Samsung took over New York’s Radio City Music Hall and captured most of the headlines across the tech world with the launch of its Galaxy S4 smartphone last night, a flagship that further evolves the Galaxy range of high-end Android devices. If you want to register your interest in the handset, you can head over to our registration page.
“Life Companion” is the tagline that the company has used to describe its leading handset, highlighting the way in which the Galaxy S4 is designed to help with all aspects of a user’s life. Having had one of the biggest handset launches ever and no doubt backed by a record breaking marketing push, what do we make of the Galaxy S4 at first glance?
Well, the visual impression is one that definitely marks the phone out as a high-end Samsung device. A distinctive set of design elements have emerged with the firm’s last few smartphones such as the Galaxy S III and Note II and this continues with the Galaxy S4. A similar casing to both those handsets is in place (although this time round it is made from polycarbonate) and the overall look of the device certainly echoes what has emerged as an easily identifiable Samsung look.
Aside from the physical aesthetics of the handset, what we’ve seen of the software isn’t too surprising either. From the Galaxy S III onwards, Samsung has been using the ‘Nature’ version of its TouchWiz user interface which has a distinctive pale blue default background and rippling water effects, although no mention has been made of it during the launch of the Galaxy S4.
The TouchWiz interface sits on top of Android Jelly Bean, a platform that has already come to the Galaxy S III and has been on the Note II from that handset’s launch. There was no chance that Google was going to introduce a new version of Android with a Samsung product and it is widely rumoured to be saving that move for the launch of the much talked about X Phone reportedly being developed with Motorola.
However, there are points where the Galaxy S4 definitely outclasses its kin, its processing power being a notable example. Samsung has introduced an octa-core chip that appears to consist of two processors that each have four cores.
The Exynos 5 Octa chipset, as it is known, is the next step up in processing power for mobiles but the increase does seem to have been designed to grab attention rather than to genuinely aid performance. Questions still exist about how efficient quad-cores are and if they really make use of the power they potentially have, a discussion which will no doubt be reignited with the introduction of an octa-core chip.
Surely there aren’t any apps that are specifically configured to make use of eight cores, or any Jelly Bean features that do so either? Maybe this is a future-proofing move from Samsung and such software will emerge over time, however, at present, the move looks to be one engineered to give the device an impressive spec list.
The Korean firm has also seen fit to add a larger display to the S4 than was seen on the S III, and while the increase is only small, it is significant. The 5-inch super AMOLED screen promises to be outstanding, especially since it has a pixel density of 441ppi which means it is only outclassed in this category by the HTC One and its 468ppi display. Again though, this is a gradual increase rather than anything that will turn the world upside down.
All that technology will be powering some new features from Samsung that change the way users interact with their smartphone. Smart Scroll uses eye-tracking technology to detect when you are looking directly at the display; if you are, you’ll be able to scroll through a page by simply tilting the handset up or down. Smart Pause works in a similar way, tracking your eye movements and pausing video if you look away from the display.
Beyond this there is Air View and Air Gesture, which allow you to perform functions such as previewing content and answering calls respectively, using swiping gestures that don’t actually require you to touch the screen. This sounds impressive and will no doubt be fun to try out but real-world applications of this tech are difficult to come up with.
Text-to-speech functionality has been increased with S Translator which can understand nine languages and provide translation between them. Camera functions have also been augmented with a feature that allows still images and video to be captured from both the rear and front-facing cameras simultaneously.
While this certainly sounds innovative we’re more interested in testing the 13 megapixel camera itself rather than any of its new features. Samsung’s recent history in mobile photography has been fantastic and the imaging capabilities of the Galaxy S4 could well emerge as one of its best features in the long run.
Overall, this device is an evolution rather than a revolution. The Galaxy S4 reminds us of the sort of moves Apple made when it introduced its iPhone 4S; sticking to the basics of the previous model and going on to add improved features and increased specs.
This handset isn’t the landmark that the Galaxy S III was but it is still an impressive piece of hardware with some interesting features that may prove influential in the long run. However, we have little doubt that it will sell millions upon millions of units to swathes of very satisfied customers who will get a leading, high-spec smartphone for their money.