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The S4 is light as a feather. Don’t let the feel of the back cover deceive you into thinking this is not a premium smartphone, it’s actually rather practical. The Gear, which was launched in September last year, is much larger than I imagined it. Thanks to an update it is now able to pair the S4 and the Gear, and it was fairly simple to do this via Bluetooth.
Design and build
The phone comes in under the six-inch ‘phablet’ size, meaning it can easily be held in one hand. It really is lightweight, but still retains that pleasant weight that hints at technology packed inside. At the top is a 3.5mm audio jack, on the right is the power button, at the bottom is the home screen button, and on the left is the volume control. The microSD slot can be found behind the cover, which, as mentioned, does have a plastic feel, but also makes the phone less likely to slip out of your grip when holding it. The Gear has an attractive design, but protrudes from the wrist slightly, more than ordinary watches, and I did find that it hooked on my clothing. The strap has a small camera built into it.
At 5 inches, and a Full HD resolution, the S4’s touchscreen is its biggest selling point, while there are competitors with similarly sized screens, none of them have that Super AMOLED brilliance. The customisable homescreen is typical of the Android-based Samsung Galaxy range, with the familiar icons for phone, email, camera, contacts, apps and more running along the button. The display reads well in sunlight. The Gear’s large display is a big plus in its favour. It has a 1.6-inch (also Super AMOLED) screen at 320 x 320 resolution, and shows the following icons: time, date, and temperature and weather icon.
The S4’s camera is a high performer, but didn’t blow me away (it feels strange to say this of a 13MP camera, but there has been such a surge in camera technology in smartphones of late, that the Samsung competitors do have an edge here). The shutterspeed is very snappy, and there are solid in-camera editing possibilities. There isn’t really much use for the Gear’s 1.9MP camera if you know that your Samsung smartphone is clearly within reach.
Software and interface
The S4 I reviewed was running Android Jelly Bean. Of all the Android devices I’ve used, Samsung’s Galaxy range has the best ‘skin’. One cool feature: you’ll notice there’s infrared at the top of the S4, which allowed me to use it as a remote for my Samsung smart TV. The Gear’s interface is most interesting: if you raise it up to eye level it switches on. Swiping left and right on the screen lets you scroll through notifications, music and S Voice, which in turn allows you to use voice commands to dial your friend’s phone numbers. It feels pretty silly talking to your wrist, I have to admit, and private conversations are difficult. It is great for messaging, though.
Performance and battery life
The S4 has a very zippy quad core processor, and a 2600mAh battery which should last if you’re regularly checking emails and social media, but not if you’re surfing YouTube constantly. The Gear has an 800MHz processor, which could be better. There is a command lag between the S4 and the Gear as a result. Battery life on both is average to good, with both devices usually lasting from sun-up to sunset with moderate use.
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is one of the best, if not the best (with some competition from Sony’s Xperia Z1 ) high-end Android smartphone on the South African market right now. You can get it on contract with Vodacom from R399 upwards, depending on your talk and data plan. Of course, it is only a matter of months before the newly launched S5 hits our shores in April. However, it’s hard to recommend the Gear in light of the dramatic improvement in design and functionality of the Samsung Gear 2 announced this week at the Mobile World Congress. My advice if your heart is set on a smartwatch: wait.
Samsung Galaxy S4 specs
|Display||5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED, at 1920 x 1080 resolution|
|Processor||Quad-core 1.6 GHz|
|Storage||16GB, 32GB, 64GB|
|OS||Android Jelly Bean 4.3|
|Camera||13MP rear, 2MP front|
|Video||Full HD (1080p), 30fps|
|Dimensions||136.6mm x 69.8mm x 7.9mm|
|Connectivity||LTE; Bluetooth 4.0; USB 2.0; micro USB; Wi-Fi; NFC|