Superlative 5" 1080P Screen / Expansion & Connectivity
Superlative 5" 1080P Screen
With its 5-inch Super AMOLED display, the Galaxy S4 is the first Full HD smartphone from Samsung, and it is easily one of the very best mobile displays yet. With a 1920x1080 resolution and a pixel density of 441 pixels-per-inch (PPI), it’s unquestionably among the sharpest screens ever outfitted to consumer product.
Size and sharpness are important, but this screen is also very bright, has great viewing angles, and colours that are every bit as vivid as you would expect from an OLED display. It even has fairly crisp whites, which has historically been one of the shortcomings of AMOLED screens.
Although the panel utilizes the “dreaded” PenTile subpixel matrix, instead of the usual RGBG PenTile subpixel structure found on previous PenTile panels, Samsung have arranged the GS4’s subpixels in a unique diamond pattern. No matter how good your eyesight is, you won’t be able to spot any individual light points or jagged edges.
Although size isn’t everything, it’s definitely a selling point when it comes to the Galaxy S4. Next to the 4-inch iPhone 5 screen is easy to see how that extra screen real estate comes in handy. When viewing our site, the GS4 displayed almost 3 times as many headlines and thanks to the very high level of sharpness, even tiny text is easy to read without having to zoom in. Needless to say, watching video content was much more pleasant and immersive as well.
So with sharpness and size out of the way, it’s time to discuss other key points like colours, contrast, brightness, viewing angles and outdoor visibility.
This is an AMOLED display, so colours are every bit as bright and vivid as you could possibly want. They gloriously “pop” from the screen in a manner that most people seem to love. However, this is fundamentally over-saturation and the Galaxy S4 is not immune to it. In order to correct this issue, Samsung have included four distinct user-selectable display modes that alter brightness, contrast, and colour saturation. Among these, the Video mode provides the most accurate calibration and comes really close to projecting an ideal and realistic image. It’s a really great new feature.
Extraordinary contrast levels are what Super AMOLED screens are all about, and the GS4 doesn’t disappoint. This screen is capable of deep, luscious black levels that really enhance viewing enjoyment. When it comes to brightness, itis a step forward when compared to Samsung’s past efforts, but it still doesn’t match what a quality LCD can do. That's just one of the current shortcomings of AMOLED technology. On the plus side, no matter what brightness level, this screen showed almost no discoloration in the white areas. AMOLED screens have often rightfully been accused of having grey-ish whites, but the Galaxy S4 doesn't carry that trend forward.
Viewing angles are simply perfect, there’s no other way to put it. Brightness and contrast don’t really change no matter how extreme the angle and there’s very little colour shift.
Outdoor visibility is good, but not great despite the S4's ability to really pump out brightness. When viewed outside in direct sunlight, the GS4’s screen was a little difficult to read since the phone’s auto-brightness feature doesn’t seem to increase brightness aggressively enough. More specifically, it never seems to ramp up to maximum brightness. However, once you increase the brightness manually, the screen is quite decent outdoors, which is at least partially due to its low reflectivity.
Protecting this lovely display is one of the first consumer implementations of Gorilla Glass 3, which Corning claims to be 40% more scratch resistant and 50% stronger than the previous version. Under that screen is also a cutting-edge touch controller from Synaptics that allows the screen to register touches while wearing thin-to-moderately thick gloves, particularly important for those of us living in Northern climates, as well as allowing for some unique new software features that we will outline a little later.
Expansion & Connectivity
It’s almost sad that we have to mention this, one of the things that makes the Galaxy series unique is that fact that it continues to include a removable back cover, removable battery, and a microSD expansion slot. All these elements are Samsung staples at this point, and although most consumers might not actually use this added functionality, it’s nice that there is an option for those who appreciate and require these features.
With only the 16GB model of the Galaxy S4 in widespread circulation, and only 9.62GB of free space upon first boot, a microSD expansion slot could be a life-saver for some people. It allows users to install up to 64GB of additional storage space which can be accessed through a file manager or as a separate folder when hooked up to a computer. However, there are serious Android limitations to what users can place on a microSD card. Specifically, all applications must be installed on the internal memory in order to function. As a result, the external storage can only be used for music, photos, videos, and miscellaneous documents. That is a serious drawback, albeit not one that we can''t blame Samsung for.
When it comes to wireless connectivity, there are many options with the GS4. In order to wirelessly transfer data to/from the device there is Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and Near Field Communications (NFC). We used S Beam to transfer some picture and video files over to a Galaxy Nexus (Jelly Bean 4.2.1) and it worked flawlessly. Speaking of NFC, those - admittedly very few - of you who already own Samsung TecTiles NFC tags will be disappointed to hear that the GS4 doesn’t support these NFC tags since they are based on a non-standard technology that the newer NFC chipset cannot read. Thankfully, compatible TecTiles 2 are already shipping.
On the Galaxy S4's topmost portion there is a headphone jack, a secondary microphone used for stereo audio recording and call noise cancellation, as well as an infrared (IR) blaster. Unlike in the case of the Galaxy Note 2, we did not have any issues with the headphone jack on the GS4. Our Ultimate Ears, Koss, and Westone earbuds all made a tight connection and wouldn’t come out without a solid pull. When it comes to actual sound quality, the output was clean, loud, and subjectively terrific to our ears.
With regard to the IR blaster, yes…you can indeed control your TV, digital set-top box, and other home theater components with the Galaxy S4. Consider us surprised, but we found the procedure and setup via the Samsung WatchOn application to be user-friendly and fast, it worked great! This is great solution for those times when you lose the remote control but invariably have your phone in your pocket.
At the bottom of the phone is the centrally-located microUSB 2.0 port and the primary microphone. This port is used for both charging and data connection. It supports MHL 2.0, which permits 1080p video output and TV connections without needing an external power source, which was an annoying requirement of the previous version. The microUSB 2.0 port also supports USB On-the-Go (OTG) and USB host, so you can plug in a USB device like a flash drive, mouse, or keyboard.
LTE vs. DC HSPA+
LTE coverage is pretty well established in Canada at this point in most large to medium-sized metropolitan areas. However, there is an odd mix of 75Mbps and 150Mbps service depending on where you are and your provider. We were in a 75Mbps area, where typical speeds range from 12 to 25Mbps, but with the Galaxy S4 we were able to consistently achieve transfer rates between 25 to low 30’s. As you can see, the 42Mbps HSPA+connectivity also proved very capable. Both of these wireless connections were as fast if not faster than our home WiFi connection. As we mentioned in our Galaxy Note 2 review, you do have to be very careful with LTE (and even DC HSPA+) since you can blow past your data limit in the blink of an eye.
We experienced no issues when it came to call reception or quality, both were excellent. The Galaxy S4 valiantly held onto connections even when it was down to one bar. Many areas - like an underground parking garage - that had been dead zones with our Galaxy Nexus proved to be surprisingly operational with the GS4. The automatic switching between HSPA and LTE was seamless, there was no noticeable interruptions to downloads during the hand-offs.
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