User Interface and Experience
The Samsung Galaxy S 4 ships with Android Jelly Bean v4.2.2 right out of the box, with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface enhancements integrated into the OS. Overall, we like many of the additions offered by TouchWiz and the build of Jelly Bean on the phone feels very polished and fluid. The work Google has put into Jelly Bean and Samsung has put into TouchWiz really shows on the Galaxy S 4, not only in terms of stability and fluidity, but additional features as well.
When the S 4 is first powered on, the home screens are fairly loaded up with widgets and shortcuts, but they can be quickly and easily customized. Responsiveness to touch is very good on the S 4, easily among the best we have experienced on any Android device. There is minimal lag when touching / dragging items, pinch to zoom is fluid and responsive, and transition animations are buttery smooth. Launching applications is also very quick; during everyday use, the S 4 simply felt fast, which should be expected considering the high-end nature of the device.
The 5” HD Super AMOLED screen on the S 4 is also very good. We’re not sure what the sub-pixel arrangement looks like on this particular screen, but even upon close inspection things looks great. As is the case with other Super AMOLED screens, there are likely fewer sub-pixels in the S 4’s display than a similar resolution IPS LCD, but until we see it under a microscope, we’re speculating. Either way, the screen is a definitely strong point on the Galaxy S 4. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, colors are very vibrant and somewhat over saturated, and the screen has good brightness. It doesn’t seem quite as bright as the screen on the HTC One X or Nokia Lumia 920, but the screen on the S 4 has excellent contrast and very deep blacks, which make up for it.
As is the case with many smartphones, the glossy display is somewhat hard to see in direct sunlight, but that is par for the course. Viewing angles are very good, which makes for easy sharing of content with others around you, even when not directly in front of the device. As we’ve mentioned, the true HD screen offers a high resolution of 1080x1920, which results in crisp and sharp images that are among the best of the smartphones available today.
In addition to the standard Google-fare included with Android 4.2.2, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 comes preloaded with a number of other applications. Preloaded on the device are Samsung’s App store and newly-redesigned, and consolidated Hub, which features easy access to music, movies, videos and books. In addition, there are a number of S-branded apps installed on the S 4 too, including S Memo, S Health, S Translator, S Voice, Samsung Link and Watch On. S Memo is obviously a digital memo pad and S Health is the utility to link the Galaxy S 4 with the many health-related accessories also launching along with the device, like the heart monitor and scale. S Translator is an awesome utility that can not only do text-to-speech and speech-to-text translations of many popular languages, but it can scan images using the device’s camera and do some optical character recognition and translation too. If you travel a lot, S Translator is going to come in quite handy. S Voice is Samsung’s voice control / command app and Samsung Link is the tool you’d use to link multiple devices together, for easy content sharing. WatchOn is another cool tool, that not only lets you configure the Galaxy S 4 to act as a universal remote control (for any brand of device, not just Samsung), but it provides TV listings and easy access to content as well.
Since the Galaxy S 4 is also a phone, we should probably speak a bit about voice quality. Like the Galaxy Note II and a number of other popular phones, the Galaxy S 4 employ's Audience's EarSmart technology. EarSmart is a real-time noise suppression—not noise cancellation—technology that can be tailored for specific levels of noise suppression. In the demos we saw (and heard) of EarSmart, the technology was able to essentially filter out background noise as a person spoke into a microphone, which is what a smartphone has to do when a user is speaking in a noisy environment. The S 4 performed very well in that regard. When using the S 4 in a car with the windows down, for example, the wind noise was mostly blocked out to the listener at the other end of the call. Music playing in the car was also mostly suppressed. In quiet environments, the S 4’s call quality was excellent.