If you’re a tech journalist, you often get courted by hardware makers to review their latest wares. There’s usually a catch though. You can’t publish your findings until an agreed upon time and date. This is called an embargo. According to my Twitter stream, it looks like the embargo for reviews of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 lifted roughly three hours ago. I’ve spent all morning reading a number of them, and here are some snippets I’d like to share.
Starting with the site that’s on everyone’s mind, David Pierce from The Verge says the contract he signed with his operator is going to expire in a couple of months. When it does, he’s going to replace his phone with an HTC One.
It’s not that he doesn’t like the GS4, he just prefers the One’s metal body.
Regarding the GS4’s screen, I’m delighted that David wrote this:
“I tried to pick my favorite between the One’s display and the GS4’s, and wound up going back and forth a dozen times before giving up. Both are incredibly high-res, bright, and crystal clear; the One is slightly more accurate, but I still periodically forget my nitpicking and get lost in the GS4’s vibrant colors.”
And as for the GS4’s 13 megapixel camera, David says it’s “the best Android camera I’ve ever used by a considerable margin”. He admits that in low light the HTC One is better, but for day to day use, the GS4 is king.
Performance isn’t an issue, and neither is battery life. David says the GS4 easily lasts him a day, and if he forgets to charge it at night, there’s even some juice left inside the battery the next day. He can’t say the same thing about the One.
Still, the GS4 is made out of plastic, and I understand why he ultimately doesn’t like the phone.
Next up is Engadget. Brad Molen reviews the device and comes away thinking it’s a boring and predictable update. He says the camera easily “bests the HTC One” in daylight, but the One obviously wins out in low light situations.
With regards to performance, this one sentence sums everything up: “The GS 4 holds the record in five of our six benchmark tests.” And that horsepower doesn’t seem to negatively impact battery life. Despite being faster than the HTC One, the GS4 lasts longer.
Michael Calore’s review of the GS4 is my favorite so far. Not because it’s exhaustive, I’ll be keeping my eye on AnandTech for that, but because it’s honest. I suggest you read the whole thing, but my favorite sentence, bar none, comes after the bit of the review where he explains all the nifty software features packed inside.
“Then, over the next five days, I never used them again.
That’s exactly what I’ve found with my Galaxy Note II. I tried all the features out during the first week of owning the phone, and now I barely use any of them.
But as for his opinion of the actual handset, he says it’s “outstanding”, but he loathes the saturated colors of the AMOLED screen and the plastic construction. Despite those things, he still has no problem recommending the GS4 to others.
Walt Mossberg has been reviewing consumer technology longer than most of you have been alive. His headline gives his thoughts on the GS4 away; he calls it a “good, but not great” upgrade from the GS III. Most of his article bashes the device, rightfully so because it’s going to be a nightmare for a lot of people to figure out, but here’s one paragraph that sings some praise:
“On many key hardware specs, the Galaxy S 4 shines. Its screen and camera resolution beat the iPhone 5’s and I found its pictures to be slightly better than those from the Apple phone, which is nearly a year old. Its removable battery gave me a full day of use.
Still, he suggests that if you want an Android phone, you should buy the HTC One.
I’ve had the pleasure of drinking beer with Eric Zeman multiple times. His overall impression of the GS4 is that it’s an amazing device, but he still prefers the HTC One. That being said, if you asked him for a recommendation, he wouldn’t know what to tell you.
Focusing on the screen, Eric says “the GS4 beats the HTC One handily in brightness and viewing angles.” And moving on to the camera, it’s “good enough, but short of excellent.” Battery life is decent, though “unpredictable”.
For some strange reason, Eric’s GS4 suffered a number of performance issues. It should be noted that he was reviewing the Sprint variant, not the international model. I’m also tempted to believe that since Eric’s review was one of a two reviews that mentioned poor performance, his unit was somehow defective.
I could sit on my butt and watch the Pocketnow YouTube channel all day. Their videos are great. So what does Michael Fisher think of the GS4? He says the phone is “exactly what it needs to be – and nothing more.” By that he means it’s got enough going for it to call it a worthy successor to the GS3, but it’s not an incredible device.
Focusing on the camera, Fisher says “the experience of shooting pictures on the Galaxy S 4 is an excellent one.” He notes that taking photos indoors results in slightly grainy results, but for most people the 13 megapixel shooter on the back should be fine.
Performance “isn’t quite as zippy as we’re used to seeing from Samsung hardware.” That statement bothers me, but again, like Eric, he has the Sprint model. I’m tempted to believe that Sprint did something screwy, because Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 is a beast of a chip.
And lastly, the part I care about the most, the screen. Besides the GS4 being the first phone with a 5 inch screen that Fisher says feels “completely comfortable using with one hand”, he calls the GS4’s display flat out beautiful.
Those six reviews from some of my favorite websites on the internet all seem to say the same thing: The GS4 is a huge upgrade to the GS3, but it still feels like a GS3, and that’s bad. I will admit, I’m not a fan of how my Note II feels in the hand. The plastic is slippery, it’s a fingerprint magnet, and it just feels horrible compared to my old iPhone 4, but I put up with it because I get lost in the phone’s 5.5 inch 720p display.
Something tells me people will feel the same thing when buying the GS4. It’ll be “meh” in terms of build quality, but everything else will make them happy.
Am I going to go out and buy a GS4 when it comes out here in Finland?
No. First, I want to wait to see what AnandTech has to say about not just the Qualcomm Snapdragon equipped GS4, but also the model with the Samsung Exynos processor. And two, I want to see what Samsung has to announce at IFA in Berlin in September. Spoiler: It’ll be the Note III, but what’s going to make it special compared to the Note II on my desk right now?