Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia

Testing Samsung Galaxy S4 in Lebanon

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Today, a smartphone can be as important as a Swiss army knife. Both of them have several features, fit into your pocket and are useful in more ways than I can count. Since I travel a lot, I know exactly how important it is to have everything you need on your person. That’s why I got curious about Samsung’s recent powerhouse, Samsung Galaxy S4, and decided to try it out for size. Luckily, I had to make a trip to Lebanon this year, which is the perfect place to try out any electronic devices you could possibly need on the go due to the destructive summer heat, the annoying power-cuts and the unreliable Internet-connections.

The first thing I noticed about the Samsung Galaxy S4, was how difficult this thing was going to be to carry around. It’s the same size as a medium-sized wallet, which is not a wise thing to carry around in your pocket wherever you go. Sure, the big screen sure is a nifty thing to have if you like to read, play games or watch a movie and you can adjust the phone if you have problems with your eye-sight, but having something this big on your person all the time can be a bit annoying for some people, especially when some of your clothes don’t have pockets that are big enough for wallets to fit into. I had to carry a bag wherever I went and the phone barely fits into my camera bag, which bugs me big time. On occasion, I even had to carry the phone around like a purse. Not cool, especially when you hear from Lebanese citizen about thieves and murderers committing crimes for less…

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-i9505, a flat giant few pockets can handle.

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-i9505, a flat giant few pockets can handle…

Since it’s the first time I use Android, it’s no wonder that I had trouble using it at first. It didn’t take me long to get used to using just the touch-screen for everything (I like buttons) and I like how smooth the screen is to the touch and how easy it is to clean before you put a plastic sheet on it to protect it from scratches. Sadly, the other ways to control Samsung Galaxy S4 can’t be praised as highly. The phone is known for being able to use hand- and eye gestures to do certain things. Sadly, I couldn’t get a single one of these features to work. No matter how I waved, stared or held the phone, I couldn’t get a single reaction. Oddly enough, the other people who tested this feature on the very same device I did my tests on had no trouble to get them to work. I have no idea why the phone doesn’t seem to be able to detect me, but at least I saved some battery time when I turned those features off…

Yes, the battery is a dream! Gamers will certainly love the fact that you can play for hours on the Samsung Galaxy S4 without wasting too much power. I played with the phone for about half or a quarter of a day and was shocked to notice that I still had about 55-75% of battery life left afterwards! I could even spend hours reading a book, watch videos, listen to music and use the camera for the entire day and still have power left for tomorrow. In Lebanon, this is perfect, because with all the power-outs, you can’t always count on having enough electricity to recharge your devices, especially during the times when the electricity comes from a nearby generator that isn’t strong enough to handle more than at least 10 types of electronic devices or machinery per household at once with the lights on, including machinery like refrigerators and fans…

As a camera, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is awesome! Most of my photos turned out great and the 3x zoom didn’t mess up the quality of my pictures too much. It’s a shame that the front camera doesn’t have the same quality as the back one, but the results are definitely to my liking! Just take a look at the photos I took from a balcony in the Lebanese countryside outside Baskinta!

This photo was taken with the back camera without zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera without zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera with 3x zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera with 3x zoom.

But the camera is still far from perfect. It takes too long for the autofocus to work sometimes and videos don’t always appear perfect after you’ve moved them to another platform. Still, the quality of both photos and videos are acceptable and I recommend using these features when you just need some snapshots during a simple outing or wish to record a short video of something that’s going on within approx. 50 meters away.

The ability to connect a device to another device should be a common standard today, right? With Samsung Galaxy S4, it’s an annoyance. No matter how I try to connect the phone to my laptop (which is also a Samsung, coincidentally enough), I keep getting a message about how I need a driver for the device, especially when I try to connect by using Bluetooth. This is a big issue, because the phone didn’t come with any driver discs and there’s nothing on Samsung’s website about drivers to download. After several days of research, I found out about Samsung Link, an online service that not only lets you connect the phone to computers, but also store your stuff online so you can access them from any other device you want. Imagine my rage when this thing uploaded stuff from my computer without warning! I know that you can forget about privacy when it comes to anything with Internet-access, but to be forced to use an online service to connect between devices is by far one of the worst ways a product manufacturer can insult their consumers. Everyone can’t connect to the Internet, especially when there’s a power-out that can last over an hour on rare occasions and when the Internet-connection can cost a fortune to some people. I also found out that similar phone-to-computer-connectivity-issues appear with other Android-phones as well, so Samsung can’t take the full blame for this….

I wish I could say that I’ve run out of bad things to mention about the Samsung Galaxy S4, but I’m afraid there’s more. Having a choice to use any soundfile you want as ringtones (especially MP3’s) has been a standard on cellphones since the start of the millennium. With Samsung Galaxy S4, it is possible to do so without a hitch. But what about the other message notification sounds? Can’t those tones be customizable the same way too? Apparently not. For this, I had to use a work-around trick to make it work and due to what appears to be a bug in Android, every other form of message update got the same ringtone because of this. Even when I turn the sound off for the others, the SMS-ringtone can still be heard for every notification the phone receives. The only unaffected sounds where basically the ridiculously quiet alarm and the phonecall ringtone. At least the sound quality is amazing! I could listen to some French audio-lessons or watch videos on the smartphone without worrying about lost sound or weird noises…

So, how did this phone survive Lebanon? Impressively well, I would say. Unlike any other phone I’ve brought with me to any Middle-Eastern country I’ve visited in the past, The Samsung Galaxy S4 survived the trip really well. The heat didn’t affect the firmware or heat up the phone while I had it in the sun for a few minutes or in my pocket, the battery lasted long enough to survive at least 2 days without recharging while using it almost constantly and was pretty handy to have whenever there was a photo-opportunity nearby. But with the power-outs and trouble of getting Internet-access when needed, connecting the phone to a computer can be problematic, especially if you use Bluetooth (it refused to work with any of the computers I tested it on). It took me several tries to get the phone to connect to my laptop without Samsung Link, but it worked on occasion (with the cable only). If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to post any of my photos here, would I?

I hate to be the one to give Samsung Galaxy S4 the score of 3/5. This is truly an awesome phone that has everything the basic traveller could need on the go, even if it is a bit too big, but the phone has too many major flaws. The hand- and eye-gesture features don’t work for everyone, connecting to a computer is a nightmare (especially by Bluetooth) and consumers shouldn’t have to use work-around tricks to set basic things, like customized SMS-ringtones. But fortunately for Samsung, it appears that Android is to blame for some of these flaws, which is why the score didn’t get any lower, but I would still count them as big slips Samsung’s QA-testers should have noticed before release, especially since the company used some of those features as a marketing lure to get people to buy the phone in the first place. But the back camera is very impressive and the fact that the phone can handle the Lebanese summer heat is a major plus!

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