The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the go-to phone for Android fans. Its bright, 5-inch 1080p display is diamond-sharp without being unusably large. Its processor isn't quite the fastest you can get anymore – you'll have to deal with a few hiccups and stutters during regular use – but it's powerful enough to fuel Samsung's many software features. Had the phone packed a little more internal storage inside a stronger frame, it probably would have been our pick for best smartphone. As it is, there's more than enough here for you to love.
Pick up the Galaxy S4 and you'll immediately notice two things. First, it feels slightly flimsy. The plastic design helps keep the phone's weight to just 4.59 ounces – light for its size, but it seems cheap next to much of the competition.
Next, you'll notice its stunning screen. Packing an HDTV's worth of pixels into just 5 inches of space gives the Galaxy S4 a wonderfully crisp pixel density of 441ppi. You'll never notice individual pixels or jagged lines, even if you hold the phone close to your face. The Super AMOLED technology can handle bright sunlight and angles decently well, and while it's no IPS display, it's beautiful enough that you won't feel short-changed.
On the other hand, the phone's tiny internal storage capacity on many carriers can leave you wanting. Most S4 models sport 16GB of internal storage, but with the graphically intensive TouchWiz UI and feature set installed, you only have access to about 9GB of usable space. Buying from AT&T will give you the option of 32GB or 64GB versions, and you can always increase things with expandable storage. However, microSD cards are best used for music, pictures and video; installing apps and games onto them can cause strange usability issues.
At 13 megapixels, the Galaxy S4's camera makes a great everyday shooter, but its real strength comes in the many fun software features you can play around with. Animated Photo creates a .gif file instead of a full-blown video, for easier sharing across devices. Drama Mode takes consecutive pictures of a moving subject, and then composites them together so it looks like that subject is in several different places at once. Eraser uses the same technology as Drama Mode, but instead of compositing a picture together so that moving objects appear multiple times, it removes them from scenes completely. If you're trying to take a picture of someone and people keep passing in front of you, you can use Eraser to pull them from the final photo.
As fun as all the features that come with the Galaxy S4 are, they can get overwhelming, and some are poorly implemented. Smart Scroll, or example, lets you scroll through a page by tilting the phone instead of using your finger, but its odd responsiveness takes some getting used to. Smart Pause, meanwhile, will stop playing a video that you're watching if you take your eyes off the screen. It's a cool idea, but in practice, it can be jolting. Over the years, we've trained our minds to keep assimilating information, even if we have to quickly glance away from a TV or smartphone screen. With Smart Pause, you might expect a movie to keep playing while you glance over to find your coffee cup, only to be startled and annoyed when it stops.
We've only touched on a few of the Galaxy S4's lengthy list of features. There's something here for everyone, whether you want to play around with touchless hover controls, or you just need to know what the weather is. There's even a version of the phone called the Galaxy S4 Active, which is waterproof up to one meter. The base device isn't the most well crafted you might find, and its lacking storage capacity and aging processor can't quite compete with the other top smartphones we've reviewed. Nevertheless, Samsung's flagship is the sort of go-to phone you can pick with confidence, and know you'll have a great, well-rounded device to travel with.
Packed to the brim with feature after feature, the Galaxy S4 is tailor-made for those who love playing with the latest gizmos and gadgets.
Its plastic build can feel cheap and flimsy, while some of its features are too gimmicky to actually use.
Often considered Android's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4 is a superb device. It's not perfect, but if you're struggling to make a decision and you have to have Android, it's a safe bet that's available from every major carrier.