Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

Samsung Galaxy S4

Looking at just the specs, the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like a good phone. That’s why we got one!

But there are a few things you need to know that may impact your decision. These problems lead me to not recommend this phone.

First, the Android Lollipop version that Samsung produces is a much modified version of the basic Android operating system. Nothing useful or interesting is provided, but the “miscellaneous” storage, which for most normal Android Lollipop phone takes up about 300 – 400 megabytes of space, takes up several gigabytes of space, in order to have these features. So when you compare the storage capacity across different phones, subtract several gigabytes from the Samsung Galaxy S4’s specifications, because you can’t use that storage space and there is no way to fix that.

The features you get are elusive. The rather cool right swipe to the google page is not available to you as per normal. The list of applications installed will have two parts, each alphabetical, so you have to look in two places to find installed apps. I can’t see any useful features that have been added.

Second, the phone might be broken. Obviously this may vary from user to user. The first phone we got was broken. Verizon, the carrier we were using, had a new Samsung Galaxy S4 sent to us. Except it was actually a reconditioned used phone. It was broken. So Verizon sent another new one. This one was also a used, reconditioned phone. And it was broken.

Asking Verizon to allow us to switch to a different phone cost us about 10 hours of time dealing with technical support and led us nowhere, since Verizon does not actually back up their retail arrangements. Samsung was very unhelpful, and even rude, with their technical support. This resulted in us being stuck with a model phone with less than specified storage space, and what may end up being a string of broken used reconditioned phones that will work for a few days and then break, unless we get lucky and get one that is not borked out of the box.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 allows you to buy an SD storage card and install that. This is not a good solution to the lack of storage problem, as many apps can’t really make use of the SD card. Many apps will allow you to move data to the card, but in some cases, this causes the app to not work properly, and the data moved to the SD card is minimal. The only real use of the SD card is to have your camera app(s) put their pictures there. Also, you may be able to convince your phone to move the download folder there.

Of course, if you select the Samsung Galaxy S4 and have the same problems we’ve had with the brokenness of it all, then you will have to reconfigure all this stuff to use the SD card every time you get a new iteration of Broken Phone.

The technical problems with the phones have included a sim card holder that does not work (so the sim card is not recognized), a wireless/bluetooth antenna that does not work (if you check around on the Internet you’ll find this to be a very common problem with the Samsung Galaxy S4), or the 4g not working (for unknown reasons).

So, in short, you can buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 for several hundred dollars. Or you can hold a sharpened metal rod over a flame until it becomes white hot and drive it into your eyeball. Same effect, the second option is cheaper.

I don’t recommend the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Many people have had great experiences with other Samsung smart phones. And some of those phones look great. However, you need to know that if something does go wrong with one of those phones, and you have to deal with Samsung technical support, they will treat you like dirt. That would keep me away from Samsung products in general. Having said that, maybe some of the other companies are just as bad. Feel free to relate your own experiences along these lines in the comments section below.

Comments

  1. #1 Brainstorms
    October 24, 2015

    Sounds as though you should also “not recommend” Samsung as a phone manufacturer, and “not recommend” Verizon as a service (term used loosely) provider.

    My wife & I have Samsung Galaxy S3’s and T-Mobile. But not for long… I, too, have tired of Samsung and its bloat. (But I’m okay with T-Mobile, and to be fair, the S3 hardware is pretty nice.) So after delaying on deciding to upgrade the phone, we have made our choice. Bye-bye, Samsung…

    Being shipped to us at present are new Google Nexus 5X and 6P phones. Which will be used with a new service provider. A Mobile Virtual Network Operator service plan, AKA Google’s “Project Fi”.

    No reconditioned phones, no bloatware, no stolen gigabytes, no dependencies on a single service provider, and no adulterated Android.

    We’ll see if I can recommend it… I’ve got a lot of friends eager to have me play guinea pig on this new MVNO concept (and its significantly reduced costs).

  2. #2 brnpttmn
    st paul
    October 24, 2015

    Get a Nexus or Moto on a contract-free GSM network. The only way to Android.

  3. #3 Art
    October 24, 2015

    A “sharpened metal rod” you say … wimp. Real men do not fear your “sharpened metal rod”. Real men prefer the dull, rusty metal rod that is pounded in with hammer. And “white-hot”? Ha … I laugh at white-hot rod. Third-degree burns do not hurt. Dull-red is slower … much more … stimulating.

  4. #4 Prufrocks
    October 25, 2015

    They’re all iPhones. And the good thing is, all these different iPhones –– in general –– keep forcing each other up a continuing trend towards improvement (with the expected duds).

    And my Apple stock keeps going up (even as I use an old Samsung clam-shell).

  5. #5 Chris O'Neill
    October 25, 2015

    a new Samsung Galaxy S4 sent to us. Except it was actually a reconditioned used phone.

    I don’t know about anyone else but this is not the sort of “new” phone that I would pay for. I bought a second-hand phone fairly cheap once but I wouldn’t bother again.

  6. #6 MarkR
    October 25, 2015

    Sounds like my experience.

    Beatiful screen, decent camera, sleek to hold but after updating to Android L the volume went very low, GPS no longer worked and the clock crashed if you ever tried to set an alarm. Chrome was slow and also regularly crashed while Samsung rammed the phone full of crapware.

    Finally swapped to the new Moto G3. It’s quite big (but not too big) and the screen and camera are a step down to “just fine”, but everything else is much better. And it all works great, unlike the piece of trash that was my S4 experience.

  7. #7 dean
    October 25, 2015

    The 5.0 release of android was a disaster for a lot of people, NJ ot just the S4 and Verizon. Getting the 5.1 release fixes a bunch of stuff.
    I loon forward to hearing from Brainstorms about the experience with project fi, and the new nexus phones – especially the big one. I have a friend on fi with the previous Nexus 6 and she’s had good experience with it.

  8. #8 Brainstorms
    October 25, 2015

    Dean, I’ll post my experiences with Google Fi here. Should get the phones in 2-3 weeks.

  9. #9 Michael Schuster
    New Jersey, USA
    October 26, 2015

    S-FOUR? It’s strange that any carrier should be still be selling such an old model from new stock. The S4 is discontinued; heck, Verizon just dumped several hundred S5’s (FIVE) on my employer for free, just to get rid of unsold stock, and resellers are shipping unsold AT&T factory-unlocked S5’s for well under $400.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2015

    Michael, you are correct, as far as I know; Samsung is no longer making this, but Verizon is still selling it. Not sure how your employer gets all those free phones, but sounds good. As long as they are not S4/s

  11. #11 al kimeea
    November 5, 2015

    I dunno. Mrs K recently acquired an S4 and it works just fine. The phones are still available up here in Canukistan, although they don’t seem to be refurbs. As I remember, my fellow wage slaves, who might be described as phone-aholics, were very pleased with their S4s when they were the latest thing and happily moved on to the S5 as soon as it emerged.

    Selling refurbs as new is a bit dodgy, I must say.

  12. #12 al kimeea
    November 5, 2015

    Forgot to mention, miscellaneous storage on the phone is only 384MB. Weird.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    November 5, 2015

    al kimeea, what is the operating system?

    It may be that Samsung adds different system mods to Canadian phones.

  14. […] Samsung Galaxy S4 Review – Greg Laden's Blog http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/Samsung Galaxy S4. Looking at just the specs, the Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like a good phone. That's why we got one! But there are a few things you need to know that may impact your decision. These problems lead me to … […]

  15. #15 Brainstorms
    November 21, 2015

    Dean, my wife got her 5X on Halloween, I got my 6P on Veteran’s Day.

    Since our old plan was a family plan with T-Mobile, her phone number (on my account with T-Mo) wouldn’t transfer. Her data use, on the other hand, transferred immediately to her 5X.

    We called Google’s help line, which they picked up — we got a person, not a machine or a queue. He was helpful, and suggested we’d need to contact T-Mo to get the number released.
    After the call, we decided that doing that risked confusion and complications with T-Mo, so rather than hack at releasing the numbers in two stages, we’d wait for my 6P and do them both at the same time.

    That turned out to be the right approach… Only neither of us realized that it would take another 1-1/2 weeks for the second phone! (She didn’t complain. Much.)

    When I got the 6P, my phone number transferred in about 2 minutes. After setting up my phone, we re-tried her number, and it also transferred in less than 2 minutes.

    Set-up was about as painless as one could expect. Turn on the old & new phone, and connect both to the local wifi. There’s an app to run on the old phone (“Google Settings”) which you use to configure data transfer to a “nearby device”. You exchange (manually) a security code, and then things are automatically transfered old-to-new.

    It transfers data, apps, and settings; you already have many things set in your Google Account, and those are immediately applied, transparently. The only things that don’t transfer are data/settings for Samsung and/or T-Mobile apps. Curiously, their apps transferred, but were easily removed after.

    Nexus: NO CRAPWARE. ’nuff said.

    We did need to move image files and a fraction of our contact database from the old phones to the new. That gave us both a good excuse to review/correct/delete both sets of data, so not a bad thing, overall.

    The phones themselves are very nice. The 5X is 5″, made by LG; the 6P is 6″, made by Huawei. The share the same camera; the 6P has a faster CPU, a denser screen, more memory, but I think most people would make a choice based on screen size. For most real-world use/cares, that’s the defining difference — we don’t notice a matter of a few milliseconds of response or one phone not being able to store 17,832 MP3s and videos while other can. Etc.

    Both phones have a nice technology upgrade: They both use USB-C, rather than the now-going-obsolete micro-USB. People who complain that, “Wah! I’ll have to buy new chargers and cables!” are stupid. USB-C is what everyone wants. It has no insertion orientation, it’s physically more robust, it can carry more power, and it can carry both USB-3 and HDMI video signals. I’d been using a Google Pixel 2015, which has two USB-C ports, and so I was already a convert. (It was my luck that I wanted USB-C phones, and Google came through with the new Google Fi-enabled Nexus phones. I got both.)

    And the batteries go several days between needing re-charge. They have a battery-saver mode that (can) kick in at 15%, but even then it takes a day of light use to run that down, so I can still get home to charge it. (Still, I keep an extra charger/cable at work. Just in case.)

    Yes, the battery is integral, not removeable. Yes, there’s no ability to insert an SD chip. No, it doesn’t make much of a difference. I had 3 batteries for my Galaxy S3, which I’ve had for three years. Guess what? It ended regular service for me with the original battery still in it. Which lasts a full day of normal use. And batteries today are better. (And in the 6P, bigger, too.) The 6P comes in 32, 64, or 128 GB of RAM. Still need to add an SD chip? No, you probably don’t. Yes? No, you don’t: Use your Google Drive and your high-speed (most often free) wireless connection to access it. Plug-in memory chips to extend limited phones of yester-year is obsolete. No more need for SD slots, any more than the need for replaceable batteries. Good riddance!

    Both phones are unlocked, and can function with any carrier’s SIM chip. When you sign up with Google Fi, you get a new “special” SIM chip — one that puts your phone on multiple carriers simultaneously (currently this is T-Mobile and Sprint).

    Google Fi (properly, “Google Project Fi”) has worked marvelously. Both of us had drop-out and re-connect issuse with our (two) home wifi routers (n/g and ac/n) using our Galaxy S3 phones (T-Mo already allows wifi calling, as does Google Fi), but neither of us have had a single issue with the 5X and 6P.

    It also transfers between LTE/3G/H and wifi transparently — we never notice if/when it’s doing so, just as advertised. Which is how it should be. “It just works.”

    The plan is $20/month for unlimted phone/texting, and $0.01/MB/month for data, pay-as-you-go (after pre-paying the first month when you activate). No contract, no fees, no monkey-business. We went from ~$110/month with T-Mo for the two of us down to ~$54. Yes, it cut our phone bill in HALF. With better service. Remarkably better service. (My wife has commented to me a few times, unprompted.)

    Google may not be the first MVNO — Mobile Virtual Network Operator — and it won’t be the last. But they’re doing it right, and setting a good, high bar for their followers. One of their distinctions is that they seamlessly mix wifi into the MVNO equation, not just a mix of cell carriers. And this is not just limited to your home wifi, or your work, or other wifi hotspots that you think you can trust.

    Google is a mapping company. They map wifi hotspots, too. This means that they know where all the “acceptable” open wifi hotspots are located. The Google Fi app on the phones will automatically establish a (secure) VPN connection to Google when they ‘see’ one, and your calls/data will ‘jump’ to stream (at no cost) through this mechanism — as long as it’s in range, and it’s the fastest option.

    This technology/methodology, MVNO, is the future of cellular phone service. When Ma Bell was broken up, they were eventually forced to share the physical phone line system as a public resource, so that competitors (who could never hope to string their own wires) could compete in the market… So, too, now, with cell phone towers. It’s here by co-operative negotiation (Google approached the Big Four — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — and the two smaller ones cut a deal) perhaps, but the principle is the same: The cell towers that exist are like the physical landline wires of yester-year, cannot be practically duplicated (even by the likes of a company as wealthy as Google.. or Apple.. Wait, Apple could), so they must be shared.

    And the result is MVNO’s. And the winners — big winners — are the customers.

    So far so good. 10 days, 0 troubles. Love the phones, love the service. Happy to promote the whole deal. (And yes, I’ve gone from liking Google’s stuff to loving it: How well it works, how well it all plays together, how reliable it is, how smartly engineered it all is. The world’s not perfect, and neither are the corporate players, but I’ll trust Google any day before I’ll consider trusting Apple, Samsung, or the rest of them.)

  16. #16 Brainstorms
    November 21, 2015

    Errata:

    When you sign up with Google Fi, you get a new “special” SIM chip — one that puts your phone on multiple carriers simultaneously (currently this is T-Mobile and Sprint). Google will sell you a Fi-capable Nexus phone at the time you sign up for the service, and give you the option of making 24 monthly payments or putting the entire cost on your CC. If you elect payments, there’s no fee or interest; they divide the cost by 24 and add that to your monthly bill. If you later want to jump ship, you agree to be charged the balance at the point you leave. The phone is yours. Both phones are unlocked, and can function with any carrier’s SIM chip.

  17. #17 dean
    United States
    November 21, 2015

    Brainstorms,
    thanks for the udpate. I have heard plenty of good things about both of the new Nexus phones, so I’m not surprised at your comments. I had a Nexus 7 tablet and loved it. Sounds like it is definitely something to keep in mind.

    I’ve got a Note 4 now, and love the big screen. Samsung takes a lot of crap, deservedly, but I get a lot done with it. The big Nexus sounds appealing. I’ve heard good things about the cameras on the two new Nexus phones as well.
    I’m not surprised Huawei seems to have nailed the 6P. They have a great reputation for making phones with very nice hardware features, but it’s been the “skin” they’ve put on Android that has earned the most complaints. They are trying to make a name here in the States, and this Nexus was their big chance. The rumor is they will introduce a company-branded phone sometime in the first half of next year, sort of a “you’ve seen what we did with the Nexus, now look at this” phone. If that pans out it will be interesting.

    Hope you continue to be happy with the phones. I’m not sure how strong, and wide, T-Mobile and Sprint coverage is here, but if it’s reasonable this is something to consider.

    In the end, I find the fact that this stuff works so well simply amazing. My father was born in 1908, and I remember him telling stories of living in rural Kansas, on a farm in the middle of nowhere, when one of the neighbors got a radio and they heard that for the first time. Things have certainly changed.

  18. #18 Brainstorms
    November 21, 2015

    Dean,
    My buddy has a Nexus 7 tablet, and he loves it, too. Tried to talk me into getting one, but I needed something portable that I could also touch type on (I write a lot), so I got a Pixel ultrabook instead. Love that, too. (I used ‘crouton’ to set it up to co-boot with Ubuntu.) Google makes great stuff. I’m happy to support that.

    My mother got a Galaxy Note 3, and was contemplating moving to the 5 — then I mentioned that I’d been waiting on upgrading from my S3 and was going to take a good, close look at the new Nexus phones when they were announced (which was end of Sept). I have a friend with a Nexus 5, and he likes it.

    Well, glad I waited — I found out about Google Fi at the same time, and I was smack in the middle of the target market for their (still in beta) service. Timing was as perfect as their concept & execution.

    In fact, having told her all about it, and then signing up, she concluded that was good enough for her, so my mother signed up, too. She actually got her 5X before I got my 6P. Now there are three of us. She was previously on a one-phone T-Mo contract that had expired. Still owes money on the Note 3, but she’ll have no trouble Ebaying it away.

    Huawei did nail the 6P. It would do fine in the market without Google Fi, but I really look at the phones as being the necessary vehicle for those who want Google Fi — their 3 phones are the only ones that will work with the service, so I think only those who want the service should be buying them. (But that’s just me…)

    But good luck to Huawei with their next phone. It will be interesting to see if it’s also Fi-capable. It will be interesting to see other manufacturers jump on this and start producing Fi-capable phones to keep up with the growing market.

    We were already T-Mo with decent coverage, so when not on wifi, I figure Sprint will do nicely to fill in the few cracks in coverage here & there. You can surf in to the Project Fi website and inquire; they’ll check your current number against their database and tell you if you have decent enough coverage to qualify. And it’s constantly changing, of course.

    I, too, find the fact that this stuff works so well simply amazing, and that’s from observations of companies that know how and don’t know how to design & execute good products. Google not only hires good engineering talent, but also good management and marketing talent. Their departments apparently know how to communicate well (unlike, say Microsoft), so they turn out a very consistent set of products.

    Knowing and understanding theory is very different from having the ability to produce a technology, which is very different from being able to turn a technology into a working consumer product, which is very different from being able to fund it — and market it effectively. This company has got all the angles well-covered with motivated, clever, inventive talent.

    I’m glad they’re a corporation that’s found that excellence pays better than finding more and better ways to rob & steal under the cloak of cleverly relabeling such efforts.

  19. #19 dean
    United States
    November 22, 2015

    It will be interesting to see other manufacturers jump on this and start producing Fi-capable phones to keep up with the growing market.

    Last year’s Nexus 6 was the first phone released with FI capability. I have heard of some people getting it to work with the Note 5, but I don’t think it is on the “officially recognized” list.

  20. #20 danielvhenny
    http://day-technology.com/
    December 17, 2015

    thanks for the reviews about samsung

  21. #21 Greg Laden's Blog
    January 3, 2016

    […] Android, and not some storage-killing absurdly designed version of the Android operating system like this one. And, the Kindle tablet I’m talking about here is not that. It is an Amazonoid version of the […]

  22. […] Android, and not some storage-killing absurdly designed version of the Android operating system like this one. And, the Kindle tablet I’m talking about here is not that. It is an Amazonoid version of the […]

  23. #23 John Schwam
    Bronx, NY
    February 1, 2016

    Beware of Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 charger scam. About 6 months ago Samsung upgraded the S4 software to recognize the factory supplied charger. They did this to downgrade the charging speed of all non-Samsung chargers and designate them “slow chargers” and designate only the Samsung branded charger as a “fast charger”. Prior to this upgrade all compatible chargers charged at the same rate. Last week a push software upgrade made all Samsung chargers on S4’s over a year old “slow chargers” as well. This forces S4 owners to purchase a new charger with “fast charge” technology for the bargain price $32.95. The only difference between the old chargers and new ones is a firmware/software change. Basically a scam of to force customers to buy a new highly overpriced charger or settle for slow as heck charging. Not a nice thing to do loyal customers. But there is nothing you can do about it. Samsung tech support is no help and dishonest when it comes to this little trick.

  24. #24 Chris O'Neill
    February 1, 2016

    “Last week a push software upgrade made all Samsung chargers on S4’s over a year old “slow chargers” as well.”

    I noticed they just sent a push asking to upgrade to Lollipop and that it would take up an extra 950 MB.

    950 megabytes!!??

    No thanks.

  25. […] you may know, I’m not a big fan of Samsung smart phones. The version of the operating system they put on you…. There is no apparent reason for that, and no apparent fix. So, generally, I would NEVER recommend […]

  26. #26 Chris O'Neill
    September 3, 2016

    The technical problems with the phones have included a sim card holder that does not work (so the sim card is not recognized), a wireless/bluetooth antenna that does not work (if you check around on the Internet you’ll find this to be a very common problem with the Samsung Galaxy S4), or the 4g not working

    I don’t have any of these problems and the miscellaneous files don’t take up several GB either (2.15 GB actually). I can only think that the “new” phones that Verizon supplies are a bit dodgy and you are better off not “upgrading” an S4 to Lollipop.

    you can buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 for several hundred dollars

    If you’re going to stump up several hundred dollars for a “new” phone then it had better be a really new phone. Verizon have ripped you off if you paid that for a refurbished phone. I don’t know about the US but here in Aus there are several types of sources for brand new phones which you can then use with a large choice of network resellers.