Samsung Galaxy S4 unveiled

Big screen and lots of new software features
Darren Allan

March 15, 2013

So late last night, at midnight in fact, Samsung finally unveiled the new Galaxy S4 over in the States, complete with an array of software features.

But first, let’s look at the hardware, which came down pretty much as all the rumours suggested it would.

The display is increased a little bit more, pushing the handset towards Galaxy Note “phablet” territory at 5 inches, and it’s a full HD Super AMOLED screen. Displaying 441 pixels per inch, a sharp picture is assured, and the screen is also fashioned from Gorilla Glass 3.

As expected, there’s a 13-megapixel camera, and a 2-megapixel front-facer, plus the handset has 4G LTE support, and support for HSPA+42. The handset has NFC, a microSD slot, and a 1.6GHz octal-core (8-core) CPU

It’s also slightly thinner than the S3 at 7.9mm.

So while the hardware is certainly nice, it’s pretty much a case of a bit bigger, sharper and better (and indeed thinner).

Samsung rattled off a list of new software features as long as your arm, though (or indeed possibly your leg).

For starters, both rear and front cameras are linked, and the handset has what Samsung calls a “dual camera” feature that allows both cameras to take simultaneous photos and videos.

So you can take a picture of someone, with yourself inserted in (via the front camera), if you so wish. Which probably not many folks will… however, the “dual video” will be more useful when it comes to group video chats, no doubt.

The camera has a number of shooting modes such as “drama shot,” which takes a continuous set of time-lapse shots.

Moving on from the camera, another new software feature is smart pause, which automatically pauses a video clip when the phone detects that you’ve looked away from the screen. It then starts the video again when you look back. Clever.

There’s also a smart scroll feature, which automatically scrolls web pages (or other content) up or down as you tilt the handset. Should be interesting to see how well that works in practice.

A “group play” function lets users share music, photos and games using a direct connection, so there’s no need for Wi-Fi or a 3G/4G connection.

S-Translator provides instant text/voice translation, and there’s also air view/gesture, which means you can hover your finger over the touchscreen, and it will be detected. So you can hover a digit over, say, an email to preview the message rather than open it.

There’s also Samsung WatchON, which turns the S4 into an infrared universal remote control, and S-Health, whereby the phone monitors your activity levels, and can be coupled with a band to monitor heart rate and suchlike – and tell you how healthy you are (or aren’t).

There are other bits and pieces, too, and to be quite honest it’s a rather bewildering array of new features. Exactly how useful some of them will be, well, that remains to be seen. But Samsung has certainly set its stall out in terms of pushing on the software front.

Not that the S4 doesn’t have some nice new sparkly bits in terms of the CPU and screen. Again, with the camera, we’ll have to see how the initial reviews call the actual image quality, aside from the fancy tricks.

The camera might be 13-megapixels, but megapixels do not a brilliant photo make – other phone manufacturers have been looking to improve their low-light shooting, for example, such as HTC with its smaller but higher quality “ultrapixels.”

As to the phone’s overall prospects – of course, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is going to sell… but will it once more push back the boundaries, as the S3 did, and sell even more than its predecessor? That’s far less certain.

Particularly seeing as it’s not just the iPhone, but other Android manufacturers who are really starting to come up with some impressive goods – HTC with its latest One, and Sony with the Xperia Z, for example.

The real question is – just how many of the new software features are mere gimmicks, and just not useful in practice? No doubt we’ll have an answer soon enough – the Galaxy S4 goes on sale on April 26th.


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