Going hands on with the Galaxy S4 a day before release

After weeks of pre-release publicity and virulent excitement, the new Samsung Galaxy S4 goes on sale worldwide in just a few hours time.  Rather fortunately, I didn’t have to join a queue to get my hands on one; a press review unit made its way over to The Gadget Guy mansions late this afternoon.
Now, one afternoon and evening is not really enough time to properly review a phone. I find it usually takes a week or more of regular real-world use before you pick up on a smartphone’s real strengths and weaknesses.  So, this is a limited review, for the time being anyway, and one in which I’ll really only skim the surface and give you my first impressions after a few hours of playing with the S4.
Right-o, let’s have a look under a few main headings.

Look and Feel:

Compared to its predecessor, the S4 feels easier to hold.  While the S3 had a curved edge, the S4 has flatter sides which counter-intuitively makes it feel more comfortable in the hand. The shiny plastic back is still slick, or slippy if you prefer.  The first accessory I bought for my S3 was a sleeve which reduced its slipperiness. I feel the same solution will be needed for the S4.
It is nice and light, and despite having a larger display  than the S3 (5″ versus 4.8″) it feels marginally more compact.
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Image: A Samsung sandwich.  Photo shows from top to bottom Galaxy S3, the new S4 and a Galaxy Note 2.
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Image: Spot the family resemblance. From left to right, Note 2, S4, S3.

The Screen:

Big, bright, brash and bold, the screen reminds me of what I loved about the earlier S2. Not everyone is going to be fan of the saturated colour or the vivid brightness, but if you have a problem with it you can always turn it down or just choose a more sedate setting.
The HD screen is fantastic. Even with a strong magnifying glass (a recent purchase – these eyes ain’t what they used to be) its hard to see the pixels.
Jumping back to the physical attributes, it’s worth noting that the sides of the device form a slight ridge around the screen which should mean the screen itself won’t come in contact with any flat surfaces you place it on.
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Image: Hard to see in this photo but the S3 has a slightly dimmer output at full blast than the S4.

The Smarts:

With the S4 you get a great form factor, powerful processor, high spec camera and a hi-def screen. What more could you want?  Apparently you want a range of novel features that make the phone appear to have landed here from the future.  Following the instructions in the bundled handbook I took a tour of some of the S4’s smart features.  Yes, it’s interesting that you can hover your finger over content to expand or view it, but really, if your fingers a millimetre from the screen why not just touch it?  If I’ve got sticky fingers I probably won’t be handling my phone let alone getting it into a position where I can hover a digit over it.  I’ve been wrong about stuff before of course and there’s a chance I’ll grow to  use and maybe even value it.

There’s a function which allows you to nod to scroll down a web page.  This worked for me 50% of the time. With a bit more training (of me or the phone – I’m not yet sure which) this could be a feature I would use.

Finally, I tried to test the smart pause function which apparently pauses a video if you stop looking at it. For some reason I couldn’t get it to work but it’s not a feature I would consider compulsory.

So, my first impressions are good and there’s a lot of areas I want to have a better look at (the camera, the editable notifications, group play for sharing content, the S Health app for example) but that will have to wait.

In the meantime if you’d like a more comprehensive view of the phone’s features you can view this run down of the S4’s features from the local Samsung team. Either that or get in store and get your hands on one tomorrow for yourself.