Last month Samsung revealed their much hyped flagship handset the Samsung Galaxy S 4. The stage was literally set for theatrics, the kind that many would normally deride Apple for putting on, at the world-famous Radio City Music Hall. Samsung spared no attempt at keeping the invited journalists and tech lovers entertained for an hour and some change, they probably should’ve spent more time on that phone.
There’s a lot that needs to be said another then Galaxy S 4; for the most part we’re talking about a true successor to the current flagship GS3 – boasting new internals and an array of Samsung branded apps – the GS4 will undoubtedly be one of the premiere Android handsets on the market when it’s available. Unfortunately the praise stops there.
The GS4 presents a huge challenge for Samsung, after spending over $11B to turn them into the defacto iPhone alternative. They’ve also set expectations to produce a truly groundbreaking device, the GS4 is not that device. Samsung is hedging its bets on producing pre-loaded apps that their customers will want to use: a dual-camera mode, a translation service, fitness tracker, eye-scrolling and touch less navigation, all apps that promise to change the way you interact with your device and the people you communicate with. It’s a big moving target that Samsung has fallen short of delivering on.
The Galaxy S 4 manages to squeeze a 5-inch display in a phone that isn’t much larger than the previous iteration. In fact at 5.38 inches tall, 2.75 inches wide and 0.31 inches thin, the Galaxy S 4 manages to be slightly smaller than the GS3. Regardless of your personal preference with respects to ever expanding screen sizes, the fact that Samsung managed to not only cram a larger screen and shave off some of device’s width and depth is truly something they should be proud of.
The GS4 also manages to keep expandable storage as an option; you know, just in case 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB aren’t enough for your music, video, photo, app needs. For the Android faithful, the option for additional storage is something that they’ve long held to be a superior feature in the cellphone market and if you’re the type that likes your digital content straight on the phone without having to subscribe to streaming service (you know Google’s Play is a free option too) the GS4 has you covered.
Samsung also announced a slew of in-house apps made specifically for the GS4. Though there were roughly a baker’s dozen worth of Samsung apps that will be making their debut on the GS4, only two are worth writing home about – Samsung HomeSync and Samsung WatchON.
HomeSync brings automatic personal cloud backup, app mirroring, and a full terabyte of cloud storage. It’s hard to find anything negative here; by making photo and video backup automatic, Samsung is ensuring that even the least savvy user will in fact use the service. A full terabyte of personal cloud storage is a nice high ceiling for the average user as well.
Samsung is really play to it’s strengths with the GS4; app mirroring will work with the various “Smart TVs” already in the market. If you already own a Samsung television set, the draw to use your favorite Android apps on the big screen may be enough of an appeal to keep you shopping Samsung when looking for a new phone. To a less extent, Samsung’s WatchON is yet again playing to Samsung’s dominance in your living room. WatchON will use the phone’s IR receiver to become the smartest television remote you’ve ever owned. Is this something that everyone will benefit from? Maybe not but it’s a neat trick the next time you have folks over for the big game.
If the GS4 was an attempt at getting people’s attention; they succeeded. Unfortunately attention is a double-edged sword that at once will praise you when you’ve managed to “wow” and tear you apart when you’re less than spectacular. Samsung’s latest flagship is a phone that just doesn’t feel like an expensive device.
Samsung touted the GS4 as an engineering marvel – made of high grade polycarbonate; a fancy way of saying, “we’re using less cheap plastic.” In the hand the phone just doesn’t feel sturdy. Though the plastic used in the new device is a step up from the GS3, it’s still a 500-700 plastic phone. Even BlackBerry knew enough not to announce a plastic flagship. Samsung has addressed their insistence on sticking with plastic, but it doesn’t change the fact that the GS4 just doesn’t feel like a premium product (for reference on how to make a plastic premium handset, look no further than Nokia’s Lumia line of phones).
Though screen size a completely subjective way to measure how good a device is (personally 4.3-inches was the ideal size), a 5-inch display is not exactly mind blowing. Though Samsung trotted the fact that the Super AMOLED boast the highest PPI (441PPI) of any phone, we’ve long crossed the just-noticeable threshold. If your local Best Buy employee whips this phone out and “shows” you the difference between the GS4 an iPhone (or any other phone boasting an “HD” display) walk away. PPI has become the megapixel of smartphones; just like in order to fully appreciate that 1080p you need a comically large television in a optimal environment, chances are you wouldn’t know the difference between 336PPI and 441PPI.
Earlier we spoke about two good apps that will be coming to the GS4 – here’s where we describe all the others: Gimmicky, redundant, you’ll only use these once. The truly dedicated may use it the first month of ownership; and that’s a stretch. Dual camera mode sounds great until you realize that a floating head in all your pictures looks cheesy at best and flat out creepy at worst.
Fitness apps, turning multiple GS4s into a smartphone sound system (because all your friends will own the same phone and will want to do this), S Translate (there’s a reason why Google isn’t hyping up their Translation service for mobile – it doesn’t work very well), and Smart Pause – sensors that detect if your eyes are on the phone and will scroll, stop, and pause what you’re doing on your phone – would be great if it worked. In short, there was a lot ambition in the apps category but rather give a reason why you would want to use them, Samsung assumed that you and your friends will all be using the same device.
We’re not gonna keep beating this dead horse, we’re just gonna ask “why?”
Is the Galaxy S 4 worth getting? That depends on two things: 1. how much do you want to play in Samsung’s walled garden? 2. When was the last time you bought a phone? If you’re currently carrying around a GS3 or Note 2 don’t get new device envy, save your cash. In fact, if you’ve purchased any high-end phone in the last year, just wait. There is no great leap forward – I’m more intrigued by HTC’s One than the Galaxy S 4.
But if you’re the type of person who rarely upgrades or their last device was some mid-tier or budget smartphone, the GS4 will seem like it’s from the future. A future where everything is made of plastic.