The Galaxy S4 does not impress. Here’s why.

Update: I took a second look at it. Do I still think it's as unimpressive? Find out here.

Let me first say that the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a very good phone. It is incredibly fast, has a gorgeous display, is thin and light, has a pretty good battery life, yada yada. It’s everything I’d expect out of a year-2013 flagship phone. And yet, there’s nothing special about it. It’s just… “a pretty good phone”.

The good

The S4 is powered by a 1.6GHz AND a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, making it among the most powerful smartphones available today. As far as mobile gaming is concerned, the S4 can take on anything you can throw at it – high-definition games, movies, applications, Youtube, you name it. It boasts a wonderful 5-inch 1080p Full-HD display, and videos play sharply on it. The 13MP autofocus camera takes wonderful pictures even on Auto mode, and is far superior to its predecessor, the S3. At 7.9mm thin and 130gm light, the phone won’t bog down your pocket or handbag. It comes with a 2600mAh battery which lasts well over a day with normal use.

How Samsung managed to squeeze in all that power into such a thin and light package, is beyond my comprehension. Great job, Samsung.

The ‘meh’

Apart from amazing hardware, there’s really nothing much else to shout about. Samsung introduced a number of new features into their camera app (e.g. Drama Shot, Eraser Shot, Best Picture, etc) but to me, they’re just a side show at best.

The phone comes with a decent pair of earphones. They look great, but they lack the punch of a solid bass that come with the higher-end earphones sold in stores.

Call quality, user interface, keyboard accuracy, free apps, battery life and other parts of the S4 perform well, as expected from a flagship phone. Individual preferences may vary from person-to-person but you shouldn’t have any major problems on the whole.

The bad

The first major issue comes with all new Samsung devices, and it’s a major pain point for me. As soon as battery reserves drop to 5%, the phone immediately goes to power-saving mode and reduces the display brightness to 0%. The screen is barely visible in daylight and effectively becomes an almost-useless piece of plastic. You can’t manually raise the brightness level either – either plug in the charger or live with an almost-black screen.

The second issue I’ll bring up is more of an annoyance rather than a fault, but something like this shouldn’t be present in a flagship-level phone. If you have a chance to hold the S4, try tapping it with your finger. You’ll be able to feel the shock-absorbing springs inside the phone vibrating back with every tap. You’ll feel it every time you play Candy Crush or Minion Rush, every time you put your phone on the table and every time you switch holding the phone from your right hand to your left and back again. It’s ridiculously annoying – but maybe it’s just me.

In summary

As I wrote in my first paragraph, the Galaxy S4 is a really good phone overall. For a retail price of RM2,199, I expect nothing but the very best from Samsung. It’s a disappointment that there’s nothing particularly impressive to shout about other than “fast, thin, smooth, clear”, but if all you’re looking for is a great phone for your everyday life, then the S4 would be a strong candidate to choose from. However if you’re looking for something more, well

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