11:45 14 May 2013
Samsung's new Galaxy S4 might look a lot like its predecessor, but its unique features and razor-sharp display set it apart from the S3 and the rest of the smartphone hoi polloi.
The Galaxy S3 outsold the iPhone 4S for a while, proving that Apple isn't the only game in town anymore. So now the S4 has arrived, is the town big enough for the both of them?
We went hands-on with the new Samsung Galaxy S4 to find out.
The S4 comes in a fancy wood grain-effect box, so it's a little underwhelming when you open it to find a relatively cheap-feeling plastic handset.
After unclipping a flimsy, thin plastic cover from the back of the handset and putting in the battery (and noticing a slot for a micro SD card) the S4 felt pretty much the same weight as the iPhone 5.
The plastic chassis in 'Black Mist' looks a little 1990s to me, particularly the back. Also, the entire device is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. It's very slim though, and boasts a stunning 5inch display.
There's a physical 'home' button at the bottom and two touchscreen buttons in the bezel below the screen for navigation.
The S4's is perhaps the sharpest screen I've seen on any smartphone, including iPhone. The Super AMOLED screen displays in HD and is incredibly vibrant, producing deep colours and crisp contrast.
The display is so good that it's a little disappointing to see photographs taken with the S4 displayed on lesser screens.
The demo video you'll find pre-loaded in the phone's gallery is incredibly sharp, playing in full 1080p HD and after testing the screen by downloading a few HD images, I'm convinced you won't find a better smartphone screen elsewhere.
Text remains clear and crisp when zoomed in as far as possible and viewing angles are faultless, meaning you'll get a clear view however you hold the thing.
Battery and storage
The S4 has a removable (replaceable) 2,600mAh battery and a slot for a micro SD card underneath its rear plastic casing.
If you're using all of the handset's high-tech features, using apps, browsing the web and making calls and texts, you won't get much more than 12 hours use out of a full charge - but that's fairly typical of modern smartphones.
We tested a 16GB S4, but the device tells me there's only 9.15GB of available storage right out of the box. It's thought the Samsung interface plastered over the core Android OS takes up a fair chunk of memory.
Just as well there's a slot for a micro SD card then - you could add up to another 64GB of storage, if you wanted to.
What's it like to use?
The S4 uses Android Jellybean 4.2.2 as its operating system - but you wouldn't really know it because Samsung has slapped its own user interface on top of it. Android users might find this a bit jarring, and iPhone users could even be baffled.
That additional Samsung software means (confusingly) there are three places to buy music, apps and other content from, namely; Google Play, the Android standard, Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps.
All the customisation you'd expect from Android is still there though, and apps are very, very slick thanks to the S4's quad-core 1.9GHz processor. That said; transitions between windows were a little laggy at times, and nowhere near as smooth as, say, the Google/LG Nexus 4.
The on-screen keyboard is fine, though I found the smaller number keys a little cumbersome when typing in passwords. This is Android though, so you can quite easily change the keyboard.
There's nothing to making calls or composing texts you won't have seen anywhere else and sound is as good as any other phone in this class.
Gadgets and features
The S4's rear camera is capable of impressive 13Megapixel shots. Rubbish photography aside, I took this picture to demonstrate. The camera also records in full 1080p HD.
There's even a mode for making animated pictures, or gifs, as they're known on the web. You can see one I made opposite.
But where the S4 really shines is in its many and varied gimmicky features which make you feel like you're living in The Jetsons.
First, the S4's Smart Stay feature knows when you're looking at the screen. If you're watching a video and look away, the video pauses - resuming when you look back.
You can scroll through web pages by tilting your head slightly. I'm not sure how much you'll use this, but 'Smart Scroll' brought smiles to the faces of everyone in the office who tried it.
You can also do your best "These aren't the droids you're looking for" Obi-Wan Kenobi impression to switch between tabs in the phone's web browser using the Air Gesture feature. Swipe your hand from left to right over the screen (without touching it) and the tabs will switch places.
Pointing to text on a web page or to image thumbnails magnifies them, without touching the screen. Presumably this Air View feature will only be useful if you've got food on your hands or you're a germophobe, but it works well.
Point the camera at any text and the Optical Reader will 'read' it and identify it, even translating foreign words into English if you want, which could come in handy abroad.
The only problem with most of these features is that, while when they work, they're really impressive, they're also temperamental. I can't recall how many times I said, "Oh! It worked earlier?" when showing them off.
We took a good look at the best Samsung Galaxy S4 tariffs in this article.
Tesco Mobile, for example, will give you a free S4 on a two year contract if you pay £30 a month. For that you'll get 250 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500MB of data.
If you want bigger airtime and data allowances, you can get an S4 from O2 on a two-year contract for £69.99 up front and £37 a month, and with that you'll get unlimited calls and texts and a 1GB data allowance.
The S4 is 4G-ready, so if your network currently offers 4G you'll get a super-fast mobile internet. As it stands, EE is the only network able to offer 4G.
EE will currently give you unlimited calls and texts and a 1GB data allowance if you pay £79.99 up-front and then £41 a month for two years.
Each of the big networks is offering various tariffs on the S4, so give this article a good read to make sure you know who's got the best deals.
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