Samsung Galaxy S 4 (U.S. Cellular) 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 (U.S. Cellular)
749.99

U.S. Cellular is really the little carrier that could. While it’s only available to about a third of the U.S. population, it consistently wins our Readers’ Choice awards for its excellent coverage, call quality, and customer service. Now it also carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4, the most powerful phone in America, for a refreshing $99.99 with contract. And, following U.S. Cellular’s typical policy, it’s doing so with refreshingly little bloatware.

This is the third Galaxy S 4 we’re reviewing, after the T-Mobile and Sprint models, so we won’t repeat ourselves. See our original Galaxy S 4 review for T-Mobile to brush up on the basics of this industry-leading smartphone, including its huge range of exclusive Samsung apps and camera modes. The thing even has a pedometer.

Performance, Call Quality and Bloatware
As with most U.S. Cellular phones, only go for this Galaxy S 4 if you live and work in a U.S. Cellular coverage area—preferably, one with LTE. This model has CDMA on 850, 1700, and 1900MHz and LTE on 700, 850, 1700 and 1900MHz, but U.S. Cellular doesn’t have any LTE roaming agreements, so outside its core coverage area, you’re roaming on Sprint’s EVDO network, which is quite slow. Furthermore, here in New York we saw our roaming Galaxy S 4 drop surprisingly often down to Sprint’s 2G network, which has really pathetic data speeds.

The carrier’s “Wi-Fi Now” app, powered by DeviceScape, helps to make up part of the difference. When running, this app automatically attaches to a range of public Wi-Fi networks when you’re out and about. In a walk around midtown Manhattan I found that it automatically attached to Dunkin Donuts, a hotel, and New York’s GOWEX Free Wi-Fi, but not the AT&T Wi-Fi in a Starbucks.

U.S. Cellular recently sold off its Chicago and St. Louis spectrum to Sprint, leaving the carrier with most of its coverage in rural areas. That said, our readers in U.S. Cellular’s core coverage areas typically love the service, so as usual, buy your service based on coverage where you live and work.

The Galaxy S 4 is an excellent voice phone, but note that U.S. Cellular hasn’t yet added the HD Voice enhancements that Sprint and T-Mobile now use. Calls wobbled a bit in what appeared to be a Sprint network issue. Noise cancellation is spot on, and the speakerphone is loud enough, although not as loud as the HTC One (or, we anticipate, the Kyocera Hydro Xtrm).

U.S. Cellular has the best attitude towards bloatware of all of the nation’s major carriers: it installs relatively little of it. That’s not to say the phone completely avoids the bloatware trap, but six preloaded apps qualifies as restraint nowadays.

Because of the roaming issue, we couldn’t test the U.S. Cellular phone’s data speeds. We did run a battery test, though, and got an excellent 13 hours, 25 minutes of talk time, which should presage a full day’s use. You can turn the LTE network off with a toggle to save battery, if you never travel to an LTE service area.

Finally, remember that a microSD expansion card is almost a must here, as the 16GB model has only 9.62GB free, and U.S. Cellular doesn’t carry the 32GB model. Fortunately, our 64GB SanDisk memory card worked just fine.

Conclusions
The Galaxy S 4 is the only current flagship phone available for U.S. Cellular, as the carrier isn’t selling the HTC One or the Apple iPhone 5. Combined with the $99 up-front price, that makes it an easy Editors’ Choice for smartphones on U.S. Cellular.

That’s not to say there aren’t other good choices on the carrier. Most notably, if you find the Galaxy S 4 too big, the Motorola Electrify M (known on Verizon as the Razr M) is a more comfortable pick, and if you’re a butterfingers, the Kyocera Hydro Xtrm is waterproof. But neither of those phones have anywhere near the Galaxy S 4′s power.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA, LTE
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
Dimensions 5.38 x 2.74 x 0.31 inches
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
Battery Life (As Tested) 13 hours 25 minutes
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bands 850, 1900, 700
microSD Slot Yes
Processor Speed 1.9 GHz
GPS Yes
Screen Size 5 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad-Core
Form Factor Candy Bar

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