The new stock GS4: The price is right, the expectations are wrong

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: May 15, 2013


Today is just the beginning of Google I/O, which lasts through Friday as we continue to learn more about Google’s plans for the near future. We’ve already learned of a couple of interesting new features coming from the Mountain View company, including a new streaming music service, notification syncing, and the new and improved Google Hangouts – but that’s not all! Probably the most left field move that predictions expected to see today was the announcement of a Samsung Galaxy S 4 that runs like a Nexus.

When I first heard the announcement to release the stock Galaxy S 4 I found myself in minor shock – this is, after all, the first non-Nexus device that is able to receive this opportunity. Google also announced that it would be updated just as often as devices that are officially on the Nexus line, which basically makes it a Nexus without the Nexus name – not to mention it already comes with bootloader unlocked. It also comes with a much higher price tag than the last Nexus device, the Nexus 4, which sells for $299. But just how high is that price?

The price starts at $649 and the devices will begin selling on June 26. When Mr. Barra announced this price point, you could tell the audience was thrilled by the deafening screams of… absolute silence. I admit that I myself raised both eyebrows as the thoughts of owning a stock Samsung Galaxy S 4 quietly began to exit my brain, but then I realized that this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise at all.

This isn’t another Nexus device, this is a flagship smartphone from another company that was originally meant to serve as, well… as a Galaxy. Yet, since we’re being offered a Nexus experience, I think we all jumped the gun by assuming that a Nexus experience automatically comes with a Nexus price tag without question. To be perfectly honest, you’re still getting a discount because the price of the stock Galaxy S 4 is $50 cheaper than an unsubsidized regular Galaxy S 4, which sells for $699 without contract.

So the question the audience and we, the consumers, are asking ourselves at this point is: Is a stock Google experience worth $350 more than what the latest Nexus device can currently offer us? Let’s look at some of the differences and figure it out.

We know about the Google Nexus 4 by LG, and we know about the Samsung Galaxy S 4, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time spelling out all of the specifics. Instead I’m going to focus on some of the bigger differences between the two devices, which may or may not serve as a game changer on whether you would rather purchase the stock Galaxy S 4 over the Nexus 4 or not.

The first thing that’s completely debatable and up in the air, at least for me, regards the screen. While the Nexus 4 only has a 1280 x 768 resolution (320 ppi) against the Galaxy S 4’s 1080 x 1920 resolution (441 ppi) there’s still more than meets the eye when it comes to numbers, and that’s the fact that the Nexus 4’s WXGA IPS is remarkably easier to see in direct sunlight when compared to the Galaxy S 4’s AMOLED display. If you’re a vampire like me, then sunlight probably won’t affect your buying decision much – but for those that prefer to soak in the sun you might consider whether being able to clearly see your phone’s display in the sunlight is something that would bother you or not.

One of the more prominent issues regards the data speeds of each device. As many of you know the Nexus 4’s fastest speeds only amount to HSPA+ while the Galaxy S 4 offers LTE. Really this is going to depend on where you spend most of your time. I’ve heard numerous accounts where people have absolutely no beef with the HSPA+ speeds of the Nexus 4, and speeding it up by just a few seconds with LTE probably wouldn’t warrant spending an extra $350 on a device for many. However, not all people are lucky enough to live in an area with great HSPA+ coverage so if LTE works best for you and data speed is an important factor, definitely take that into consideration.

Then of course we have the issue of memory. Hands down the Galaxy S 4 has my vote when it comes to memory. The biggest issue I had with the Galaxy S 4 was discovering just how much internal memory TouchWiz took up with the Galaxy S 4 – almost half of the allotted memory in a 16GB version. Without TouchWiz, the amount of internal memory the software takes up will only be a fraction of that. The bloatware is gone, the space is freed up, and you might not even need a microSD card – or maybe you will. That’s the beauty that the Galaxy S 4 holds over the Nexus 4; it’s there if you need it.

When it comes to cameras on the device, the average user who is still taught to focus on the megapixel race might assume that the 13-megapixel shooter on the back of the Galaxy S 4 automatically trumps the Nexus 4’s more standard 8-megapixels. Is this true? Honestly, neither phone is going to kill a decent compact camera. The best way to describe it, in my opinion, is to just say that the Nexus 4’s 8-megapixel camera is good, and the 13-megapixel camera on the back of the Galaxy S 4 is pretty good. Keep in mind that you won’t be getting all of the fun, frilly editing options that the normal Samsung Galaxy S 4 would have given you, which we saw during the Galaxy S 4 announcement back in March. It really just boils down to how important megapixels are to you.

Last but not least, we’ll talk about the internals. Without getting too boring and specific since it’s stuff we already know, the Galaxy S 4 has faster and more updated specs – you have to expect that with a device that’s 6 months newer than the Nexus 4. However, the processor on each device is pretty darn fast, so unless you do a benchmark test I wouldn’t think you would notice a huge difference during everyday experience – certainly not $350 worth, in my humble opinion. But the $350 higher price point is something you will want to consider with the device in its entirety, not just the processing power.

So I asked myself “Would I pay $350 more to get a stock Google experience on the Galaxy S 4 over the Nexus 4?” In the end I would have to go with no. I would save a lot of money by going with the regular Samsung Galaxy S 4 and rooting it, or even getting a similar experience at less than half the price with the Nexus 4. You can’t argue that price vs. performance can play a very close game in this case, and potentially either side could win.

However, in the end, if you asked me if the price justified the performance of the phone, I would ultimately have to say yes – because that truly is what a full-price, unsubsidized phone costs. We just got lucky and spoiled with the price on the Nexus line because Pimp Daddy Google makes it rain on the…  customers. If you give a mouse a cookie…

Readers, I’m interested in your opinions: Would you pay $649 for the stock Galaxy S 4, or would you rather wait for the next Nexus device? Do you think this throws out any possibility of an updated Nexus 4 showing up during the rest of Google I/O? Let me know your thoughts!

Image via ToTheMobile

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