Now that the Galaxy S4 is out of the bag, it’s time to look back and see if this device lived up to its expectations. Samsung certainly pulled out all the stops last night at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, with live demo performances, instead of pre-recorded video footage, and some awful jokes by the events MC, so bad in fact, I refuse to even try to remember his name. In any event, the S4 (no more roman numerals) is finally here. Complete with its 5-inch, 1080p HD Super AMOLED display, 2GB of RAM, a plethora of internal storage options (16G, 32G and 64GB), a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, the S4 is without a doubt a true beast, spec wise it’s the most powerful Android phone on the market, running neck and neck with the HTC One. When it comes to the device’s processor, Samsung is being a bit coy, saying that the S4 would ship with either the Snapdragon S4 Pro or their own Exynos 5 (Octo Core), depending on the region, but they failed to mention details on what region gets what.
There were plenty of rumors prior to the announcement of the Galaxy S4, most of which turned out to be true. The specs were pretty much spot on, but the S4 is now thinner and lighter than the SIII and yet, the display is larger and brighter. It’s got more horsepower and it has an even bigger battery than the SIII. Samsung also manage to throw a few surprises at the audience, like the inclusion of an IR blaster, some wicked (if not gimmicky) camera features, like the eraser mode, dual camera shots, which can work for both pictures and video and “air-based” gestures. Overall, the device “internally” is a beast and is completely new. The outside of the device is a different story.
Perhaps the biggest complaint at the event was that the S4 looked too much like the SIII, it’s roughly the same size, features the same rounded edges and plastic battery door. If anything, it looks like Samsung followed in Apple’s footsteps, in releasing only a moderate update to the phone’s design, without having to completely start over—Galaxy S III “S” anyone? Sure, the design on the battery door and the front plastic looks like metal mesh, as opposed to brushed aluminum like the SIII, but the overall design language is about the same. There is one nice touch that Samsung added, which is the metal band around the device, it gives the phone a more sophisticated look while also added some stability, which looks much better than the SIII’s plastic band with a faux metal paint job.
While the design of the S4 definitely got some attention, it feels like Samsung spent more time on creating software gimmicks like Smart Scroll and Air gestures rather then putting more work into making the S4 stand out. Granted, they did introduce some useful software, like S Heath and S Translator, but those features seemed to take a back seat to the gimmicky “gesture” controls that most people will use for the first hour and then turn off to save battery power, or because they accidentally do something that causes one of the features act.
The Galaxy S4 is a definite improvement over the SIII, it’s faster, bigger, brighter and offers more to the user, but like the iPhone 5 was to the iPhone 4S, unless you need a slightly larger display (only .2mm larger) and a few gimmicky tweaks to the Android OS (many of which will come to the Galaxy S III soon), you may not see enough of a reason to abandon your SIII, especially from an aesthetics standpoint. For folks who’ve never owned a Galaxy S or for those who still own a Galaxy S II, this may be a worthy upgrade. There’s no doubt, this is the leading Android smartphone, it has more to offer than any other Android phone on the market. It’s certainly not a disappointment at all, but is a true testament to how great the Galaxy S III still is.
Did it live up to the hype, sure, it did… only if you’re okay with companies not having to completely redesign the products every single year. Look at automakers, they don’t completely redesign their vehicles every year, instead, they beef them up, refine them before they make a new model. Sometimes, we may see the same model for 3-4 years, yet no one complains. Why is it that the we “expect” a new model every year? Simply because we’re used to it? I think we as journalists, fans and consumers, need to look past the fact that companies do what’s right for them sometimes and if spending less time on a design (because it already works) and more time refining the experience is it, then we should be fine with that. In my book, the Galaxy S4 impressed me. Am I going to buy one, absolutely.
What are your thoughts?