The Galaxy S4 needs no introduction. Whether you’re a tech aficionado or not, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard about this highly anticipated smartphone. This is one of the biggest launches for Samsung in 2013 and is going to make a huge impact in the smartphone segment besides adding a hefty chunk to Samsung’s revenues. A little more than a month after its announcement, the S4 will finally be hitting retail and e-tail shelves soon – but we couldn’t wait for that to happen. We managed to snag one of the early bird pieces to arrive in our city and got to spend some quality time with it.

Plastic’s back!
The first thing that strikes you is the look – the S4 hands-down looks a lot better than the S3 did, from every angle. While the S3 had tapering edges and an overly curved body, the S4 follows a more simple candy bar look, which I feel works in its favour. Samsung has also done away with the tapering edges, which means the phone is a lot more comfortable to hold. However, the true brilliance of the S4 lies in its dimensions. Samsung has managed to shave down the bezel of the S3 even further to accommodate a 5-inch display on the S4 while keeping the width and height same – Samsung has actually made it slimmer. The S4 measures just 7.9 mm as compared to the 8.6 mm of the S3. The phone also has much better weight distribution, so even though the difference is just 3 grams, it feels a lot lighter.

Samsung Galaxy S4

A handsome looker as compared to the S3

The design of the S4 is evolutionary, which is a step in the right direction. There’s only so much one can do with design in the span of a year, so we’re not complaining here. Samsung has stuck to plastic once again for the S4 and while this may not seem like a worthy choice of material for a flagship, it does have its merits. This enables Samsung to keep the battery removable and in the event of a fall, the chassis and the display would take less damage as the shock is dispersed through the back cover that is flexible enough to absorb it without cracking.

All the ports and buttons line up like they should and we have a new addition on the top in the form of an IR port. This enables you to use the S4 as a TV remote.

Super AMOLED goodness
Samsung has stuck with what it does best and the S4 packs in a gorgeous full HD Super AMOLED display. Colours are rich and vibrant without being oversaturated; the black levels and viewing angles are second to none. Strangely, the sunlight legibility of the display wasn’t as good as the S3. With both the handsets set to “Auto-brightness” and the noon sun beating down, the S3’s display was a lot more legible whereas the S4’s display was a bit washed out and was difficult to see.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Super AMOLED never gets old

More sensors than you’ll ever need
The Galaxy S4 is fitted with every sensor imaginable. Apart from the usual suspects, you also get a temperature sensor, humidity sensor and an infrared sensor for gestures. The latter is something similar to what Microsoft’s Kinect uses to gauge gestures. Speaking of which, Samsung has expanded upon its gesture suite (or gimmicks, if you want) by adding Smart Pause, Smart Scroll and a new version of Air View that does away with the stylus altogether.

Smart Pause actually works very well. Looking away from your phone immediately pauses the video and looking back down resumes it instantly. This works well when sitting still in a well lit room, but we’ve yet to try it outside while travelling. Smart Scroll lets you scroll through webpages and menus by simply tilting your head up and down. This didn’t seem to work at all for me and quite frankly, no one really reads content on a phone in this manner anyways.
We found Air View to work pretty well though. Through some sort of witchcraft, the S4 can now sense when you hover your finger over the screen and reacts accordingly. For instance, you can preview images by simply hovering over them and magnify a portion of the screen by hovering over the browser . The Air View takes some time to kick in and is not as instantaneous as using the S Pen on the Note II.

Samsung has finally bumped up the resolution of the camera to a 13MP BSI sensor. However, more than the resolution, it’s the new features added to the camera interface that are of interest. The redesigned interface now features a carousel-style selection for the various modes. Many of them are similar to what HTC already offers in the One. We didn’t have time to go through all the modes in detail, but we do have some sample pictures snapped by the S4. The camera seems very capable and we managed to capture good detail for indoor and outdoor shots.

Sasmung Galaxy S4

Good depth of field

Sasmung Galaxy S4

Indoor shots are pretty good too

Another runaway success?
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is definitely a worthy evolutionary upgrade to the S3. You get much more screen real estate in the same size as the S3, and that’s always a good thing. Samsung needs to be commended on delivering a slimmer and lighter phone despite having a larger battery and bigger screen. In my opinion, it’s also a much better-looking phone as compared to the S3. Looking at the competition, we only see the HTC One as being a real threat to the S4. The Xperia Z is currently plagued by too many issues to even bother with, which just leaves the S4 and the One in the ring. We’ll leave that decision to you once we’ve had a chance to review it.

In the meantime, stay tuned for a camera showdown between the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S3.

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