Sprint Galaxy S4

Poor network performance can handicap even the fastest of smartphones

This is the Sprint Galaxy S4. There are many others like it, but this one is Sprint’s. Externally, the phone bears no Sprint branding, and the bundled Sprint apps are relatively tame, if numerous. But unfortunately for the carrier there’s one unique aspect of its Galaxy S4 that's not quite so praiseworthy. That’s right, once again a Sprint device’s Achilles’ heel is its network performance.

More: Samsung Galaxy S4 review

On the software side, there’s not too much to surprise Sprint subscribers. Sprint Zone’s still around, as is Sprint Movies and Sprint Music, so if you’re invested in any of those services, you’ll find them waiting on the Sprint Galaxy S4. Sprint’s visual voicemail app is present and correct, too.

There are a couple of new additions -- first up is Lumen toolbar, which hooks into the stock browser, delivering a customizable shortcut menu down below while collecting anonymous analytics data. There’s also a shortcut to install the Scout (Telenav) navigation app. All standard stuff, all easily dealt with via the App settings menu if you’re not a fan.

But poor 3G speeds and a sluggish 4G LTE roll-out make the prospect of using a phone like the Galaxy S4 on a carrier like Sprint a daunting task. The speed of the handset itself contrasts jarringly against the glacial network connection, particularly in New York City where we’ve been testing the S4 in recent days.

NYC isn’t an official Sprint LTE market yet, but there are pockets of 4G to be found, particularly around Manhattan. Most of the time, though, you’re limited Sprint’s EVDO-based 3G, and on 3G we were lucky to creep above 1 megabit per second down. Inexplicably, the connection would often fail entirely. When it worked, it was only barely usable.

Where we were able to get 4G reception, Sprint’s LTE speeds weren’t much better. When it worked -- and it quite often didn’t work, even with a full five bars of reception-- we averaged around 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up, with the lone exception of a single 35Mbps downlink result.  Aside from our single super-fast speed test result, we saw performance that wasn't great, even for a work-in-progress network. And when you factor in the constant switching between 3G and 4G, and the frequent network timeouts that seemed to occur, it’s a world of hurt.

A fast smartphone like the Galaxy S4 works best with a high-speed network to back it up, and our experiences with Sprint’s network over the past week just weren’t up to the task of servicing such a handset. But it’s not just the user experience that’s impacted by network issues -- battery life takes a hit too, as the phone’s forced to juggle between EVDO and LTE, and ramp up power to the antenna in the many areas of poor reception.

So yet again, we have a flagship device on a sub-par network. If you already have great Sprint LTE coverage where you live and work, by all means go ahead and pick up the Now Networks’ Galaxy S4 -- on any network, the S4 is a great phone. But for many, the connection speeds on offer just aren’t up to scratch. We hope that’ll change in the future as the carrier’s network vision plans come to fruition.

More: Samsung Galaxy S4 review

 

Reader comments

Using the Samsung Galaxy S4 on Sprint

48 Comments

I'm really glad to see the writers calling out the Networks.

All of the Networks have these claims.. largest, fastest, first-- but it really matters what market you are in. I am unluckily a Sprint user in Orlando. The Galaxy Nexus is a GREAT phone ( minus a few bugs). But the problem is I'm in Orlando.

Sprint is a total disaster here. I find myself waiting extended periods of time for text to send. Sending pictures is even worse. Building penetration. Consistent roaming. Lack of 4G LTE and Terrible Terrible 3G Speeds. Navigation takes days.
Loading web pages at times is just pointless if you are not on wifi. Call quality is pretty good; rarely any dropped calls... but calls are not the main feature for me!

Yeah you save a few bucks on Sprint; compared to Verizon or ATT. But that 20 or 30 bucks a month you save; is more like a sacrifice of a true smartphone experience. Verizon is blanketed with 4G LTE coverage with speeds faster than home internet.

The Lack of unlimited data is what keeps me back-- but then again, on Sprint.. I can never actually use heavy amounts because I'm too busy throwing my phone across the room. #99 Problems.

Indeed. Coverage is everything. Where I am, AT&T and T-Mobile are swiss cheese and Verizon and Sprint have much better coverage.

hahaha, that's because you comparing 5 years ago network where every body was using slow networks, so back then it seam as it was fast, but now that you see 4g lte, haps+ now your once fast network is it still same speed but now it is slow compared to the much newer and fastest network standard!

I'm in Orlando and was completely fed up with Sprint and their terrible service and even worse customer service. I switched to T-Mobile last week, I don't think I'll ever look back.

I paid $80 (before taxes + fees) on Sprint for what you describe, data almost never worked and when it did, it took so long it was almost pointless. Now I pay $70 (before taxes and fees) for unlimited that actually works. Speeds never dip bellow 3Mbps and that's on my temporary Vibrant (I get my Nexus 4 today).

Orlando is a wonderful market for T-Mobile!

I'M in Orlando,Fl also and my speeds are great. You are right tho customer service is horrible but only in certain parts of Orlando.

I get 4G Wimax pretty much everywhere i go even in my house, and Lowe's which 3g doesn't. my 4g speeds are usually around 4-9mb my 3G is usually around 1-4. But 3G in my house is horrible well in my room at least, im always adjusting to find a sweet spot. But if I go to any other room its fine.

But I will be taking the family off contract at the end of theis year. Still going to be with the Sprint network but just on a prepaid. TING I'm talking about you :)

I feel you buddy. Im in south Orlando/Kissimmee and speeds are .25mbps up and .25mbps down unless your standing right under a tower.

So tired of Sprints unlimited data Bull$#!^. Go look at your data usage and see how much data your actually puling in on sprint. Like you said, calls are fine though. Without wifi Sprints dead in the water. Thatrs why they setup their phones to try and connect to wifi as much as possible.

I was at WDW last month and was very disappointed with Sprint, worst I've seen in 6 years. Roaming, slow data speed. Luckily there's wi-fi all over the resorts and theme parks.
That said, my home area has great 3G (1.5 mbps) and voice is solid. Just waiting on LTE for my new HTC One.

I agree with the OP. I have been with Sprint for 12 years and also lived in Orlando. I now live in Washington DC and the same issues persist...Sprint is just not able to keep up with the demands of the latest smartphones and their users, as well as wasted a ton of money and time on their spotty WIMAX 4G. Currently, I have a Nexus.

So, while every other carrier has stable nationwide LTE, I am supposed to get excited when Sprint announces every couple of months that, "3 more cities have LTE!"... woot?

If I am not on WiFi, I would say that 40% or more of my battery is wasted just trying to stay connected to Sprint's weak 3G. Uploading pictures or browsing the web is an exercise in futility and I don't even bother until I am back on WiFi.

I also travel a lot and was recently at SXSW, I had to carry 3 extra batteries just to make it through the day... and not because I was using the phone a lot, but because the phone could not hold a signal and kept draining each battery trying to stay connected. Granted, I was at a very busy event, but my colleagues who are on Verizon (and also had a Nexus) were able to last the entire day on 1 battery and had stable 4G.

As for the few times I actually do encounter 4G, it is so spotty that there isn't a point. For instance, I was at the airport in Dallas...on one side of the airport I had strong 4G...on the other side (where my connecting flight was), there was zero 4G.

Anyway, guess I'm tired of making excuses for Sprint and why I stay with them. It used to be their plans, but what good is a plan if the data speeds are abysmal anyway? The last 3 smartphones that I have owned have had similar problems and I think it is just time to cut the cord and head over to another carrier.

It's true. Sprint is lagging big time! It's kind if sad too because they have such great family plans. Unlimited data and price is the only thing that keeps people with Sprint. Sometimes I get 2 mbps but 90% of the time I get about 0.1 mbps...

Does the Sprint Galaxy S4 do simultaneous 3G Data and voice calls?

Before people jump in and say that this isn't possible with sprint, my Galaxy S3 does it just fine.

"Where we were able to get 4G reception, Sprint’s LTE speeds weren’t much better. When it worked -- and it quite often didn’t work, even with a full five bars of reception-- we averaged around 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up, with the lone exception of a single 35Mbps downlink result"

To Alex -- the bars on most android phones including the Galaxy series do not represent LTE bars. It represents 1x Voice and the only way to truly see the signal level of LTE is to go to the engineering screen and look up the RSSP values. The only phone that shows LTE signals via signal bars is the Iphone 5. So basically, you may be connected to a close cell site for voice but LTE may be further away and a far weaker signal (thus lower speeds.. aka ~3mbps that you get).

S4GRU has a post that explains the signal bars. Post is titled "Bars lie for LTE Signal Strength! How to determine your actual LTE signal strength"

I love hearing war stories of slow Sprint data,...not. To all people hating Sprint when 4GLTE hits your area and you've switched, that early termination fee from the other carrier is going to sting.

I love my $10 premium data charge that allows me 40+Gbs of high speed data use a month.

40gbps!?!?!?! pretty sure thats a world record. anywho, not all sprint lte markets are seeing that speed, in my city you only get 20mbps.

I'm pretty sure he's talking about his total data use in a month, not his speed. That being said, he'd have to be downloading 24/7 to hit 40GB/mth with Sprint's slow data speeds lol. I've done that on T-Mobile (don't forget, they offer unlimited too), but that was getting 6-10Mb/s downstream! Try that on Sprint!

Unlimited, unlimited, unlimited, I travel all 48 & have always found speed & coverage very sufficient, even IF it's a little slower the unlimited aspect compared to other carriers is very valuable

A "little slower"....BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Try MUCH slower...often as much as 10-20x slower! Try even streaming a YouTube video in your phone's native resolution on any midrange smartphone produced the last couple of years. It will have to buffer on Sprint every single time! T-Mobile's unlimited is not only cheaper, but worth the money since you can actually get some use out of it. Analogy: what's the point of going to a restaurant for "unlimited" shrimp if they will only serve you 5 every 30 minutes? That's what Sprint does!

I guess I'll jump into the fray here. I have a Galaxy S2 Epic Touch 4G and I live in Bum F#$ked Egypt where there isn't any 4G service at all. I cruise right along on 3G speeds when i'm out and about with no issues at all. And when I'm at home I stay on WI-FI. See this is coming from a guy who had a Samsung Transform Ultra for over a year, which I still have mind you and still works excellent, that was a single band 3G phone that had no problems on the network. I wasn't looking for anything fast but now that i have a dual band 3G/4G phone I don't even use 4G. It just seems pointless to me.

Actually the speed on the Epic 4G Touch on 3G is not that bad but it is a SUPER drain on the battery! The phone gets so hot too. It is amazing to see the phone losing power even though it is plugged in while on 3G. Been waiting on 4G to come to my area just East of Orlando and as promised they now have it, but the Epic 4G Touch cannot access 4G LTE!

I've already ordered a extended slim battery to boost my battery life considerably while on 3G. And honestly whats the point of 4G and 4G LTE? It's just a faster 3G. Its stupid to even have 4G when the coverage is lacking or non existent in a lot of areas. I don't really care if I have 4G or not. All of my other smartphone's, and the one dumbphone I have owned while using sprint, never had any issues with the 3G bandwith.

This is why I can't wait for 13 more days for my contract to be over so I can abandon Sprint. They were great to me for years, but any decent phone they sell now I have to pay for the "premium data" when my city doesn't even have LTE yet, which puts me on their 3G network which is sad at best most times. Lately, the coverage has just been odd, not sure if that's because they're working on switching on LTE soon. I wish them luck though.

Android Central can rag on Sprint all you want but in my own testing through my various travels throughout the U.S., 3G is not even remotely as bad as you want us to believe. As a matter of fact, in my home region (Tennessee/Georgia, including Atlanta) Sprint is vastly superior to the "death star" and is on par to Verizon. Granted, Sprint is in transition and has it's weaknesses but it is not that bad. So, let's get off this bash Sprint train shall we. It's is getting very old..... very old indeed. Until you have been through the rest of the U.S., Alex, it is unfair to use N.Y. as it is not representative of all Sprint service nationwide. Thanks for the "not so good review".

Living in Atlanta, I find Sprint to be a joke. Frequently driving around Midtown & Downtown, you drop LTE all together. Verizon and AT&T dominate Sprint here. I've seen my friends with AT&T get 50-60MB down on LTE while my iPhone 5 on Sprint can't hold onto LTE to save its life.

This article does not seem to be a fair comparison. How can the network performance of a device be judged based off of a network that has not been officially launched? Average speeds cannot be accurately calculated as the connection is rarely consistent...if I recall correctly that is called "testing" *sigh*. This came off more as a bashing Sprint article instead of actual information.

Sprint is definitely lagging. Like Trevx said, glad editors are calling out the providers. I live in Poughkeepsie NY and travel to Rockland county Westchester County and upper NJ. The service is horrible. I feel like I am using dial up. I am torn between HTC One and the S4. Definitely wanna see what the Nexus and motorola will have up their sleeve. Thank you for using the S4 on Sprint network.

We travel a lot and have always had excellent service from Sprint. Have had their service for about five years; a few complaints but for phone service.

Don't know what you guys are complaining about. I get coverage pretty much anywhere from sprint and the speeds are perfect.

As much as I love Android Central, and the staff you all have here, the constant Sprint hate by the editors is getting REALLY old. I've been a happy Sprint customer over the last 2 years. While their network does leave MUCH to be desired, they are making strides to improve. Where I am (Augusta, GA & McCormick, SC) I get great coverage, and pretty good 3g speeds, typically .5-1.5 MBps. Heck, I get coverage in McCormick, SC, which is ONLY covered by Verizon & Sprint. Different networks work for different people. Please, please, PLEASE, stop with the Sprint hate on EVERY device you review, and provide the Android Hardware & Software reviews we come here for. This constant Sprint hate is turning to whining... No, I do not work or am affiliated with Sprint other than being a satisfied customer.

I agree with the hate on Sprint on AC here. I personally like you have been a happy Sprint customer for the past 3 years. Wasnt as happy when they were building out the LTE in my area (chicago suburbs). But now it is better then before. Tmobile, AT&T and Verizon do not work where i live and work. Only Sprint does. I get full bars of LTE in my basement. While for the other carriers i have to go at least to the end of my driveway to get any kind of usable service off their cellular networks. And as well as what you said, i do not either work for Sprint.

I'm in Atlanta and just switched to Sprint for the HTC One (S4 looks great too) and the Sprint coverage here is great now. I work downtown and get LTE everywhere. The speeds have been as high as 21mb down and as low as 2 or 3mb with an average in the 8 - 10mb range. I know this isn't typical everywhere, but as Sprint upgrades the network across the country it is getting better and better.

I've already used 3.5 GB of data and only got the phone last Friday so thank God I'm not on Verizon anymore or I would be breaking the bank.

I'm glad that the Alex decided to conduct his performance tests of the Galaxy S4 in the NYC Market!!! It is absolutely ridiculous that Sprint has not upgraded the Largest Market to their 4G LTE yet. Every other carrier has saturated the NYC Market with 4G LTE, even MetroPCS! Been waiting for a decent 4G from Sprint since the WiMax days... Get your act together SPRINT!

Buying the S4 or any of Sprint's 4G LTE smartphones is like buying a Ferrari and driving it on a pothole riddled highway!! - GUAPO104

So AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile made sure that NYC was the first place they deployed 4G? Get real. It's one of the hardest and most time-consuming places to deploy it. The population and the buildings make it a huge undertaking. They have been deploying LTE in NYC for months and months. It's so big that it takes longer to get it done. If you take the work they have put into NYC up to this point it could cover a dozen different markets. That's why you see them "launching" in smaller markets constantly, with large markets seemingly few and far between.

Case in point: I have had LTE in and around Los Angeles for nearly 6 months. It's a huge undertaking like NYC, but for different reasons. Notice how they just "launched" in LA last week? You can probably get LTE in one spot in NYC for a week and then not have it in that same spot for 3 weeks. It's more than just adding an antenna and turning it on. I know it's a slow rollout, believe me. And it is frustrating. But as long as I still see consistent progress I can be patient. If this conference were being held in downtown Los Angeles this article wouldn't have been written, because the LTE is pretty good. I was there all day yesterday and had 18-32Mbps speeds. I check throughout the day whenever I get 4G.

Ok Lets Not Be Simple. If You Did Your Research You'd Know That Sprint Is Working On Its Towers, Therefore, You Will Have Poor Service Until They Finish Working On Them. There Making Tweeks To Up There Network And Its Coverage, And Until They Get It Perfect Its Not Going To Be What You Expect. So If Your City Is Not An Official LTE For Sprint Quit Complaining. Better Is The End Of A Thing Then The Beginning.

I understand those who HAVE LTE coverage defending Sprint if you have usable data. Unfortunately the point of this article is that for MOST, currently Sprint data is horrible. Case in point, in my neck of the woods, Sprint was not deploying LTE for the foreseeable future when I bought my GS3 last year. Now why would I pay $10 premium fee for a 4G phone that would not see 4G for most of the contract period? To date, there is still no LTE plans announced for my area, and yes I read S4GRU religiously hoping that Sprint sends my city a bone. As an informed customer and a Sprint customer for over 14 years, it was time to cut the rope and I bought my S3 last year on Verizon so I could enjoy a full feature experience. As much as those who want to defend the Now Network, I (we) as individual customers do not have to be loyal to a company if they are not providing what we pay for. Unlimited data is worthless if you have no bandwidth to use it. It's like sipping your drink through one of those little drink stirrers when you "could" be using a firehose.