The five different Galaxy S4s: Which one's for you?

There are now five smartphones bearing Samsung's Galaxy S4 name, but they're all a little different. Here's how to tell them apart.

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Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
5 min read

Watch this: Which S4 is best for you?

Samsung wasted very little time after sending its Samsung Galaxy S4 into the wild to breed a whole line of variants.

Now, there are no fewer than five Galaxy S4 models vying for your time and attention, and they're rather tough to tell apart.

Take the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, for instance, a model that's almost identical to the GS4 original -- oh, except for its entire experience and price. Then there are the Galaxy S4 Mini, Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, and Galaxy S4 Zoom. What's a Samsung fan to do?

Don't worry, that's what charts are for. I stack up the specs below, then roll through some of the key differences that could help you make up your mind.

Phone S4/Google Ed. S4 Active S4 Mini S4 Zoom
Super AMOLED Screen 5-in. 1080p HD 5-in. 1080p HD (LCD) 4.3-in. qHD (960x540) 4.3-in. qHD (960x540)
OS Android 4.2 Android 4.2 Android 4.2 Android 4.2
Camera 13MP; 1080 vid 8MP; Aqua mode 8 megapixels 16MP; 1080p vid
Front-facing camera 2 megapixels 2 megapixels 2 megapixels 1.9 megapixels
Processor 1.9GHz quad-core OR
1.6GHz octa-
1.5GHz dual-core
Internal storage 16GB (standard) 16GB 8GB 8GB
RAM 2GB 2GB 1.52GB 1.5GB
Expansion slot Up to 64GB Up to 64GB Up to 64GB Up to 64GB
Battery 2,600mAh 2,600mAh 1,900mAh 2,330mAh
Bluetooth version 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
NFC Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions (inches) 5.4 x 2.8 x 0.3 5.5 x 2.8 x 0.4 4.9 x 2.4 x 0.4 4.9 x 2.5 x 0.6
Weight (ounces) 4.6 5.3 3.8 7.3
Extra features Nexus UI (Google Ed.) Waterproof, dustproof Cost-
10x zoom

Samsung Galaxy S4
The original Galaxy S4 dropped this spring, bringing with it an impressive 13-megapixel camera and a veritable arsenal of software addenda, a few of which you may actually use.

The handset isn't terribly fancy-looking, but it's easy on the eye and has a rounded-out feature set that's hard for competitors to beat.

It's a pricey one, especially off-contract, but as Samsung's global flagship phone, it's available nearly everywhere.

If you're planning to buy a Samsung phone in the near term, this one's the default choice. Read the full Galaxy S4 review.

First Look
Watch this: Samsung's Galaxy S4 powerhouse

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
Outdoor enthusiasts, klutzes, and people who work or live in more rugged environments should keep an eye on Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active.

This variant is dustproof and waterproof for up to 30 minutes. It's so hydrophilic, in fact, that Samsung has given the phone's 8-megapixel camera its own aqua mode for snapping underwater scenes.

The camera resolution and sturdier body are about the phone's only major changes compared with the original S4, so you'll be getting top specs along with mastery of the elements.

AT&T will snatch it up for $199 for its U.S. network, but also look for the S4 Active to arrive elsewhere around the world. While the phone isn't as rugged as the name suggests, its underwater camera feature makes it a fairly unique offering.

We review the Galaxy S4 Active and its Aqua mode here.

First Look
Watch this: Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active makes waves

Samsung Galaxy S4, Google Play Edition
Available for $649 from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Google's online Play Store, this version of the handset keeps all of the GS4's hardware specs and instead swaps out the software. T-Mobile may offer the phone for a smaller down payment and monthly installments thereafter.

Instead of running Samsung's TouchWiz interface, the Google Edition uses Android's stock Nexus experience. That means no bloatware in the preinstalled apps; clean, "pure Google" visuals, and a bootloader that's already unlocked for you. As a bonus, it'll get Android OS updates faster than non-Nexus phones.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 family tree (pictures)

See all photos

Aimed squarely at developers, prospective buyers should keep in mind that they'll lose out on the extra features built into TouchWiz. However, many of Samsung's preinstalled apps are also available from the Google Play store.

Get this version if you're a developer, you heavily customize Android, or you strongly dislike TouchWiz. It also helps if you don't mind paying the full phone price up front.

Read CNET's full Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition review here.

First Look
Watch this: Google's Samsung Galaxy S4 in all its minimalistic goodness

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
More compact, but also with leaner specs, the S4 Mini follows a precedent set by last year's S3 Mini to sells a less expensive version of the flagship phone in specific markets.

While the Mini's midrange feature set is still quite strong, this is no budget phone. For instance, its 390-GBP price point comes out to about $580. It's currently available globally, but there's no U.S. announcement yet. If it were to make landfall on these shores, it would assuredly cost closer to the $50 or $100 range with a new, two-year contract.

Learn more about the Galaxy S4 Mini in this review.

Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini
Watch this: Hands-on with Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Still a little more camera than smartphone, Samsung's new version of its Galaxy Camera reshapes the 16-megapixel zoom lens into a flatter form that's all compact camera on one side and all Galaxy S4 on the other.

Last year's model took great photos for a smartphone, but not necessarily for a pocket camera. As such, it'll appeal to a more limited set. Apart from the advanced camera action, the Zoom's specs take a step down from the Galaxy S4, but they're still plenty rich for many folks.

I don't know pricing yet, but expect the Galaxy S4 Zoom to cost a pretty penny above the Galaxy S4. After all, that larger sensor and 10x zoom components won't come to Samsung cheap.

Read up on the Galaxy S4 Zoom.

First Look
Watch this: Hands-on with the crazy Galaxy S4 Zoom

Samsung Galaxy S3 still a contender
If all these Galaxy S4 spin-offs weren't confusing enough, there's also the Galaxy S3. Last year's model still has a lot of life left in it, and prices are now lower than ever. CNET's Maggie Reardon offers some compelling reasons why you might want to buy the Galaxy S3 instead.

Galaxy S4 and HTC One
Samsung's Galaxy S4, left, and HTC One square off. Sarah Tew/CNET

And what about HTC?
Then there's the sleek and oh-so-stylish HTC One, which beats the pants off the Galaxy S4 when it comes to its tuxedo good looks and audio quality. Here's a full punch-out between the HTC One and original Galaxy S4 that will hopefully help you decide between the two if you're torn.

Pick your poison
Do you have a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, or are you thinking of getting one? Which appeals to you most? Have your say in the comments below.