The Samsung Galaxy S4 was the first Android smartphone to ship outrightly with Android’s new version, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Being the pioneer (sort of, calm down Nexus fans), it does not disappoint. That Android layer while being felt everywhere you go on the device, it is hidden under layers and layers of Samsung’s own custom skin, Touchwiz Nature UX 2.0. Does it deliver? Are the many enhancements and add-on features that Samsung has added on their flagship really live up to their expectations or they are just plain gimmicks? Let’s find out.
I know the display is a hardware component but I’m only highlighting it here because it gets special software integration on the Galaxy S4. The colour saturation on the S4 is the best you’ll find on any device and almost everyone seems to agree (you can Google this up and see the results from various display tech laboratories pitting the S4’s display against the competition). If you’re not a fan of the default display settings as far as colour saturation is concerned you have an option: Settings > Personalisation > Display > Screen Mode. There you’ll be presented with five options (Dynamic, Standard, Professional photo, Movie and of course my favourite and what I recommend, Adapt display) from which you can choose one which suits you best. From all those options you won’t miss one that will be appealing to you or serve your immediate needs to the fullest. That is one edge the S4 has over the competition. You won’t find that anywhere. Smash or pass? Obviously…
In the display settings you’ll also find the option to auto adjust screen tone. What does this do? It simply analyses what is being displayed at any given moment (and particularly high resolution images) and scales the screen to display it properly. This saves your power and is also way cooler than having a standard tone for everything. This is Samsung Adapt Display which optimizes the Galaxy S4 to provide the best viewing experience for each type of application.
There’s much more you can get the display to do for you by simply digging through the settings app. As far as this is concerned, I have no complaints. To use the words of some fruity people, it just works!
Another hardware component that has deep integration with the software on the S4 is the camera. Actually I’m yet to meet anyone with issues as far as the camera software is concerned. It’s the best. If you have used stock Android on the Nexus devices or flashed a CyanogenMod ROM or any AOSP ROM on your Android device then you know how stripped of options the camera is there. That is not the case with the S4. Even the Galaxy Note II’s awesome camera pales when compared to what I have on the GT-I9500.
The 13 megapixel shooter on this device takes very cool photos. They are even much better in well-lit surroundings. The results in low lighting, as I stated in the hardware review, aren’t that impressive, the noise is too much. Under normal circumstances, the S4’s camera is second to none if you ask me. The images are really good. You can see a sample below [click to enlarge].
There are various options on how you can use the camera thanks to Samsung’s reworking of the camera app. It is not the same that you saw in the Galaxy S III and later the Galaxy Note II. No, this one is different. You get nice additions like Drama shot (my all-time favourite feature on the S4), Sound & shot, Dual shot, Rich tone (HDR) – another very awesome feature – Eraser, Panorama (as usual, it is always breathtaking when I view the panoramas I take with my point-to-shoot 13 megapixel Black Mist friend), Best photo (it’s been around since the release of Nature UX 1.0 on the S III), Animated photo, Beauty face, Night mode and Auto. Of all those two features really stood out for me: Rich tone (HDR) and Drama shot. They are the best. See my sample shots below [where applicable click to enlarge]
Actually ask anyone who has used the S4 and they will not trade in these camera features for anything else. Yes many have said most of the add-on features that Samsung added to Android 4.2.2 are just gimmicky but when it comes to the camera we have a general consensus that this is one territory that Samsung actually got right. You can try out on your own and I’m sure you’ll agree with me.
When it comes to shooting videos however, there are no arguments. The S4 shoots very clear 1080p videos. See sample below:
Another sample can be seen here.
More samples [as usual click to enlarge]
The S4 has a 2 megapixel front facing camera which just does its work. It can shoot 1080p video at 30fps.
There are few downsides when it comes to the camera app though:
- It could do better in low lighting conditions. While it manages to hold up well in hazy scenarios, it can do much better.
- Lack of photosphere. While the panorama feature never fails to blow me away, using it to take 360 degree snaps ain’t much of a good thing. I can do 180 and 270 degrees well but 360? Photosphere on stock Android does much better there. There were rumours before the release of the S4 that Samsung would port Android’s Photosphere feature, tweak it, add a few goodies to it and release it as S Orb. That did not come to pass but I’m sure something to that effect is in the works. I can’t wait for it to be released and rolled out to the S4 in a software update. All those 13 million pixels when carefully knit together to produce a 360 degrees summation of a place would be mind blowing.
- Lack of OIS. While you can easily turn on the Anti shake feature in the camera app’s settings, optical image stabilization baked into the hardware would do the S4’s camera sensor much good. If you’ve seen how the Lumia 920 manages to take shots even in shaky conditions and they are still awesome then you understand what I mean. It’s frustrating when an awesome moment is ruined by a little shaking of the hands.
- The camera app force closing and the device restarting randomly when launched. This can be very annoying. I have missed a couple of important moments simply because the phone restarted when I launched the camera app. This is a software problem and a software update to fix this is already rolling out to GT-I9505 Snapdragon 600 Galaxy S4 users and will soon be available for the Exynos 5 Octa variant.