video chatting, but only if you're chatting with people on Samsung's proprietary ChatOn service -- which was nowhere to be found on my review unit.

Also curiously missing from the mix is Google's Photo Sphere -- a useful feature of the current Android platform that lets you capture interactive 360-degree images and share them with friends. For some reason, Samsung has stripped this functionality from the GS4's anatomy.

User interface

The Galaxy S4 runs custom Samsung software based on Google's Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system. Samsung has taken its typical "more is more" approach with the OS, trading the subdued visuals of Google's user interface for a loud and often gaudy mix of inconsistent colors and clashing elements.

Many of Samsung's UI changes are arbitrary -- swapping out a tastefully designed Android icon for a cartoony alternative or reskinning the Calendar app with tacky-looking colors -- and design deterioration aside, some of the company's modifications actually make the system less intuitive to use.


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