Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

December 10, 2013 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a 13 megapixel smartphone that runs on the Android operating system. The Galaxy S4 has a 31mm fixed lens with an aperture of f/2.2, a 5-inch Full HD AMOLED touchscreen which boasts a resolution of 441ppi, a built-in LED flash, Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G/4G connectivity, and Full 1080p HD movies at 30fps with slow- and fast-motion options. The Samsung Galaxy S4 costs around £499 / $599 without a contract and is available in a wide range of colours.

Ease of Use

The Samsung Galaxy S4 measures 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm, which means that it can be easily stored inside a trouser pocket, and weighs a mere 130g without battery and card. It's undoubtedly a large but very slim device that will definitely get you noticed, especially in the attractive white finish of our review sample. Build quality is fine, but not class-leading, and having to remove the plastic cover off the back to insert a microSD card is more than a little disconcerting!

The Galaxy S4 has a fixed lens with a focal length the 35mm equivalent of 31mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.2. There's 13-megapixel effective resolution from the standard sized 1/2.33-inch CMOS sensor. On the back is a very impressive 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel Full HD touchscreen AMOLED display, and the S4 zoom runs the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system.

The plastic back cover aside, with what feels like a higher proportion of metal in the build than plastic, the Galaxy S4's sleek and stylish exterior certainly looks the part. Other than the lens, the only other features on the sparse front of the Galaxy S4 are two slots for the microphones and the LED flash unit, positioned directly below the lens.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Samsung Galaxy S4
Front Front

Located on the top-plate is a thin power button. Hold this down for the first time and the Galaxy S4 stutters into life, taking quite a while to display a series of graphical screens, with the rear screen switches to camera mode a couple of seconds later. The startup time from Standby is thankfully much quicker at just under 2 seconds, roughly what we'd expect from a point-and-shoot camera, although no speed demon.

There's no physical shutter-release button on the Galaxy S4, replaced instead by a soft key on the touchscreen. To focus, simply tap anywhere on the screen and the AF point appears in green along with the customary confirmation 'bleep', then tap the shutter button to take the shot. A full-sized 13 megapixel image is committed to either the built-in memory (16/32/64Mb) or an optional micro-SD card in one to two seconds, which is impressive. You can even take a picture using the power of your own voice, with "capture", "shoot", "smile" and "cheese" commands all available. Voice control can also be used to zoom the lens, fire the flash, set the timer options, and change the shooting mode, amongst other settings.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Samsung Galaxy S4
Camera On Image Displayed

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has an array of beginner and more advanced shooting modes. The subject recognizing Auto setting is point and shoot all the way, the camera getting it mostly right, although - typically - busier scenes can confuse the auto-focus and the shutter will still fire even if the image is noticeably soft, so you can occasionally come away with blurred results. There's also a range of 11 different clever scene modes, including the useful HDR and Panorama modes, and 13 creative filters which are accessed by pressing the arrow icon at the bottom of the touchscreen, useful for previewing and adding a not-too-cliched effect.

In terms of photographic features, the default camera app also allows you to choose the ISO speed (100-800), metering (centre-weighted, matrix and spot), white balance, exposure compensation, turn burst shot, face detection and anti-shake on or off, set the photo and video sizes, configure the self-timer, and set the flash to on, off or auto.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Samsung Galaxy S4
Mode Menu Effects Menu

Pressing the Home button fires up the Galaxy S4's default screen, which displays the time and date, allows you to perform a Google Search, includes icons for the Paper Artist, Instagram, Photo Wizard, Video Editor, Camera, and Gallery apps, plus Dropbox, Play Store and a further Apps icon which accesses all the default apps and the Widgets screen.

Having the ability to connect to a wi-fi network or cellular data if using a SIM card, then edit your images and video with either the Samsung apps, Instagram or any one of hundreds of other Android apps, and then upload them to your favourite online network quickly becomes compulsive and makes the traditional process of downloading to a computer seem laborious and old-fashioned.

With the 5-inch screen swallowing up the entire backplate of the Samsung Galaxy S4, apart from the Home button, there are very few other physical controls apart from a headphone port and a volume control button. Note that the battery can be removed, but charging is still done in-camera.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 13 megapixel SuperFine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 produced images of good quality during the review period. Noise is the main issue, already becoming obvious at the relatively slow setting of ISO 200, and then getting progressively worse at the still modest settings of ISO 400 and 800.

Chromatic aberrations were well controlled, with limited purple fringing effects appearing in high contrast situations. The 13 megapixel images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpen setting and require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera sharpening level. Macro performance is fine, allowing you to focus as close as 10cms away from the subject.

The built-in flash worked well indoors, with no red-eye and good overall exposure. The anti-shake system works well when hand-holding the Galaxy S4 in low-light conditions, but the maximum shutter speed doesn't allow the camera to capture enough light for most after-dark situations. The HDR and Panorama modes are the best of the so-called Smart scene modes.


There are 4 ISO settings available on the Samsung Galaxy S4. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

iso100.jpg iso200.jpg

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

iso400.jpg iso800.jpg

Focal Range

The Samsung Galaxy S4's fixed lens provides a focal length of 31mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.




Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can't change the in-camera sharpening level.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

sharpen1.jpg sharpen1a.jpg
sharpen2.jpg sharpen2a.jpg

Chromatic Aberrations

The Samsung Galaxy S4 handled chromatic aberrations very well during the review, with limited purple fringing mainly present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.

Chromatic Aberrations (100% Crop)



The Samsung Galaxy S4 allows you to focus on a subject that is 10cms away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.


Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg


The flash settings on the Samsung Galaxy S4 are Off, On and Auto. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off (31mm)

Flash On (31mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. Both the Fill-in and Red-Eye Reduction modes didn't cause any amount of red-eye.


On (100% Crop)

flash_on.jpg flash_on1.jpg


The Samsung Galaxy S4's doesn't have a very long maximum shutter speed and you can't set it manually anyway, which is not great news if you're seriously interested in night photography.


Night (100% Crop)

night1.jpg night1a.jpg

Digital Image Stabilisation

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a digital anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, we took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. With anti-shake turned on, the images are noticeably sharper than with anti-shake turned off.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti Shake On (100% Crop)

1/17th sec / 31mm antishake1.jpg antishake1a.jpg

Rich Tone (HDR)

The High Dynamic Range scene mode captures more contrast than a single exposure can handle by combining multiple exposures into one image.



hdr_off.jpg hdr_on.jpg


The Samsung Galaxy S4 allows you to take panoramic images very easily, by 'sweeping' with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed. The camera automatically does all the processing and stitching. The main catch is that the resulting image is of fairly low resolution.


Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Samsung Galaxy S4 camera, which were all taken using the 13 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 1920x1080 at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 20 second movie is 41.2Mb in size.

Product Images

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Turned On

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Apps Screen

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Camera

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Camera

Samsung Galaxy S4

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Image Displayed

Samsung Galaxy S4

Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Settings

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Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Mode Menu

Samsung Galaxy S4

Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Camera Menu


Samsung Galaxy S4

Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Video Menu

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Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Settings Menu

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Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Front-facing Camera

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Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S4 / Effects Menu


The Samsung Galaxy S4 is one of the most popular Android smartphones on the market, and its camera is a solid, if unspectacular, performer that's good enough for most uses that its owners will put it to.

By compact camera standards, the Samsung Galaxy S4's image quality isn't that great, suffering from obvious noise at relatively slow ISO speeds, but it is a marked improvement on most smartphones. It is perfectly fine for cropping and resizing for posting on Facebook or Instagram, or for making regular-sized prints. The digital image stabilisation system kind of works by forcing the shutter speed to 1/30th second, but it does so by choosing a higher ISO with an accompanying increase in noise artifacts, so the Samsung Galaxy S4 is best suited to taking photos in good lighting conditions.

So while the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn't good enough to choose this smartphone over another rival device, it is more than adequate for daily use, especially in good light where the quality begins to rival a compact camera.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4
Value for money 3.5

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Samsung Galaxy S4.


The HTC One is a new flagship smartphone with some intriguing photography features up its proverbial sleeve. The HTC One has a 4 megapixel sensor, 28mm fixed lens with fast f/2.0 aperture, 1080p video, sweep panoramas, a range of picture effects and 8fps burst shooting. Read our HTC One review to find out if it's the best smartphone for photographers...

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a new 41-megapixel smartphone - yes, you read that right, 41 megapixels. The Lumia 1020 also offers built-in optical image stabilisation, a 3x loss-less zoom for stills and 6x for movies, a 26mm fixed lens with fast f/2.2 aperture, and 1080p video at 30fps with stereo sound. Read our Nokia Lumia 1020 review to find out if it can replace a compact camera.

Nokia Lumia 920

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the first ever smartphone to feature built-in optical image stabilisation. The Lumia 920 also has an 8.7 megapixel sensor, 26mm fixed lens with fast f/2.0 aperture and 1080p video. Read our Nokia Lumia 920 review to find out if it can replace a compact camera, even in low-light...

Samsung Galaxy Camera

It's not very often that something entirely new enters the camera market, but the Samsung Galaxy Camera certainly fits that bill. Half travel-zoom camera, half smartphone, with a dash of the Android operating system and a pinch of wi-fi and 3G/4G connectivity, the Galaxy Camera is a very brave attempt to breathe new life into the declining compact camera business. Read our detailed Samsung Galaxy Camera review, complete with 90 full-size sample images, to find out if it's a success or not...

Samsung Galaxy NX

The Samsung Galaxy NX is the world's first interchangeable lens camera to run on the Android operating system and offer 3G/4G connectivity. The innovative Galaxy NX also features a 20.3 megapixel APS-C sensor, hybrid AF system, 4.8-inch touchscreen LCD, 8.6fps continuous shooting, Wi-fi and NFC connectivity, full 1080p video, and an ISO range 100-25,600. Read our Samsung Galaxy NX review to find out if it's the future of cameras...

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. Is it a camera? Is it a phone? No, the Galaxy S4 Zoom is Samsung's attempt to bring both together in one device - but have they succeeded? Read our Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review to find out...

Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z is a brand new smartphone that offers a lot of technologies from Sony's CyberShot camera range. The Xperia Z has a 13 megapixel sensor, 28mm fixed lens with fast f/2.2 aperture, 1080p video, sweep panoramas, a range of picture effects and 10fps burst shooting. Read our Sony Xperia Z review to find out if it really can replace a compact camera...

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S4 from around the web. »

It's crazy to think that in just a few months the Galaxy S4 has started to look a little long in the tooth, but with so much competition it's true. While it hasn't quite been the runaway success Samsung hoped it would be it is still one of the best-selling flagship phones on the market and a worth successor to the mighty Galaxy S3. Read more at
Read the full review » »

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the most hotly anticipated smartphone ever from the Korean brand, and with a glut of top end features, it's the most powerful and desirable device Samsung has created yet.
Read the full review » »

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the successor to the hugely successful Galaxy S3 and as such the latest model in the Korean manufacturer's Galaxy S line of flagship smartphones. The Galaxy S3 did well in our review from October 2012 and was one of the first Android-powered smartphones that could establish itself as a valid rival to Apple's iPhone both in terms of sales figures and consumer appeal.
Read the full review » »

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the most powerful phone we've ever tested and its bold, Full HD screen is the best in the business. Its plastic construction is a drawback and some of you might find it complicated to use, but there's no question that it's a seriously good phone.
Read the full review »


Network/Bearer and Wireless Connectivity

Infra LTE 4G
2G EDGE / GPRS (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900MHz)
4G LTE Cat 3 (800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600MHz) * Dependent on market
3G HSPA+ (850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100MHz)
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Direct Yes
Bluetooth Profiles BT 4.0 (PBAP, A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP, OPP, SAP, HID, PAN, DI, MAP)
Connectivity Support DLNA, MHL 2.0




Technology FHD sAMOLED
Colour Depth 16M
Size 5"
Resolution 1920 x 1080


CPU Type Quad
CPU Speed 1.9GHz


16GB (User memory approximately 9GB)**


Camera Resolution(Rear) CMOS, 13MP
Camera Resolution(Front) CMOS, 2MP
Flash Power LED (1EA)
Auto Focus Yes


Accelerometer, Geomagnetic, Gyro, RGB light, Barometer, Proximity, Gesture, Temperature & Humid

Physical Specification

Dimension (HxWxD) 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm
Weight 130g


White Frost / Black Mist


Earjack 3.5mm
External Memory Slot MicroSD Slot (up to 64GB)***
SIM Support Micro SIM (3FF)
Connector Micro USB (5V, 2A)


Standard Battery 2600mAh
Internet Usage Time(3G) Up to 8 Hrs
Internet Usage Time(LTE) Up to 8 Hrs
Internet Usage Time(WI-FI) Up to 10 Hrs
Video Playback Time Up to 11 Hrs
Audio Playback Time Up to 62 Hrs
Talk Time(W-CDMA) Up to 17 Hrs
Standby Time(W-CDMA) Up to 370 Hrs
Standby Time(LTE) Up to 320 Hrs



Services and Applications

Samsung Apps Yes
Music Hub Yes
Readers Hub Yes
Game Hub Yes
ChatON, mFluent IM ChatON
ActiveSync Yes

Audio and Video

Video Format MPEG4, H.263, H.264, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7 / 8, Sorenson Spark, HEVC
Video Resolution Full HD (1080p) Video Playback
Video Frame rate 30fps
Audio Format MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB / WB, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X (Bluetooth)

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