Samsung Galaxy S4: Love at First Sight (Review)

You know it’s special when its box has the “faux bois” look. Martha Stewart loves faux bois.

I’ve been waiting impatiently for my current mobile contract to end so I can get my hot little hands on a Samsung Galaxy S4. Luckily, the folks at AT&T know how much I love my Galaxy phones so they lent me a brand spanking new S4 to review. I only had two short weeks with the S4, but it was love at first sight. Be still my Android loving heart!

I’m trying to perfect my “selfie” technique here. Thus the blurry photo-all my fault. But you can see the back of the S4!

I personally own a Samsung Galaxy S2, and now I’ve had the chance to try out the S3 and the S4. At one point I had a little party of Galaxy smartphones! Each generation is exponentially better than the previous one. First of all the S4 is much lighter and slimmer than its predecessors. My sad little S2 feels like a vintage carphone by comparison (remember those?). While the S3 has slightly curved sides, the S4 feels more squared off. Almost like an iPhone. The S4 felt comfortable and seem to fit more naturally in my hand.

Chocolate Banana Whole Wheat Muffins that taste good. Make them.

Because I’m an amateur photographer, the first thing I did with the S4 was try out its camera.  It takes amazing photos, both close-up (hello food shots!) and far away. I barely used my point and shoot camera; I just pulled out the Galaxy S4 instead. The only thing the S4 lacked for me was a good zoom. It even took decent photos in low lighting. I’ve had problems photographing my chocolate muffins until I pulled out the S4. The lighting was perfect. Usually when I attempt to photograph round, dark brown food they seem to look like, um, you know, poop.

Other cool things I loved about the Galaxy S4? It can tell if I’m looking at the screen. For example, if I’m watching a YouTube video and look away, the phone pauses the video until I look back at the screen. It’s a little Orwellian but I’m impressed by the technology. It takes excellent video as well. Plus with AT&T’s service, I was able to record video during my the PBS Annual Meeting and upload from the phone right away. The video below  is the one I took of a Steve Songs performance.

One thing I really tried wanted to love was the S4’s ability to send files over “S-beam” and via the NFC function. You know in the commercials how you can touch the back of the phones together and wireless send videos and photos? My husband and I tried this with the S3 & S4 but we couldn’t get it to work consistently. It was probably user error as I was too lazy to pull the instructions. I tried it again with a friend during the PBS Annual Meeting and we got mixed results too. Guess it takes practice to beam.

Samsung had a booth at Book Expo America in New York last week. Of course I had to stop by and see why they were at BEA. Turns out Samsung is jumping into the e-book fray with Samsung Books with the Galaxy S4, as part of their Samsung Hub. It’s coming soon as an update to all S4s. It should be in the Galaxy Note 3 phones, the rep told me. I have found reading ebooks (via my Kindle app) more enjoyable on the S4 because of its large, clear screen so I can see how this makes sense for Samsung.

Before this post gets any longer, here’s the bottom line: the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the best smartphone I’ve tested so far.

Physically, it’s streamlined and very light. The screen is bright and crisp, but is a tiny bit too wide for my smallish hands. The fleshy part, bottom part of my thumb kept tapping stuff on the screen unintentionally. I think that’s a special skill my thumb has and shouldn’t be a problem for most folks. The Android platform responds quickly, though I did miss the dedicated search button that my S2 had.

Guess whose phone took the best photo when we met Wilmer Valderama at PBS Annual Meeting? YEP!

It has a gazillion other features that I’ve barely touched in this review. Like you can have 2 windows open at the same time in a split screen (mind blown, right?). The phone comes standard with 16 GB of memory with room for a microSD card. Seriously that’s as much space as my iPad 3 and I can’t even expand the storage on my iPad! Or how the camera app will let you tag faces right in the app before you share it to your favorite social media site. Check out AT&T Galaxy S4 page for all the technical specifications, etc.

I showed off the Galaxy S4 to other bloggers during my PBS Annual Meeting trip and even the iPhone users were impressed. I know how loyal you iPhone folks are! I was in a meeting where everyone had their laptop out on the table and no room for my laptop. Instead I pulled out the S4 and pulled up Google docs and spreadsheets without missing a beat. They were easy to read and scroll on the large screen.

So there you have it. Unless Samsung comes out with the Galaxy S5 before my contract comes up for renewal, I’ll have my very own Samsung Galaxy S4 in my pocket by the end of the summer. Hopefully the red one.

I received a loaner from AT&T to facilitate this review. Yes, it was sad to pack it up and send it back. All opinions are my own.