REVIEW: VZW Galaxy S4 (from Note 2 user) w/lots of Pics!!!
Seven months ago I was standing in the Best Buy, with Note 2 in one hand and S3 in the other hand, comparing both phones. After about 5-10 minutes - decision was easy, and I walked away without a single doubt in my mind that I will go with Note 2. Called Verizon the same day and had it shipped to my door right away. Fast forward to today. I was given an opportunity to review newly introduced VZW S4 and wanted to share some of the details of this new flagship model from Samsung. So here I am, with Note 2 in one hand and S4 in the other hand, and let me tell you - the decision is no longer an easy one. Let me go into more details why.
First of all it's a natural evolution of technology where the latest phone model will have better spec of its predecessor (S3) and will match or even surpass other models (Note 2). Since I'm referring to Verizon version of S4, the spec might differ from other versions, but not significantly (with an exception of models with a different processor). S4 stepped up to the latest Android 4.2.2 with a refreshed TouchWiz UI from Samsung. Featuring 5" Super AMOLED display with next gen Gorilla Glass 3 and full HD (1080p) the display is breathtaking. Along with 1.9GHz quad-core processor, 2600 mAh battery, 13MP rear and 2MP front cameras, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal memory, and expandability with microSD up to 64GB - we are talking about powerhouse hidden inside of a slim 130g (4.6oz) package. I'm sure you all familiar with this dry technical info. For benefit of those who are still deciding or just got your new S4 - let me go into more exciting part of what I found special about this phone as a current user of Note 2.
Unboxing of the new phone is always fun, and with it's new "natural wood" theme the packaging is very eye appealing. Beside the phone, the box also included Samsung wall charger (2A) with a removable usb/micro-usb cord. The charger and the cable are golden. Keep that in mind this is a true 2A charger with a quality thick usb cable designed to carry 2A of current in order to take full advantage of fast charging of your battery. It also comes with headphones, a wired in-ear with in-line remote that will allow you to change the volume up/down and control music/video with multi-function play-pause button that also picks up and hangs up calls. Don't expect any heavy bass from these, but the sound was very clear, no distortion at high volumes. It came with extra ear tips, and also this new version of headphones has noodle shaped wires.
Just for you to get an idea of "visual" when comparing S4 to N2, I think it worth while to take a closer look at these side-by-side. Basically, depending how you look at it, its a scaled up or scaled down version of one versus the other.
Keeping it's layout consistent with other Samsung phones, you can see all around pictures of S4 and location of its buttons and ports. I have to mention that built quality is very solid. Probably not the same premium material as the latest iPhone or HTC One, but it doesn't feel cheap at all. Since I'm on a subject of hardware, I do want to mention a few points. People always bring up visibility of display outside under direct sunlight. Its typical for any phone with a quality glass screen - bring it up to full brightness, and there is no issue. It's definitely better than my Note 2 under the same settings. Also I found 4G LTE speed/signal to be on par with my Note 2, really no difference holding them side-by-side. Call quality was excellent, something to expect from Verizon. And last but not least, I was also happy with a volume level of the built-in speaker. Again, it's not HTC One with it's Beats technology, but it's for sure above average. If you want to turn your phone into boombox, that's what bt speakers are for
Once you remove the battery cover, you are faced with a removable battery (2600 mAh), micro-SD slot for expansion, and removable SIM card slot. NFC is built into the battery, so you will not see any external visible antenna. Now, here is a BIG surprise for Verizon customers: wireless charging connectors are BACK and accessible!!! For those who are familiar with N2, those were not accessible before in Verizon version of N2. That is a great news! Now you have an option of getting an alternative battery cover with a built-in charging coil and metal contacts for the back of the phone. You will also need to get a charging pad for that. I think it's a great option since you can either stay with a slim version of the battery cover or upgrade to wireless charging which does add a little bit of bulk. Here is how it looks under the hood:
And since I'm on a battery subject, here are the stats after my first full charge. I do have to admit, it was a light use with some web browsing, testing various apps, making a few phone calls, and all the services running by default in the background. This 2600 mAh got me through 2 days and 6 hours with 16% still remaining!!!
Also, just FYI, the capture of phone info so you can see model number, Android versions, hw version, etc.
Of course, the fun really begins when you start using this phone and dive into all the new features introduced with Android 4.2.2 and TouchWiz UI, supported by new hardware. First thing you will notice right away is a partitioning of functions when you go into Settings. This makes it easier to navigate being split into Connections, My Device, Accounts, and More.
In addition to listing all the new features, I wanted to capture it in actual setting menu so you can get a better idea. Here we have Motions and Gestures that include Air Gesture, Motion, Palm Motion, and Motion Calibration with g-scope
Smart screen with it's Smart Stay, Smart Rotation, Smart pause, and Smart Scroll
Air View with Info Preview, Progress Preview, Speed Dial Preview, and Webpage Magnifier
A more detailed Voice Control for Incoming Calls, Alarm, Camera, and Music
Obviously these are just descriptions to wet your appetite. To show how these look in action, I tried to capture it in the following series of shots. Keep in mind, those are all air gestures where I do not touch the screen. I just hover my finger over it to take advantage of the new gesture sensor located at the top to the right of the front speaker.
Txt message Magnifier (my first junk txt msg addressed to someone I have no idea who)
Picture preview with air-view (remember, I'm not touching the screen)
Video preview/scroll air-view (amazing where you can scroll frame-by-frame to get to the exact position in timeline)
With a new 13MP/2MP rear/front cameras, you get some new cool features as well.
Camera - effects you can preview in real time with different filters
Dual camera photos - back camera and embedded front camera image where you can change the frame of embedded image
Camera - different modes, amazing idea of animated mode with multiple shots in one or erasing an unwanted subject from the background
Camera - voice commands for taking pictures and recording videos
While browsing different new apps, S-Translator really caught my eye. You can type and translate between 9 common worldwide language, and actually have an option of phone saying out loud the translation.
Multi-window view is not new for Note 2 users, but now it can be enjoyed on S4 as well. With 5" screen you have plenty of real estate to have two screens side by side, and a lot of apps already come pre-configured for that use.
Something I found absolutely amazing is when you touch any app/widget icon it shows you a new target screen without a need to drag it across multiple screens. Even better, you can wave your hand above air view sensor and the screen will move from one to the other until you stop at a new target screen where you want to drop your app/widget.
Further, Notification Panel selection was improved where you can use 1-finger to pull it down to reveal a scrolling selection or 2-finger pull down to reveal matrix selection where each icon is visible
Of course, I saved the best for last - IR Blaster to blast you right through the control of your tv and cablebox!!! All I had to do is to tell it a brand of my tv and cable box, and it paired up within seconds. Just amazing, I was using my phone as a remote control
I'm sure there are more new features but I decided to highlight those above as the top worth mentioning. Keep in mind, this is a review of Verizon version of S4. Even so the gap between different providers has been closing, there are still some differences. Like for example, you will get more bloatware with VZW S4 version. Luckily, you can go in App manager and Disable a lot of the unwanted apps. It will not permanently remove it from the phone (you still will have an option to enable it later), but rather will prevent these apps from loading into your memory and checking for updates. There is also a question why WiFi toggle was removed and Blocking Mode toggle is not available. But in my opinion these are very minor details. For me the most important detail is the Network where I know I can get my maximum number of signal bars and clear calls that don't get dropped. Being on East Coast in tri-state area - Verizon is the ONLY reliable choice for me.
In Conclusion, this is one Amazing phone!!! When I got Note 2, beside big screen everybody was carrying on about s-pen. It's nice and makes a great conversation piece, but I personally found not much use for it. Just my personal opinion. With all these new features introduced in S4 - I actually can see myself using a lot of it, and don't consider them as just a gimmick. For the last few days, beside doing my own testing, I have been demoing S4 to a lot of my friends and co-workers, and everyone's reaction is the same - outstanding! I wasn't able to capture this in pictures, but you can actually scroll through the webpage up/down just by using your eye movement. Something that was only seen in si-fi movies, now available in the palm of your hands!!! And again, backed up by VZW 4G LTE you can really enjoy this new technology to full potential!!!