Samsung Galaxy S 4 hardware was expected, so did the software wow us?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Samsung Galaxy S 4 hardware was expected, so did the software wow us?
The Samsung Galaxy S 4 had absolutely nothing to really surprise us with on the hardware side when it was finally announced, because everything there was to know about the hardware was leaked before the event, all the way down to a complete teardown of the device less than an hour before Samsung's live event. So, we knew exactly what to expect on the hardware end, but as usual, the software was the star of the show, and so we want to talk about all of the new additions.

When it comes to hardware in a smartphone, the best a manufacturer can tend to hope for is something evolutionary. The Galaxy S 4 has a screen similar to what we're seeing on other flagship devices. The processor will rock benchmark tests, but probably won't translate to any real-world difference in performance compared to say the HTC One's Snapdragon 600. Even at its best, we don't expect the camera quality to be leaps ahead of the competition. The real key to the experience is in the software, and Samsung has quite a few very interesting new features on the software side. Of course, the Galaxy S 4 also has a number of silly gimmicks as well (you know, for marketing purposes). Overall though, Samsung did an amazing job of trying new things and adding multiple features that could turn out to be quite good. 

The Gimmicks

Let's just hit the gimmicks first, because these are the features that sound cool when you're explaining your new phone to someone, or sound interesting in a commercial, but don't really add anything as far as functionality that people are likely to actually use (think FaceTime, or Face Unlock). 

S Translator: Don't get us wrong, for the right person in the right place and time, this is a very useful feature. In addition to allowing your phone to essentially act as, well, an audio translator, it can also use OCR to translate texts on signs and things to help you along your way. There are two reasons why we're putting it in the gimmicks section though. First, Google Translate has been offering the translator features for a while in over 30 languages (S Translator supports just 10). Second, as we said, it's only for someone in the right place at the right time. Unless you live in Europe, chances are you aren't traveling enough to get somewhere they don't speak the same language as you. So, while S Translator is cool, it's nothing new, and it won't be used by the majority of users. 

S Health: With this one, Samsung realized that there are a ton of sensors in a smartphone, and if you add in an extra accessory (or three: the S-band, body scale, and heart rate monitor), you can generate a huge amount of data about a person... if they want it. Of course, if you're someone who really wants this data, you probably already own a FitBit (since the Nike FuelBand is still iOS only for some awful reason), so we're not sure why you'd want to buy a whole new phone and new accessories to get the same info. The functionality is cool, but the potential audience is very small, and there's been no confirmation that S Health would support other Bluetooth fitness trackers like the FitBit.

Air View and Air Gestures: The idea here of course is that you can control your phone without touching the screen, and you can get extra info and previews similar to a mouse hover action on a traditional computer. Again, these aren't completely useless features, but we can't see them being used all that much. Air View (aka mouse hover) is likely something that will only be available in Samsung apps, and will not become widely used in other apps, so the usefulness will be severely limited. And, while it will be handy to use Air Gesture controls here and there, we can't see that being used all that much (as we once ranted about.)

SmartScroll: We were on board with SmartStay in the Galaxy S III, but SmartScroll just seems unnecessary, because its functionality that is not just doubling existing options, but tripling because you can already scroll through both touch and touchless controls. But, just in case you don't want to lift that arm at all (which S Health should be encouraging you to do), you can have pages scroll through a combination of your head angle and the angle of the phone. 

(There are a couple other gimmicks, but we want to put all of the new camera features together, so we'll hit those later.)

The Maybe 

SmartPause: We're not totally against SmartPause, because it is a cool idea in theory, but we're also not totally for it, because it can easily be a bad idea in practice. The trouble here is a simple one that cable companies have been fighting for a while - people like to multitask, so our eyes don't stay on one screen. Imagine you're showing a video to a friend, and you turn your head to comment on something. It seems like a good idea that the video would pause so you can make your point, but what if you're on the train watching something and you just glance around the car. Do you really want the video to pause every time you turn your head or look away? It doesn't strike us as a totally yes or no answer, so we're having a hard time saying the feature is really worth the hype it gets when people hear about it.

Samsung Group Play: We're a bit on the fence about this one, for a couple reasons. The idea of being able to tap Galaxy S 4 phones and have the same song playing in sync on each one doesn't sound all that useful, we can say for sure that the gaming side of group play could get a fair amount of use in the right setting (like a McDonald's in Japan), assuming enough games offer the functionality. The trouble here is that it requires all your friends to have the same device, or at least another compatible Samsung device. We understand that Samsung wants to be Appley and lock people into the Samsung ecosystem, and we don't really appreciate that. We'd prefer an approach that's more inclusive.

The Good

S Voice Drive: Extending the functionality of S Voice to S Voice Drive wasn't a big leap (since Vlingo, which is what S Voice is built on, has offered Drive Mode for a couple years now), but it's a welcome one nonetheless, and one that should prove to be quite useful. Nothing wrong with offering options to have texts read, or to reply via voice, and find nearby places all through voice command. We can get behind that idea. 

Samsung Knox: Just because it isn't a feature designed for consumers doesn't mean it's not a good idea. Even if BlackBerry has lost the ability to make much that excites people any more, it still has good ideas and Samsung Knox is essentially the same idea as BlackBerry Balance. The idea is simple: give options for personal data and secured business data to co-exist on a smartphone. Samsung didn't go into depth tonight because Knox was shown off in detail at MWC, but it looks like a good set of features, and could help Samsung take some enterprise market share. 

Adapt Display: We need to see this in action, but this sounds like a really nice new feature. Adjusting the brightness is something that's always been done to adapt to different lighting conditions, but Samsung claims to have a more advanced system for the Galaxy S 4, which will also adjust contrast and color along with brightness. All of the settings will not only be adjusted based on environmental lighting, but based on what is on the screen. Games, video, and text will all get different settings, and if done right that could make the display even better than it already looks. 

The Camera

As is usually the case, the camera software gets the most new features for the Galaxy S 4. We wanted to put them all together in one section for easy access, but we'll also note if the feature falls into our "gimmick", "maybe", or "good" categories, starting with the gimmick.

Sound & Shot (gimmick): Let's keep this simple - we'd rather have HTC's options of taking pictures while recording video than have Samsung's "Sound & Shot" feature. We just don't see the value in having a still picture attached to sound. If you want visual and sound, that's called video, and it works wonderfully. 

Dual Camera (maybe): The first instance that Samsung showed for the dual camera usage was not impressive. Sure, we can all relate to the idea that one person is never in pictures because they're always the one behind the camera. But, the answer to that is not dual camera, because all you have then is a group picture and another self-shot that you already see so much, that sometimes you want to punch Instagram in the face. However, the second usage, which allowed for sharing both the front and rear cameras during a video call was definitely a cool idea, and one that we've wanted to have in a camera for a while.

Drama Shot (maybe): It's an artsy thing, but not completely useless. Could be fun, but won't be life-changing. 'Nuff said. 

Story Album (maybe): There's nothing inherently bad with the idea of creating a photo album and filling it with the story behind the photos. That's a great idea, and one that we can totally get behind. It's also pretty cool that Samsung has added in options to order physical printed albums when you're done. Our hesitation with the idea is - what happens other than that? If these Story Albums can be shared on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter, and can be easily organized and edited in a web browser, we could bump this up to a good idea. But, if the Story Albums have a limited life outside of your phone and a physically printed book, we're not as impressed. 

Eraser (good): Everyone loves a good photobomb, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have the option to erase the photobomber from your pictures. If it works well, and looks natural, there's nothing wrong with this feature, and could be quite handy. 

Conclusion

The final tally puts us at 5 gimmicks, 5 maybe good features, and 4 legitimately good features. That's a solid showing for Samsung. Ultimately, the software on the Galaxy S 4 doesn't have any terrible additions, just some that may never really get any use. Even if none of the features really speak to you as a user, Samsung should get credit for pushing so hard on this update. There are a lot of new features with the Galaxy S 4, and they cover a wide range from interaction controls, to camera modes, accessories, and more. 

It all adds up to an impressive announcement, and what looks to be a solid all-around device. We're looking forward to playing around with the Galaxy S 4.

Related phones

Galaxy S4
  • Display 5.0" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, Quad-core, 1900 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 2600 mAh(17h 3G talk time)

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86 Comments

2. xperiaDROID

Posts: 5629; Member since: Mar 08, 2013

Features, YES Software, YES Design, NO

9. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

100% true......this phone is powerful and awesome but design get us disappointment........!!!

13. DoctorPDA

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

The leaks on the size of the S4 were incorrect------ I was very surprised (and happy) when they announced a 5" screen device that is similar to the size of the S3! It's even a touch smaller than the 4.7" HTC ONE screen. Smaller than the Droid DNA too. For people with small hands that don't want a massive phone, this is good news, no? I'm upgrading from an HTC Thunderbolt, so any phone if frikkin awesome at this point.

79. Jeradiah3

Posts: 1149; Member since: Feb 11, 2010

I had the HTC Inspire before upgrading to the S3 so i completely understand lol. Its just that there not much design improvement between the S3 abd S4.

52. Cliff4

Posts: 4; Member since: Mar 10, 2013

the design isn't all that bad (due to it's small bezels) but I expected a more elegant design

61. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Expected more! Right...that's the bug right there. Xperia Z can manage to smile now. That design is to die for... Although Samsung listed all these features in one whole package, i doubt people will just implement 2-3 and leave out all the rest.

18. Alex123

Posts: 241; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

It is really disappointed me and everybody who was waiting for it. It is not next Big thing but next bad thing. Samsung might take after Apple to bring us the same design every time.

19. suneeboy

Posts: 201; Member since: Oct 02, 2012

I never followed cell phones until mid 2012. I've realized now that internet bloggers just hate on the trend. The mentality is to always root for the underdog. Samsung is not the underdog anymore so the trolls come out for it. It's all about the HTC One, because it has "promise" and is the underdog. It looks different and its not mainstream. You people don't know what you want, you just want what's not mainstream. You're the opposite of what you all call "iSheep"...sheep go to what's "popular" and you just flock to what you all deem to be "not popular" and not necessarily what you prefer or like. I'm officially done reading comments because most of the times it just kills my mood.

73. E.N.

Posts: 2610; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

And because the HTC One seems like a really nice phone.... You have to understand that Samsung marketed this phone HEAVILY and sadly this phone is hardly groundbreaking. Don't create hype if you can't live up to it! The design for the S IV is not as bad as some people are making it out to be, maybe its because I have a Note II and they pretty much look the same. What's annoying, to me anyway, is the gimmicks that they try to pass on as game-changing. It's like they're going for quantity vs quality with these "software improvements." It's quite ridiculous

76. THE-ONE

Posts: 28; Member since: Mar 14, 2013

Because it looks ugly the S2 was a candy bar design and the s3 and S4 are curvey. Look at the Htc One and Sony Z it looks modern and stylish!

44. Topcat488

Posts: 1415; Member since: Sep 29, 2012

Samsung should have called this phone the Galaxy S3S... Just like the iphone X and iphone XS, because it looks too much like the GS3.

63. xtremesv

Posts: 299; Member since: Oct 21, 2011

Or the Galaxy S 3+

56. REYNER

Posts: 187; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

i could not agree more i was expecting better hardware from samsung for most of the other manufacturer came out with a topnotch hardware xperia z, htc one and the upcoming lumia 928. the feature and software are good but not that impressive in a way that it did not offer something new unlike sIII`s last year released where most of the software tricks are jaw-dropping new the S III to S IV is like Iphone 4s- 5 upgrade now my next big thing down to two it would either be Xperia z or Htc one :)

84. joaolx

Posts: 364; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Design, no Hardware, yes New features, no, i probably would never use one. They're mostly gimmicks in my opinion. I am disappointed by samsung. I was expecting more.

4. _Bone_

Posts: 2155; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

The SIV delivered on almost every front, but the design will make it a tough selling point and not's because it's bad - it's a actually the cleanest looking of the series - but because it doesn't differentiate itself from it's predecessor. You see where Apple keeps the iPhone looks it changes appearance JUST ENOUGH so you think it's a completely new product cause you SEE a new product. Looking at the S4 which is a much bigger REAL improvement - look at all the HW and SW features - and you see an S3 Plus. So will Jane replace her previous Next Big Thing to the Same Thing as far as her eyes judge?

38. g2a5b0e unregistered

I usually agree with most of your comments, but I think you're a little off the mark here. The iPhone 4 & 4S are virtually identically physically & so are the 3G & 3GS. The S4, while not a huge physical departure from the S3, still looks more different than those Apple generational leaps I mentioned.

60. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Agreed! I can't differentiate between 4 and 4S, 3G and 3GS, but i think i'll be able to tell the difference between SIII and SIV, mainly because of the screen size and narrow bezel.

72. zibbyzib2000

Posts: 221; Member since: Nov 18, 2010

That's because the iPhones "s" versions are just minor internal updates and not an entirely new phone. Samsung treated the S4 as if it was something completely different. Even their teasers were a little misleading. The little kid saying it was his favorite color when in reality it was just the accessories that had a color change.

75. nobelset

Posts: 270; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

Yea, every time they show a new iphone they call it innovation. I rest my case.

58. REYNER

Posts: 187; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

yep i agree with that in an ordinary people the s3 and s4 are virtually identical just like the iphone 4s to iphone 5 it would have been considered if they improve their back cover to make it feel more premium but they dont and thats disappointment sinks in most other manufacturer improve their hardware while samsung get too complacent with plastic the software and features are good enough but the built is downright disappointing!

5. Ninetysix

Posts: 2964; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

Please rename this phone to galaxy S3+. This is not the next best thing.

10. RaKithAPeiRiZ

Posts: 1488; Member since: Dec 29, 2011

Galaxy S3s

11. rusticguy

Posts: 2828; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

Galaxy SAME-sung series

6. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Air view isn't a gimmick. Its awesome and a key part of Windows and computer operating systems. Viewing things without actually opening them is something I always do.

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

The big difference is that in Windows, it applies to everything, and it is taken advantage of by every program and website around. I severely doubt many app developers will support Air View, and if it's only supported in Samsung apps (as it is now), that's a gimmick. I'd love to be proven wrong though.

28. maherk

Posts: 6876; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Air view will prove itself that its far from gimmick. When you are eating your honey wings, and there is a call you wanna answer or maybe reject, you can simply hover over the phone. Not just the phone, you have the gallery and internet and am pretty sure samsung will find a good use of this tech, but its a good impelentation imo.

64. voxmarc

Posts: 339; Member since: Aug 22, 2012

ehem...

78. XperiaPrince

Posts: 108; Member since: Dec 25, 2012

Yes, Air view is a gimmick because of the limited usage... Floating touch is now very useful since the ICS update. I can use floating touch in all the programs at can browse trough my phone even without touching it. It is very useful because sometimes when my hand is dirty and i want to check on something and my hands are dirty I can use my phone without getting it dirty or wet.Floating touch is limited tough in its first release but the ICS update fixed it, :D Cheers Sony!

7. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

"...so did the software wow us?" Yes, I have said "WOW!" because I never have seen so much gimmicks bloatware in one place... (at least in my opinion)

23. apple.bb.htc.sony.nokia.rip

Posts: 17; Member since: Mar 05, 2013

your avatar is gimmick as well!!!

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