This will be my last article about how my technology worked on our Griswold family vacation over the holidays. I have already written about how my various devices performed during our journey from South Florida up to NY/NJ. For this final piece I am going to discuss how my own phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, did on the trip. I am sorry to report that the S4 unfortunately once again came up short.
I have detailed in previous articles (here and here) why I think the S4 is perhaps the worst smartphone I have ever owned. I don't want to rehash them all here. Instead, let me focus on what went wrong and what went right during our 10-day trip.
First of all, the network coverage from AT&T was exceptional. Up and down the entire eastern seaboard, the network reception was strong. Even in the lowlands of South Carolina and river deltas of Georgia, the AT&T network was great. I was streaming music from my Google Music account via Bluetooth to my car's sound system. We never had a problem with reception.
I also set up my phone to be a mobile hotspot for my kids to piggyback on for access. Again, the AT&T network had a strong signal and was very fast. My kids were able to play online games on their HP Touchpads via the hot spot.
Of course, acting as a hotspot, as well as streaming music from the cloud, resulted in me receiving a text message from AT&T that I had used up a good portion of my monthly bandwidth limit. Though I didn't like using all of those GBs, I was grateful that at least AT&T gave me a heads up.
Another big winner was Google Maps and navigation. Our car has GPS built in, which we used quite a bit. However, there were times where we actually had two different destinations that we were aiming for (don't ask) and we needed both GPS systems. Also, as we changed destinations, if the car was moving I could not update our on-board GPS. Having the GPS on the S4 was fast and easy. My wife, who is an iPhone person, had a bit of a rough time using the Android navigator at first, but by the time we were on the long trip home (and taking a different route than we took on the way up), she had it down.
So where did the S4 come up short? In a couple of critical areas. First of all was battery life. Even with a car charger plugged in, the phone was discharging as a result of the hot spot, music and GPS usage. Also, with so many devices plugged in, power outlets were at a premium. The S4 just did not recharge quick enough to allow me to rotate another device to get recharged while we were driving.
At one point we took a ferry back from New York City to Hoboken, NJ. After being in the city most of the day my S4 was dead as a door nail when we landed on the wrong dock in New Jersey. I was unable to use it to call my brother to come pick us up. To be fair, the cold weather probably hastened my battery drain.
Another problem I had that was really annoying was that when I would be on a call and put the phone to my ear, if I had the dial interface on the phone it would press random numbers. For automated calls, this played havoc with the "press 1 for" menus. It was just plain annoying for regular calls.
A new problem I had during this trip was random reboots. For no reason that I could discern, my S4 would just reboot. Any applications that were open (including navigation) would be lost. That meant I would have to start over on Google Maps.
In addition to the random reboots, another problem with my S4 was that it would freeze up. Again, this would happen a lot in contacts and in email. The screen would just freeze and no combination of swipes or buttons would help. Eventually, a message would come up that an application had stopped responding. I imagine that this was the cause of the freeze up. However, this happened too often and was very annoying.
So, all in all, once again my S4 disappointed me. I like the AT&T coverage. I like being able to use the mobile hotspot. But the battery life, random reboots and freezing up were just so annoying that I would not recommend this phone.