Samsung Galaxy S4 software features: Ahead of the game or gimmicky?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Samsung Galaxy S4 software features: Ahead of the game or gimmicky?
For the past several weeks, I’ve been getting to know the Samsung Galaxy S4 a bit more from the inside and out. Now, if you read our extensive review of it, which was done by our very own Ray S., then you know that it received one of the highest scores we’ve given to any device this year – beating out even the fabled HTC One in the process! Paving the way, it seemingly set the bar in what we expect to find in the experience with a flagship device, seeing that it boasts a mind-boggling amount of new software features. Compared to its rivals, the totality of its arsenal is unmatched at the moment, but after showing the prized smartphone and demoing the cool things it can do, it makes me wonder whether the new software features are more gimmicky than anything else.

Before I dive into what I’ve personally experienced checking out this smoking new phone, we have to go back last year when Sammy introduced its Galaxy S III to the masses. Naturally, we can lament all we want about the plastic build of Sammy’s entire smartphone lineup, but that’s just something we have to live with at this point – even more that’s the design DNA that they’ve decided to stick with. Going back to the Galaxy S III, I was impressed how Samsung was so calculated in how they meticulously worked on every angle of its TouchWiz Nature UX experience. Like seriously, its list of features were unparalleled! Personally, it’s not the cleanest or slickest Android UI, but heck, its functionality was far superior than anything else that its rivals had to offer.

Being a successive device, it wasn’t totally surprising to see Samsung build upon its preexisting functions with its TouchWiz experience on the Galaxy S4. For starters, they totally revamped the camera experience, as it boasts an insane amount of neat tricks – even to the point of overwhelming us! On top of that, the new hardware under the hood helped to bring some new additions to the experience – such as air gestures, smart scroll, and air view amongst other things. During the first week showing off the cool things you can do with the handset, like waving my hand over the phone to scroll through photos, everyone seemed to be amazed by all the new ways of interaction. However, the more I played around with it, the more I questioned whether they were practical, or merely gimmicky features just there to broaden its scope.

So here are some of the things that really became more apparent the longer I used the handset:

  • Air gestures can be inconsistent: Naturally, there’s always some sort of learning curve with anything new. As for myself, I have very little issue waving my hand over the display using its new air gestures to scroll up/down in the stock browser, or move through images in the gallery, but for those who tried it for the first time, they probably thought it’d be more intuitive, which resulted in many inconsistent responses. Personally, I would love to see the feature improved by being able to track my hand moment-by-moment – as opposed to doing a complete air gesture to execute a task. It's like scrolling on a resistive screen versus capacitive one.

  • You can scroll up/down via air gestures, but not left/right in the browser: This one totally blows my mind! Yes, it’s great that I can eat a footlong sandwich while having the option to scroll up/down in the stock browser without having a crumb hitting it, but what’s preventing them for enabling us to scroll left/right? Oh wait, doing that permits me to move between any opened tabs! To tell you the truth, it would’ve been more useful if they just simply replaced that in favor of scrolling horizontally.

  • No “pinch air gesture”: We’re certainly still far from seeing that Minority Report like experience with our smartphone UIs, but there’s no way to do pinch air gestures with the new TouchWiz Nature UX experience. Seeing that there’s a new capacitive panel on board with the Galaxy S4, which brings for the Note’s air view functionality with the aid of hovering with our finger, we thought it would’ve been possible to see “pinch air gestures.” Despite its omission, which is probably due to a combination of hardware limitations, we’re hoping to see some form of it with future versions.

  • Not enough third party app support: As much as I love to show some magic hand waving tricks to random people interested in seeing the Galaxy S4, it would’ve been nice to see support for air gestures in other third party apps. Still, considering how quickly Sammy was able to expand its support of apps for its multi-window feature, we hope it’s only a matter of time before the same happens with air gestures.

  • We like to blink and look away at times, so smart pause can be bothersome at times: I have this involuntary condition where I like to blink normally, or even look away briefly – like any other normal human being. However, if you have the smart pause feature on, you’ll need to constantly have your eyes affixed on the screen so the video you’re watching doesn’t spaz out every few seconds. Instead, it would’ve been nice if there were some kind of leeway before it triggers – then again, at least we can deactivate it entirely.

    • You’ll need to know a lot of people using S4s to try its Group Play features: I really want to show off some of the Group Play features of the Galaxy S4, but there’s just one problem – I don’t know too many people in real life right now with the S4 in hand as well. Without question, multiplayer game play on the S4 seems like a wonderful thing, as well as its handful of photo sharing options, but there’s no way to make use of them unless I know other people who are using the phone too. Well, maybe in a month or so I can randomly game with someone in the subway to kill some time? Oh wait, we both need to download and play the same game to do that!

  • Smart Scroll is nice, but again, there’s no scrolling left/right: So far, people have been mostly impressed by the S4’s Smart Scroll feature – the one that relies on eye tracking to scroll in the web browser vertically. However, the surrounding lighting conditions can hamper its operation. Now, the thing that people don’t see when I show off the feature, is that I’m slightly tilting the phone forward/back to get it to function fully. If it can track my eyes up/down, then why is it that it can’t track it left/right? This, I ponder many nights in bed.

  • I want to get fit, but I need more than the phone & S Health: In its attempt to monitor our daily lives, Samsung introduced S Health with the Galaxy S4 – the one stop-shop for all your health tracking needs. As a fitness fanatic myself, I really appreciate that Sammy is tackling this new category head-on, but there’s just so much that the smartphone can do all by itself. Tracking how many steps I take is wonderful, but you’ll need to carry along a heart rate monitor in order to get an accurate calorie burn number. Well, at least they’re coming out with an assortment of accessories in the near future to give those who need precise counts.

Seriously people, that’s just a few of the things that popped up the more I played around with the Galaxy S4. Perhaps I’m just being too picky right now, but the execution of some of the new features seem a bit arcane – it kind of reminds me of scrolling in Pocket Internet Browser on the resistive touchscreen of a Windows Mobile Phone. For the moment, it might not seem as intuitive or responsive, but technology has this affinity for constant improvement, so we’re crossing our fingers for the best. When it comes down to it, though, the extensive list of features on the Galaxy S4 might seem overwhelming, but hey, they’re at least well ahead of the curve in this department. Who doesn’t want more features on a phone? Ultimately, I harken back to the question I posed at the beginning: Are these new software features ahead of the game or gimmicky?

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)



1. amro99

Posts: 114; Member since: Nov 29, 2012

For the first few days ahead of the game, later on gimmicky and all turned off :)

10. XperiaUser unregistered

the whole S4 is a gimmicky . Octa core processor ,Toyish Amoled display , lots of bloatware and ofcourse these mostly useless features ;)

50. RaKithAPeiRiZ

Posts: 1488; Member since: Dec 29, 2011

The Galaxy S4 design team probably spent their time idling, then in the last minute they collected all their ideas and put them into a half hearted construction and called it the next big thing 2.0

53. Nephylim

Posts: 134; Member since: Apr 04, 2013

why so jealous? "Xperia" user

73. WirelessCon

Posts: 311; Member since: May 11, 2010

How are they jealous?

82. Nephylim

Posts: 134; Member since: Apr 04, 2013

who are u? The girlfriend or the mom.? Sorry ma'am I did not bother to "XperiaUser" :( P.S. Xperia user is a nickname not Xperia users. o_O

80. HDShatter

Posts: 1021; Member since: Jan 17, 2013

Xperia users can't say crap, the Z is full of lag.

150. giri555

Posts: 111; Member since: Mar 15, 2012

Z, and lag? are you hallucinating or lying ? Don't try to spread false rumours....

62. Bluesky02

Posts: 1439; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Why so harsh toward S4?

151. Mehrzad_wayne

Posts: 10; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

hahaha you guys are funny ! always fighting XD

23. RiseAgainst94

Posts: 281; Member since: Mar 03, 2012

You cannot air scroll left and right? WTF.

25. sid07desai

Posts: 290; Member since: May 03, 2012

I love the HTC One better. But someday, I have "unfortunately" have to get an S4, I will put CM10.1 right after unboxing it. Touchwiz is just intolerable.

54. torr310

Posts: 1703; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

Things like Multi-Window on Note 2. I went to XDA Note 2 forum and found most people do not use it at all or rarely use it. Verizon set it limited to use on certain apps too. I have to admit I was hype when I saw the multi-window feature at first.

69. buccob

Posts: 2980; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Features like Multi-Window are intended for power users who use their smartphone almost like a PC... Believe me, I have a mere Xperia Acro S and many times coupled with a BT Keyboard, OTG cable, Mouse, HDMI Monitor and its included dock it is truly a pocket pc... And of course the right Third Party Apps...

146. juanyunis

Posts: 73; Member since: Aug 31, 2012

I used this featured a lot on my Note II, it was very helpful to me, sometimes i needed to use whatsapp and internet at the same time, or maps and whatsapp, etc. With my new S4, i've used it a couple of times, but i really miss the popup browser feature and the paper artist.

57. ahmed_ali_yossef2010

Posts: 164; Member since: Jul 26, 2012

these software features would be good if it didn't eat the whole ram and internal space

78. buccob

Posts: 2980; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

I think the S3 brought more useful features in comparisson. I used to have active many of them like: - Slap the screen with the palm to shut any sound off... (music specially) - touch with 1 finger while zoomed in a picture and move the phone around to pan as if you were there... (Awesome for panoramic pictures) - Screenshot by scaning with the side of your palm... Genius And all of that was before the 4.2 update... which brough many more features, but I was robbed before that. Now to compare this experience with my current Xperia Acro S, "special" features that I use are: - Use 2 finger vertical scrolling on list that normally do not have the side scroll button. (like "All" list inside the App setting) - CEC remote control through a simple HDMI cable is almost an exclusive for Sony phones that have microHDMI port... (now MHL make use of that similar feature) I use this all the time. - Smart Connect, is truly a wonderful app, not on the same level of Llama or Tasker, but it does natively a bunch of neat features... - Quickshot in the camera... so you can unlock and take a picture just by pressing the camera button... really fast most of the time What Sony should kill (and I think it already has on new phones is) - Timescape - Overview on homescreen Overall I think Samsung is innovating a lot and even if its gimmiky, they are focusing on the right things... because hardware has more limitations than software... in this day and age. Manufacturers should start focusing on better software and less in beefing up specs... 12mp camera is enough for me... heck even 8mp if its good it is enough... a Snapdragon S4 quadcore is also enough for a while... 2GB of ram is enough for this year... even 720p screen is enough of up to 5" screen..... BUT software not optimized, with little features and lack of innovation it is not enough!...

114. sharks

Posts: 236; Member since: Feb 16, 2013

Finally! PA agrees to what i've been saying that since the first day when i got my S4... The damn thing is a nice device but choke-full of gimmicks that you're never really going to use in real life, at least not on a daily basis. After you disable/ignore all those gimmicks, you're basically left with a device that's lesser than what you'd get with the HTC One. I've actually bought an HTC One as well so i know the huge difference first-hand and the HTC One is an everyday delight to use!

125. geekfreak unregistered

A poll could give us clear picture on this.


Posts: 3131; Member since: Jan 12, 2010

After using the HTC One, I even have to admit it is the better device. Sure I wish it had a slightly bigger display and battery but my god is the design and display gorgeous. Sense 5 is also very slick and responsive and looks great too. The keyboard is easy to type on and the auto correct is amazing as well. The camera has its hits and misses with it being only 4 megapixel but it does take some amazing photos even in low light conditions. I think I am just going to buy the 64gb model on at&t and be a very happy camper. Samsung needs to step it up with the Note 3.

2. Malki

Posts: 68; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

..and I hope samsung will fix all these ''problems'' soon

64. Bluesky02

Posts: 1439; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Strange you didn't say anything wrong and yet so many people Thumb you down?

76. Malki

Posts: 68; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

You know....too many apple fans are here :D

95. quakan

Posts: 1419; Member since: Mar 02, 2011

If you haven't noticed it, many Android folks here have turned on Samsung now that they have reached Apple status so now they like all things Android except Samsung.

144. Azure01

Posts: 127; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

You have to understand that android fans have serious "contrarian" issues. They want the underdog to win and as soon as it does they look for the next "struggling" android loyalty.

102. maccess

Posts: 742; Member since: Jan 16, 2013

no.. too many samsung hater here actually.. they could be fans from all manufacture except samsung itself..

142. Bluesky02

Posts: 1439; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

From my long experience on PhoneArena, I can tell you that "before" there was a lot of Android fans here. But now it seems there are also lots of Apple and Windows fan.

3. quadrazeus

Posts: 359; Member since: May 03, 2013

The buzz is over. S4 is a fail.

22. abdane

Posts: 507; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

i won't consider it a fail, the HTC one is a fail... let's wait for the sales and see ;)

26. xperiaDROID

Posts: 5629; Member since: Mar 08, 2013

HTC One is a fail? Uhh......are you sure? Yes, the One doesn't have smart features like the S4's, but the One's Boomsound can BOOM the S4 to the wall, and yes, the screen on the S4 is cracked.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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