Today, Samsung revealed its latest flagship phone, the Samsung Galaxy S4 in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Despite the slightly corny use of actors and actresses to model the various features of the Galaxy S4, the phone sounds like a promising piece of hardware integrated with a very robust software suite to make life easier.
All About the Specs
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will have top of the line hardware when it begins to come out at the end of April. The Galaxy S4 will be about the same size as the Galaxy S3, but will be thinner and lighter with a larger screen, coming in at 4.99″, just a bit shy of 5″. In addition, the screen will be full HD (1080p), joining the ranks of HTC’s 1080p phones and have a large 2,600 mAh battery that is not only removable, but supports inductive charging. Internationally, the device will feature the first 8 core CPU, Samsung’s Exynos 5, while the U.S. variants will probably have the quad-core
Snapdragon S4 Pro Snapdragon 600. The phone will have plenty of internal storage with the option of expanding it via a SD card slot. Samsung added two new sensors to their latest flagship with an Infrared Gesture sensor and a Temperature and Humidity sensor. The device will also have an Infrared LED so that the phone can act as a TV remote. Just like the Galaxy S3, the Galaxy S4 will feature a prominent physical home button in the center with capacitive back and menu buttons. There were no real surprises in the hardware beyond the addition of the two new sensors, but I wasn’t looking for anything drastic. Over all, there isn’t much to complain about on the hardware front besides whether or not a person prefers software buttons over any sort of physical ones. As for the battery, I’ll have to wait and see what the real world tests show, but it sounds promising.
Edit: Here’s an infographic version of the Galaxy S4
The S Suite
Unsurprisingly, Samsung took the time today to distance itself from its Google Android roots. At no point did Samsung say what version of Android the Galaxy S4’s OS was built on top of. Instead, Samsung used the majority of the presentation to show off its platform of services and tweaks packaged on top of the Android base (Samsung’s Android “skin” is known as TouchWiz) that I will refer to as the S Suite. This should come as no surprise since the Galaxy line of phones through the years have increasingly featured some of Samsung’s own software such as the S Pen’s suite of apps that debuted with the Galaxy Note, or S Voice, a Siri-like companion that appeared in the Galaxy S3. The S Suite allows Samsung to create its own platform of services for consumers to become familiar with that not only differentiates itself from its Android competitors, but also creates synergy among other Samsung products – an incentive many people, particularly iOS users, are familiar with. The Galaxy S4 introduces or tweaks the following to its S Suite:
Dual Camera: Uses both the back and front camera simultaneously for video chat or even phone calls so that the video taker isn’t left out and you can show the other person your surroundings without losing the video conversation
Sound and Shot: Record a clip of sound to go with your picture before or after the shutter
Drama Shot: Create a composite photo out of 12 photos that shows movement over time – similar to elapsed time photos
Eraser: Use multiple photos to erase certain things such as a stray person who walked into your camera shot
S Translator: Similar to Google Translate – this app will take written dialog or voiced and translate into another language before listening to the other person and providing a written translation
Adapt Display: The Super AMOLED screen allows the display to automatically change the brightness depending on what you’re doing – watching a video, playing a game, or reading e-mails
Story Album: The Galaxy S4 will automatically aggregate pictures taken on a certain day into its own album that can be printed via Buzz for a small fee; It will also know when you’re on a trip and will aggregate pictures based on location
Samsung Home Sync: Automatically syncs pictures and video taken to the Samsung Home Sync server, a 1 TB server announced back at MWC 2013
S Voice Drive: Improved S Car that allows voice actions for calls, reading of texts, and more
Samsung Smart Switch: Allows new Galaxy S4 users to transfer all of their texts and contacts directly from their old phone to their PC and then to their new Galaxy S4
Samsung Knox: Separates the phone into both business and personal sides to provide the security needed for enterprise applications
Samsung Group Play: Share music, photos, or play multiplayer games together with up to 8 Galaxy S4 phones even without an internet connection
Air Gesture: Uses gestures to answer the phone, scroll web pages, and more
Samsung Smart Scroll and Pause: Smart Scroll allows you to tilt the device up or down, left or right, to scroll through web pages or e-mails, while Smart Pause will pause videos if you turn your head away from your device
S Health: Keeps track of various information such as how much you walk and pairs with other Samsung health devices such as the S Band
Samsung Hub: An entry way to all of Samsung’s content services such as books and movies
Edit: Samsung has gone on record that all of these new features that are not hardware dependent (IR sensor or the temperature and humidity sensor) will probably be updated onto other Samsung flagship devices such as the Galaxy S3 and Note II.
The variety of accessories and all of the various colors they come in was a big part of Samsung’s presentation and I couldn’t agree more with this. As a consumer, I am looking for high quality accessories made by the original manufacturer to go with my device. I don’t want to depend on a third party to create these accessories because I won’t know the exact quality although some are definitely better. Google needs to learn this lesson because its Nexus devices have been very popular this past year, but the lack of accessories coming to market with the device is just shameful. The Nexus 7’s dock only recently went on sale on Google’s Play Store, but the device has been out since July of last year. Samsung was smart to avoid this mistake by showing off the many accessories for the Galaxy S4 including pouches, flip covers, protective cases, and the new S View Cover that has a small display for easy access to important information.
For the Majority, A Great Phone; But for the Android Enthusiast?
Probably the most exciting features here are the ones that take advantage of the cameras such as dual camera and eraser. Knox is also a great addition since many people need to use their phones for business as well. Air gesture is interesting, but we’ll have to see how effective it is in practice. Samsung also took the time to point out that you’ll be able to use the phone even with gloves on. Whether or not this is thanks to air gesture or the two new sensors added to the Galaxy S4 is beyond me. To be honest, many of these features are simply gimmicks to me and many of them have fairly similar alternatives; however, the message Samsung has here is that all of these features are housed in one device without needing to “know” what else is out there. Samsung is providing consumers with a robust solution that is heavily integrated, a tactic Apple is known for utilizing to great success.
And this is the crux of the argument. For the majority, Samsung is offering a new smartphone with a lot of cool features that works right out of the box – no tweaking needing, no searching for apps needed. However, the hardcore Android fans will still want to look at Google’s Nexus line of devices because it’s here that we’ll see the newest features that will really change how we interact with Android devices. For example, 4.2.x added lockscreen widgets that allow information to be easily displayed and used straight from the lockscreen. It was 4.1.x that brought Project Butter, which put Android on par with Apple’s iPhone in terms of smoothness. I must applaud Samsung for the amount of tweaks they’ve added to Android for their Galaxy phones, particularly with multi-window and S Pen support from the Galaxy Note, but Google is where the majority of the innovation is coming from. On top of that, it seems Samsung was in such a rush tweaking their S Suite for TouchWiz that they failed to secure their phone, as seen with recent news about the Galaxy S3 and Note II’s lockscreen bypass. Hopefully the Galaxy S4 does not have any similar security exploits; especially if Samsung wants to sell the idea of Samsung Knox.
Overall, I can confidently say that the Galaxy S4 is the right phone for the majority of people, beating out HTC’s recently announced HTC One phone and its impeccable design. Samsung makes a number of smart tweaks to its TouchWiz interface that the layman will enjoy having. HTC, on the other hand, forces its new Sense experience with its social features onto users. However, for hardcore Android enthusiasts who enjoy having the latest and greatest from Google, they should probably hold out for Google’s next Nexus announcement, which may come as early as Google I/O 2013 in May – Key Lime Pie, anyone? People with a Galaxy S3 or Nexus 4 can also rest easy knowing that the hardware shown today isn’t miles ahead of their own current phone either although I will admit the hardware is better in almost every aspect. Good job, Samsung (besides the very corny way of presenting it). So, what do you guys think? Are you going to upgrade to a Galaxy S4? Let me know in the comments or discuss it on Google+ here.
Edit: Final note about the Galaxy S4, which, yes, is more of a “S” upgrade to the Galaxy S3 and I say this jokingly: The tag line for the Galaxy S4 is that it’s a “life companion.” However, Samsung said that it was developed with the way we live now in mind. The way we live can and will most certainly change in the years ahead, so I doubt the Galaxy S4 will be anyone’s life companion… assuming it makes it past the 2 year contract mark (for people in the U.S.).