Smartphones have become increasingly important over the past decade. They are arguably a basic necessity for people who need to be connected with others through platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram. As such, if your phone breaks and ends up unusable, getting a replacement phone may be a priority. The problem is, how can you do this if you’re strapped for cash?
One method is to buy a used phone, which is where the Samsung Galaxy S4 comes in. Despite it being released over seven years ago, and definitely showing its age with a RAM of 2GB and 16GB of storage, some of the specifications are not too bad when compared to modern budget smartphones. Since you can buy a used Galaxy S4 for RM160 on Shopee, I decided to test something – how usable is it seven years on, and is it a good option to buy?
Design and build quality
While not as sleek as the newest flagships, I grew to like the Galaxy S4’s simple design. Unlike recent smartphones, it uses an all-plastic build which, while not feeling as luxurious as the glass and metal used in the current ones, has the benefit of being light and durable. I dropped the S4 on the floor once while using it and didn’t notice any major damage.
There are also large bezels on the top and bottom of the phone which is typical of early 2010s smartphones. However, it is mainly an aesthetic issue, and I didn’t notice them while using the phone since I was focussing on the screen. Speaking of the screen, it still manages to hold its own in 2021 with a 1080p resolution, but the colours displayed on the screen aren’t as vibrant and attractive as newer phones. This may also be attributed to the small 5-inch screen, which might be less pleasant to use for people used to large modern smartphones.
For this section, I decided to take photos on the S4 and compare them with nearly identical photos taken on the Samsung Galaxy S20+, a smartphone released in 2020.
I found that the S4’s camera performed well in optimal lighting conditions, though not as well as the S20+. Though the photo taken on the S4 looks decent at first glance, there is a noticeable lack of detail. Colours, especially the blue sky, look washed out and dull when compared to the photo taken with the S20+.
By the way, the photos look different since they were taken with different aspect ratios. This was a mistake.
However, there is a clear difference between the S4 and S20+ when taking pictures in low lighting. The photo from the S4 is rather grainy and dark. The photo from the S20+ looks like it was taken in entirely different lighting since it is far brighter and sharper.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 uses Android 5.0, an OS that came out six years ago. Although it is six years and six generations behind (Android 11 is the latest version), I was surprisingly able to download and run many current apps on this old phone without a hitch including Instagram, WhatsApp, Grab and even Real Racing 3.
Moving on to unofficial software, I feel like this is where the Samsung Galaxy S4 shines. Because of its popularity, passionate developers still support it by crafting and releasing software for the phone. Using unofficial software, the S4 can run Android 11, albeit with some minor bugs. You can also install other types of software if you want, such as operating systems designed to run fast, or others that mimic the modern software design of Google’s Pixel phones.
In terms of performance, the Galaxy S4 is, from my usage, simply acceptable. Nothing more, nothing less. Internet browsing, for example, works fine in that you can access modern websites which is something that older versions of Android can’t do without a separate app. However, certain websites, such as Quora, lag when scrolling.
Games such as Real Racing 3 were able to run but with understandably lacklustre frame rates. The keyboard takes a few seconds to pop up. Apps take just a second more to open when compared with current smartphones. The phone randomly shut down sometimes if I used the flashlight for too long.
What I’m trying to say is that while you can get by fine with the Galaxy S4, its minor gripes and annoyances just bleed the joy out of using it. I soon found myself using my laptop instead of my phone for entertainment. Put simply, using the Galaxy S4 is not a fun experience.
At the beginning of this article, it seemed like the S4 is a wonderful phone to use in 2021. Although it is noticeably dated, it runs apps well enough, looks decent enough and can even be updated to recent versions of Android. But, why do I not recommend this phone?
Notice how I said well enough and decent enough. Despite the fact that it gets you by in daily tasks such as Internet browsing and messaging, it lacks the joy, fun, excitement and finesse found in newer smartphones. When buying an older smartphone, or more precisely, a smartphone with dated specifications, you’re purchasing a device strictly for practical usage. One that you have to make compromises on in areas such as performance and camera quality. While it is useful if you want to curb a raging smartphone addiction or don’t particularly care for taking photos, many people might prefer a phone with fewer compromises – a phone that just works for them.
Written and photographed by Luqmanul Hakeem Bin Qhaireel Anwar