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Samsung Galaxy S4 Review: The Best Android That's Not Nexus

The Samsung has further physical advantages vis-a-vis the HTC One. The back is removable, exposing, among other things, the nicely sized 2,600 mAh battery and MicroSD expansion slot. Anyone with a screwdriver can dis-assemble the Galaxy S4. It is repairable. In contrast, the HTC One is sealed and if there's a problem you had better have a deal with HTC or your operator to get it fixed if it breaks some time before the end of your two-year contract.

One additional benefit of Samsung's removable backside is that it can be replaced with one that integrates hinges to support a front cover. This is the best case of any smartphone in the industry, I think. It opens up like a book -- sort of that original iPad cover from 2010 -- but it improves on the design by including a small window showing notifications, the time and a couple of other noteworthy things. Absolutely brilliant.

On the software side, the Galaxy S4 is mostly no good. The software is based on Android's standard ("Nexus") 4.2.2 version, but it has been molested in more ways than I could count even in an article longer than the one I am allocated here.

For starters, Samsung has replaced the three soft menu buttons on the Nexus with one hardware "home" button and two soft ones: "menu" and "back." This is different from both the Nexus and the HTC One. For someone frequently jumping between these devices, it is jarring.

Imagine if one maker of Windows PCs made the right-click on the mouse into a left-click and/or removed it altogether, perhaps replaced by a "go back" soft button somewhere on the trackpad. Switching between PCs you would go absolutely crazy. Well, welcome to Android!

Once you have shaken your head in utter disbelief about these nonsensical and arbitrary interface changes away from standard Nexus, we must also note the laundry list of "special effects" that Samsung has baked into Android. These relate to finger gestures, eye-tracking and the like.

Frankly, I get a headache just thinking about describing even a couple of these gimmicky features. For example, you can make things happen on the screen not by touching it, but by stopping your finger an inch or so before the display and do your business "in the air."


Who asked for this? A Martian? No normal person, I suspect. It's a solution in search of a problem. Either way, I doubt than anyone buying this device will ever use it.

There is one of these Samsung-specific features that I thought might be useful, however, and that was the ability to split the screen into two. In other words, windows!

I was looking forward to testing that one. Well, I couldn't figure out how. When Samsung finally invents something that sounds useful on the software side, it has made it so difficult to find that one would have to read the manual. No, I didn't read the manual. I never do.

There is one good thing I found in Samsung's software and that is the relatively simple thing of including an extra row -- for numbers -- in the keyboard. This means that when you enter things such as a user name and password, you don't have to switch forth and back between many characters. It saves a lot of time and frustration. Everyone should copy this simple thing.

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