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The Samsung Galaxy S4: A great phone, but not the best Android you can buy
Many critics prefer the HTC One
Samsung's new smartphone may be too eye-catching.
Samsung's new smartphone may be too eye-catching. Allison Joyce/Getty Images
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amsung spared no expense promoting the arrival of its newest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, with an elaborate stage production last month that rivaled any Broadway show in New York City. The Galaxy S4 is a follow-up to the phenomenal Galaxy S III — the best-selling Android of all time — and comes on the heels of the arrival of luxe new competition like the HTC One. Suddenly, Samsung finds itself staring down an unfamiliar path of weighty and well-deserved expectations. How does the Galaxy S4 stack up to other premium smartphones? Now that critics have finally gotten their hands on the S4, a roundup of their reviews:

David Pierce at The Verge says the S4's 5-inch screen is "big, beautiful, and seriously eye-catching." However, "the latter is partially a bad thing":

The S4 uses a Super AMOLED panel like many of Samsung's phones, and like many of Samsung's phones it displays overly contrasted and vibrant colors. Those colors may not be accurate — reds and oranges absolutely explode off the screen, whether they should or not — but they certainly catch your eye. And with a ridiculous 441 pixels per inch, even the PenTile display matrix I usually loathe causes no problems. The glass is rigid and responsive to touch, and works even if you have gloves on. [The Verge]

Steve Kovach at Business Insider isn't a fan of the S4's plastic design and shabby quality:

The Galaxy S4 simply isn't as beautiful or as fun to hold as the HTC One and iPhone 5. And it almost feels cheap by comparison. The entire phone is covered in creaky plastic, not solid metal and glass. Just take off the flimsy back cover and you'll see what I'm talking about. It almost bends in half. Whereas the iPhone and HTC One designs scream quality, the Galaxy S4 design feels at least two years behind. It looks nearly identical to last year's Galaxy S III, with only a few minor tweaks. [Business Insider]

But, says Kovach, some people will still like the S4:

There are some benefits to owning a plastic phone over a metal one, and some will find the plastic construction a good thing, not a drawback. The Galaxy S4 won't scratch as easily as metal phones, and the plastic makes the phone feel slim and lightweight. [Business Insider]

Brent Rose at Gizmodo thinks the phone is needlessly bloated:

There's Air View, which allows you to hover your finger over the screen to see some information without actually clicking. There's Air Gestures, which allows you to wave your hand over the phone to change between tabs or photos. There's Smart Scroll, with which you tilt your device to scroll, instead of using your finger. There's Smart Pause, which will pause a video when you look away from the screen. And there's Group Play, which lets you play a handful of selected video games with friends on the same Wi-Fi network, or use several S4 phones as Sonos-like speakers.

The most important thing you need to know about these features is that you will never use any of them. Ever. Never ever. […]

The good news is that you can turn off and/or totally ignore most of these extraneous "features," and when you do, there's a very good phone underneath. [Gizmodo]

Walt Mossberg at All Things D likes a few of these software innovations:

A feature called Air View lets you see expanded information about things like email previews and calendar items by hovering over them with your finger. A multi-window feature splits the screen so you can view two apps at once. But both features only work with certain apps.

I also liked an improved version of Easy Mode, which substitutes the sometimes confusing normal screens and settings panels for simpler ones with larger, cleaner icons, and simplified settings.

Another good move: Samsung rewrote the standard Android email app so it's better, with a unified inbox and other nice improvements. [All Things D]

The Verge's Pierce loves the camera:

It's actually Samsung's experience with dedicated cameras that make shooting photos with the GS4 so nice. The company borrowed a lot of the GS4's camera software from the Galaxy Camera, a concept car of sorts that clearly informed its ability to build a great cameraphone. The interface is much improved over the S III, from the scrolling mode dial to the one-press capture of either stills or video. It's also simple and fast, two things many cellphone cameras are not. [The Verge]

Gizmodo's Rose prefers the HTC One:

The S4 is far from a bad phone. In fact, were it not for the HTC One, it would be the best Android phone you can buy. And one can't help but think that had Samsung poured all of its innovation into maximizing the practical user experience — instead of highly ignorable gimmicks— it might have taken the crown. [Gizmodo]

So does Business Insider's Kovach:

Make no mistake about it, the Galaxy S4 is a great phone, and easily one of the best you can buy right now. You get an amazing Android experience on a big, beautiful display.

As long as you don't mind a bunch of plastic, you'll be perfectly happy with the Galaxy S4.

But is it the best phone? No. You're still much better off with the iPhone 5 or the HTC One if you like Android. [Business Insider]

And All Things D's Mossberg makes three:

While many will compare the Galaxy S4 with the iPhone 5, I also compared it with the $200 HTC One, which came out April 19. The HTC has a handsome, sturdier, aluminum body, dual stereo speakers, an excellent camera, better screen resolution than the new Samsung, and twice the base memory for the same price.

If you're a nut for lists of new features, love Samsung or crave an even bigger display, the Galaxy S4 may be for you. It's a good phone, just not a great one. [All Things D]

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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