Samsung Galaxy S4 – My First Take

21 Mar

Recently at a function in New York’s Time Square which was watched by millions around the globe, Samsung announced the Galaxy S4, the latest in the range of top-end flagship phones which have propelled Samsung to the top position globally (4Q12 market share – according to IDC. See here)

The device packs some serious hardware. It would come with 1.6 GHz Octa-core ARM Cortex processor/ 1.9GHz Krait 300 (2 variants), SuperAMOLED Full HD display, 2 GB RAM, 13 megapixel Camera, 2600 mAh battery, Infrared Port, Temperature/Humidity sensors and a range of new software features like Smart Scroll,  Smart Pause, Air Gestures, S Health, Samsung KNOX et all. Samsung would’ve thought that they’ve probably done enough and more for the S4 to remain the torchbearer in the race to beat the iPhone brand (someday perhaps!) after a credible contest by the Galaxy S3 & S2. However, I have my reservations about the phone.

Don’t get me wrong. The Galaxy S4 is a definite improvement over its predecessor. There is little argument that it beats the S3 in every single specification. The display is bigger and better. The processor has 8 cores (better multi-tasking and faster processing), the camera and interface is significantly better, the battery has more juice and the device is even slimmer, lighter and smaller than the S3, despite having a 5 inch screen. That’s a job well done. Connectivity features  include 2G, 3G, 4G  (certain markets), Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 2.0. Even the design of the S4 is marginally better than the S3. Sadly, this is where the advantage of the design element ends. Samsung has used Plastic as the material for this device. Honestly, in the design element, this beast feels poorly built and inferior to all other latest flagship phones like the HTC One, LG Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 920, BlackBerry Z10 and of course, the iPhone 5.  As the competition gets hotter, Samsung’s reluctance to use premium materials in the making of their flagship phone may finally come to hurt them.

Next, the software & user interface – Samsung has been criticized by many for its Touchwiz UI layer that works over the Android OS being used. Many Galaxy users simply detest the Touchwiz experience. While some changes in the UI of the S4 seem evident, I am not sure if they are enough for people to change their mind about Touchwiz. In order to distinguish it from other flagship devices, Samsung has packed the phone with an array of new features. However, one feels that these features can only be used in extremely specific scenarios. I would stop short of calling these features a gimmick but I’ll be surprised if anyone chooses the S4 over other phones purely based on these new features. Again, I like the idea behind these features. Samsung is looking to make the life of the user easier. However, the execution and application of the features is where it struggles. When the Galaxy S3 first arrived, many of its features didn’t work too well. Similarly, during the launch several analysts, bloggers and others who were able to experience the S4 were slightly disappointed because features like Air Gestures just wouldn’t work, as previously demonstrated. Perhaps, this is due to the pre-final firmware and hopefully Samsung is able to iron out some out the creases. Let’s reserve judgment until the Phone is finally out in the market and it can be reviewed.

It seems obvious that Samsung appears to have settled towards making progressive changes to the top-of-the-line Galaxy range, similar to how Apple does to the iPhone. But Samsung needs to realize that it isn’t Apple. At least not yet. Therefore, it’s essential for the company to deliver the ‘wow’ factor consistently not only by hardware specifications but software and design as well. Hardcore Apple fans may disagree passionately but Samsung is already being seen as a competitor which could give Apple a run for its money down the line. There is no question that Samsung will sell a lot of S4 units. However, if this is the iPhone killer that the world is still searching for, is the bigger question. I think we already know the answer.

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