Buy-or-Not: Samsung Galaxy S IV Android Smartphone, A Detailed Preview

Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone

Yes, it came. One of the most anticipated smartphones of the year, in a packed event in Radio City music hall, Times Square, New York—Samsung Galaxy S IV, touting a huge screen, big camera, two quad-core processors, 2 GB RAM, and a number of software features.

proud JK Shin presenting the device

I suppose you could glean the excitement of the top Samsung executives from that image. If you haven’t watched the Unpacked event, then be my guest:

Now, we will check it out in detail and see how great this smartphone really is.

The Technical Specifications

Briefly, the known technical specifications are listed here for you to review, with notes about what we are going to discuss further.

Feature Galaxy S IV Notes
Display technology Super AMOLED Full HD Worth buying for
Resolution 1920×1080 px (441ppi) that is Full HD
Screen size 4.99 inch
Processor Exynos 5 Octa (two processors, 1.6 GHz ARM Cortex-A15 and quad-core ARM Cortex-A7); US version has Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.9 GHz Definitely amazing processors, but Exynos 5 will not perform as great as Snapdragon. We will see a few benchmarks below.
OS Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
Storage 16/32/64 GB with Micro SD up to 64 GB No difference from other major phones
GPU Depends on the SoC. Exynos—PowerVR SGX544; Snapdragon—Adreno 330
Connectivity Cat 3 LTE 100/50 Mbps
Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac
BT 4.0
HTC One, Xperia Z also have Cat 3 LTE with same download/upload speeds.
Camera 13 MP, 2 MP
Battery 2600 mAh
Dimensions Height 136.6 mm (5.38 in)
Width 69.8 mm (2.75 in)
Depth 7.9 mm (0.31 in)
Weight 130 g (4.59 oz)

This particular update to the Galaxy S family is a wonderful, hot update indeed. We have some important aspects to share in this article. Let’s go to them feature by feature.

The Display

There are major aspects of display that we need to talk about. Current Galaxy S IV smartphone uses Samsung’s own technology known as Super AMOLED, and it uses the Full HD resolution on this device. Leave resolution out, and just think about the display technology.  There are few advantages and disadvantages that AMOLED has, which are detailed in this article, comparing AMOLED to the other major display technology, known as LCD IPS.

Now, there are two versions of Super AMOLED—the regular and Super AMOLED Plus. Galaxy S II smartphone released back in 2011 used Super AMOLED Plus, which is a much better technology than Super AMOLED, although Samsung has in time made improvements and adjustments.

The difference is in the use of the matrix array.  Let’s check it out. In Galaxy S II, the sub-pixel array of the AMOLED screen uses all three sub-pixels on every pixel—Red, Green, Blue. It is hence known as RGB matrix, and the display panel is known as Super AMOLED Plus. Its layout is represented below.


On the other hand, Super AMOLED uses something known as PenTile matrix. It doesn’t have RGB array, but RGBG array. That is, there are two types of sub-pixels—the one that uses RG and the one that uses BG. They are interlaced.

RG BG sub-pixel array as in Super AMOLED

The end result is that the RGBG pixel array takes up less power, but at the cost of slight pixelation.

Within S IV, the resolution is so high that you probably won’t see any pixelation, just as in the case of Retina Display. However, RGB sub-pixel array is better to look at than PenTile array, as the latter may tend to have a little green tinge to it.

High resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio of S IV means that you won’t have those black bars on the top as you find on iPhone 4, 4S, etc., while watching HD content. Since the 720p and 1080p HD videos are rendered in 16:9 aspect ratio, such movies and images will fill the screen in the most visually pleasing way.

An improvement of the display is a feature known as Adapt Display, which Samsung says improves the display by adjusting various things like brightness, contrast, etc. It probably is an improvement to the auto-brightness feature available in most smartphones. In this case, the display probably adapts brightness and contrast to give you better viewing depending on what you are viewing—a web page, an ebook, or a video. This is a very clever move by Samsung indeed, and could probably make better use of that 2600 mAh battery.

Chinese blog IT168 did publish a number of images here that compare Galaxy S IV to S III and Xperia Z.

display of S 4 compared to Xperia Z and S3
display of S 4 compared to S3

Remember the Xperia Z phone has Sony mobile BRAVIA engine and that is bound to give better resolution pictures. With Adapt Display feature, Samsung is probably trying to compete with Xperia Z.

The Performance

Talking about Galaxy S IV’s performance, I would like to point you to the truth behind the Exynos 5 Octa processor. The last time that we got to see an Exynos 5 processor was with Google Nexus 10 tablet that really performed well. The reason why Exynos 5 is important is that it is based on ARM Cortex-A15 architecture, and that is the in-thing at this time.

The importance of this processor—Exynos 5 Octa (aka Exynos 5410) is that it has two processors in it: one low-power, low-performance quad-core processor working on ARM Cortex-A7 architecture and a secondary high-power, high-performance quad-core processor based on Cortex-A15 architecture.

ARM has introduced a new way of saving power, known as big.LITTLE, in which the partners of ARM, who develop CPUs based on its architecture, can use Cortex-A7 and Cortex-A15 cores side by side to save power.

The essence of these inner workings is that your S IV’s processor is not eight-core, but it is two four-core processors (which is not much different from S III, which has an Exynos Cortex-A9 quad-core processor). When you are working on processor-intensive tasks like gaming or productive works, the processor will switch to A-15 core and will give you maximum performance. When you are working on easy tasks like reading a document, the system will switch to low-power Cortex-A7 processor. In short, you will only see performance of a quad-core processor (albeit great performance), and not an eight-core processor as touted by some publications.

There is however something that we have to clarify for you. There are two editions of Galaxy S IV. One that ships in the US and one that ships elsewhere. Within the US, Samsung will release Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.9 GHz with the device. Elsewhere, you will get Exynos 5 Octa processor. We have recently gone through some benchmarking results published by Chinese blog, Here are the results that they identified, translated by GSMArena:

Performance benchmarks of Galaxy S IV


Vellamo benchmarks of Galaxy S IV

There is importance to these results. First of all, the international version uses quad-core Exynos 5 Octa, while others in the competition may use a Snapdragon processor, like HTC One that scored higher points using its Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7 GHz processor, which is much better performing than Exynos’s ARM Cortex-A15 core. Sony Xperia Z also uses Snapdragon, but it is S4 Pro, slightly older Snapdragon. But it also gives comparable performance.

In essence, we have to say Exynos 5 Octa is just a regular processor, and falls slightly short of performance as compared to Snapdragon’s 600, which is slightly more advanced than even Cortex-A15, as Qualcomm develops its own microarchitecture known as Krait, which has always been slightly more advanced than ARM’s parallel Cortex microarchitecture.

In the US, however, Galaxy S IV uses Snapdragon 600 quad-core clocked at an amazing 1.9 GHz, which will definitely make it the fastest smartphone available.

The Camera

If you watched the Unpacked event, given above, Ryan Bidan, director of product marketing, Samsung, has told us about the camera improvements on S IV. The phone uses 13 MP camera (if you read our article on camera technologies, you may realize there is no point to big megapixel counts).

Impressive things about this camera are some software improvements which allow you to take pictures with both the front-facing and main cameras at the same time, a feature known as dual-camera. With this feature, what you can do is take a picture and within the picture, in an inset, you can have your own picture embedded with the help of the front-facing camera.

dual camera on Galaxy S IV

Quite an amazing feature, indeed, but we don’t know if there is any requirement for that. It doesn’t get you into the context, just in an inset. And you can pick the shape of the inset. This is just a minor convenience feature that most people may not be excited about.

Another camera feature is ‘sound and shot’, which lets you insert a piece of sound to the captured image. Another major feature is the ability to remove unnecessary objects from the final shot.

In order to know the actual camera performance, we have to wait till the device hits the market to test it against other popular smartphone cameras.


One major feature of S IV is that it can work as your personal translator. S Translator app on the phone understands nine languages, and can translate what you speak into whichever language you want it to. This is a nifty feature for international travelers. However, we always come across the problems of software translators, most of which are not perfect. This is still one feature that really is very attractive.

The phone supports text to speech and speech to text, with which you can type in or speak and have the phone speak it in different languages.

Besides these new features, the phone has several major software improvements.

Software & Apps

The phone comes with the latest Android, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which we know has been rolled out to Google Nexus series. On the top of that, Samsung has its own TouchWiz UI, which we have had the chance to experience in other Galaxy handsets. There are other major software improvements that Samsung has announced with this phone.

A few we are familiar with already are Air View and S Voice. A few new software features have been introduced to Galaxy S IV. One of them is Story Album that helps you create an album out of the pictures that you take. You can create themed albums with images and text, and Samsung has partnered with Blurb to make the story album available in print.

S Voice gets an improvement known as S Voice Drive, with which you can use S Voice to attend calls or read messages to you while you are driving. Another program called Smart Switch helps move data from other devices—Android, iOS, etc., to new Galaxy S IV.

Remember how BlackBerry 10 has your professional communications and personal communications separated? Samsung has introduced a similar feature into S IV, known as Samsung Knox, which separates personal space from workspace.

We have looked at only a few software features here, and there are quite a few (group play, video call enhancements, etc.) that we will get to experience when the device comes to the market.

Other Major Aspects

Connectivity with 4G LTE is possible on Galaxy S IV. It gives speeds of 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload, at LTE category 3. This is a hexa-band device, which means the device should be able to support a diversity of LTE band sets for different regions.

Other major connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. 802.11ac is still under development, and it will provide better bandwidth on your Wi-Fi networks. MediaTek’s MT7650 has HT80 Wi-Fi technology that supports up to 433 Mbps in Wi-Fi dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) in 802.11ac. This is probably what Samsung Galaxy S IV has on board.

The phone has Infrared (IR-LED) function, which makes it a TV-remote. Besides these, there are quite a number of sensors that allow such features as air gestures, Smart Stay, Smart Pause (pausing the video being played if you are looking away), etc. Also, the device touts 50 GB of Dropbox storage availability, as opposed to 20 GB given by HTC One.

The Build Quality

Samsung has finally gone with a polycarbonate back for Galaxy S IV, and this is a very welcome change. We have only got the chance to look at the device, and not touch and feel it, and it definitely looks strong and sturdy. Available in two colors, Black Mist and White Frost, the phone from the front reminds me personally of a larger Nexus 4 (did any of you feel so?)

The phone is quite thin and light, as compared to the previous Galaxy. At only 7.9 inches, the phone is very thin and light, probably thinner than almost all competing phones out there, save iPhone 5. HTC One is thicker at over 9 mm, while Sony Xperia Z is as thin as S IV at 7.9 mm.

The Buying Decision

The major competition to Samsung Galaxy S IV comes from two other smartphones that we reviewed earlier—HTC One and Sony Xperia Z. While all three phones have full HD resolution, HTC One has the smallest screen of 4.7 inches. Both Xperia Z and HTC One have similar connectivity options like LTE Cat 3 and other Wi-Fi options.

Samsung Galaxy S IV has two editions, the International edition which comes with Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa processor, while the US edition uses Snapdragon 600 processor.

When it comes to choosing the right smartphone, there are quite a few aspects to consider. Let me elaborate on the aspects that are in favor of Galaxy S IV here.

If you need a really large, gorgeous display, if you need a lot of control over the device through those gestures and extra sensors, if you need that carrier flexibility, then please go ahead and opt for Galaxy S IV.

If you are in the US, Galaxy S IV probably is the fastest smartphone available. On the other hand, if you are in the international market, I would suggest HTC One as it has better processing power, albeit not extremely noticeable. Also HTC One fits in your pocket better and has slightly better build quality.

In Conclusion

The price is another important factor that decides whether you need to buy a smartphone or not. With these features that Samsung developed, the price is not going to be small, but it should still be better than iPhone 5, I suppose. As Apple’s product has long lost its glamor, I would suggest you go for some great Android devices. Samsung Galaxy S IV is definitely worth it to buy, and it is coming to a huge market of 155 countries and 327 mobile carriers.

As you probably remember in our review of best smartphones, we have taken Galaxy S III as the champion in mobile carrier market. Galaxy S IV could probably replace S III in that list. Our recommendation to you is if you are a fan of large screens and Galaxy S series in particular, then don’t hesitate and get your hands on this wonderful smartphone when it comes to the market by the end of April.

[Update: ]

News has come that Samsung is at work on a technology that enables the Exynos Octa processor’s all eight cores to be used at once. The improvement is expected by the fourth quarter of 2013. We have mentioned earlier in the review that these eight cores do not actually work together. The four cores in Cortex-A15 technology work when the performance has to be high, and the other four A7 cores work when the performance doesn’t have to be high and the power has to be saved.

New solution for heterogeneous multiprocessing developed by Samsung will enable all eight cores to work simultaneously, while saving power and improving performance. At that time, S4 could indeed be one of the fastest smartphones we have available.

Display Technologies on Your Smartphone Screen: A Myth Buster

When you are looking for a new smartphone, you often come across some of these display technologies in technical specifications—LCD, LCD IPS, LED, WLED, OLED, SLCD, TFT, Retina Display, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, PLS, Super PLS, and so on. What the heck are these acronyms? How can you find out what is what and what matters the most? It’s a difficult job indeed. There are quite a number of things you need to understand and appreciate. But here, in this article, let me clear a few doubts and myths.

Display Technology


When we consider a smartphone screen, there are three major aspects to consider—the basic technology used, the resolution, and the technology used for wide-angle viewing.

The first part is the actual display technology, which you probably know about. In yesteryear computers, you have CRT (Cathode Ray Tube), and then came LCD for flat panel displays. Realistically speaking, if you go into the detail of display technologies, there are actually only two types of major display technologies—CRT and LCD. LCD is extremely popular and they find use in almost all of the smartphones you have there.

The other technologies, like TFT, IPS, Retina, etc., are enhancements to the LCD panel for various end results. Let’s see.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)


I am just trying to give you a general idea of the Liquid Crystal Display and will not go into the nuances of the technology.

LCD finds its roots back in your old calculators and digital watches that have monochrome LCD panels. The structure of an LCD panel is shown here.

structure of an LCD panel


The main element of this display panel is the liquid crystal layer that is aligned between the transparent positive and negative electrodes. As the electricity is applied through these electrodes, the LCD will either let the light pass or not. This creates the image what we see on the screen.

an old calculator uses LCD display


One important aspect of this panel is the final layer you see in the image, which could be either a reflective surface, such as a mirror or a backlighting source. In the case of regular monochrome LCD displays such as the calculator you saw above, there is no backlighting source. The display is visible only in daylight. It simply reflects back the light it receives for you to see the image. On other applications, such as your smartphone or the laptop display, there is a backlight, which makes it possible for us to see the images in darkness.

LED Display


Is there really a technology known as LED display? When you are watching a sport event in a large stadium, you may notice the huge display panels set up that show live footage of the game. Also, you see billboards all the time. Buses have this marquee-style display lit up with a number of LEDs to show you the route information.

true LED display


All of these displays are true LED displays, because they have a number of Light Emitting Diodes (a teeny-tiny light bulb) that collectively show images.



In actuality, there is no display technology involved here. Then what is the LED, WLED display panels advertised by your TV maker? If you believe that they are actually made of millions of microscopic LEDs, you couldn’t be more wrong. They use exactly the same technology as the LCD above. Then what is the difference?

Remember we told you about the backlighting panel in the LCD structure above? That backlighting panel is usually made using a technology known as CCFL, which stands for Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps. This is a thin white tube that emits light. A horizontal panel made using a number of these CCFL tubes form the final layer of LCD displays. It makes the display thick and a little more power-consuming.

CCFL tubes


As an alternative, the industry came up with LED backlighting. Instead of using this series of CCFLs, we created an LED panel to provide light for the LCD display upfront. This is what we call LED display, and there is nothing it has to do with regular LED displays you see in a billboard.

First LED display panels involved white LEDs instead of colored ones. This is the reason why they are called WLEDs (White LED displays). Then came along colored LEDs, in three colors primarily—Red, Green, and Blue—later known as RGB LED displays. These panels are easy on the eyes since they give better colors than your regular WLED.

So, in essence, you have only one display technology, LCD, and LED is just an enhancement to it.

The Resolution


When it comes to smartphone world, we keep hearing quite a number of terms—VGA, QVGA, XGA, WXGA, UXGA, QXGA, HD, FHD, 2K, 4K, and so on. All of these terms represent only the display’s resolution, rather than the technology used.

For instance, VGA (Video Graphics Array) is a resolution of 640×480 pixels; QVGA is Quarter VGA with a resolution of 320×240; SXGA is Super Extended Graphics Array and represents a resolution of 1280×1024.

Aspect ratio is also closely related to this. For instance, iPhone 5 has a resolution of 1136×640, which corresponds to 16:9 aspect ratio. In the same way, iPad 4 has a resolution of 2048×1536, which corresponds to 4:3 aspect ratio.

Check out this image showing all kinds of resolutions on smartphones (click to enlarge).

resolutions and names


To know more about resolution, you can read our 4K TV article.

Another aspect of your display that closely relates to resolution is the ppi ratio (pixels per inch). iPhone 5 has a ppi of 326, which Apple likes to call Retina Display, while HTC Droid DNA has a ppi of 441. This has nothing to do with the display technology used, but everything to do with the size of the display and the resolution.

For instance, if you have a 4 inch display and 1136×640 of resolution, you cannot build it without having 326 pixels every inch. Droid DNA has a 5 inch display and with 441 pixels on every inch, it is capable of getting Full HD resolution of 1920×1080. Hence, the ppi ratio is directly proportional to the resolution and inversely proportional to the size of the display.

So, a smartphone display can show images well without high resolution, while a TV display has to have a high resolution to show images in good quality.

You can read about ppi ratio in our article about Retina Display.

One important thing to note is building too high resolution is also sort of an overkill. You don’t need anything higher than the Full HD on your smartphone, and HD, which is 1280×720, is also quite acceptable. Too high resolution on a smaller display will only make it look weird.

Over time, LCD has also had its improvements, and SLCD (Super LCD) used in most of the devices today (including iPhone, HTC One X, etc.) has come about, and it is manufactured by Sony. SLCD should not be confused with S-LCD, which is a manufacturer of LCD panels (and it is South Korean subsidiary of Samsung Electronics and Sony).

TFT, IPS, & Super PLS


You are hearing a lot about TFT and IPS lately, I suppose? These are not new display technologies, but are enhancements to the existing LCD panels. TFT stands for Thin Film Transistor, which is simply a layer on an LCD panel to make it address the pixels better. Just as there are tiny LEDs on a large LED panel, there are millions of tiny pixels on an LCD panel. And these pixels have to be individually managed to make an image appear on the screen.

This management of pixels is done by a Thin Film Transistor layer that has transistors across the rows and columns, directing charge to the pixel array.

The following is a typical LCD pixel array. As you can see, each individual pixel consists of actually three subpixels—red, green, and blue. Each of these subpixels has its own transistor that passes some amount of power to it to light it up.

Subpixel array on LCD panel


If you take an individual pixel, you can see that it has a TFT associated with it.

TFT on LCD panel


IPS (In-Plane Switching) is another enhancement to LCD TFT technology. If you are familiar with old LCD panels found in laptops and TVs, you know that they have terrible viewing angles. If you try to watch the screen from the side or from slightly above, you literally can’t see anything. But today’s LCD panels have much improved viewing angles, don’t they?

The technology behind this was first developed by a Japanese conglomerate known as Hitachi. In-Plane Switching improves your LCD panel’s viewing angle, and it is used in most of the smartphone display panels these days, may it be iPhone, Nexus 4, or HTC One. They all use LCD (SLCD) IPS panels.

Naturally, IPS would get its share of competition from others, and Samsung did announce another technology that improves viewing angles even further . The Korean beauty shows off its Super PLS (Plane to Line Switching) technology along with IPS panels.

Super PLS vs IPS
IPS and Super PLS side by side


Samsung says Super PLS improves the viewing angle and brightness of the display. So, which smartphones use this technology? Several of Samsung’s products in fact, including Galaxy Tab 2, Google Nexus 10, Galaxy Ace 2, Ativ Tab, etc.



So far, we have seen a lot of technologies, but only one corresponds to the actual technology used in a display, and that is LCD (and its advanced variant, Super LCD). All smartphones out there, iPhone, Nokia Lumia 920, HTC One, Nexus 4, and tablets, Nexus 10, iPad 4, etc., use LCD for their display.

What about a different kind of display technology? Samsung has the other side of the revolution going on.

Samsung has its own in-house solution to display technology, known as AMOLED—Active-Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode. AMOLED is a type of OLED display in which a different kind of technology is used, rather than LCD.

AMOLED actually qualifies as a basic display technology. Other technologies like TFT, IPS, Retina Display, are all various enhancements or marketing gimmicks to existing LCD display with LED backlighting. AMOLED is a different kind of technology altogether.

AMOLED technology structure


As you can see, AMOLED panel also uses TFT for pixel addressing. To know various differences between AMOLED and regular TFT panels, visit this article. Super AMOLED naturally provides amazing viewing angles and very impressive black levels; also, AMOLED consumes much less power than LCD. These are major advantages of the display, but it has been identified that the panels can cause color oversaturation. Samsung has later on improved the AMOLED technology and came up with other variants like Super AMOLED, Super AMOLED Plus, etc. The basic technology remains the same.

Quite a number of phones have AMOLED display on them. The first generation Nexus phone, Google Nexus One manufactured by HTC had an AMOLED display; then came Lumia 900 from Nokia with AMOLED panel. Afterwards, quite a number of Samsung smartphones have sported this display panel— specifically Galaxy S series.

Samsung doesn’t have the manufacturing infrastructure to create AMOLED panels for all OEMs out there, and this is one of the reasons why HTC, Nokia, and others have moved on to Super LCD panels, created by Sony.

Sony also has the mobile BRAVIA engine shipping within its smartphones—more recently the Xperia Z. Mobile BRAVIA is nothing but a software program that enhances the display, so that the rendered images are much better. You will see some of the images in that article about Xperia Z smartphone.

In Conclusion


The article has already become too long for you to read. It was just meant to be an introductory article to all these display panels. You should check out each of those links as well. They are important links with further information. We have given care not to go into more technical aspects of these display technologies. If you wish to know any specific aspect, please tell us through the comments.

[Image credit: OutdoorLEDDisplayscreen, Wikipedia, Samsung, Reefbuilders]

The Best Smartphone in the Market That You Can Buy Right Now

I am not talking about the smartphones that will be released in the coming months or days or the ones that are no longer available, but the ones that are in the market right now. You, as a smartphone customer, are looking for various factors to determine your purchase. Some of us want to get our work done quickly and effectively. Some of us want to read books and watch movies, and are looking for amazing screens. Some of us are interested in amazing build quality. Some others want to have their phones work everywhere, in all networks, in all plans.

Well, there is a recipe for each requirement, but not one that satisfies all, I am afraid. Let’s take a look at the best of the lot in this post. Also, one thing to note, these smartphones are the ones with highest configuration out there. We have left out the low performance models completely.

1. The Most Productive


The answer is simple. Apple iPhone. With over 750,000 apps available, iPhone has the one app ecosystem that has everything you need to get your work done. Some of you may be more inclined to have a larger screen for business purposes, but you cannot get the best app ecosystem to go with it.

Apple iPhone 5


Android is close behind in this race, and Google Play has 655,530 apps.

With an app ecosystem that works exceptionally well with iPhone’s hardware, Apple is well in the lead in the most productive smartphone category.

You can get iPhone from the Apple store, Amazon, or Best Buy.

2. The Biggest Screen


Among the smartphones, excluding the phablets of over 5 inches, the largest screen by far belongs to HTC’s Droid DNA, the Verizon Wireless’s exclusive Droid family mobile phone. The 5 inch Super LCD 3 screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 2. It has amazing pixel density of 441 ppi, which makes it Full HD (1920×1080 px). It is possible that Droid DNA has the best screen of all smartphones in the market today. One competitor is Galaxy S3, in which Samsung uses Super AMOLED technology, which is a low-power display technology.


Buy directly from Verizon Wireless

Outside the Verizon Wireless network, HTC Droid DNA takes the shape of HTC Butterfly. The hardware specifications are exactly the same. You can get it from Amazon for 899 dollars.

3. The Best Camera


In this category, all of the major camera shootouts have given us one fine contender. Competing with all of the other major smartphone cameras in the low light shootouts, Nokia Lumia 920 emerged successful as the best camera smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 920


Windows Phone device, Lumia 920’s 8.7 megapixel camera shot this image in the dark. On the right, you can see the same image shot with iPhone 5; click on them to enlarge.

low light on Lumia 920low light on iPhone


This particular image comparison was done by Gizmodo recently. You should check it out. It has some amazing shots done by other major smartphone cameras.

You can buy Lumia 920 from Best Buy.

4. The Fastest Smartphone


It is extremely difficult to pinpoint a really fast smartphone, out of this sea of phones we have here. The speed is measured differently in different platforms, and the fastest phones are bound to have low ratings on some benchmarks. We have gone through quite a number of benchmarks, with our list of the fastest smartphones, and have been able to pinpoint one device that stands out with a more consistent performance in these benchmarks.

The one thing that makes this happen for this device is its processor, Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, 1.5 GHz quad-core, arguably the fastest smartphone processor today. I suppose you already guessed the device we are talking about is LG Optimus G. And since the hardware is almost the same on Google Nexus 4, we have to say there are two devices in this category.

LG Optimus G


LG Optimus G has scored 2147 points in Geekbench, while the close contenders include Galaxy Note II with 1926 points, Galaxy S3 with 1717 points, iPhone 5 with 1601 points, etc.

The close contenders for this smartphone include iPhone 5 with amazing top results in graphics benchmarks and JavaScript benchmarks done with GLBenchmark and SunSpider; HTC Droid DNA that came with a slightly better score in AnTuTu benchmarks (20083 of Droid DNA vs. 19078 on Optimus G).

One important thing to note is that almost all of the top smartphones in these benchmarks were using the same processor—Snapdragon APQ8064 quad-core clocked at 1.5 GHz, the same on Droid DNA, Nexus 4, and Optimus G.

LG Optimus G can be purchased from Amazon


5. Best Carrier Options


With the idea in mind to find out the smartphone with the best carrier option (you know, including 4G LTE and all) we went into the top US mobile carriers—AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. We wanted a phone that is available in all networks and at a reasonable price. A lot of the first contenders were already gone, such as Nexus 4 (no LTE), Droid series (only in Verizon), etc.

Samsung Galaxy S III


It seems that Samsung Galaxy S3 is the clear winner in this case.

Galaxy S3 is not only available in all of these carriers, but also has the best prices as compared to others like iPhone 5.

You can get S3 from Amazon here.

6. The Build Quality


I don’t need to speak too much, too loud about this particular aspect. As there are more phones coming up with amazing build quality; plastic players moving toward premium, metallic designs; and some OEMs innovating in the waterproof front, it seems build quality is important.

One of the upcoming models that will sell for its build quality is HTC One, but we are not going to talk about that here. We are going to talk about Nokia’s Lumia 920 that survived drop tests so well that it had to be thrown forcefully to break. Have you ever driven a car over your Lumia smartphone? If not and you are afraid, check this out:

Thanks to for this video.

With polycarbonate back and thicker Gorilla Glass 2 at the front, the smartphone is unbreakable. You can read our list of the most durable smartphones here.



Is there any other aspect that we missed? Oh yes, the price. I believe that ship has sailed since we have already mentioned this is a showdown of high-end smartphones. All of them listed here are the flagship models from the respective companies. It is quite nice to say Lumia 920 coming up in two separate aspects. It is a simple truth that iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 are not the only choice customers have these days.

If you continue to read our blog, you will come across amazing new gadgets to buy. In this review, it is quite impossible for me to pinpoint one of these phones. Each is good in its own way.

If you want to add any other aspect to the list, please let us know through the comments, and we may do just that.

An Analysis of Todays Smartphone Camera Technologies

Time when we were buying SLR and digital SLR cameras for capturing various moments in our lives is gone. Now, those special moments are captured right from within your smartphones. Most of these smartphones have evolved to the point that it is right to say the best camera in the world is the one in your hands.

The time of puny 1 MP and 3 MP cameras is gone, and now it is time for 8 MP, 12 MP, 13 MP, or 41 MP cameras among smartphones. In this article, lets look at the major technologies used in the cameras of our favorite smartphones.

According to research firm NPDs statistics, in 2011, over 27 percent of the photos were taken by smartphone cameras. Also, this zest for camera phones is negatively affecting the point-and-shoot camera market.

NPD statistics of mobile camera usage


The Basic Technology

Digital cameras have thesea lens, an image sensor technology, and the image signal processor. When you are taking videos with these digital cameras, one additional component called video encoder also comes into play. Here is a basic diagram showing what is happening in a smartphone camera.

Basic technology of smartphone camera

As you can see there is communication between the CMOS sensor and the ISP to better interpret the scene captured with the lens. The sensor and the ISP may reverse-communicate to make the image better, as represented by the double arrows. During video-capture, this is how the video encoder comes into play.

Technology in smartphone camera during video capture

Within smartphone cameras, we use the Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology for the sensor. In other high-end digital cameras, the sensor uses a different technology known as CCD (Charge-Coupled Device). Both these technologies are identical in that they convert light into electric signals (similar to the solar cells).

CCD is more of a traditional kind of image sensor. It has a capacitor array that captures each pixel in the image, and the data is converted into an electric charge. These charges are then transferred through a shift register and converted into a voltage sequence that can be stored as a digital image.

progressive scan
A representation of progressive scan in displays

CCD is an analog device, and it captures more natural images than the CMOS technology does. While in CCD, the entire image is converted into one sequence of voltage, within CMOS, each pixel has its own circuitry to create its own voltage sequence.

In essence, CCD captures the image in one shot, while CMOS captures it in sort of a scan, either vertically or horizontally (just like progressive scan). Hence, the CMOS sensor doesnt get the entire image in a single instance.

I will not go into the details of these technologies.

The basic difference between CCD and CMOS is that CMOS uses much less power than CCD. This makes it perfect for handheld devices.

However, CMOS suffers from an issue known as rolling shutter effect, since it doesnt take a picture in a single instance, but rather in a scan. When a CMOS sensor interprets a moving object, the image gets skewed. This is caused by the kind of shutter it useseither global or rolling. If it uses the global shutter, the sensor wont cause this issue. CCD sensors exclusively use global shutter and hence they are not affected by this issue. CMOS sensors commonly use the rolling shutter that causes the effect.

rolling shutter effect

Your smartphone cannot house a larger CCD sensor as there are quite a few limitations, such as cost, materials used, the conditions in which the smartphone is used, etc. Hence, a CMOS sensor is usually regarded to be the best for tiny smartphone cameras. However, there have been CCD cameras on phones, such as this Sharp Aquos 933SH.

Sharp Aquos smartphone with CCD camera


The Megapixel Myth


HTC Titan II smartphone's camera
HTC Titan II used 16 MP camera

During the last two years or so, smartphone manufacturers have been on a rat race to build cameras with the highest megapixel count. They simply upgraded the cameras up until they hit 16 megapixels.

That was supposed to be the limit, but then Nokia came up with its PureView 808 smartphone with a whopping 41 megapixel camera.

PureView 808
Nokia PureView 808 with 41 MP image sensor

Lets analyze why megapixel count after a certain limit does not represent image quality.

The number of megapixels on your phones camera represents the actual size of the image. For instance, Titan IIs 16 MP sensor can print an image at the size of 23.2×17.4 inches. And taking it further, the Nokia PureView 808s camera (with 38 MP of effective pixels) will make an image of the size 35.76×26.84 inches or about 3×2 feet in size. This calculation is considering the 200 dpi resolution of a printer. If you consider an LCD screen of about 100 ppi resolution, the size will go up to twice as much.

Imagine how much disk space a large image would take. It will be much larger than the regular 8 MP image. This is the reason why Nokia PureView 808s camera by default shoots images only at 5MP. What a waste of pixels! With your smartphones camera, you absolutely dont need to create images of huge sizes. An 8 MP or a 10 MP camera can provide you with exactly what you want.

By the end of 2012, people as well as smartphone manufacturers started realizing that this industry talk about megapixels is quite a bit unnecessary. That has caused HTC to come up withHTC One smartphonethat is barely 4 MP, but uses a different technology known as UltraPixel to capture more light through those pixels.

The size and quality of the cameras lens is another factor that determines the image quality. A large diameter lens can produce much better images. With this in mind, Nokia has gone with Carl Zeiss optics for most of its smartphones. Carl Zeiss is a leading German manufacturer of lenses for various DSLR film cameras. Their optics finds uses in various industrial applications in metrology, medical technology, microscopy, etc.

Use of Carl Zeisss high quality optics has clearly increased the quality of images captured by Nokia smartphones. LG Optimus G also has a larger camera lens that makes its images much better.

If the camera is naturally capable of optical zoom, that is another aspect that will improve the quality of the image. An example is the Samsung Galaxy Camera that has a smartphone at the back.

Samsung Galaxy Camera

This particular device has a 16 MP camera and 21x optical zoom (look at the size of that camera housing) and uses a BSI CMOS sensor. BSI is for Backside Illumination. This is a technique used to increase the amount of light captured, and thereby improve the low-light photographs.

Trademarked Camera Technologies

Now, we will take a look at the current technologies that we hear about in popular smartphone cameras. Some of these technologies are Nokia Lumia 920 smartphones PureView technology and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), HTCs UltraPixel technology, Sony sensor within iPhone 5, Sonys own Exmor R and RS sensors, BlackBerry Z10s Time Shift camera, etc.

Nokia PureView Technology

The current top of the line smartphone from Nokia isLumia 920. It has two major technologies built in, Optical Image Stabilization and PureView. The first device to come up with PureView technology was last years release, Nokia PureView 808 with 41 MP camera, giving a resolution of 7728×5368. However, the default capture in PureView 808 camera is only at 5 MP. At 41 MP, the camera can take a huge image, while at 5 MP, only a part of that huge image is shown to the user. As a result, a user can easily zoom in up to 3x without losing quality as in digital zoom.

Digital zoom used in your smartphones camera has nothing to do with lens movement. It cannot give the clarity and detail as given by actual zooming, which has to be optical. In order to do optical zooming, you have to have a zoom lens in a larger camera housing as found in Samsung Galaxy Camera. With Nokia 808 PureView, the sensor itself is pretty large and capable of shooting a large image, and only a portion of that image is shown to you. Hence, a 3x lossless zoom asmaintained by Nokiais possible.

In PureView technology, it uses something known as pixel oversampling. This means, the data from several pixels are used to form something Nokia calls a super pixel. As a result, the camera is able to capture more light, and come up with a HDR effect on its images. This is one of the reasons why Nokia Lumia 920s camera has been regarded as one of the best in the industry today.

The PureView technology is capable of shooting images with unmatched clarity in low light situations. Here is a comparison shoot:

Camera comparison

More of such low light photographs can be found in Engadgetsgallery.

Earlier, around the time Nokia released Lumia 920, they came up with an ad supposedly shot with the camera, but was actually shot with a DSLR camera. It wasa mistake.

Optical Image Stabilization

Nokias camera supports another technology known as Optical Image Stabilization. Unlike PureView, it is not a Nokia trademark, though. HTC phone, the latest HTC One, also supports OIS. It is also available in most of the high end cameras.

Imagine you are shooting a casual image, and you tripped and went out of focus for a moment. On a regular phone camera, you can imagine what would happen. The image would be out of focus and useless. On Lumia 920s camera, it is a different story altogether. Lumia 920s camera has something built into it known as OIS. It is a little piece of hardware that utilizes one of thephones sensors, the gyroscope.

A smartphones gyroscope is an MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System). This means, it is an electronic component with extremely tiny mechanical parts (moving parts). The gyroscope is an orientation element in the smartphone. This means, your smartphone feels the gravity and the angle in which you are holding it. It is also the technology behind display autorotation. Pretty smart, huh?

With the help of the gyroscope, the smartphone understands when you are shaking the camera during image capture. It just moves the lens to adjust focus. Take a look here, taken fromHTCs pageon OIS.

Optical image stabilization

Another way to stabilize the image is by software, aka Digital Image Stabilization (DIS). The difference is pretty much similar to optical zoom vs. digital zoom. Digital image stabilization also uses the gyroscope, but instead of moving the lens, it adjusts the data processed by the pixel array of the sensor to get a more focused image.

UltraPixel Technology

UltraPixel technology has been put forward by HTC through its HTC One smartphone. The technology is in many ways similar to Nokias PureView.

HTC One smartphones camera has a resolution of only about 4 megapixels. But these pixels are much larger than the regular pixels found in other smartphones. While iPhone 5s pixels are 1.4 microns in size, HTC Ones pixels are as large as 2 microns. HTC calls them UltraPixels. These UltraPixels are capable of bringing in more light through each pixel, so that the picture is much better in low light conditions.

In PureView, the data from a number of pixels are used to form a super pixel that improves low light photography, while in UltraPixel technology HTC has made pixels themselves large enough. In essence, both these technologies should have almost the same end result.

Apple iPhone Camera

There was arecent news storyin Business Insider about ARGUS (Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System), which is a surveillance camera that can be attached to drones like the Predator and the Global Hawk.

Global Hawk drone

The interesting thing about this camera is that it uses the tiniest cameras possible, such as those inside iPhone 4S, shown here.

tiny iphone camera

With many of these tiny cameras, ARGUS can achieve a whopping 1800 megapixel resolution in its images. That is an interesting story of how many small things can constitute one huge thing.

Apple iPhone 5s camera has been touted far and wide as one of the best out there. Recent camera tests show it performing brilliantly in all kinds of lighting conditions. Apple calls its camera iSight, and it is almost as great as Nokia Lumia 920s camera.

Apple has standing contract with Sony, which manufactures iPhone 5s camera sensor. This was revealed in ateardowndone by Chipworks.

iPhone 5 uses a faster shutter speed, up to 40 percent faster than iPhone 4S, and this has improved the quality of its images a lot. To protect the camera lens, Apple uses sapphire crystal, an extremely hard material that is highly scratch-resistant. iFixit did ateardownof the iPhone 5 and they found the camera to be well protected and clear.

BlackBerry Z10s Camera

The recently releasedBlackBerry Z10smartphone, marking sort of a rebirth for BlackBerry, uses a camera technology known as Time Shift.

This is a simple method in which the camera captures a short video instead of an image, and then it allows you to edit a face within that to get the best shot possible. This video explains it better:

Sonys Exmor RS

Sonys flagship smartphone,Xperia Zutilizes a technology known as Exmor RS. In August, last year,Sony announcedthis new sensor technology, in which CMOS sensors are placed in a stacked structure.

Exmor RS sensor in Sony cameras

This particular technology is supposed to give supreme image quality in low light situations, and the camera module takes less space as compared to other smartphones since the sensor is much smaller.


As you can see, there are quite a number of camera technologies in the world today. Small cameras were big a few years ago. Even the Mars Rover Curiosity uses a 2 MP camera due to a number of reasons you can readhere. But now is the time of high resolution cameras with great technologies. Going forward, you may get to see more and more technologies in smartphone photography.

[Image: Gizmodo, Akihabaranews, ePhotozine, GSMArena, Engadget, Strikefighterconsultinginc]

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Tablet: Is It Worth to Buy?

;”>Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0
Right when you were confused as to which small tablet to buy, here is Samsung with Note 8.0, the mid-range S-pen-included version of the popular Note series. You probably know about Note II and Note 10.1, the other two in the Galaxy Note family. While Note II has carved a special niche for itself in the form of a phablet, Note 10.1 hasn’t quite been a favorite.

The specialty of Notes is the added S-pen for note-taking. Note 8.0 is no different. Also, with an 8 inch slim screen, it takes Apple iPad Mini head on; we were not fond of iPad Mini from the beginning anyway. Galaxy Note 8.0 was launched in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Here is a look at the device, thanks to Engadget:

In this article, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of Galaxy Note 8.0 and see whether it is a good buy or not.

Technical Specifications


Here are the announced tech specs of the device. When it actually comes out, the specifications could change. Here I have, a comparison of Galaxy Note 8.0 with the competing tablets—Apple iPad Mini and Google Nexus 7.

Galaxy Note 8.0

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

iPad Mini

Apple iPad Mini

Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Display 8 inch LCD LCD IPS 7.9 inches LCD IPS 7 inch
Resolution 1280×800 px; 189 ppi 1024×768; 162 ppi 1280×800; 216 ppi
Processor Samsung Exynos
quad-core1.6 GHz based on ARM Cortex-A9
Apple A5 (dual-core) 1 GHz based on ARM Cortex-A9 NVidia Tegra 3 1.3 GHz (ARM Cortex-A9)
Operating System Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean iOS 6 Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean update available
RAM 2 GB 512 MB 1 GB
Camera 5 MP; 1.3 MP 5 MP 1.2 MP
Storage 16/32 GB 16/32/64 GB 16/32 GB
Battery 4600 mAh 4440 mAh 4325 mAh
Connectivity Wi-Fi & 3G (HSPA+ 21 Mbps);
3G model not available in the US
Wi-Fi & cellular separate versions Wi-Fi only
Other connectivity features Bluetooth 4.0
USB 2.0
Lightning connector with USB adaptor
Bluetooth 4.0
Micro USB
Body Dimensions Height 210.82 mm (8.3 in) Height 200 mm (7.87 in) Height 198.5 mm (7.81 in)
Width 134.62 mm (5.3 in) Width 134.7 mm (5.3 in) Width 120 mm (4.72 in)
Depth 7.62 mm (0.3 in) Depth 7.2 mm (0.28 in) Depth 10.5 mm (0.41 in)
Weight 337.35 g (11.9 oz) Weight 312 g (11.01 oz) Weight 340 g (11.99 oz)


As per the technical specifications, Galaxy Note 8 is clearly ahead of the competition in the form of Asus’s Nexus 7 and Apple iPad Mini.

The Design


I don’t know if it is due to the lawsuit between Apple and Samsung, which caused Samsung to design Galaxy S3 differently (for humans), that the design of Note 8 also looks weirdly similar to S3, a slightly larger S3 to be exact. It still has the rim-width resembling the iPad. The design is not quite different from the existing tablets. The robustness of the body is only on the top of the display, which is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 2.

[Short Update]

We had a comment from one of our readers about the presence of Gorilla glass on Note 8. We inquired Samsung itself about this, and got the confirmation that Note 8 (N5110) does have Gorilla Glass. Here is the tweet from Samsung support:



The back is made by Samsung’s “trademarked” cheap plastic.

Although the tablet has the largest display of the three mentioned, it weighs slightly less than Google Nexus 7, and it is a good thing. With wider rim, it is easier to hold without blocking the display. All in all, there is nothing awe-inspiring about this tablet. It is just your regular note, only in a medium form.

The Performance


Exynos is a power-packed processor. It is one of the best among the tablet processors out there today. Nexus 10 tablet running Exynos 5 performs better than Apple iPad 4, which has Apple A6X SoC (based on Swift architecture). Current Note 8 probably has Exynos 4412 SoC that comes on other devices like Galaxy S3, Note 10, etc.

However, on Nexus 10, Samsung has included the more recent power-packed processor, Exynos 5 (5250). It performs like a stud, and comes one notch above iPad (4th gen).

In Geekbench benchmarking results, Nexus 7 (with Tegra 3) gets scores above 1400 and Apple iPad Mini (which includes the A5 chip based on Cortex-A9 that shipped with iPad 2) has scores in 750 range. Galaxy Note 8, which includes the same processor as Note II, is expected to score nearer to 2000 points.

Hence, in terms of performance, Galaxy Note 8 should be the best of the three. Here is a Geekbench comparison chart between some major tablets:

Tablet and processor Geekbench score
Google Nexus 10 (Exynos 5250 Cortex-A15) 2433
Samsung  Galaxy Note II (Exynos quad-core 1.6 GHz) 1924
Apple iPad 4th gen (Apple A6X dual-core 1.4 GHz) 1775
Asus Nexus 7 (NVidia Tegra 3 Cortex-A9) 1481
Apple iPad Mini (dual-core Apple A5 1 GHz) 755


Another important aspect about Note 8’s processor is that it still is based on Cortex-A9 microarchitecture, which has recently been replaced by Cortex-A15. The upcoming processor, NVidia Tegra 4 and Samsung’s own Exynos 5 will include Cortex-A15 core. It is hence a disappointment that Note 8 still has Cortex-A9, while Samsung’s own Nexus 10 has a Cortex-A15 processor.

Other Aspects


The display of Note 8 is regular LCD backlit with probably the Super PLS technology Samsung has been promoting on other devices, Note 10 and Nexus 10. Samsung hasn’t supplied Super AMOLED on a screen larger than 5.3 inches yet. The display should be comparable to LCD IPS on iPad Mini and Nexus 7, although the iPad Mini has a ridiculously low pixel density out of the three tablets.

Note 8.0 runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean operating system. As you can see Nexus 7 is already leading with 4.2.2 version. Since Nexus is a Google tablet, the latest version of the operating system is naturally available to it first. Samsung has implemented the TouchWiz overlay on Note 8, and it involves better multi-tasking features.

Note 8 also includes the largest of batteries among 8 inch tablets. With that 4600 mAh battery, you can probably keep the charge longer than the other tablets.

As usual, Note 8 comes with the S-pen, Samsung’s own note-taking pen that comes with all of Note devices. Note II with the S-pen have in fact been one of the favorite devices out there, although we mentioned earlier that you should wait till a better upgrade gets released.

An improvement in Note 8 is that the S-pen can now operate the menu buttons at the bottom. The tablet has a number of apps to take advantage of the pen, and you may know them if you are familiar with other Notes. Air View, S Note, Easy Clip, Idea Sketch, Shape Match, etc., are some of them.

Air View on Note 2


Galaxy Note 2 Popup Note


Another aspect is connectivity. If you are expecting to insert a SIM into this tablet, you should be in the right country. In the US, only Wi-Fi version is available.

Also, the current Note 8 doesn’t include LTE capabilities, and it has no tie-up with Qualcomm that manufactures LTE baseband for other Samsung devices like Galaxy S3. The 3G version with only 21 Mbps download limit is available in other countries, where the LTE is probably not popular.

Build Quality


Build quality of Samsung devices has not been great. A fall from a feet above ground could break them. In our list of most durable phones, none of the Samsung devices were featured due to this. Note 8 is no different. It has regular plastic back and thin Gorilla Glass protection on the front screen.

It is however not ideal to compare build quality of tablets, which you are less likely to drop than a smartphone. In build quality, Nexus 7 and iPad Mini are better than Note 8.

The Price


We don’t know the price yet. However, in order to compete in the market with other low-cost tablets, and the awfully pricey and yet popular iPad Mini, Galaxy Note 8 has to be perfectly priced.


Galaxy Note 8 has been released to the US market for a starting price of 399 dollars for the 16 GB version. The device has been found in Best Buy, Amazon.


Note 10 had received positive reviews, although when it came to sales, Nexus 10, which has an amazingly better performance, did take the lead. In a world with two almost similar tablets, who do you think will come up on the top? Only the better performing one (excluding all Apple products, of course).

In this comparison between 7 inch tablets, price is an important factor. People purchase medium tablets if the price is right. iPad Mini is the only device that doesn’t honor this philosophy. It is priced anywhere between 329 to 659 dollars based on the configuration. This is ridiculously higher than Nexus 10, which starts at 399.

There is nothing in iPad Mini’s hardware to justify that kind of price.

When it comes to pricing, there are two major competitors to Note 8—Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, both of which retail at around 199 dollars. Note 8 definitely has better features and hardware specs than Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, but it has to work on the pricing to come on top. The failure of Note 10 was only due to the price, which at around 550 dollars was slightly higher than Nexus 10’s.



Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will be released to a great competition. There is a rumor of iPad Mini 2 that may include a Retina display. Price is an important factor that decides the success of Note 8. On any day, Note 8 will be a better purchase than Apple iPad Mini. Our recommendation, hence, is go ahead, buy Note 8 when it comes to the market by April-June time.

[Image source: AndroidTapp, AllThingsD, TechnologyTell]