Phone reviews: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC Sensation


I recently upgraded my phone from the HTC Sensation I’ve had for three years to a new Samsung Galaxy S4. To say I’m pleased with my new phone is the understatement to end all understatements. Of course comparing the two phones directly is not really fair – we’re comparing new technology in the S4 (actually not that new; the phone was released over a year ago, but it’s new-to-me technology) against a phone that’s well over three years old. In the cell phone industry, three years is a lifetime.

The old phone had a dual-core processor; the new one has a quad-core. It also has more than twice the memory (2 GB vs. 768 MB) and an amazing eight times the storage space. The HTC had 4 GB with 1 GB available while the Samsung has 16GB with 8GB available. This is good since I was to the point of removing one app in order to have enough space to install a new one. The camera is an unbelievable 13 MP (only 8 MP on the HTC) and the front-facing camera is 2 MB while the HTC front camera is a pathetic 0.3 MP. Yay, better selfies! Oh wait, I never take selfies.

Samsung Galaxy S4

And the battery! Holy crap, the battery. I have yet to see the battery drop below about 45% charge, even if I’m twittering and facebooking and cameraing and even watching streaming video. I haven’t tried the GPS (i.e. driving directions), but I know that really sucked the battery dry on my old phone. I do charge it overnight every night but I did that with the HTC as well and if I was using it a lot and not being careful, it’d be dead by dinner.

It turns out that taking a picture of your phone with your phone is a challenge, and I couldn’t take one with my old phone because I moved the SD card to the new phone, so I found a picture online. This is probably a better picture anyway. And yes, I did get the red one though I have a black case.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy with my HTC phone. It was my first smartphone, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to, but it did pretty much everything I wanted it to. It did have its problems, which either weren’t there or I didn’t notice for the first year or two. Google search was really slow – if I entered something in the search box, it took at least 20-30 seconds before the search results came up, and I don’t think it was the search itself that took so long. The 3G network would sometimes just drop and not reconnect. I’d disable the mobile data entirely and then re-enable it and that frequently worked, but other times a reboot was necessary. Very occasionally I had to take the back off and remove the battery for a few seconds. I must have rebooted the phone at least once or twice a week just to try to speed it up.

I had no real problems with phone part of the HTC. It didn’t drop calls often, the call quality was fine, I could bring up the keypad easily while talking, and I could put the caller on speaker and check email or whatever at the same time (though I think I did that twice in three years). But the call quality on the Samsung is great. I was at Nicky’s soccer game the other day and Gail called me. It was quite windy but despite not doing anything to block the wind, I could clearly hear her and she could clearly hear me. I asked her if the wind was a problem and she didn’t even hear it.

Both phones have an “auto-brightness” feature, where the phone adjusts the brightness of the display based on how bright it is where you are. I enabled this on the HTC but it didn’t work very well and I had to continually turn the brightness up manually until I ended up turning the auto thing off and leaving it on full 24/7. That probably didn’t help the battery life. The Samsung auto-brightness thing is outstanding, and the screen is really clear. It’s a bit bigger (5 inch display vs. 4.3 inch), so that helps too.

One thing that I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE is the slidey keyboard. It’s not actually a Samsung thing at all, it’s an app called SwiftKey. Rather than typing each character individually, you put your finger down on the first letter of the word, then just slide it to the second, third, fourth, etc. until you’ve entered the entire word. Not only is that much faster than typing the word, but the word prediction and auto-correct is excellent. It turns out that this app actually was available on my old phone, though I didn’t know it. I never got good at dual-thumb typing on my HTC, I always stuck to the right index finger so it wasn’t terribly fast. With SwiftKey, I still stick to the one finger but it’s much faster.

The only thing that I prefer with the HTC is the lock screen. I had to swipe and then enter the PIN to unlock the device. But if the device had been locked for a short time (under a minute I think), you didn’t have to enter the PIN again, just swipe. The new lock screen doesn’t require the swipe, just the PIN so whether I locked it 5 seconds or 12 hours ago, I still have to enter the PIN. Slightly inconvenient if I lock the device and then remember that I needed to do something else right away.

Oh no, wait, there’s one other thing I don’t like about the Samsung. When dialing the phone, it has a setting for whether hitting the number buttons makes a sound, but there’s no way (I can find) to change what the sound is. I don’t like the “drip” sound it makes but I can’t figure out how to change it. But I think I’ll survive.

Maybe once I’ve had this phone for a few years I’ll decide it has problems too, and then the next new phone I get (with 8 processors, 32 GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage) will be awesome compared to this thing. But for now, I’m very happy with this thing.

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