Prior to arriving at the Samsung Galaxy S4 unpacked event I’d already read all the rumors and leaks about what the phones hardware would allegedly be, and the possible redesign of the body. What no one knew or had any info about was the software, where Samsung is trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the Android pack. And boy did they have some unique features and upgrades to Jelly Bean 4.2.2 to make it seem like a whole new version of the OS altogether. But before jumping into all that, a quick overview of the hardware is in order.
The Galaxy S4 Brings Hardware Power To Push The Software Experience.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a hardware powerhouse with its 1.9 Ghz Quad-core Snapdragon processor, though I wish we’d of gotten the 1.6 Octa-core that the international version is getting, who doesn’t love more power! A lot of the other stuff is standard 4G LTE, 2gb Ram, 16/32/64 gb internal memory capacity. Then we get the upgrades we’ve been waiting for like the 5″ HD Super AMOLED screen which was a beauty to behold. As well as a/b/g/n/AC Wifi, this is only the second phone I know of that has AC as an option which will be huge in the future for sharing HD content. Bluetooth 4.0 for better battery life and use with new bluetooth accessories. And of course the 13 megapixel rear camera! While I think 13 mp is overkill for a phone, its cool that they’ve gotten the sensors and lens small enough to put that high quality of a camera in a PHONE. A few other upgrades that have not gotten a lot of mention that excite me are the new Temperature and Humidity sensor (not sure what they’ll be used for exactly but i’m sure someone will find a use for them), and the hidden gem I’m really pumped about, the IR Blaster. For some reason they didn’t dwell on this upgrade much probably cause they had so many other amazing features to cover, but an IR blaster in built in means the GS4 can become your universal remote control! Who doesn’t lose their many tv remotes in the couch or leave them in another room. While on the other hand who doesn’t have their phone handy almost all the time. Hopefully they build up their WatchOn app to fully take advantage of this IR blaster and make our phones the universal remote we all need.
The Galaxy S4 Is All About The Software. And there is Plenty To Choose From.
Now that we’ve gotten the hardware out of the way, back to the exciting list of new features. First and foremost the 13 mp camera seemed to be the star of the show with the plethora of new camera functionality The biggie they started with was the Dual-View mode, where the person behind the phone can finally be part of the action they’re capturing be it video or photo. It looks somewhat like FaceTime for lack of a better comparison where you can film/photograph with both cameras front and back and be inserted in the image like picture-in-picture. Samsung also came up with another unique feature to make photos come to life with the ability to add an audio clip to a photo. You have the option of recording a short audio clip before or after the photo is taken to make it more personalized. Another cool camera feature is Drama Mode where you can take a burst of 100 shots and capture movement across the frame so it looks like an action shot. And last but not least there’s an Eraser mode where you again take a burst of photos and have the ability to “erase” sections of the photo out by using a culmination of the frames to create an image just how you want it to look.
Along with these awesome new photo modes there’s the Story Album to make it easy to organize your photos into events. The phone basically looks at the time and place the photos were taken and automagically creates an album based off those. The coolest part is the fact that you can purchase a real physical hard bound book album of the photos directly from the phone where you can add captions and comments to the photos you’ve taken. This sounds like a great option for people who keep scrap books or just want a personalized moment of events they’ve captured. Along similar lines of video taking, Samsung also updated their ChatOn app a video chat application to allow for three people to chat simultaneously for those times when an emailed photo is not enough. As you can see Samsung realizes how popular the camera is in a phone and created a ton of useful features to make sure everyone can capture and share their experiences in fun new ways!
Moving past the camera Samsung has put a lot of time into upgrading the phones sensors to allow for new ways to interact with the phone. For example with Air Gestures if you’re cooking in the kitchen and looking up a recipe on your phone with dirty hands but need to scroll further down the page you can just hover your finger over the screen and it will detect your movement and scroll for you. And if you’re looking for a picture in an album but don’t necessarily want to open each one, in the Gallery you can hover your finger above an album and it will show you a preview of the photos within it. They’ve even made watching videos on your device more intelligent. If you’re watching a YouTube how to video and you look away for a minute to do what its instructing you on with Smart Pause the phone will sense your eyes are averted and pause the video, and then when you’re looking back at the screen it will resume the video seamlessly without your physical input.
Samsung also recognizes that many people are using their mobile devices to monitor their health, so they came up with S-Health to assist with many useful data tracking modes. Built into the phone you now have a pedometer to keep track of how far/long you’ve traveled, and food tracking for your caloric intake. They also came up with cool accessories like the S-Band, Heart Rate Monitor and Body Scale to further gather other fitness related analytics to keep you shape. One of the last mentioned features that i’m still unsure how it really works is the fact that you can use you gloves with your S4. Now I know this may not be a big deal for many people, but living in the Northeast where its cold and you have to wear gloves in the winter to keep your hands from going numb it’s important to be able to use your phone without constantly taking them on and off. Its true you can buy somewhat expensive gloves that have pads to allow use with touchscreen phones, but the nicer ones can be costly and some just look silly. Now you no longer have to worry about that! It really seems like Samsung is innovating the ways people can interact with their phone in helpful non gimmicky ways which I really appreciate.
Speaking of innovating in useful ways, it surprises me that an area not often covered by many phone manufacturers is how we use our phones in the car. Yes there are apps to use to facilitate phone functions while driving but most of them still require touching the phone or don’t incorporate all the phones functions. Samsung on the other hand has again improved their S-Voice Drive application to allow for voice interaction. Now when you are receiving a phone call you can simply reply with “Answer” or “Ignore”. Same goes for text messages, with a simple voice command you can ignore it for later, have the phone read you the message, and allow you to respond all without even lifting a finger. With larger easier to read text and the ability to say “Hi Galaxy” to wake up the phone you can also have it play music by saying what song or artist, or get navigation guidance by telling the phone where you want to go. I for one use my phone in the car for everything. So to finally have a safe way to interact with my phone without having to take my hands off the wheel and eyes off the road is truly a blessing.
While there was a lot of amazing things to see and play with for the phone itself, there were a few intriguing accessories that got mentioned as well. One of which is the Smart cover with a preview window. Samsung came out with the original smart cover for the Galaxy S3, and this one acts the same way by turning off the screen while closed and on when open. But to improve upon that it also includes a small window that gives basic info like the time and date, and i’d assume a preview of notifications like emails and texts as well.
The other big accessory that didn’t get a lot of mention but sounds pretty interesting is their Video Game Remote. There was no mention of a name or price or release date, but it was available to try out. It reminds me a lot of the Moga, which allows you to clip your phone in landscape mode and use what looks a lot like an Xbox 360 controller to play your games. I was able to play Sonic the Hedgehog and Need For Speed as demos and from what I got a chance to see it seemed to work pretty well. The analog nubs were a bit flat and didn’t offer the best movement, but the buttons were very responsive and I could see it being useful for arcade or first person shooter games. There were a few other accessories displayed like a Bluetooth headset and wireless dongle used to share data but they didn’t have mention much about them. Overall it looks like Samsung is fleshing out their accessory department to include some pretty cool stuff.
I left the Samsung Unpacked event feeling like i’d seen a brand new phone with tons of cool features and amazing hardware. I currently have the Samsung Galaxy S3 and love it, but come the end of April it may be time to upgrade to its newer and more exciting brother the Galaxy S4. Now I can’t wait to put it in my pocket and use it daily!