Further thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S4

The S4 with the windowed flip cover

Samsung Galaxy S4I recently had the chance to use Samsung’s latest flagship device, the Galaxy S4. I spoke about my initial experiences with Gillian Shaw and Steve Dotto on his Dottotech radio show so I won’t get into those details here (well, maybe a little below). Instead, I’ll focus on it’s camera and how it compares to the iPhone and even the Sony Experia ZL which I also recently had the chance to use for a brief period of time.

I will say one thing that I mentioned on Dotto’s show that a lot of other reviewers seemed annoyed with or didn’t like which was the plastic body the S4 has. I actually really liked it. My iPhone 5 is all glass and aluminium and while it’s much lighter than the 4S I previously had, it still feels like a fragile device. I thought this as well with the Xperia ZL too. What I liked about the S4 was that it felt like I could manhandle it and it would be fine…the sole reason I have a case on my iPhone 5 is that it’s way too fragile and slippery in it’s naked form (for me). The S4 could easily live caseless in my pocket without worry.

Samsung Galaxy S4 case options

The S4 also has a replaceable plastic back so you can choose a different color, or add more functionality like the inductive charging back that adds a little bulk but gives you the ability to just drop it on a charging dock and it charges wirelessly. They also offer a flip cover with a little window that allows easy viewing of important things like the time, various notifications, etc.

Okay…back to the camera. Take a look at these photos (click for larger versions):

I’m very impressed these where shot with a smartphone. I’ve long talked about the death of the point and shoot camera (and even making a dent in potential DSLR sales) thanks to the improving technology inside our smartphones, which we always have with us.

The level of detail with the camera on the S4 is stunning. Even on an overcast day when I went out for a photowalk with the S4, I still managed to get some great shots. Another interesting feature is an overlay on your photos when reviewing them within the Gallery app that shows your location and the weather that was going on the day you took the photo (it’s not baked into the photo, it’s just displaying some embedded metedata):

S4 (Gallery view)

The first panorama above was taken with the S4. The second panorama was taken from the same spot with my iPhone 5. You can instantly see the difference between them (click to view fullscreen). The iPhone pano seems like I was on a corner of the path when in fact, it was a straight, flat part of the trail. The S4 has a much better method for capturing the panorama. I find panoramas hard to capture with the iPhone because you’re usually pivoting around from a static spot and it’s near impossible to keep it lined up perfectly as you’re rotating around while keeping your feet planted. It also seems to occasionally leave black areas where you’ve tilted to far up or down and make for incomplete frames whereas the S4 (and other Android pano options) tends to shoot wider than needed to avoid this.

I mentioned on Dotto’s radio show that while there seems to be a lot of new gimmicky features on the S4 (that usually require another S4 to work), the fact they are there is a positive thing. Definitely these features won’t be used by everyone but it’s always nice to have options available than not. The combination of great camera and form factor that I really like make this the best Android phone out there right now, hands down. It’s now over to Apple to play their next hand with the update to the iPhone due later this year.

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