The Galaxy S4 didn't blink when overloaded with a video, taking a picture, using Facebook, and other apps. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Samsung
I've been an iPhone user since the beast came out, and although I've dabbled with a second Android phone for work here and there, I'd never found any that impressed me. And I've been pretty immune to the hype about the Samsung Galaxy S4, which hit stores on April 26. It seemed to be a clever update to an already impressive phone, and one not worth spending money on.
I went into the mobile phone store on Friday determined to buy a Galaxy S3, for free, because of how deeply carriers are discounting it. I did not know that April 26 was delivery day for the new phones; the store in Los Angeles was literally in the process of changing the displays around as I walked in. The LG Optimus line also looked good, and it was also fairly cheap, provided that I purchase a $70 data contract.
But before the sales guy could upsell me, I started upselling myself. I walked out of the store with an S4. I've spent the weekend playing with it. And as someone who has long been an Apple holdover, and as someone who will still use the iPhone for my non-work communication needs, I feel qualified to compare the two. My perspective is as a fairly gruntled (as in, I am not disgruntled, really, just habituated, to my phone) iPhone 5 user who hasn't really USED the Android operating system in years.
Here are five things that leapt out at me about the Galaxy phone. I realize that many features are not S4-specific; they're more generic to the operating system.
1. It does what I want it to do. I can't really customize the iPhone without jailbreaking it, and so I'm used to drawing within the lines when it comes to designing how I want my phone to look and to talk at me. It still takes me like a half a day to add a new ringtone to the iPhone, and I have to do a lot of it on my laptop. On Saturday, a friend sent me a ringtone from an old BlackBerry, and within 40 seconds, I had customized the Android phone to chirp at me with that sound. This is shocking for us iPhone users. It's like the break of dawn.
2. It can do several things at once. When I was fiddling with the Galaxy S4 at the store, I wanted to see if I could slow it down by playing a video, taking a picture, using Facebook and another social media app, all in rapid sequence, shuttling quickly between them, and then adding a few more tasks. The iPhone doesn't do this well at all; the Galaxy didn't blink. I expected things to load more slowly than they did. It is very rare when your phone surprises you by how quickly it loads something.
3. The Galaxy' S4's internal camera app is brilliant. The sensor (13 megapixels) doesn't make that much of a difference, but the software that greets you when you use it is incredible. I must have six or seven different photo apps on my iPhone. I don't think I'll need to download any on the S4. The way the S4 stores and edits photos is also incredibly intuitive; I still don't have the iPhoto system figured out, but I was able to link my Facebook, Picasa, and Dropbox photo feeds to the Galaxy in less than two minutes. For all those Los Angeles shirtless photos a gay guy will inevitably acquire on his phone, it's also really easy to hide photo galleries. The iPhone forces you to the app store for that.
4. More room for podcasts. I never really knew how much my podcasts sucked up storage memory on the iPhone. But I've got about 12 gigabytes worth, and I'm not considered a super-user. The S4 comes with 16 gigabytes, of which about 12 are free, but of course, you can buy 64 gigabytes worth of storage on a micro storage drive for a hundred extra dollars. That's a lot of podcasts.
5. "Wait. You mean I can just replace the battery?" How many times has an iPhone user said this upon learning that many Android OS phones have removable batteries? The S4 doesn't have a super-long battery life, but it got me through a weekend day and night's worth without fully draining. And, of course, I could always simply change out the battery if I wanted more. No more Mophie Juice Packs for me. (I like Mophie Juice Packs, but they add heft to my iPhone.)
Bottom line: What leaps out at a long-time iPhone user is the degree of control that's been built into phones like this, as well as the way the phone seems to have been built for people who live their lives online. I won't get rid of the iPhone, but I understand now why Apple needs to send out letters to its product owners reminding them why they bought their iPhone in the first place. (Their keyboard is much easier to use, and the knock-off versions on Android don't do it justice, for example).
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