I guess that by the end of the day, the HTC One had flaws I couldn't live with, while I can live with the ones on the S4. They may be deal breakers for you though, so I will lay them out and let you be the judge. After all, it's an expensive piece of equipment, you want to know what you're paying for.
As always, this review will be focusing on the stuff they're not telling you on the mainstream websites. The stuff you notice on your everyday use. If you think this review is not comprehensive, you are right - I'm not trying to be. If that's what you're looking for, you'll probably be better served somewhere else.
1. The S4 lags and stutters
The S4 uses the exact same processor as the HTC One, but it's overclocked to make it run faster (1.9 GHz against the 1.7 GHz on the One). Both phones pack 2 GB of RAM and have full HD 1080p screens.
Yet, when it comes to performance, the difference is night and day. Seriously, it's actually ridiculous. I mean, I don't even understand why this is not being completely overblown everywhere.
The One's operation is super smooth, while the S4 lags and stutters at almost everything it does. And I can tell you for a fact that I don't own a defective unit, as I've seen many other users reporting the same issues in several forums.
But what's even more surprising is that the S4 is considerably slower and has much more performance hiccups than the Samsung Galaxy Note II, which was launched 6 months earlier and packs much more modest hardware. I had to make a video, otherwise I know you wouldn't believe me:
Regarding this test, I should add that:
- power saving mode was disabled on both phones (just in case you were wondering, since this mode underclocks the CPU)
- the lag while launching apps may seem petty business - after all, it's only a slight difference. But believe me, you will notice it on your everyday use, specially if you've used snappier phones before. It is annoying as hell.
- Subway surfers, the game I launched, doesn't suffer only from slower booting time on the S4. The overall performance has a lot of hiccups. A lot. On a side note, my score on that game is 7.6 million. Beat that! :)
2. It freeezes!
In one month of use, the freaking phone froze at least 5 times, while using applications as diverse as the camera, the browser, and the game Need for Speed Most Wanted (which by the way I got for free - it was a freebee for the first 100.000 S4 owners).
When I say "it froze", I mean I had to reboot the damn phone to make it work again. Not cool, man.
3. The screen has an annoying glitch
You will notice this specially when the screen brightness is low and whenever you have something black moving on your screen. Whether you're scrolling through your settings menu (black background) or watching a video with anything black on it, or even scrolling through a white webpage with black text, you will notice that black stuff leaves a trail as it moves. I searched around and many other people are complaining about this. They call it smearing/ghosting and it's kind of hard to capture on camera, but you will definitely notice it when using the phone:
It's not terribly bad, but it's frustrating because it's one of those things that immediately make you feel there's something wrong with your phone. No matter how much you try to be apologetic, this wasn't supposed to happen.
Where it will bother you the most is with text (white text on black background or black text on white background), because the text will blur while you scroll and you won't be able to read it while scrolling, at times. I know, unacceptable.
Someone found a fix, but I don't like it. It involves downloading an application like Screen Adjuster, and moving the Red, Green and Blue dials from zero to a value between 5 and 10.
The beauty of an AMOLED display is its infinite contrast ratio. Contrary to LCD displays, that have a backlight behind the screen which always produces some glare even when displaying black, on an AMOLED, each pixel emits its own light. This means that when you're displaying something black, those pixels are actually switched off. They're truly black. This not only saves battery, it's also one of the features that makes images look stunning on an AMOLED.
By using this fix, you will effectively get rid of the smearing, but you'll be downgrading your screen in the process, giving up the deep blacks that make it so awesome. Too big a price to pay for me, I learned to live with the smearing.
4. All those special features are utterly useless
Air-view? Air-gesture? Smart-stay? Smart-scroll? Group play? Dual camera recording? Forget about it, it's all useless, just switch them off and do yourself a favor, at least you'll save some battery by disabling all those useless sensors.
Not only it's kind of pointless to try to scroll with your eyes when you can use your finger, it doesn't really work properly most of the time. The same stands true for all those other features. Don't buy this phone for these so-called innovations, you'll be seriously disappointed.
5. The back cover is tasteless
As you saw on my video, I have the black version of the S4, never liked white phones.
I like the front of the phone a lot. Big screen, small bezels, nice pretend-metal frame (it's actually all plastic). It's really thin and it feels very pleasant in the hand. It's much more comfortable to hold than the Note 2 or the HTC One, and it's very light as well.
But the back cover looks cheap and tasteless. I am eager to find a replacement that I like because I can't stand how ugly it looks, with its dotted pattern and glossy finish.
6. I'm finished with the bad stuff, now the good
To give credit where credit is due:
- The camera's picture quality is AWESOME. It wipes the floor with the HTC One in this department, I don't care how many times you tell me "ultrapixels are better", I have never seen such amazing picture quality on a phone. Just look at the crazy amount of detail:
- Battery life is quite good, even with intensive use. Definitely much better than the HTC One.
- The big screen is great for consuming content. The resolution is stupendous. Every single person who holds my phone gazes at the screen in pure amazement.
- 4G LTE is super fast. You'll never want 3G again.
7. The S4 vs. the Note 2
I won't compare the S4 to the HTC One because the One is out of my favorites list for reasons I explained in another post. But I said before that the Note 2 sets the bar for smartphones for me, and it was the best phone I ever had. How do I feel about it, now that I've used the S4 for quite a while?
Well, in my opinion there's absolutely nothing that would make me jump from a Note 2 to an S4. Nothing. I only did it because I didn't have to pay for the S4 and my girlfriend was in love with my Note 2, so I let her keep it.
The Note 2 has a bigger screen (great for consuming content), faster and smoother performance (from my tests), a clearer speakerphone and a slightly better battery life.
The S4 has better screen resolution, a better camera, 4G LTE (even though there's also a Note 2 model with 4G, mine doesn't have it) and it's much more pocketable and comfortable to hold.
But the Note's camera and screen are already pretty great, really. When it comes to screen resolution, the 720p of the Note 2 are more than enough to produce an extremely crisp image at normal viewing distances. And because the screen is larger, your eyes will naturally be further away from the phone, where you won't be able to discern any pixels. It's really not a decisive factor.
Weighting everything together, I would have to say that the only decisive factor between these two phones is really their size.
Do you value a big screen more than anything else, as long as you can fit it in your pocket? Go for the Note 2 (it's not always comfortable, but it will fit in most pockets).
If you think the Note 2 is too big and you want something more manageable and comfortable to hold, the S4 is a great choice that I don't think you'll regret.
8. Final words
Guys, sorry for the time it took me to post this review, I've been really busy in my professional life (this blog is just a hobby). I really appreciated your feedback on my HTC One review, so please leave your thoughts on this one in the comment section. Any questions you may have, I'll be glad to answer them. Also, feel free to subscribe to my mailing list to receive an update when I post something.
Hope you found this review helpful, have fun with your gadgets! :)