When is the "best" smartphone not the best choice?
We just scored the Samsung Galaxy S4, a smartphone that critics are calling "one of the best phones you can buy," and "the best Android phone on the market right now." And, as befits a phone with such accolades, we gave the S4 a gdgt Score of 92, and awarded it a Must-have badge, as we had done with its predecessor, the Galaxy S III.
However, we could have gone the other way, and withheld the Must-have status. The fact is, as many critics pointed out, the S4 is far from a revolutionary step forward in smartphone design or technology. Yes, it has a neat new touch-free feature, which lets you access certain functions by hovering your finger over the screen -- something that will be a boon to anyone who needs to use their phone while wearing gloves or eating chicken wings. And, yes, it has expandable storage and a removable battery, things some other premium smartphones -- most notably the iPhone 5 and HTC One -- lack.
As much as Samsung might hope, the S4 isn't an iPhone killer -- or even an HTC One killer.
Most critics like, but don't love, the Galaxy S4, and prefer the HTC One, with its emphasis on class-leading industrial design and user interface tweaks that actually improve the phone's usability. Samsung, on the other hand, chose to focus mainly on features with dubious real-world value, including the ability to scroll through content by tilting the phone, or pause videos by looking away from the phone's screen.
None of these missteps mean the S4 isn't a great smartphone. After all, Samsung loaded the S III with similar forgettable gimmicks -- remember the ads showing people sharing content by tapping their phones together? how often have you done that in real life? -- and that didn't stop it from being one of the best-selling smartphones in history. And the S4 is every bit as great a phone as the S III, with an amazing display, a very good camera, and some genuinely useful features you won't find on many other phones. However, as Gizmodo puts it, the S4 comes very close to being the best Android smartphone on the market, and "one can't help but think that had Samsung poured all of its innovation into maximizing the practical user experience—instead of highly ignorable gimmicks—it might have taken the crown." (gizmodo.com/5995291/samsung-galaxy-s4-review-bette...)
Should you buy the Galaxy S4? If you want a phone with a big, super-sharp 1080p screen (its display is 5 inches, compared to the HTC One's 4.7), yes. If you want expandable storage or a removable battery, yes. If you're a Verizon customer -- the carrier isn't offering the One -- yes. If you're a fan of Samsung's user interface customizations, or already own some other Samsung devices that you'd like the phone to interact with, yes. In just about every way, this is a great Android smartphone, and you won't regret buying it. But be sure to check out the HTC One while you're shopping. And don't be surprised if you find yourself stuck deciding between the two.
- too big. When the Galaxy Note II was launched, it was most definitely the best and most advanced smartphone, at least technically speaking. But it didn't get a 90+ gdgt Score for a reason: Most people can't seem to find a way to use it as a smartphone.
- overpriced, or just plain expensive. The iPhone 5 is a superb handset, without a doubt. But it costs almost $100 more than the HTC One (unlocked), with less storage capacity. The One is by far the superior device out of the two, unless it fits into the first bullet-point for the potential buyer.
- running outdated software while being forced to a multi-year carrier-commitment. Signing a two-year contract with a carrier when buying a phone that's working on Android Ice Cream Sandwich is not a smart move, at least if that phone fits into the $99+ price range (with a US-carrier two-year contract). Buying a Windows Phone 7.X handset is even worse. But then again, no phone that's geared to be one of the best smartphones in the world runs outdated software.
- not equipped with good-enough support, customer service and repair services. Though the best smartphones don't usually suffer from these things - they depend on the seller; if the purchase is made through the carrier, the manufacturer itself or its other authorized resellers, you can rest assured that this will not be present.
- not user-friendly enough. Once again, this is never a problem with high-end smartphones that are supposed to be among the best in the industry.
- lacking in features you need. If you need great audio quality, you'll purchase the HTC One. If a high-resolution camera is what you're after, then the Galaxy S4 is obviously the better choice. (Apple's iPhone 5 fits somewhere in the middle, with very good audio quality, and a fantastic 8-megapixel camera - a higher resolution the the One's camera, but still lower than that of the Galaxy S4.)
I'm not sure the GS3 will ever get the "hover" features the GS4 has, as I understand these are a hardware difference. (I may be wrong tho, perhaps it's simply having bumped the screen touch sensitivity.) The scrolling/swiping features don't do much for me, cos they're not "natural" motions (not for me anyway), but "hover for info" is useful, and come winter, I'm sure the "read touches even through gloves" will be really useful. The screen acknowledges touches even with my finger about 3 centimeters from the screen, so I'm sure it'll read through gloves with no problems.
I think you might not be giving enough credit to the GS4 having improved hardware over the GS3. Better CPU, larger & higher res screen. I think the RAM might be faster too, cos my 4.2.2 stock+samsung GS4 does all the things I do daily faster than my 4.2.2 CyanogenModded GS3 did. Tho maybe that's just the faster processor. But faster responses from apps, and faster switching between apps, is really nice.
I'm not saying the GS4 is a revolutionary upgrade, I think evolutionary is a good description. But it's more than just software. I'd say it's about equally software and hardware upgrades. I'll actually be kind of disappointed if the GS5 tries to do all new stuff, instead of further improving what they've got, cos all new stuff tends to have all new bugs and glitches and poor design.
I am perhaps not exactly the average user tho, as my husband has often said that flashing new ROMs to my phone is my most often engaged in hobby. But I think any suer would notice the display and camera differences.
IMPROVED VERSION WILL ALWAYS HAVE THAT JUST ABOUT THE SAME FACTOR TO THEM. BUT MANY TIMES, AND ESP. IN THE CASE OF THE GS4, IT IS THE SUPER AWESOME PHONE LIKE THE GS3, JUST IMPROVED! CAN'T GET BETTER THAN THAT.
COMPLETE NEW DESIGN WILL ALWAYS HAVE THAT NEW FEELING TO THEM. EVERYONE WILL BE LIKE "WHERE'D YOU GET THAT?". DOWNFALLS TO THAT ARE THAT PROBLEMS ARISE WITH NEW DESIGNS, MOST OF THE TIME. PROBLEMS THAT ARE FIXED IN THE IMPROVED VERSION.
SO DO YOU WANT A BETTER/IMPROVED VERSION OF LAST YEAR'S PHONE? OR DO YOU WANT THE NEW THING, THAT MAY HAVE SOME ISSUES?