Review: The Samsung Galaxy S 4 shows more is not always better

Samsung's new Android flagship is easy to hold and view, but many new software features are only partially baked gimmicks

Samsung's Galaxy S III is a very sweet Android smartphone, arguably the best of its generation. So you have to wonder what Samsung could do to meaningfully push the envelope in the Galaxy S 4 now available at some carriers (Sprint and AT&T) and soon to be offered at others (Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile). After all, Apple's last two models, the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, haven't changed the world, even if each version had nice additions and changes. For Apple, the iPhone 4 was the game-changer, just as the Galaxy S III was for Samsung.

The Galaxy S 4 is a better device than the S III, but it too is no game-changer. There are nice enhancements to the S 4, as well as less-than-fully-baked additions. It's easy to recommend the S 4 to any Android user who wants a large screen, but not a mini-notebook like the Google Nexus 7 or even the Samsung Galaxy Note II. However, I don't recommend breaking your current contract to buy it at full price.

[ What Google needs to fix in Android. | Review: The Samsung Galaxy S III versus the iPhone 5. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter. ]

The hardware capabilities you'll enjoy
What I liked most immediately about the Galaxy S 4 is its refined hardware. The straighter sides (more similar to the iPhone, ironically) make it easier and more comfortable to hold than the S III's rounded and tapered edges.

Although the body is essentially the same size as the S III, the S 4's screen is larger within that expanse, providing even more display area but without the bulkiness. For me, the S 4 is as large as I would want a smartphone to be.

The Galaxy S 4 has boosted other hardware aspects compared to the S III -- as you would expect to happen a year later. Yes, the processor is a bit faster, as are other processing components. And the rear camera is now rated at 13 megapixels, which means more pixels per image and larger file sizes. The image quality is comparable to that of the iPhone 5's 8-megapixel camera. Keep in mind that the quality of the lens and light sensors matter more than the number of pixels captured.

What you'll really notice as a user is the ability to use both the front and rear cameras simultaneously, a cool trick for documentary-style photo essays and videos called dual-shot mode. Plus, the editing tools available are quite sophisticated, turning the Camera app into powerful photo-manipulation software. Shutterbugs will love it.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Hardware (10.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Samsung Galaxy S 4 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.3
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