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Samsung’s feature-packed Galaxy S4 gets a showy debut

by David Needle

March 14 2013

JK Shin, head of Samsung's mobile group, shows off the new Galaxy S4 smartphone.
JK Shin, head of Samsung's mobile group, shows off the new Galaxy S4 smartphone.

The wait is over, well, not quite. Samsung officially launched its latest smartphone, the much-anticipated, 5-inch Galaxy S4 at a splashy event at New York’s Radio CIty Music Hall Thursday night complete with song and dance, but it’s not quite available yet.

If there was one hiccup among all the hype, it was the news that would be Galaxy S4 buyers will have to wait -- the Android-based S4 won’t be available until the end of April.

But it may prove to be well worth the wait.

Samsung has packed a lot into the S4 starting with a 5-inch, Super HD AMOLED display that brings it closer to phablet territory with its large touchscreen display.

The S4‘s front and back cameras feature a dual-record function. When taking a picture in dual-record mode you can insert yourself in the picture or video or switch to full screen at the push of an onscreen button to just shoot the scene in front of you.

The front-facing camera is 2 megapixels and the back-facing camera is 13 megapixels. 

A Drama Shot feature lets you take as many as 100 photos in four seconds and pick the one(s) you want. 

The onstage presentation included plenty of demos and a rundown of various features such as S Translator with built-in text-to-speech and speech-to-text translation of 9 languages including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Japanese.

Adapt Display adjusts brightness and contrast depending on lighting conditions. And then there’s S Voice navigation for driving in the car with bigger font sizes and text-to-speech features. It will also make calls, find music and text messages. 

Probably the most innovative feature in the S4 is eye-tracking that literally lets you scroll with your eye movements or pause the screen by looking away. Another feature, Air Gesture, lets you swipe through pages with a wave of your hand -- literally a wave, you don't have to be in contact with the screen. You can also answer a call with a wave of your hand. 

Enterprise friendly

Noting the inclusion of Samsung’s new Knox security features, JK Shin, who heads Samsung’s mobile division, said it’s “the perfect solution for work and play.” 

The S4 is Samsung's first device to include Knox which separates the files and apps into a personal and work space. "Companies can have a relationship with the business side and no access to the personal space,' said Samsung's director of product marketing for mobile, Ryan Bidan.

Analyst weighs in

“The Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor to earlier members of this line, and will doubtless sell well. But it highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces," said Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum

Dawson said that in some ways Samsung, the leading smartphone maker, has the same challenge as number two Apple in that it has to convince buyers to upgrade from the phones they're already using that have no obvious shortcomings. 

Clearly, Samsung hopes the array of new features in the S4 will do the trick there. 

Dawson said it's crucial for Samsung to keep innovating. "As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services," he said. 

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