Well, the wait is finally over. Samsung officially unveiled the Galaxy S4 (I9500) at a swanky event in New York City. Internally, it improves on nearly all the hardware specs of the Galaxy S3 while also bringing some new software elements to the equation. Samsung’s strength over the years has proven to be hardware and now the company is foraying into giving users baked-in features that would have required an app download or two. On paper, the S4 looks like a tasty dish, but we wish the design had been updated a touch more. However, it does look better than the Galaxy S3 when put side-by-side. Of course, that’s just my preference. Let’s break down the specifications of the newest Samsung flagship.
OS – Android 4.2.2 with TouchWiz on top
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the first phone to launch with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the latest version of the OS. However, you would be hard pressed to see any of the stock UI elements here. Instead of the dark, neon-lit interiors of stock Android, TouchWiz goes for a bright, vibrant and peppy (to the point of cartoonish at times) outlook. However, don’t think it’s all just a reimagining of the stock UI. There are some nifty additions to the interface, which Samsung claims will improve the overall user experience.
The homescreens look much cleaner now. The notification bar has high transparency so the notification icons for battery, signal strength and, of course, all the alerts look like they are floating on the screen. It’s an easy way to lighten up the UI without actually shedding any weight. TouchWiz here is not all that different from the one running on the Galaxy S3. The app drawer looks the same, but there are some changes inside some of the core apps. The Settings page, for example, now has a tabbed interface, which if you don’t notice will leave you frustrated that you can’t scroll. On second thoughts though, the tabbed interface is a great way to quickly spot what you want to change, instead of scrolling and trying to find the right setting. Samsung has taken Air View and Smart Stay to the next logical step and enhanced their functionality. However, we can foresee users getting confused by the plethora of software features in the phone. Thankfully, they are easily accessible through the two-finger drag on the notification bar.
The next big thing?
The new additions include the S Translator, which supports 10 languages and is baked into apps like email, SMS and ChatOn. Then there’s S Health, a lifestyle-tracking app (compatible with the S Band, Body Scale and the Heart Rate Monitor) that uses the handset as pedometer and calorie counter. It seems Samsung is targeting the athletes with this feature, and having LeBron James on board for endorsements will push this particular feature even further. Samsung loves knowing that lots of your friends will own the same Galaxy S4 as you. So now we have Group Play which connects a network of S4s to share music in a surround sound-like mode or indulge in network gaming, which is enabled by default on two in-built games, Asphalt 7 and Gun Bros 2. There's also Air Gesture, which lets you scroll and navigate the phone without touching the phone; it just requires a simple flick over the display to move through the Gallery, for example. Air View, which was a Galaxy Note 2 feature that used the S-Pen, now works with plain old fingers. It gives you a preview of emails, calendar appointments, videos and image galleries and open tabs when your finger hovers over the screen. There’s a lot more and some specific to the camera. We’ll have a look at them later.
Cellular connectivity – LTE and 3G (HSPA+)
As befitting a flagship in 2013, the Galaxy S4 comes with LTE connectivity, But if your region has no 4G infrastructure, it will play nicely with 850/900/1900/2100 bands for HSPA. The phone supports Cat 3 LTE, so theoretically you will get download speeds of up to 100Mbps and 50Mbps for uploads.
Display – 4.99-inch Super AMOLED display; resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels
The first thing that most people will wonder while looking at the Galaxy S4 is that it looks so similar to the S3. Turn the screen on, though, and there’s no doubt which is the higher-end handset. Following many 2013 flagships, the S4 goes for a 1080p resolution on a Super AMOLED display. The screen is bright and the colours look super-saturated in the promo images. We hear that the viewing angles are stellar, but we’ll wait for a review unit before passing judgement.
The first Samsung handset with floating touch technology
Form factor – Only slightly refreshed
This is the biggest sore point for most Samsung fans as well as the general public. There aren’t many apparent changes from the S3 at first glance, but there are slight refreshes in the chrome accents, the removable back panel and even the sides of the device. For one, it’s a lot less curvy and hence looks less oblong. Along the perimeter of the device is a faux aluminium plastic trim, which does give it a high-end look. We would have preferred actual aluminium, but it does help keep the handset at a handy 130 g. It is also a slim device with a depth of 7.9 mm. Both the back and the front have a fine hatch-like pattern, which can be seen clearly on closer examination. Forget eschewing plastic, Samsung has in fact used all forms of the material on the device.
Wi-Fi – Packed to the gills
In this department, Samsung has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. The S4 supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n bands along with support for dual-band Wi-Fi. Multimedia content can be sent to your TV thanks to the DLNA, while Wi-Fi Direct can be used to share files with other phones on the same network.
7.9 mm thin and weighs 130 g
SoC – Exynos 5 Octa 5410 or Snapdragon 600 (market dependent)
Two options for potential buyers, but it actually depends on where you reside. In the US, we reckon the Snapdragon 600 will be employed thanks to the widespread LTE coverage there and the embedded nature of the LTE chip. In any case, at 1.9GHz each, the four Krait cores should be plenty fast and are already ticking inside flagships like the HTC One and the Optimus G Pro. The much-talked about Exynos 5410 processor will see the light of day in other regions. We expect the CPU to come to the India-bound handset. It has a dual quad-core setup with four Cortex-A7 cores clocked at 1.2GHz and four Cortex-A15 cores ticking at 1.6 GHz. Both versions of the handset will have 2GB of RAM, plenty for any usage scenario. The Exynos CPU is coupled with the PowerVR SGX 544MP3 GPU, while the Snapdragon 600 version of the phone will use an Adreno 320 GPU.
Internal storage – Three options with microSD card slot
Users can get either the 16, 32 or 64GB-laden S4 and Samsung has included a microSD card slot too, which can be used to further augment the device’s storage by up to 64GB.
Primary camera – 13 megapixels and a bag of tricks
Just like the Sony Xperia Z and the LG Optimus G, the S4 has a 13 megapixel camera. So to boost the GS4's imaging credentials, Samsung has looked to the Galaxy Camera and its wheel interface, which helps users choose the modes they want easily. Much like the recently-announced Optimus G Pro, the Galaxy S4 can do dual still and video capture using the front and back cameras. The camera also offers themed templates for the picture-in-picture stills. There’s an Eraser mode to rectify photo-bombed shots or blurred backgrounds. There’s more: Cinema Photo captures still images with moving backgrounds, Sound & Shot records up to nine seconds of audio to accompany a picture and Drama Shot leverages the burst mode to create animated GIFs just like Nokia’s Cinemagraph app. Burst mode has been enhanced thanks to the faster lens with an f/2.2 aperture.
The camera on the back is a 13-megapixel unit
Front-facing camera – More than just for video calls
We don’t know of anyone who puts the front-facing camera to better use than Samsung. Sure, other manufacturers are catching up, but Samsung still brings something new to the oft-ignored piece of hardware. Along with the now-familiar Smart Stay and Smart Rotate features, Samsung has included Smart Scroll and Smart Pause. Smart Scroll works if you simply tilt the phone or lower your eyes. Smart Pause automatically pauses a video when you look away from the display and resumes the playback when you look back. Then there’s Air Gestures, which also uses the 2 megapixel camera to cycle through images, webpages and emails by registering your flick-like gestures done above the screen. Samsung says that these features along with Air Gestures might not be available in darker environments where the camera is unable to locate and track your eyes and hands.
Sensors – The usual suspects
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has the usual accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass and ambient light sensors. The company has also thrown in a barometer, which we presume has a role to play in the S Health app.
The first Samsung handset with floating touch technology
Samsung has been including GLONASS support for a long time now and the Galaxy S4 gets it too along with Assisted GPS. Expect location lock times to be drastically lower thanks to the GLONASS support.
NFC and LBC
Not only does the Galaxy S4 have an NFC chip, it also has a first-for-smartphones technology called Light-Based Communication. The S4 will be able to use this to engage in transactions at several locations across the world without requiring retailers to make changes to their existing point of sale systems. With the technology, the Galaxy S4 can beam traditional 1-D barcode data to any regular laser scanner.
Battery – Li-ion 2600 mAh battery
Nothing to complain here, but we will have to see some real world usage numbers before deciding if the 2600 mAh battery is good enough. Given the specs of the phone, we are happy that Samsung decided to beef up the battery from the 2100 mAh unit that the S3 had. The back of the S4 is removable, so you can replace the battery any time you want. The company has also announced a battery carrier to easily carry the extra pack. If you are a power email user or are constantly browsing on the phone, then the battery should ideally take you through from 9 to 5 and perhaps, even beyond.
Here's another look at the Samsung Galaxy S4:
The bottom line
There’s no doubt that a lot of Samsung fans will be itching to get their hands on the latest flagship. But the real test for the Korean company will be whether it can induce HTC, Nexus and Sony loyalists to buy the Galaxy S4. Funnily enough, Samsung hasn’t topped nearly everything the competition has shown off so far, which had been the case with the Galaxy S3. But the competition has pulled up its socks and some of the Galaxy S4’s specs seem familiar now. Of course, there’s still an 8-core processor, which is a first for smartphones. However, the design of the phone, despite a slight refresh, seems a tad stale and lazy. Is the camera really that much of an improvement over, say, the HTC Ultrapixel unit? And will the new TouchWiz features really be seen as useful or be considered gimmicks? These are some of the questions that will be answered in the long run. For now, we can safely say that the Galaxy S4 is definitely an improvement over its predecessor in terms of specs, but it will have to deliver on all fronts to beat the competition.