S Many Features
But those camera features are just the tip of the iceberg when detailing all of the new software features and apps Samsung has added to Android 4.1.
You won't use or find the time to figure out many of the new additions, but others -- like its Translator app, which can translate your speech to a different language on the fly -- is useful and well thought out. Other apps like S Travel or S Health are meant to improve your life, though I just didn't find them to be as well designed as similar apps available in the Google Play store.
And that software design issue is something I took note of around the entire operating system. Samsung has reskinned Android in many places and it simply isn't as tidy as Google's orginal work. HTC's software design, however, matches its hardware design: it's attractive and polished.
Many people will find the phone's sheer number of features to be overwhelming and hard to find. For instance, I really like the multitasking feature that lets you stack apps one on top of another – i.e. e-mail on the top of the screen and a browser on the bottom – but it isn't obvious how you actually can set that up. For real smartphone beginners, Samsung has added an Easy Mode, which simplifies the entire phone, with a stripped-down homescreen and settings menu.
A Fast Phone That Lasts
In my week of testing and trying out software features, the phone was consistently able to keep up with my manic use of it. Thanks to a 1.9GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, the Galaxy S4 launches apps quickly and handles multiple tasks at the same time without a hiccup. More impressively, it is able to stich together hundreds of photos to create those animated photos and other edited photos in just seconds. You also get the benefits of fast LTE data on the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and the Verizon models. (Samsung sent me the T-Mobile version, but since it hasn't yet lit up its LTE network in New York I wasn't able to test it yet. It plans to roll out the service this summer.)
All the while, the Galaxy was able to provide the endurance you need. Samsung stuck in a bigger battery this time around, making this phone last longer than most. During heavy days of use, the phone was able to make it through most of the day, but do remember that LTE was not enabled on the phone, which might further impact the battery life.
If you are looking for an Android smartphone, the Galaxy S4 is a great choice. It's jam-packed with new camera features, it's fast, and it has all-day battery life. Beyond all that, its software enhancements – not those gimmicky waving and tilting ones, but the other ones -- make it standout amongst all other Android phones and even the iPhone.
I just wish Samsung had put that same attention into the design of the physical phone. The HTC One and the iPhone 5 are simply better-designed and crafted pieces of hardware. But there's no two ways around it: the Galaxy S4 is a phone that you will enjoy having by your side or in your pocket. Yes, it's a life companion you won't regret commiting to.
(Oh, and yes, you can change or remove that "Life Companion" phrase on the front of the phone. You think I'd recommend it if you couldn't?)