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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.

Air View. It's supposed to let you interact with content by hovering your finger over the screen without actually touching it -- but it's finicky and limited in where it can be used, and most of the processes it enables could be done far more easily by going the extra millimeter and just touching the darn screen.

Air Gestures. This one does things like letting you advance through Web pages by waving your hand in front of the phone (right -- because that's way more practical than simply tapping an icon on the screen). A couple of Air Gesture elements -- one in which you can answer calls by waving in front of the phone and another in which you can get a quick activity summary by placing your hand over the screen when it's off -- could be useful in certain circumstances, but they're far too inconsistent to be reliable.

Smart Rotation. It allegedly rotates the screen automatically to "adjust to your angle of height." I couldn't get it to work at all.

Smart Pause. Want your phone to stop playing a video automatically every time your eyes veer away from the screen? Me neither. But this feature will do that for you -- at least 30% of the time, anyway.

Last but not least, Samsung has loaded the Galaxy S4 up with features that duplicate native Google services -- generally in less effective ways. The company's S Voice is a significantly worse version of Google's Voice Search; it's slower, clunkier and far more limited in the actions it can perform and questions it can answer. Luckily, you can opt to ignore it and use Google's version by placing that widget on your home screen.

At a Glance

Samsung Galaxy S4


Price: $200 from AT&T, $250 from Sprint for $250, $200 from U.S. Cellular for $200, $200 from Verizon Wireless after a $50 mail-in rebate (starting on on May 30). All require a two-year contract. T-Mobile: $149.99 down, plus 24 monthly payments of $20 for a total of $629.99.

Pros: Thin and light; sharp-looking 1080p display; solid battery life; removable battery; SD card support; good camera; interesting software features; support for glove-covered touchscreen use

Cons: Plasticky construction looks and feels cheap compared to other high-end phones; display hard to see outdoors; occasional jerkiness and lags in performance; bloated and messy user interface; dated and peculiar button configuration

Samsung's highly touted S Translator app, meanwhile, is a straight copy of Google's long-existing Google Translate service, only it requires you to create and sign into a Samsung account before it'll work.

Samsung has baked its own music player, app store and entertainment-purchasing "hub" into the device, too, each of which exists alongside its native Android equivalent. It's easy to see why the company would want to push those sorts of services, but from a user perspective, the overlapping and similarly named functions do little more than cause confusion -- particularly considering most users would be better served by Google's native options, which are cross-platform and allow for content to be accessed from and synced to any device.


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