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Opinion: Why I won’t be buying the Samsung Galaxy S 4

updated 06:52 am EDT, Fri March 15, 2013

The Galaxy S 4 is a technical marvel, but I won't be switching from the iPhone 5

So the Samsung Galaxy S 4 has finally launched with nearly all the major leaks and rumors about the device proving true. There can be no question that Samsung has put everything it could possibly fit into its extra-large 'Galaxy S IIIS' as some are referring to it, because it looks much the same as the Galaxy S III. However, as much tech as Samsung has packed into its new flagship, it simply doesn't tempt me to switch from my iPhone 5.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4 has the iPhone 5, its biggest competitor, beaten in just about every piece of the hardware department. Yet, despite its hardware advantages, Apple will continue to sell tens of millions of its iPhone 5. If buying a smartphone is all about the hardware, Samsung should have Apple dead in the water. But it doesn't, and it won't. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.

If you take a look at the raw specifications of the Galaxy S 4 and compare them with the iPhone, it is clear that Samsung has taken a distinct lead over Apple's iPhone 5. It is an amazing piece of hardware, coupled with some distinctive Samsung software customization of Google's Android 4.2.2 'Jelly Bean' operating system. Let's start with its 5-inch display, which leaves me, and many others, cold as it is simply makes the device too big, even if Samsung has managed to shave 3 grams off the weight of the Galaxy S III in making the 4.

Not that it isn't a technological marvel with its 1080p, full high definition, OLED display with a mind boggling 441 pixels per inch (the same pixel density as other 5-inch 1080p displays on devices like the Sony Xperia Z). The iPhone 5, by comparison has a much more usable 4-inch IPS LCD display with a more than acceptable (but no longer cutting edge) pixel density of 326ppi. However, I also own a Nexus 4 (to keep abreast of Android developments) and find that I can get around its 4.7-inch 720p display with one hand (with some thumb gymnastics involved) - which is why I think HTC made the right decision with its new One, packing a 1080p display into a 4.7-inch size achieving a record 468ppi in the process.

The next most notable aspect of the Galaxy S 4 (depending on region) is its Exynos 5 Octa processor. On paper, it makes the dual-core A6 processor in the iPhone 5 look anemic, although anyone who uses the iPhone 5 will attest to the fact that it remains a blazing fast piece of custom Apple engineering. Further, while the Exynos 5 Octa has eight-cores, it does not utilize all cores simultaneously. Instead, it uses ARM's big.LITTLE processor architecture mating a quad-core Cortex-A15 (big) processor with a quad-core Cortex-A7 processor on the same die.

ARM's Cortex-A15 architecture is very similar to the 'Swift' architecture underpinning the A6 design (and the 'Krait' architecture underpinning Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 chips). This is where the power in the Exynos 5 Octa lies even if it is an 'off the shelf' ARM design. But how well it is optimized for the Android operating system remains a point of contention. Apple, on the other hand, has complete control over the design of its A6 processor as well as its iOS operating system - there is no more optimized combination of software and hardware in the smartphone segment.

And then there's the all-plastic build of the Galaxy S 4. I just can't bring myself to buy plastic products, especially when there are beautifully crafted devices out there made from aluminum like the iPhone 5, of course, and the HTC One on the market. It's the same with my notebooks. I will gladly pay more for a device, as long as it is not plastic. While I won't be buying the HTC One either, I would choose that over the Galaxy S 4 if I was miraculously converted into to being an everyday Android user. Again, it is not the hardware or the specifications that is really the issue. It is everything else.

As I mentioned earlier, I own a Nexus 4. It is an excellent device and runs a stock version of Android, which remains the least 'affected' version of the OS on the market. However, for all of its customizability and quick update capability, my iPhone 5 remains my go to device and will continue to be my go to device until Apple releases its next iPhone. The Galaxy S 4 uses the latest version of Samsung's Android operating system, TouchWiz. Even though Samsung has been good enough to push it out the door with the very latest version of Android on board, its UI is not superior to stock Android, nor will it be updated quickly either. Samsung's track record of software updates for previous devices speaks for itself in this regard.

Where TouchWiz trumps stock Android is the addition of features such as 'Smart Scroll,' 'Air View,' and 'Air Gestures.'. All of these functions are futuristic and help to define the Galaxy S 4 as being a cutting edge, if not bleeding edge, device. Yet, do they really do anything to enhance the user experience? Is it such a chore to actually touch the screen of a device to scroll or navigate it? These 'features' have the whiff of being nothing more than pure gimmickry. In fact, it can be argued that it is the touching of the device that has helped users become more connected, and indeed attached, to their smartphones.

Which brings us to iOS, which by comparison, doesn't have the same level of overall features as TouchWiz, or even stock Android. Apple has incrementally built upon its near neutral UI choosing to add functionality when it is properly tested and refined, while focusing on maintaining the purity of its user experience. iOS has evolved considerably from version 1.0, but its UI has not been changed simply for sake of change. While it could do with a refresh in look, Apple has always focused on letting the apps do the talking on the iPhone making for a simple and clean user experience.

Beyond all of this, is of course Apple's incomparable iTunes ecosystem. Even now, neither Samsung or Google has been able to beat, let alone match, Apple on this count. The deep integration between iOS and Apple's A-series processors is hard to beat, but the underlying iTunes ecosystem is all but impossible to beat. As much as some users complain about the iTunes desktop application and Apple's 'walled garden,' it exists not because of a tyrannical desire to exact control overs its users, but to maintain the most seamless user experience when it comes to installing and enjoying content, whether it is apps, movies, music, TV, podcasts or books.

Despite what some people claim, you can also use the iTunes application to install your own media content on your iPhone, while you can also install music purchased from iTunes on Android and other devices. Apple also serves tens of thousands of free apps, free podcasts, free TV shows costing a users nothing more than their monthly Internet connection. Or you can now also completely by-pass the iTunes desktop application thanks to iCloud and iTunes Match.

By comparison, Google Play is a marked improvement over the Android Market since launching one year ago, but it is still no match for the seamless combined power of the iTunes web application and its desktop companion. Further, Google has not struck the same licensing deals that Apple has inked in nearly as many markets around the globe. Samsung has also worked hard to launch additional services to support its customers, but still these still do not offer the seamless end-to-end user experience that Apple offers. As Phil Schiller recently said, signing up to Android means signing up to around nine services with different vendors to get the equivalent user experience as is built directly into iOS and the iPhone.

If you want the flashiest piece of technological wizardry that you can just about cram into one hand, the Galaxy S 4 is for you. I have no doubt that millions of users will buy it and love it as is their right. Specification-wise it is objectively the best piece of smartphone hardware on the market (although HTC might have something to say about that) - but that does not necessarily make it the best smartphone experience on the market. Not by some margin.

I could also put it another way. If the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One ran iOS, and I had to choose between them and the iPhone 5, I would choose the HTC One. Right now, that would be my ideal combination of design, hardware, software and ecosystem. Whichever way I look at it, though, there is nothing that would make me want to buy the Samsung Galaxy S 4. And seriously, what is with that cheesy 'Life companion' nonsense...? I've got one of those already - she is my wife Leanne!

By Sanjiv Sathiah

The best smartphone experience on the market?









By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    I can't disagree with any of your points. I'm mystified at why Samsung chose to promote a minor polishing of its (very good) Galaxy S III as a major new version when it looks the same and performs just a bit better than before.

    I've got nothing against polishing up a flagship phone -- Apple does this all the time (3GS 4S, likely a 5S) -- but they don't pass it off as a revamp. Also when you called your previous phone the S III and the new one S 4 (note the space) ... that's telling me your marketing dept is running the show, not your designers and engineers.

    I look forward to testing one out -- plastic doesn't bother me quite as much as you, but yeah its a factor -- just as much as I did the BB Z10 (which is a really nice iPhone 5 knock-off, and I mean that as a compliment). But even with this being the latest, greatest, flagship Android smartphone, running 4.2.2 ... oh wait, 4.2.3 is coming out in May. You S 4 buyers are going to be on the edge for a whole MONTH, and don't expect Samsung to be quick in offering you the update ... it took em six months to get the last one out ...

    Competition is good (putting aside the, you know, stealing and stuff). I thought the S III was the first really worthy iPhone 5 competitor and I'm sure the S 4 is even more so. But Apple aren't exactly sitting on their hands you know ... I'm frankly way more curious as to what the A7 will bring us, and what Jony Ive has in mind for iOS, and how Apple can POSSIBLY top the beautiful, chamfered design of the current iPhone ... sorry, Samsung ...

  1. mattyb

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 02-22-08

    Paragraphs? Formatting?

    I'll get my S4 review at another site then.

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    Agree on the HTC...

    I'd take it before the GS4...the plastic alone is not worth investing in the Samsung phone. And I agree, after watching the videos, that whole gesture thing looks silly and distracting to use...gimmicky as you stated. Plus, I think Samsung has gone over the cliff on making these phones ever bigger in screen size...it's gotten to the point of looking ridiculous trying to hold one much less actually use it ergonomically.

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    Specs for specs' sake.

    Beyond 300dpi you can't see the pixels anyway, so 1080p is not an advantage in any way.
    Samsung seems to be desperate for things the iPhone doesn't have, so they made up a bunch of useless photo features, and looked at iOS accessory categories and copied them. (e.g. S Health)

    I don't see anything advantageous about the S4. I'll stick with my iPhone.

    And mattyb, maybe you should check your browser. I don't see a problem with the review. It looks to be formatted correctly with paragraphs to me.

  1. Mr. Strat

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 01-23-02

    So what?

    OK...another Android phone with some goofy interface stuck on there by the manufacturer...and who knows how much crapware that the end user can't uninstall.

    I've had my fill of Android. I had the first Android phone (G1), and it was great. But then I got the G2X which was a piece of crap. And by that time, everybody had started putting moronic interfaces on their phones along with a bunch of junk software that you couldn't get rid of. I rooted the phone and it was better, but things still didn't work right.

    My iPhone 5, on the other hand, does everything that Apple says it will do...and does it every time...and does it well. iOS is far more polished than Android - and doesn't look like it was made in somebody's basement.

  1. mattyb

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 02-22-08

    Originally Posted by hayeskView Post

    And mattyb, maybe you should check your browser. I don't see a problem with the review. It looks to be formatted correctly with paragraphs to me.



    I'm reading this in the Tech News forum, not the front page of MacNN. If they're going to post an article into a forum, it should format correctly.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Something's happened to the forum news importer. Top men have been informed.

  1. mattyb

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 02-22-08

    Flog the forum news importer !!!!

  1. RobOnTheCape

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-16-04

    Problem with plastic?

    Who would walk around with any smart phone without a case wrapped around it(I use the Morphie juice pack). So what's the difference what it's made of? I like what seems to be a much upgraded camera. Love to see the reviews comparing this camera to the 5.

  1. Inkling

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Plastic cases v. metal

    You're clearly not aware how antennas work. Metal cases on laptops and cell phones play havoc with the radiation pattern. Imagine owning an apartment in a beautiful location but with your only view that out a tiny porthole. That's a cell phone with an antenna radiating out a window in the case and that's why Apple tried that controversial case band as an antenna. Apple's engineers know the trouble a metal case creates.

    Plastic cases aren't perfect. All devices have parts that block signals and the newer broadband antenna designs don't adapt well to an antenna that sticks out like the older cell phones. But a case that's clear for radio waves is a bit like a panoramic set of windows in a home. It lets a laptop or cellphone do what it was meant to do, connect with the outside world.

    Those metal laptop cases are why I remain happy with my old MacBook (as well as my 3GS). It can easily pick up the WiFi at the community center next door. My new Mac mini, with its pretty metal case and an antenna that radiates downward (bizarre) can't even see that same WiFi.

  1. woltar

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-15-13

    balance

    decent review. balanced. objective. not like some of the poorly written, biased crap i've read this morning on sites like seeking alpha. who do they get to do that stuff?

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    Originally Posted by InklingView Post

    You're clearly not aware how antennas work. Metal cases on laptops and cell phones play havoc with the radiation pattern. Imagine owning an apartment in a beautiful location but with your only view that out a tiny porthole. That's a cell phone with an antenna radiating out a window in the case and that's why Apple tried that controversial case band as an antenna. Apple's engineers know the trouble a metal case creates...



    I'm quite aware of antennas & casings, and feel the antenna issue is a tempest in a teapot. I've had 3 iPhones from the original to my current 4S and I've had little issue w/ the reception that wasn't an issue already w/ other phones (i.e. - AT&T coverage). I'm not saying it isn't a problem for some, but it seems to be bit exaggerated as to the extent of loss of reception.

    Otherwise, plastic just feels cheap...and it is. Again, I've had iPhones for 5 years and nary a scratch on any, mostly w/out a case...call me crazy. For that kind of money, I want something that looks and operates likes it is substantial in quality.

    Look, I'm not an Apple fanboy nor an Android hater...I liked the Galaxy S III and thought about having one except for the expense of repurchasing all the apps. I just don't see anything that makes the GS4 so spectacular as to be revolutionary in smartphone development (as the hype is stating)....but I'll be glad to admit I'm wrong it shows to be such.

  1. Mr. Strat

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 01-23-02

    No case here

    I don't have a case on my iPhone 5 and have never had one for previous phones. They add to much bulk. But I do have a screen protector type material on the back of my iPhone so it won't scratch. That's it.

  1. sacrums1

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-30-10

    good review

    I totally agree. I have the S3 and the Iphone 5, the iphone 5 is my main phone. I only use the the S3 for Foxfi and playing flac files. When the iphone has a bigger screen, plays flac files and has something similar to Foxfi, there would be no reason for me to get the Android phone. Since Google Now is going to be on the iphone soon anyways. The iphone has a much better user experience.

  1. bjojade

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-07-07

    Gimmicky

    I saw a demo of the touch free scrolling and it looked extremely awkward for the user. I can only imagine that the implementation goes too far, and it will likely be annoying more than anything. Now, on the other hand, I could see it useful for SOME features. Eg, when the alarm is going off in the morning, if I could just wave my hand over the phone to activate snooze, that would be awesome. Or use it to wave off a call I don't want to answer, etc.

    Other than that, Samsung is doing what the PCs did. Tout specs. Bigger numbers are always better, right? Apple has gone a long way to HIDE specs from users. Why? Because gigahertz and RAM don't mean squat to the end user. It's overall performance and ease of use that really matters. Putting a bigger XYZ in a phone that doesn't improve the user experience only makes the geekheads happy.

    And as far as metal vs plastic, I've had my iPhone 5 completely naked since release day. Yeah, there's a little nick on one of the edges now which happened the 15th time I dropped it. Other than that, it looks like new. No need for a case at all. Not too many plastic phones can hold up like that.

  1. graxspoo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-22-08

    gimmicky

    The S4 roll-out did nothing for its public image. The company seems dorky and out of touch. Anyway this feature war in smart-phones is silly IMO. Android has 'functionally' caught up to Apple, so take your pick. We're arguing over window dressing at this point. Does it run apps? Will it sync my contacts and calendar to my home computer? Can I browse the web and check email and my social media? Make telephone calls? Yes? We're done.
    What I want is better deals. If Apple would produce a new iPhone selling for around $200 on a pre-paid carrier like Virgin Mobile, they might entice me back into the fold. Otherwise, it's an expense I don't need. I switched to Android on Virgin and I'm saving $50 a month, or $1200 over a two year contact (not that I have a contract).

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