Samsung Galaxy S 4 Review: Bigger, Faster, Stronger
Camera Performance and Battery Life
The Samsung Galaxy S 4 ships with a 13MP rear facing camera with auto-focus and a build in LED flash and a front facing 2MP camera for video-chat and 2-in-1 shot purposes. The main camera also features full 1080P video recording capabilities and a multitude of different shooting modes and capabilities.
We found the S 4’s camera to be very good, but not great. There is minimal shutter lag (the S 4 is capable of a multi-shot burst like many other recent smartphones) and the resolution is very high. We found most of the images to be somewhat under-saturated, however, and focus wasn't always great in artificial light. In natural light or indoors, when the flash is not used, images looks good, but as you can see in the samples above, they are not very vibrant. When the flash is used though, especially with relatively close objects, the images can look over-saturated. We’d speculate that Samsung tuned the cameras to produce images that look optimal on the Galaxy S 4’s HD Super AMOLED screen, but once they’re shared from the phone, the slight deficiencies become evident. We should also note that the camera is configured for 9.4MP shots (16:9) by default, so the pictures fill the screen. You'll have to set the camera to 13MP (4:3) if you want to capture images at full resolution.
The Galaxy S 4’s camera isn’t just about higher-resolutions. Samsung has also added a number of features and capabilities. First, we should point out that the phone’s power button and volume rocker can be configured to act as shutter and zoom buttons, which can come in handy. Samsung has also incorporated a number of shooting modes, a few of which are new. Best face, Best photo, Panorama, and a few others have been around for a while in one form or another, but Sound & Shot, Drama, Animated Photo and Eraser are new. As the name suggests, Sound & Shot gives users the ability to attach sound clips to photos. Drama mode sets the phone to capture a 100 shot burst of images, and then it takes the best images in which the subject is not overlapping, and inserts the subject into multiple positions within a single photo. Animated photo allows you to take a burst of photos of a subject in motion and produce a short animated GIF, and Eraser mode gives users the ability to erase objects from the background of an image. For example, with Eraser mode, if someone walks behind the subject, that person can be removed to reveal the complete background. Samsung also offers the ability to use the front and rear cameras simultaneously, which allows users to insert themselves into photos. The person taking the shot can be imprinted in a stamp or any one of a number of other styles, which can be moved around the screen, resized, etc.
As is the case with any 4G smartphone with a large, high-res screen, battery life can sometimes be an issue. Samsung claims the S 4’s 3.8 Volt, 2600 mAh Lithium Ion battery can last for up to 300 hours in 4G standby (350 hours using 3G), with up to 17 hours of talk time, 69 hours of music playback, 11 hours of video play time, and up to 8 hours browsing the web with 3G or 4G, or 10 hours on Wi-Fi. To take the Galaxy S 4's battery to task, we first tried to fire up our standard HotHardware battery test. In this test, we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text and the page automatically refreshes itself every three minutes. We set the S 4's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, Sprint's service is horrible in our area and Samsung's browser seemed to be caching data and the latest versions of Android no longer display Flash, which was part of this test. So, since our original test was out, we instead looped a 1080P video streamed from the web over Wi-Fi to hammer of the S 4 non-stop until it dropped into low-power mode.
Despite the Galaxy S 4's relatively large screen, bright, high-res screen, it put up some very impressive battery life numbers, comparable to some of the best phones we tested. We should also point out that standby times are excellent. We left the phone sitting for days and the battery had only drained a couple of percentage points. With moderate to heavy use, Galaxy S 4 owners should have absolutely no trouble making it through a full work day and more. Under light use, we'd expect two full days of usable battery life would also be possible.
Here's exactly what the battery drain graph looked like after steaming 1080P video from the web on the Galaxy S 4 for over 8.5 hours. Please note, that there was still 15% left on the battery at this point. However, the S 4's screen dimmed and it starts throwing low-power warnings once the battery life gets too low.