Samsung Galaxy S 4 (Sprint) review

The Samsung Galaxy S 4 is the ultimate kitchen-sink Android phone for 2013, with features you'll still be discovering months after you buy it.
Photo of Samsung Galaxy S 4 (Sprint)
599.99

The Samsung Galaxy S 4 is the best smartphone on the market today, and Sprint’s model brings that excellence to the “unlimited everything” carrier. Whether you’re looking for a super-fast Android phone or just a terrific voice phone, the Galaxy S 4 is a top choice, and our Editors’ Choice.

We reviewed the Galaxy S 4 extensively on T-Mobile, so I’m going to stick to the differences in the Sprint model here. All the Galaxy S 4 units are physically identical except for the carrier logo on the back, and the Sprint unit doesn’t even have that. The only sign you’re using Sprint here is the carrier’s name on the lock screen.

To recap: The Galaxy S 4 looks like a refined Galaxy S III at 5.4 by 2.75 by .31 inches (HWD) and 4.6 ounces. It’s still plastic, in white or black, with chrome trim, and a subtly patterned, smooth back. It’s almost exactly the same size as the S3, with the new phone’s larger 5-inch screen made possible by a smaller bezel.

The phone is practically bubbling over with new features, half of which you’ll probably never use and a handful of which will become critical to your life. Some examples: a built-in pedometer and diet tracker, a camera mode which erases photobombers, and the ability to run two apps in different windows on the screen.

Sprint’s Galaxy S 4 has the same 1.9Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor as T-Mobile’s, but I found that this unit benchmarked slightly faster, possibly because it’s running fewer background services like T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling system. In any case, it’s the fastest Android phone I’ve seen yet.

Sprint strikes a brave pose with its bloatware: much of it is uninstallable. Just pop down to the Application Manager and you can delete some of the preloaded apps, like Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV and Movies. Unfortunately, some bloatware, including the Lumen Toolbar, Sprint Worldwide (a useless stub with instructions on how to use your phone abroad), and Sprint Zone (which is just a vehicle for various promotions), isn’t as easily removed. This is especially important on the storage-poor 16GB Galaxy S 4, which only has 9.2GB free to start with (although you can expand the storage with a microSD card up to a 64GB).

Voice Calling and Network
The Galaxy S 4 is the best voice phone you can buy on Sprint. The call screen has options to toggle noise cancellation and extra volume, and like on the Galaxy S III, you can personalize the call sound profile to your own sense of hearing. I was startled by how sharp, clear, and loud my calls were; noise cancellation was also excellent. This quality is only improved by Sprint’s HD Voice system. It only works when you’re making calls between two Sprint phones, but it’s working on a steadily larger number of phones, including the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One, LG Optimus G, and this device. It even works with a few Boost phones.

The main down side is Sprint’s network, but that applies to all Sprint phones. With no LTE near our offices in New York City, I was stuck in a painfully congested Internet slow lane, choking off the capabilities of this monster device. I couldn’t even complete my speed tests. Unlimited data doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get online. Sprint needs to ramp up its LTE rollout pronto. 

Perhaps because of that limited LTE coverage, Sprint’s Galaxy S 4 lets you turn off LTE to save battery. Network settings include LTE/CDMA, CDMA only, and GSM/UMTS world mode. The phone is unfortunately SIM locked; you need to be a Sprint customer for 90 days to get the SIM card slot unlocked for international travel.

Pricing and Conclusions
Sprint sells the Galaxy S 4 for $249.99 with a two-year contract, which is $50 more than both the HTC One and the Apple iPhone 5, and $100 more than the LG Optimus G. Since you’ll be paying at least $2,400 in service fees over two years, that $50 isn’t much of a real difference.

Just like on T-Mobile, the decision between the Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One comes down to focus versus excess. Here at PCMag, we like a little excess, so we lean towards the Galaxy S 4, but the HTC One has a more beautiful body design and a closer focus on key features that HTC thinks you’ll love, like the Blinkfeed Flipboard clone and the Zoe photo/video mode.

We tagged the HTC One as the “first truly compelling smartphone of 2013″ when we reviewed it on Sprint a month ago. The Samsung Galaxy S 4 is, of course, the second, and it takes the Editors’ Choice crown from the One by a nose. If you’re looking to make the most of your Sprint unlimited data, grab a Samsung Galaxy S 4—and hope that Sprint is laying down some LTE near you soon.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GSM, UMTS, LTE
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 5.38 x 2.74 x 0.31 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
High-Speed Data EDGE, LTE, HSPA+ 42, CDMA 1X
Battery Life (As Tested) 9 hours 07 minutes
Processor Speed 1.9 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Sprint
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
Weight 4.6 oz
Screen Type Super AMOLED HD
Operating System as Tested Android OS
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 13 MP Rear
2 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 441 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 5 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S 4 is the ultimate kitchen-sink Android phone for 2013, with features you'll still be discovering months after you buy it.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc