Samsung Galaxy S4 review

The Galaxy SIV is here - but does it pack enough of a punch?

Samsung Galaxy S4 review
Evolution, meet revolution

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On any Android phone the mapping experience is superb these days, and the Galaxy S4 is no exception thanks to the awesome power of Google Maps. We've been evangelising this service for years, but when you're getting a powerful sat-nav in your phone, then you can see why we're such fans.

On top of that, it's one that keeps getting upgraded, and combined with the Galaxy S4's large, high-res and expansive screen we had no issues at all using it as our navigation device in car.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

We're not going to go into the full detail of what Google Maps can do, but there are some highlights worth mentioning. For instance you can cache certain parts of the globe to the phone, so if you're wondering if you'll be forced to use loads of data when abroad and lost, you can safeguard your bank balance.

There's 3D mapping of the big cities, so when in the traditional map view you can see skyscraper models popping up on your screen. This is both cool and makes it very easy to navigate by sight if you can't see a road name anywhere nearby.

And then you have the StreetView option, which lets you see what the roads look like from a pedestrians point of view. Or indoor maps for major attractions, making it easier to navigate big buildings. It's an excellent app and one you should spend a lot of time getting to know.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

The Google Maps experience has also been upgraded for Full HD phones, with the UI looking so pin sharp (thanks to vector graphics) that you'll be able to see things you're looking for instantly on the Galaxy S4.

The screen is bright and clear, and like its predecessor, the GPS and GLONASS combination gives one of the most accurate location experiences we've ever seen. In case you're wondering, GLONASS is the Russian equivalent of the GPS system, with loads of satellites up there beaming down signals.

If you want to sell a smartphone in Russia then you have to offer this compatibility, so it means that any phone that has GPS and GLONASS ability has so many more satellites to choose from - ergo, a much more accurate location experience.

We even found it to be accurate when a metre or so away from the window when inside the house - and we love the fact you can get a lock in under a second, even in built up areas.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is one of the best navigation devices on the market, so if you've never experienced the 'thrill' of using your phone to get to B from A, then this will blow your mind.


There are a number of apps available on the Samsung Galaxy S4, and for the most part we're glad to see that pre-installed bloatware is at a lower level than usual. The usual suspects are there: Calculator, S Memo, S Planner and the gang, and these are all really great tools that we urge you to try out.

They do perhaps err on the side of complexity, which is a theme prevalent throughout the Galaxy S4 when diving into the apps themselves. This will attract a lot of people that consider themselves to be more of a power user, but put off others looking for an alternative to the simplicity of the iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

For instance the S Planner app is visually very busy, but comes with rich functionality. You can set a location with a new meeting appointment, or pinch to zoom through the time view, be it day, week, month or year.

But we like that Samsung favours power over simplicity, and it does a really great job of making that power usable.

There are a number of other new apps on the Galaxy S4, so take a look below to see how they stack up:

Optical Reader

This application apes the likes of Google Goggles by allowing you to translate words on the screen in front of you (using augmented reality), nab details from business cards and get information from QR codes when asked. It's a simple interface that really only asks to be pointed at the object you're looking at, and works well.

In reality we can only see it being any good for getting business card details or understanding what the odd words means in a foreign language. The business card element is hit and miss, so if you're trying to get everything from the name of the person to their job title to their phone number handily stored in the phone, the accuracy is generally around 70%.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

That's still 70% less effort than manually putting all the info in yourself, so we consider that to be a real time saver.

S Translate

Building on the ability to take one word and put it in another language, the S Translate app is a powerful tool that will let you speak or type words into the phone and have them translated into another language - or vice versa.

It's a simple system to actually use - we found very little that went wrong with it. More intriguingly, the app could even understand what were were saying more often than not when trying to speak in a foreign tongue.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

We've tried this on a number of apps, and this is the first time it's worked so well, so big thumbs up to Samsung for that.

The only issue we can see is that it relies on a connection to the internet to work properly - if you're out and about in a land where you don't understand the language chances are you won't have data, thus rendering the app moot.

It's only a slight quibble though, and as such shouldn't put you off buying the Galaxy S4 if you're someone looking for a really handy travel companion.

Story Album

In response to HTC's Zoe functionality, and BlackBerry bringing the same sort of functionality on the BB10 software, Samsung has added in the ability to make photo albums of your memories and even allowing you to send the pics across to a real life printers to have a glossy book made.

But in practice it's a really low-power app that seems to be just ticking boxes rather than bringing innovation. We were initially impressed as the phone could work out when we had been taking photos of an event and then asked us to create an album based on the snaps.

When we went to do such a thing though, we were really disappointed. Despite tagging our friends in pictures, the wrong faces were in focus, the themes poor and the speed of rendering for a device that has such a strong core is saddening.

Story album could be so much better if Samsung put some effort here, but it feels really cobbled together - and pales massively when compared to the memory-making HTC One Zoe functionality.


Gaming on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is handled by the Adreno 320 GPU, which obviously can not only handle a much larger number of pixels, but can also work its magic when it comes to giving smooth, real to life gaming on the go.

We tried the phone on a number of games, from Super Hexagon to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and as expected the Galaxy S4 handled them all with aplomb, with not even a hint of judder or slow down when in heavy use.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

More impressively was the lack of battery juice-down when using the handset, as it managed to only consume a few percent of the power even when getting a little warmer in the hand.

Android doesn't have a lot of stand out games at the moment, but in our tests of the largest (Grand Theft Auto, Need for Speed, NOVA 3 plus myriad benchmarking apps) we found there was nothing the Galaxy S4 couldn't handle. Good-o.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.