With a 1.9 GHz quad-core chip humming under the hood, it’s no surprise that the performance of the GSIV is superb. Both apps and the interface run smoothly, generally speaking, though we did find that TouchWiz would experience occasional dips in frame rate when performing tasks like unlocking the screen with the “water” animation enabled.
That aside, the GSIV’s performance was flawless as we put it through its paces both online and locally with a handful of games and apps. For the sake of providing hard numbers and putting the phone’s power into perspective, we ran the Quadrant benchmark five times. The GSIV produced an average of a whopping 12405.2 marks. For the sake of comparison, that’s marginally higher than the HTC One, and noticeably better than the LG Optimus G Pro and the Sony Xperia Z.
This was clearly where Samsung attempted to differentiate its phone from the competition, given how hardware specs are relatively similar across the board with flagship smartphones. Some of Samsung’s additions are useful, some aren’t, and some don’t even work properly. But regardless of what you think of the quality of the software, there’s no denying that there’s simply too much of it, as the phone’s 16 GB storage capacity is already knocked down to about 9.5 GB straight out of the box (an issue that Samsung is looking to fix).
Much of what Samsung has included on the GSIV are enhancements and tweaks to the TouchWiz UI. There are so many, in fact, that the pull-down notification shade now has a button in the upper right-hand corner that users have to tap to see all of the different toggles, as only five can be displayed at a time.
Samsung has made a concerted effort to promote many of these features, including Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, Air View, and Air Gesture. Smart Stay, which keeps the display on as long as you’re looking at it, is easily the most effective of the bunch.
Smart Scroll and Air Gesture, meanwhile, are hit or miss; only some of the air gestures (like waving my hand over the screen to move through home screens while placing an app) seemed to work, while Smart Scroll comes in two different forms, with one more effective than the other.
One type is the much-hyped eye-tracking software, which automatically scrolls a page down when the phone has detected that your eyes have reached the bottom of a page. Needless to say, this is virtually non-functional and when the page actually does start scrolling, it’s hard to get it to stop. The other version of Smart Scroll, which scrolls when the phone is tilted either up or down, works much more reliably (though still not flawlessly) and we actually found ourselves using it a decent amount. But we’re just lazy; really, if you’re holding the phone, how hard is it to just use your thumb to scroll at that point?
Air View, unfortunately, did not seem to work for us at all, which was especially surprising given that it seemed to work relatively well when we first saw the phone at its launch. It’s supposed to give users a preview of certain elements (e.g. the contents of an email, a larger image of a photo from the gallery, etc.) when they hover their fingers over them — much like with the S Pen on the Galaxy Notes — but it never seemed to kick in.
One other new addition to TouchWiz is the multi-window interface, which allows users to have two apps open at once and freely adjust how much of the display each window takes up. Once you learn how to use it, it works well and is one of the few legitimately convenient and useful software additions.
The preloaded apps are, unfortunately, pretty useless across the board. Aside from Google’s suite of apps (and the apps from whatever carrier provided your phone), there are a number of Samsung offerings like S Health (a fitness app that serves as a pedometer, tracks progress towards goals, etc.), S Memo (which some will recognize from the Galaxy Note series), S Translator, and S Voice (a Siri equivalent). There are also the Samsung Apps and Samsung Hub storefronts, the difference between which we could hardly discern, and Samsung Link. And finally, there are a few other third party apps that come on the device, like ChatON, Flipboard, TripAdvisor, and more, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The fact is, while some of the apps sound intriguing, none of them are selling points and chances are good that most users won’t use them more than one or two times just to see what they’re all about. S Translator does its job as well as an online translator — an issue we noticed when we first used the GSIV back at its launch party — and S Memo is not nearly as helpful without the use of the S Pen; who wants to take notes by mashing an inaccurate virtual keyboard? S Health could be useful, but the fact is that there are much better options, be they apps or sport watches/fitness bands, for this sort of thing. S Voice is probably the most helpful of the apps, but admittedly we don’t use it all that often, either.
The quality of the 13-megapixel camera with which the GSIV is equipped is perhaps a little undersold, since Samsung spends so much time plugging its various shooting modes. To be honest, the shooting modes will probably go unnoticed by most users, since they’re mostly on the gimmicky side. For example, the Eraser mode seen in the commercials, which allows users to remove certain aspects from pictures, isn’t as handy as people are led to believe; the camera decides which elements can or can’t be removed. Equally unimpressive is the ability to shoot pictures (and video) with both the rear-facing and front-facing cameras simultaneously. We can think of very few situations in which that’s necessary or even remotely useful.
As for the pictures themselves, though they are occasionally marred by camera shake when pressing the shutter button (better image stabilization would have been welcome here), they generally come out very sharp with the right level of exposure. Colors look good but can be sometimes oversaturated, and pictures tend to lean towards the cool side of the spectrum (but otherwise the white balance is fine).
The low-light shooting of the GSIV camera is fine, but certainly not its strongest point. Compared to the likes of the Nokia Lumia 920, there’s a little more noise in low-light photos, but it’s definitely still serviceable.
When we first started using the GSIV, there was some apprehension about the battery life of the device; despite the fact that its capacity had been increased from the GSIII to 2600 mAh, there was a lot of talk about all of the phone’s sensors and software being a real drain on the battery.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that those rumblings were somewhat exaggerated. Sure, there’s a noticeably greater longevity to be experienced if users shut everything off, but even with a healthy set of options enabled, we found that the GSIV still has excellent battery life. Aside from our usual suite of battery-draining measures like maximum brightness, email push, location services, NFC, etc., we also kept a number of Samsung’s proprietary software enabled, including Smart Stay, Smart, Scroll, Air View, and Air Gestures.
There was a pretty heavy amount of usage going on as well, including over 2 hours of streaming music, about a half hour of streaming video, 20 minutes of gaming, and a small dose of web browsing and photos shot. And yet, with all of these factors combined, we still managed to get two and a half days out of a single charge. For a top of the line smartphone with a massive, bright display and a wealth of software options that most users would assume leech the longevity, the GSIV really surprised and impressed on the battery life front.