Phone Review Blog

Welcome to Phone Review Blog! This blog will cover the Phone, gadgets, events and cool toys that have affected me in some way. I will also give recommendations on the products that I have actually used.
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Mayday is near-instant personal customer service. Pull down the shortcut menu, tap the Mayday button, then tap Connect. And within 15 seconds — at least that’s Amazon’s goal — a customer service representative appears on your screen. The rep can’t see you, but can see whatever your HDX is currently displaying and apparently none of your actual account information is visible to them.

The rep can both draw on your screen or remotely control your interface, but you can take back control at any point simply by using the tablet. The window with the rep can moved around the screen, their voice can be muted, and the call can be ended by tapping End.

In my experience, the service reps were helpful, polite, and knowledgeable. Not only about the Kindle Fire and its software intricacies, but they also had knowledge pertaining to how the Mayday service works as well. They answered any question I had without missing a beat.

Of course I conducted my testing before the release of the new Kindle Fires. It’s a pretty cool feature, but we’ll have to see how well that 15-second response time holds up when thousands are tapping the button daily.

It’s incredibly ambitious. Not only in concept, but I would imagine logistically speaking as well. It also takes the real-time customer service rep one step further by making it nearly instant and self-contained on the product you’re troubleshooting. Something that immediate and intimate likely has potential way beyond its current use.

I’ll be monitoring Mayday once it launches, so check back here in a few weeks to see how it holds up under heavy load.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 camera is a big upgrade over other sensors it has put into phones, and with a 13MP sensor you can see why. It is capable of taking some stunning photos and comes with a decent auto mode, which enables you to get really great shots no matter what the framing.

This means you can be taking a picture of a landscape one minute, then trying to get an extreme close up of a daffodil the next, and the Galaxy S4 camera will handle both with aplomb. There are also a number of clever modes available on the handset that take their UI cues from the Samsung Galaxy Camera, meaning that a quick tap of the ‘Mode’ button below the on screen shutter will give you a scrollable wheel of options to choose from.

These options include Drama Shot, Eraser mode and Beauty Shot, as well as cueing up the likes of HDR mode to improve the quality and light levels of your snaps. For the most part they have a good role to play in your photography, and we’re glad Samsung hasn’t over-burdened the user with too many modes.

There are some issues with this method however, and we’re not sure how you’d solve them: Eraser mode enables you to take five pictures and if someone walks into the shot the phone will recognise the intruder and ask if you want to remove it.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

This is a brilliant idea in theory, but the fact you have to enable it as a setting before taking the shot means that unless you leave the camera in this mode all the time, you’ll only get the full benefit when you know you’re likely to get people walking behind.

The other problem we have is the settings side of the user interface. We applaud Samsung for going with simplicity first - and by that we mean that users aren’t presented with a settings menu as long as their arm when trying to take a quick picture of a cat or child doing something funny.

However, as you’ll see in a moment, the Galaxy S4 camera does struggle in some conditions, and as such the only way to mitigate these problems is to do things like increase the exposure or enable night mode. If you want to do this then you’ll have to acquaint yourself with the settings menu in the top left-hand corner of the camera app, which has a number of icons to toggle on and off.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

That said, what is on offer does really work. Night mode is a good way of increasing the brightness of your photos when things are getting a little dark - although you’ll have to make sure that you’re able to hold the camera steady if you don’t want blur. We’ve tried a number of smartphones with this mode though, and the Galaxy S4 was one of the better ones, plus being able to enable it automatically is brilliant.

Other tricks, like being able to take a Drama Shot, are pretty close to the innovation spawned from other manufacturers. In this case, the functionality is almost identical to that seen on the Nokia Lumia 920, although we’re glad to see it again as it does enable you to make some pretty funny GIFs.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

The other new ideas, such as being able to take a picture using the front and back camera simultaneosly, are niche at best. Samsung made a big deal about this new function at the launch of the Galaxy S4, but in reality we can’t ever see a scenario where you want your face to be in the picture too. We do like that you can have loads of frames for your face though, so there are scenarios to use it - it’s just not a USP of the phone.

But enough about what it can do; how good is the Samsung Galaxy S4 camera in day to day use? In honesty,brilliant in many ways. We mentioned that it’s possible to take some stunning shots, but then we’d expect it from a 13MP camera with Samsung’s burgeoning photography heritage.

When stacked against the HTC One, the S4 is a superior device in one way, but less useful in another. For one, the focal length is much poorer, meaning you have to stand further away from the subject to get the same shot you would on the One.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

In theory this sounds great, but as you can see from our comparison shots, the HTC is much better at pulling out the object of the photograph. Then again, the Galaxy S4 has a more balance composition, meaning the chance to get a brilliant photo is stronger. It doesn’t over expose for the sake of it, so while photos might look better on the One’s phone screen, the jaw dropping effect of the S4 is higher.

In low light, the HTC One with its UltraPixel technology is streets ahead of the S4, unless you place the latter into Night Mode after which it’s more even. However, the One manages low light shots almost instantly, while the S4 needs a lot of processing.

In short, as you’ll see below, the Galaxy S4 is a good phone to take a load of pictures on - one of the best if you’re taking your time to get it right.

If you’re looking for a more even picture with the ability to zoom in on certain parts of the shot, it’s a decent option, but for point and shoot ability we would recommend the HTC One (or even giving the Sony Xperia Z a run out).

Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Galaxy S4 review

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Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Samsung Galaxy S4 review

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Galaxy S4 review

Performance
Where the Samsung Galaxy S3 really pulls out a comfy lead over all and sundry is its sheer horsepower. Under its hood is a quad-core Samsung Exynos 4212 Quad processor, which is based on ARM’s Cortex A9 architecture. In use the phone feels pretty fast, with apps loading quickly and the interface flying smoothly by as you navigate. 

However, there is a strange lag to the whole thing. It can take half a second or so for an app to load from being tapped, though once you get there the app is fully loaded and ready to go. This is in contrast to the iPhone and HTC One X where the app loads instantly but then the content of the app takes the half second to load. Both are essentially as fast as each other but the iPhone/HTC way feels quicker. There is one instance where there is a genuine lag though, which is when waking the phone from standby – for no apparent reason it can be quite temperamental and take a few seconds to get to the homescreen.  

Putting the phone to the test with a few benchmarks, it’s actually beaten in single threaded tasks by the Cortex A15 powered chip of the HTC One S but when it comes to multi-tasking benchmarks it wipes the floor with the competition. 

This applies double when it comes to gaming where the S3’s Mali 400 processor simply annihilates all before it. There’s little practical benefit to all this power here and now - certainly as compared with any of the other quad core phones - as there’s simply no apps that use it, but it’s always nice to have. 

Interface
The Samsung Galaxy S3 comes out the box running the latest 4.0 version of Android so you have all the latest features from Google. But of course Samsung has made its own tweaks to give the whole phone a slightly different look, and it’s added a fair few features too.

Right off the bat, things are a little different. Swiping the screen to unlock it produces a ripple effect across the screen, which is rather snazzy. You can also jump straight to one of four apps listed along the bottom of the lock screen, which is particularly useful for jumping quickly to the camera in the absence of a dedicated camera button. However, we couldn’t find a way of customising which apps appear on this list, which limits its usefulness a little.

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Lock Screen Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screenshot

Once on the home screen the first thing you notice is that Samsung has stuck with its style for the docked icons at the bottom of the screen. Like previous Galaxy S phones the Apps menu sits far right with other icons to the left. In contrast the standard Google way has the Apps icon in the middle. Quite simply, we prefer the Google way. Similarly, it’s now a standard Android gesture that you can drag one app onto another to start a new app folder, but Samsung has removed this ability, making it an overly convoluted process to add a folder. 

These couple of minor points aside, the general homescreen experience is good. You’ve got seven homescreens to fill with apps, folders of apps and widgets, with a healthy selection of useful widgets on hand. There is a fair amount of filler but equally some useful extras.

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Notifications

Swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up the notifications area and you’ve got a plethora of quick actions on hand for quickly toggling Wi-Fi on and off, muting the device and such like. Notifications are not only signalled by vibrations and tones but also by a blue light recessed in the top left of the phone. These notification lights are becoming more and more common now but it’s good to see Samsung hasn’t slipped up here. 

One thing we must applaud Samsung for is that when on the central homescreen, pressing the Home button doesn’t zoom out to a thumbnail view of your homescreens. HTC does this and it’s infuriating if you accidentally press the Home button too many times. If you want the zoomed out view you can pinch inwards on the screen with two fingers. 

In fact, gestures are something Samsung has gone to town with. You can rearrange your apps
by grabbing an app and spinning the yourself (and the phone) round to move through the homescreens. In the browser you can zoom in and out by pressing the screen with two fingers and tilting the phone back and forth. And, to jump to the top of a list you can double tap the bezel above the screen. The latter is a particularly clunky take on the standard iOS interface gesture where you just tap once at the top of the screen to scroll back to the top of a list. The Samsung version does not work very well, though is a welcome addition.

Yet more gestures include the ability to mute calls or pause music by simply turning the phone over, and you can take a screenshot by swiping the side of your hand across the screen (or pressing both the Home and Screen Lock buttons together)

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screenshot

Pop into the Apps menu and apps are arranged into (now standard) side scrolling pages, or there’s an option to show them in a list with one app per line. Quite why the former of these has become the convention on Android over and above a simple vertical scrolling grid, we don’t know but that it has.  

Alongside the Apps tab is the Widgets tab wherein you can find all the fun widgets to add to your homescreens. There’s also a section for apps you’ve downloaded too. 

All told Samsung has made some good changes and some not so good ones compared to default Android 4.0 so that overall the interface feels mostly slick and easy to use but certainly isn’t perfect, a phrase that sums up every re-skinned version of Android we’ve ever seen.