The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great device. It seems Samsung was not content with just making the best Android smartphone currently available. With the Galaxy S4, Samsung seems to be making a technological statement to its competitors.
Not just a tweaked S3
No doubt the Galaxy S4 looks very similar to its predecessor the S3 which is a very good phone. S3 users shouldn't feel compelled to trade up unless you enjoy having the latest and greatest, but the differences between the two are significant.
The quad-core driven S4 is faster than the dual-core S3 as one would expect. Samsung has also fitted a larger, higher resolution display, a higher capacity battery, and a better camera into an even slimmer and lighter device.
Air Gestures, Air View, Smart Scroll
While many smartphone makers seem focused on form factor and materials, Samsung reached in another direction. Capabilities like Air View and Air Gestures up the ante for smartphone expectations. By no means a complete list, here are a few of the S4's tricks:
Air Gestures let you swipe through browser tabs or gallery photos with a wave of the hand.
With Air View, hovering your finger reveals layered information like details of an event in the Calendar app without physically touching the screen.
Smart Scroll performs touch-less scrolling by either tilting the device or by detecting head movement of a user.
When you look away from the screen, Smart Pause can pause a video and then restart it when you look back.
The list goes on, but as cool as these features seem at a glance, there are limitations. First of all, none of this is quite ready to replace actually touching the screen. Everything is quicker if you use your hands, but it seems like a good solution for when wearing gloves.
I found Air Gestures to be a bit finicky and inconsistent. Air View only works with Samsung's Apps, Smart Scroll only works with the stock browser, not Chrome.
Samsung is not the first to build IR remote functionality into a phone, but with the WatchOn app the S4 becomes a very handy universal remote. WatchOn has Netflix integration and offers personalized recommendations of content to view based on your interests. I had it controlling my TV in under a minute.
Should you get it?
Some may find Samsung's touch-less technology more practical than others, and they are more likely to appeal to advanced users rather than a tech neophyte. I give a nod to Samsung for pushing how we interact with our devices, but I had enough instances of the S4's magic not working that they felt beta. I suspect results will vary user to user, and if Air Gestures and such pique your curiosity, a thorough hands-on before you buy is highly recommended.
Even with Samsung's bag of Smart and Air tricks aside, it is an impressive device. Along with great performance and an impressive spec sheet the S4 has a removable battery and micro SD slot.
If you are looking for a phone likely to be obsolescent-proof through the end of a two-year contract the Galaxy S4 is an easy recommendation. Despite my affinity for Google's Nexus devices, I put the S4 at the top of the Android roster, and as a long-time iPhone user, I must admit a bit of tech envy.