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Samsung Galaxy S4 Preview and Impressions

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is arguably the best phone out there in terms of overall hardware specs.  Some will say it’s not the best out there right now, but they may be looking at a few features these other phones have instead of looking at the entire package.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 has the best set of specs, and it’s really understandable since it’s the latest smartphone to be announced and Samsung obviously wanted to make a good impression on the consuming public.

The Design and Hardware

I was not at the actual venue in New York for the actual launch but the good people from Samsung Philippines invited me over for a live streaming of the event.  It was as if I was at the launch itself, only that I was actually just inside a function hall somewhere in Makati.  There was a great build-up of excitement as the event was about to start in the US, and people inside the room in Makati were obviously as excited as the people in the venue of the actual launch.  Going into the launch, leaks of the design of the Galaxy S4 circulated on the internet so when the actual product was shown on stage, it was very anti-climactic.  I was wishing the leaks would be fake and the actual design would be different.  I was hoping Samsung would really come up with a design that’s fresh and exciting.

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-GT-I9500

I share the disappointment of most people over the design of the Samsung Galaxy S4.  It’s not new but just more of the same design we’ve seen on several Samsung devices.  It’s not a bad design, per se, but considering what we’ve seen in the past, it was expected that Samsung will be offering the public something new.  The Galaxy S4, it turns out, is just an improved Galaxy S III – bigger screen, better hardware, more software enhancements.  But the design itself is no different from the Galaxy S III.  The curves on the edges have been made less obvious and the finish has been changed a bit but from afar, you may never distinguish a Galaxy S4 from a Galaxy S III.  Then again, the Galaxy S III is a compelling piece of hardware and the Galaxy S4 is even better in so many respects.

The set of hardware specs are impressive, alright.  At the end of the day, it’s not all about design but the performance of the device.  The combination of full HD 5-inch Super AMOLED display, octa-core Exynos 5 or Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 16, 32 or 64GB of internal storage, a 2,600mAh battery, and LTE and NFC connectivity make the Galaxy S4 a beast of a phone.  Performance tests even show that the Galaxy S4 has the fastest performance so far among the current crop of smartphones, twice as fast as the iPhone 5.

Impressions

Samsung Philippines had fully working demo units for the press people invited to the live streaming.  We were allowed to use the device and play with it as much as we want, but we were not allowed to snap photos of it.  The reason for this is that the demo units were encased in a black box, concealing the actual design of the phone.  But even the box itself was too thin so I knew the actual Galaxy S4 would be thin.  In any case, when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Galaxy S4 doesn’t look too big.  The size difference appears to be minimal, so if you’re concerned about the level of comfort this device offers, it’s practically the same as the Galaxy S III’s.  It doesn’t look too big on the hand, at least when compared to the Galaxy S3.  In terms of weight, the Galaxy S4 is actually light for its size.

The quality of the display on the Galaxy S4 is superb.  It’s very sharp, it’s very bright and the colors just pop.  Super AMOLED displays tend to be oversaturated but a lot of people like this.  Videos and photos look great on the device.

The 13-megapixel camera is good, producing high quality images that are a tad better than photos taken on the Galaxy S3.  The software tricks like Dual Camera works as advertised, but most of them feel more like gimmicks.

The vaunted new features like Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and Air Gestures actually wowed us when it was demoed. Smart Scroll however needs a little tilting action for it to work, so it’s not purely based on the movement of the user’s eyes.  It’s still neat if you don’t want to swipe to get to the next page.  It works on documents on the phone, even on websites.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to control the scrolling but maybe one can get used to it in time.  Smart Pause, on the other hand, is fantastic.  It works just as described, pausing a video when you look away and resuming when you look into the display again. The Air Gestures works when flicking through pages or photos but your hand needs to be near the top when you do the gestures since it’s where the sensor is located.

The TouchWiz UI is mostly unchanged.  I noticed that it was a bit laggy on the demo units we used, and maybe performance will be better on the final product.  After all, the Galaxy S III with lesser hardware proved to be smooth and fast.

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