Verizon Samsung Galaxy S4 48-hour Impression

Cause: My Gnex suffered that one unfortunate fall to the concrete floor while I was juggling it (with an extended battery hatch, which proved finally too untenable on a bigass Samsung thing to one hand) at Otakon’s exhibit hall. The cracked screen is not usable for the long run, and my upgrade date was up within the week, coincidentally. I even had an assist with a cool doctor bro that I know from the internets who tried to save it last minute. It’s okay TBN, I’ve dropped this Gnex dozens of times and it was just a matter of time that it meets its doom with the cataclysmic failure, at least in terms of the glass.

I would’ve probably picked this phone over the HTC One because of hardware requirements, but since Verizon’s version of the One isn’t shipping until end of August [update: actually it’s available 8/22 (today) at select outlets], this is not really a choice I could make. I suppose I can still handle the Gnex for a couple weeks but it was about time to flash it clean to de-gunk it as performance on the thing has generally slowed a great deal, but feh. Why wait?

TL;DR: Great hardware and execution, ruined by terrible TouchWiz UI.

I’m definitely biased because I’ve been on Nexus phones for the past 3.5 years. Changing over to TW was like having to drive a Ford Focus rental after totaling your BMW 5 series. Okay, maybe not just a Ford Focus–more like a Ford Focus with Sync. And this unfair analogy probably should go further and say that your crashed 5 series was running on a V6 Accord engine and the Ford Focus rental had more horses than the 2013 Mustang Boss 302.

But the human interface element of things were so drastically worse that I really begin to hate the user experience. Part of it has a lot to do with getting used to how things are simply different, admittedly, but it’s like I’m using some mutated version of Android that only things that are shared between the two handsets were the apps. It’s just an entirely different user experience. And it happens to be a significantly worse experience. I mean, philosophically I’m all for “easy” mode or whatever, but if you want an example that “if you even need an easy mode, the UX sucks,” here you go. This UX is terrible. 

Why is it terrible? Look at this notification dropdown flip over page. It’s like they put an install of windows 8 in this notification system. Not only this a text book example of shitty feature creep resulting in a hard-to-use interface, it looks like someone just took a Blackberry menu and Holo’d it.

Of course I wouldn’t mind it at all if I can root and install my own rom, except that the bootloader is locked. It was initially exploited but they’ve OTA patched it. You can root with the latest round of VZW GS4s but that’s it. I think this might be only for Verizon though.

I think I might be able to put up with this nonSense if I can wholesale redo the notification system on this thing. Which I hope is something I can do by installing a new rom. Which is something I hope I can do at all. If not then to the Amazon return center you go. I kind of omitted the rest of the TW UI in this impressionistic review because I ran with the default launcher for maybe 10 seconds.

For the rest of you, my fellow Verizon slaves, get this instead.

So within two weeks I’ll have to either see if a bootloader unlock happens, or back to Amazon it goes! I paid $149.99+tax which was the cheapest deal I know for upgraders. VZW also charges you $30 for an activation fee so we’ll see. Most likely I think I’m just going to swap to the One if I have to do this.