Samsung S4 Final Review for Business Users – Is the iPhone Better?

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Samsung S4 Final Review

I’ve now had the Samsung S4 for approaching three months, and have had enough time to really get a feel for it. I’m a former iPhone user, and was originally quite excited to trade into the world of Android. I committed myself – I made the Samsung S4 my primary business phone. From a business perspective, personally I’d rather be using the iPhone. Let’s look at why.

Important for Business: #1 = E-Mail, Calendar, and SMS

For many sales people out there, E-Mail is the most important app on their phone. It’s the #1 reason that BlackBerry fan at the airport religiously defends himself. “E-Mail just works!”

Well, in short, the S4 could be confusing for the average business user. Samsung ships with it’s own E-Mail and Calendar app, which is different than other Android devices, and different from the Google Play edition of the S4. Plus, if you use Google Apps, you can also get native Google Calendar and Gmail apps. Which is a separate set of Google Apps running on a Samsung device powered by Google. Yeah, confusing.The problem is that the native E-Mail client isn’t that good. I use the Gmail app and Calendar as we have recently switched to Google Apps for Business. The Gmail client is quite attractive, and neatly matches the new tabbed interface found in the web version.

Google Calendar is essentially a lightweight calendar app that generally works. I must admit that I miss the ability of the iPhone to automatically highlight text in E-Mails which could be tapped to create a new calendar event. Perhaps it’s possible with the default calendar app or with a 3rd party app, but I haven’t found it.

For SMS, the default Message app does the job. If you want iMessage, or something similar, you’ll need to get a 3rd party app. There is a default app provided by Samsung called “ChatON” – but all I have used it for is to delete random incoming messages from strangers asking variations of “would you like me?” My biggest complaint is that I can’t see partial content of received text messages on the locked home screen without a new app.

So there you have it – E-Mail, Calendar, and SMS will generally all work if you take significant time to install the right apps and get it all set up. You better hope the app publisher keeps up or else you’re back to the drawing board. With the iPhone, you’re often stuck with default behaviour, but it’s a lot better, cleaner, and works right out of the box.

Samsung S4 Share

Your default share menu will turn into a mess quickly. Time for yet another 3rd party app

Important for Business: #2 = Hardware (Phone, Battery, Size, Feel)

The screen is huge, no doubt about it.  I can barely even look at an iPhone again without reaching for the microscope.  The Samsung is big, and it’s beautiful.  Unfortunately, that’s where the advantages stop.  The big, beautiful screen is virtually unusable in direct sunlight, even with a few tricks.  I found the battery life slightly worse than the iPhone – the S4 wouldn’t survive a solid ½ day of use.  It’s also too large for one-handed use (holding and thumb typing) for most people.  I can see why Apple likes the smaller form factor, but if I were to switch to the iPhone 5s, I would definitely miss the 5” screen.

Important for Business #3:  Web Browsing and Apps

Apps aren’t a problem.  For the most part, if there is an iPhone app, there is an Android app.  There isn’t much to say about apps that most people don’t know – other than it’s likely best to stick to major App Stores for Android (I stuck with Google Play).

For web browsing, there is a default Browser that comes with the device.  I picked up the Chrome browser, which is a separate app.  Don’t ask me why.  Anyways, I love Chrome on the desktop.  And I love, I mean LOVE that Chrome brings all my settings, history, and passwords over to the mobile device.  I suppose I could have had this with Chrome for iOS, but I hadn’t bothered.

I’m still struggling to get used to Chrome on the phone.  I find that Mobile Safari was overall faster and easier to use, but the benefit of bringing over my information from the desktop outweighs the issues with Chrome.  My issues are specifically around tab management – I find bringing up a new page is slower (more taps and effort) than Mobile Safari…though I’m being told that iOS7 has changed how that works.

As an avid mobile web consumer, the little things add up.  I hope that the mobile OS developers don’t forget this.

A larger complaint is how incredibly annoying switching between existing tabs is.  When you tap the windows button, it shows all of the currently open web pages.  But then they move when you tilt the phone.  For the first while, I often would tap a separate tab and because of the movement, open the incorrect one.   Someone explain why tilting is useful here?

Android Chrome

Moving Tabs – #PointlessAccelerometerAnimation

Important for Business #4:  The Intangibles & Conclusions

First, allow me to rant.  Why do text messages show out of order?  Why do I need to re-boot the phone once or more per week?  Why does the weather widget take longer to load than walking outside and sticking my hand out?  Why did the camera app suddenly stop working right when I was trying to capture a moment?  And why didn’t that surprise me?

There are some highly frustrating issues with the S4 that I think Android fans tend to assume are normal for any phone.   The iPhone certainly has its share of issues – I won’t forgive Apple for the disaster that is Apple Maps and how they continue to maintain control on the entire stack.   But the iPhone was generally rock solid.

Before all the Android fanboys out there tear me apart and remind me to “just customize it” – I get it.  I know you are united in your disdain for Apple.  I see the value in having a phone you can modify any way you want.   I love the big screen (when I can see it).  It’s pretty fast.   I guess I just expected more from the S4, some big “WOW” moment.  It didn’t happen.

I need to know I have a phone I can trust.  It has to just work.  And that appears to still be the iPhone.

Final Note:  in retrospect, I wish I had gone for the HTC One instead.  The interface is much better, and it seems to be much more stable overall. 

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