John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Samsung S4 I337M review Telus

Jump right to a section:
Physicals and specs
Notification LED
Movie Playback
Built in Apps
HDMI out
Network Speed
Power consumption
Onscreen Keyboard
Sharing DLNA/Miracast/Chromecast
Speeding up the S4
HTC One Vs S4

This review was based on Android 4.4.2.

Hot on the heals of the HTC One I reviewed I got a chance to snag this phone so grabbed it. I was curious to see how much better than the S3 it might be. The main reason I went off the S3 was it was unreliable, no LTE and laggy. The HTC was none of these and an improvement in all ways.

Physicals and specs
Let’s compare size/weight:
S3 70.6 x 136.6 x 8.6 mm 133g 4.8″ screen 720 x 1280
Z10 65.6 x 130 x 9 mm 136g 4.2″ screen 768 x 1280
Q10 66.8 x 119.6 x 10.35 mm 139g 3.1″ screen 720 x 720
One 68.2 x 137.4 x 9.3 mm 143g 4.7″ screen 1080 x 1920
S4 69.8 x 136.6 x 7.9 mm 130g 5″ screen 1080 x 1920 4x1890Mhz

As you can see the S4 is thinner, and lighter than both the S3 and the HTC one. The S4 as always has a super cheap plasticy feel. A definite contrast to the solid all metal feel of the HTC One. The weight difference is noticeable too.

As with each of the other Samsung devices before it the back cover is made of a cheap plastic that just feels like your going to break it when you take it off. Behind the cover you will find the replaceable 2600 Mah (vs 2300 non-replaceable for the HTC one) as well as the micro SIM slot and a micro SD slot. (The HTC one did not have an SD slot). Buttons include volume up and down, a power button on the right side 3/4 of the way down, and then a physical home button on the front of the screen (that you can also use to wake it up) and lastly capacitive buttons for back and home on the front of the screen. The power button location is a welcome improvement I wish more vendors would adopt. On larger screens like this (which Samsung learned with the Note) you end up shuffling the device in your hand just to power it on. There is one downside, it’s possible for the phone to come on in your case when you didn’t want it to. To round out the device is a 3.5mm standard headphones jack and a microUSB port. This port acts as a charging port, USB OTG (USB flash, keyboard and mouse), and HDMI output (more on this later).

The device updated to 4.4.2 KitKat which put its on par with the HTC One. Both devices are one level down from the latest and greatest from the companies with the S5 just hitting the markets.

Processor wise the S4 has 4x1890Mhz vs 4x1700Mhz for the HTC One. So slightly faster.

I was quite surprised by how low the Mp on the HTC One is (and by the way the new HTC One the M8 is no better) at 4.1 Mp vs 13.2 for the S4. Now it’s not all about Mp. Frankly given the pathetic optics on phone cameras (well most anyway) it means the Mp is not what it’s all about, or even relevant …

The S4 does not have an FM radio, but the HTC One. I wonder if the hardware is there and they just haven’t enabled it.

Hardware wise, outside of the camera these devices are VERY similar. So the difference is largely packaging and of course software. HTC’s Sense Vs Samsung’s Touchwiz.

Internal storage is blazingly fast clocking in at over 100MB/s write and over 500MB/s read dwarfing the HTC one. (According to SD Tools. These numbers seem unbelievable.

Notification LED
The S3 had a big bright LED for telling you when messages were waiting. It seemed Samsung had listened. Sadly they seem to have forgotten just as quickly. The S4’s LED is small, blue (by default for messages), recessed and not all that easy to see. By default there is no way to change the color of the LED either. Back to the No LED app to solve this little limitation. Although as of right now I am having difficulty with NoLED. It has always fought with an accessibility issue with Samsungs.
There are also apps to change the color of the LED, but I am surprised Samsung has not learned a thing after so many shipped devices. Wake up Sammy. The HTC by the way was not a whole lot better.

Movie Playback
Movie playback even of a highly encoded video (the same one that did not play well on the HTC) played perfectly using Samsung’s My Video app. So Samsung have properly hardware accelerated it. Oddly I could not get XBMC to play the same video without it being jerky. Even with the same version of XBMC I got working on the HTC one. So a plus one and a minus one. Turning off WIFI and using the latest nightly and playing it off the local storage seemed to help the issues. Then I went into Smart Screen, Smart Stay and turned it off and the problem went away! Grrr. I probably burned over an hour at this alone. And XBMC have now released their much anticipated Android accelerated version Gotham!

Most of the phones I have played with of late once unlocked automatically set the APNs for data to whatever provider of SIM you plug in. This one I had to manually enter the APN. Odd. I was able to unlock the phone simply as usual but a little more pricey. This one cost me $17 Vs $5 for the HTC one. The unlock procedure for all these devices is the same. Power up the phone and find the IMEI in the phone status section (or on the box from the phone). Then buy an unlock code from ebay or wherever and provide them the IMEI. They provide you back an unlock code. Plug in a SIM from a cell provider from a company other than the company the phone is locked to and it will come up and ask for the unlock code. Type in the code you got and your permanently unlocked. Sorry to repeat this … Thought some might find it helpful. I find having it unlocked handy when you sell the phone (easier to sell) and you can buy a SIM when your travelling to keep costs down.

Built in Apps
The built in apps are typical Samsung which is not a bad thing. Calendar layout is good. Contacts app is functional. Dialer does search of names (like all Android). Music app is basic (no lyrics, no music selection/recommendation, no music detection) etc. Unlike the HTC, Samsung included a file browser (same one as always) which works just fine. Camera app is not bad included burst mode, auto timer, location tagging etc. S.Memo for taking notes including scribbling. The photo gallery app includes the ability to do facial recognition tagging. As you tag more and more photos the app gets more accurate in picking out people. Sadly as before these tags seem completely frivolous. You can’t search, or sort based on the tagging from what I can see. So what exactly is the point of the tagging? Sure eludes me. Nice way to waste time though 🙂 Thanks Sammy.

Like the HTC there is an app to control your TV it’s called Watch On. You tell it your TV source, tell it your TV etc and you get a program guide for your area and the ability to turn your TV etc on/off. The S4 has an IR (infra red) port.

There is an app called S.Health that is a quiet sleeper on the device. It really is quite full function. You can tell it your caloric intake, weight loss or fitness goals and you can use it to track your progress (and track your weight). The app has a GPS mode for cycling etc as well as a pedometer only mode for fitbit like functionality. It even supports heart rate monitors (Ant+ more below) in both modes. All in all quite well done. The only thing missing is the ability to use it in heart rate only mode. For example working out in a gym. There is the ability to share your workouts anywhere you want but there is no portal for seeing your progress off the device.

Samsung have included a function to a text alert you when the SIM card is changed. For example your phone is lost or stolen. It sends a text message to another phone number you configure with whatever text you tell it to send along with the IMEI number of your phone. Of course that also gives you the phone number of the person who has your phone! You can also go into Samsung Dive and see what the new phone number and location of the phone. There is also an free app you can load called Avast AntiTheft that does all that, sets off a super loud alarm on the phone and also sends the location of the phone.

HDMI Output
Using HDMI also means using a bluetooth mouse and keyboard. The right mouse button works the same as a back button. Handy but not perfect.
The S3 MHL connector works with or without power. Simultaneous USB OTG with HDMI does not.
As always there is no auto rotate with HDMI. Ultimate roation control to the rescue. There’s also no setting for screen always stay on (as usual) Screen timeout to the rescue. All this is pretty standard for HDMI on Android. It is NEVER flawless.

The S2 MHL does not work. As with many devices with buttons on the front of the device there are no soft buttons you could use remotely for home/menu/back.

The home screen does not properly rotate into landscape, the apps button, kind of a key one, is hidden.

As usual HDMI output is a mess.

The apps menuing system is horizontal (vs vertical on the HTC) but does wrap around. Funny how they just have to do things different.

Like the HTC this phone shows up as a media device when plugged into Windows. I wish I could have it show up as a flash drive. Oh well.

Samsung still have their fully functional Samsung Dive portal that allows you to lock, find, ring etc a lost device. HTC have turned this service off.

Samsung a while back enabled Multi window (enable it from Settings, My Device, Display). This allows you to have a split screen with two apps displayed and running at the same time. It can come in handy and is supported on a number of built in apps include Gmail, messages, chrome, internet browser, music gallery you tube, my video and Google maps. It’s more useful on larger screen like the note but it is a nice to have even if you only use it every now and then. Once enabled it can be turned on and off by holding the back button. The screen size of each window can be changed by dragging the edge of the window.

Trying to use a fat capacitive pen did not work well at all. It was sensed fine, but was very hard to move around the screen. Pretty much unusable. A thinner iKross pen actually worked very well. I was surprised how well it worked. Now how much I might use it is another thing. This worked well with the built in S.Memo app, Papyrus as well as Swiftkey in pen mode.

As important as battery life is how quickly a device charges. Using the default charger it would take 3.3 hours from dead. Using a Samsung high current charger from my tablet this number goes down a little to 3 hours. And down to 2.1 hours using a BlackBerry quick charger from my Q10/Z10. I had trouble getting my portable Blackberry battery pack to work. it kept cutting out and stopped charging.

A while back a technology for communicating with lower power sensors like heart rate monitors was brought to the market. Garmin has been using them for years. They were called BlueAnt originally and then became known as Ant+. I was looking through the list of apps installed on the S4 by default and low and behold what do I see but Ant. So I grab my Garmin Ant heart rate monitor and sure enough it work. Unlike bluetooth you don’t need to pair it. You simply put the monitor on (so it’s transmitting) and then start up an app that supports it. I found RunGPS and S.Health (mentioned above) both support Ant and worked perfect. To give you an idea of power consumption my Bluetooth heart rate monitor has a rechargeable battery in it and it lasts hours. My Ant Garmin heart rate monitor has a coin lithium battery in it and it lasts months. I am a bit surprised at how little mention of Ant support there is in the S4 documentation. But happy it’s there to play with!
Update: I recently discovered by accident I can have my S4 and my Garmin Foretrex 401 connected to the same Garmin Ant+ Heart Rate monitor at the same time. Allowing one sensor to feed two devices! Sweet!

Network speed (on Fido/Rogers)
Using’s app I was able to record the fastest network speed I have ever seen on any device on the S4. I got 93.8 Mb/s down and 30.92 up. Compare this with 61.58/16.76 for the HTC one, and 66.95/30.78 on the Q10. Wow.

I had this overall feel that the S4 was noticeably faster on the network than the HTC One. So I ran a little informal test. I ran Speedtest in 7 different location. Rail stations. These locations have notoriously bad signals and are quite busy. A bad combination. Union station in Toronto is terrible on a number of devices. I was curious to see the result. In the end I was shocked. Now this is by no way scientific. If only one result came out of it I would consider it inconclusive. But the numbers and the magnitude of the difference was truly shocking. In the 7 locations, comparing both upload and download speeds, in only 2 places was the HTC One faster. All others the S4 was faster. And not by a little. The max difference was 788% faster on the S4 compared to the HTC One. Even max and average speeds of the test runs shows the S4 noticeably faster. In one of the locations the signal on the HTC One was bouncing between LTE and 4G and totally unstable on either. The S4 in the same location was solid. In another the signal strength was ok but the HTC could barely get any data through while the S4 was proceeding happily. I then did a run with Network signal strength Pro (you need the pro to log) and found the S4 had better signal strength than the HTC One in 112 of 150 data points in the rail corridor. Anyway here is the data.
Obviously your results could be completely different!

Power consumption
The last time I did a detailed power consumption number was on the S2. Power consumption is a challenging thing to address. Active power consumption is so dependent on what your doing it’s a tough one. So I choose to focus exclusively on standby power. I sit the phone doing as little as possible for roughly a day and then compare the amount of power drawn using Battery Graph. By using so much time to gather the data the error in the data is minimized. But it does mean getting this data takes a while.

The HTC One (M7) power consumption numbers were written up in a different post, referenced here for completeness. A note, I had issues getting solid numbers out of the HTC One. So only left Gmail syncing leaving off Facebook/Linkedin/Meetup and Skype. This could account for any difference between the HTC One and the S4.

First off a definition of network speeds/names:
GSM also called Edge or 2G theoretical 220 Kb/s actual around 56-100K
4G/3G also called UTMS theoretical 21 Mb/s actual 3-7 Mb/s from what I have seen/heard
LTE theoretical 75 Mb/s actual 21-55 from what I have heard/seen

In standby mode the radio can have the biggest impact on power consumption so I will focus on that.

LTE has been heavily optimized by Samsung and Qualcom. I was shocked how low this number was in comparison to the S2. The phone comes in at 0.96%/hr Vs 2.2%/hr for the S2 and 0.64%/hr for the HTC one. Wow. what an improvement. That’s 56% less than the S2. Impressive. That translates to 104 hours of standby on LTE Vs 46 on the S2.

One of the things I would often do to preserve power was to dial the network down to 3G/4G (It’s referred to as GSM/HSPA mode). The speed is not horrible and it use to save a fair bit of power. Not on this phone. It actually consumes more power than LTE. I measured 1.2%/hr Vs 1.4%/hr on the S2 and 0.53%/hr on the HTC One. So even though it is actually above LTE on the S4, it’s below the S2’s 3G/4G setting. I didn’t believe this number so I ran it twice and got similar numbers.

This phone as with every other phone I’ve tested on, edge/wifi are the lowest power consumption. Since it’s easy to turn WIFI on using an app like LLama this is a great way to save a lot of power. Edge/Wifi come in at .75%/hr and .69%/hr. With error involved that means this is basically a wash. Edge is so slow no one would use it but switching to WIFI any chance you get can save a lot of power. I was however able to measure an increase in power consumption to .75%/hr when using dual band 5GHZ Vs single band 2.5GHZ so an increase of 8.7%. So running on 2.5GHZ single channel WIFI can save you 29% in power consumption when compared to LTE. This stretches battery life up to a respectable 146 or an additional 42 hours of battery life when compared to LTE. The S2 by the way came in at 0.86%/hr so the S4 is 19% lower in power consumption on WIFI compared to the S2. The HTC One came in at 0.75%/hr on edge and 0.29%/hr on WIFI.

So this one is a complete sweep, across the board the S4 is a whole lot better on the battery than the S2. A welcome improvement!

There’s another great way to have a huge impact on power consumption. Turn data off. Turning data off not only saves power on the radio by removing data it removes the ability for apps and Android itself to talk back to the mother ship. No data, nothing to do. With data off power drops to a measly 0.37%/hr or a whopping 266 hours of battery life. The HTC One comes in at 0.39%/hr. The new HTC One (M8) has an extreme power save mode. Guess what it does … turns data off. 🙂 There are apps like Battery Saver that actively turn data off when the screen is off. Again to save precious battery life! Or Juice defender for even more control.

Onscreen keyboard
I have to say I find myself making a whole lot more errors on the Samsung onscreen keyboard as compared to the HTC one. And I loved the way on the second attempt the HTC one would stop trying to correct you. The Samsung just goes on and on thinking it knows better. Grr. I really don’t like onscreen keyboards.

Sharing DLNA/Miracast/Chromcast
This device like most modern phones supports Miracast and DLNA file sharing. In DLNA mode I used it with a cheap miracast/dlna adapter off ebay. It worked fine but was a little laggy. Unusable for movies. Casual web browsing was fine but again a lag. Using it with a mouse is a challenge. As with HDMI the same old issues are there. The screen times out and goes off, and the homescreen does not rotate so your looking at a sliver on your nice display. Both fixable with apps but irritating none the less. Of course as of right now there is no way to use a Chromecast with Android. There is a Beta of Chrome browser for Android that is Chromecast enabled but it isn’t generally released yet. The existing Android Chrom browser does not support plug ins and Chrome requires a plugin to support Chromecast.

DLNA worked a lot better, most mostly because it’s a mature technology where the receiver is the one doing all the work. The phone need only stream the content.

On the HTC One and the Q10 (as well as many other) there were three options for tethering. USB, Bluetooth and Hotspot (WIFI). Hotspot takes the most power. Oddly Samsung have quietly removed Bluetooth tethering which takes a whole lot less power than Hotspot. I checked on a friends Rogers S4 as well as a Note 2 on Rogers and on all these devices Samsung have removed the Bluetooth option. To give you an idea of how bad wifi hotspot is for power consumption, I measure a whopping 10.2%/hr or a total battery life of only 9.8 hours from full to 0% dead. So I am VERY disappointed at Samsung for removing bluetooth tethering. Grrr.

Speeding up the S4
Given the weight of the Samsung load I find myself looking for ways to speed up the S4. Now should one have to do this? First of all I turned off all of the Settings, My Device, Smart Screen settings. This got in the way of movie playback and just seems a waste of CPU. Second up you can dial down the visual effects to make the device more snappy. To do this you need to enable hidden developer options and then dial down animations. Personally I turn them off. I want my phone zippy. Fluff optional. Next up you have a number of options for getting rid of bloatware. First off some of them can be uninstalled. Samsung have made this easy. From the apps menu push and hold then drag the icon onto uninstall. If uninstall does not show up it means it can’t be removed. In that case your second option is to disable the app. Samsung have done a nice job to make this easy. You can even disable the built in Google Play Music/Books/Games/Movies. With all this done I noticed a lovely improvement in the snappiness of the device. Hopefully it will also improve reliability!

HTC One Vs S4
Hot on the heals of the HTC One the comparison with the S4 is an obvious one. The hardware is VERY similar. Samsung adds the better camera, Ant+ support. HTC’s screen is better especially in direct sunlight. The S4 is better at using with a pen. XBMC playback is a wash not perfect on either. The HTC One is a smoother/faster experience (more of a feel than anything else) and more reliable (I’ve had to reboot the S4 a couple times to get some things back working). Physical design nod goes to HTC (but that’s a personal choice). I do prefer the flat back of the S4 for using it on a desk/table. The battery on the HTC is Li Polymer Vs Li Ion on the S4. Bluetooth tethering has been removed on the S4 but still there on the HTC One (something I use with my tablet). I love the removable battery and Sd card on the S4. They are nice options to have. HDMI output is equally flawed. The radio/antenna/data speeds for the S4 (at least where I use my device) were all significantly better. So all in all it’s a wash. Just depends what’s important to you. I have to say if I was going to keep the S4, and it’s a good device, I’d be very tempted to load the Google Play S4 Rom and see if removing all the Samsung customizations speeds up the device and improved stability.

There is one other consideration both positive and negative. Samsung have released a new Samsung smart watch. A new iteration of the Samsung Gear called a Neo. This unfortunately only works with Samsung devices, although there are reports of getting it to work on the HTC One as well.


May 5, 2014 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews

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