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For Samsung, the Galaxy S series of flagship phones are their lifeblood. It’s their largest weapon against Apple and the biggest selling premium Android phone series in the world. And Samsung took the brutal smartphone war right to Apple’s home turf, when they launched the all-new S4 just a short distance from Apple’s most glitzy store in New York. Unlike the very understated Apple launch events, this was a larger-than-life, noisy, over-the-top and glitzy event. But far more than the hype and buzz around the event – is the verdict on the phone. Does the S4 live up to expectations, can it fill the big shoes of its predecessor, will it outsell the iPhone 5, will it outgun the rest of the Android competition, and more importantly, should you buy it?
The Features that will get you all hot and excited
Visual: 4.99-inch Super Amoled screen with full 1920 x1080p HD and a pixel-per-inch density of 441. Those who think that’s all just tech jargon, let’s put it this way – this is pretty much one of the best, most intense, most vibrant screens you’ll ever see. All HD TVs have the same resolution and pixels are distributed over 42 to 85 inches. You have all this wonderful visual wizardry concentrated into five inches!
Heart: The 1.6 Ghz Octa (8) core processor makes this a world first on a phone and it’s a powerful statement to make. Combine this with the intelligence to only use all 8 cores only when required – intensive graphics, number crunching, HD movies. This helps improve battery life and keeps the phone cooler. And all that power makes this phone very future ready.
Clicker: The 13.0 megapixel camera takes the optics to a new front. While HTC has started a new war with Ultrapixels which have 300 per cent more capacity to absorb light, Samsung throws in even more add-ons. Dual video conferencing with both front and rear cameras coming into play at the same time is a very handy feature when you’re having Skype calls with multiple people in the same room. Simultaneous still photos with both back and front cameras also put the person taking the photo into the picture.
Tape tales: It’s thin at 7.9mm and light at 130 grams and that on a phone with a screen this big matters. The amazing thing is that the screen is bigger than on the S III and the phone is still smaller, lighter and thinner.
Air tricks: The Air View feature is one that you’ll use a lot. Just hover your finger over an email or a folder and see the content inside. And air gestures is when you’ll wave your hand in the air to move to the next page or picture or website.
Eyeball magic: It’s been called gimmicky, but I think it may just work very well. The front camera scans your eyeballs and smart scrolls a page up and down when you tilt your phone at the end of a page. And if you’re watching a movie and look away, the phone will pause the video till it sees your eyeballs return to the screen and start playing it again. Slightly eerie but quite cool.
Power: Battery has been upped to 2600mAh, which was critical for a phone with such powerful hardware and a screen this big. Even better, it has a removable back cover for you to insert a spare one.
Two lives: The Knox feature separates your business and personal lives on the phone, thus your IT guys at work can set up your phone easily. Corporates will love that.
Control freak: The Watch On feature works with a built-in infrared module that makes it into a universal remote control for everything in your room or office, including the TV, sound, Blu-ray player and even the AC.
Others: It’s now got a temperature and humidity sensor built in. Group Play where you can sync four or five S4s together to share and play music at the same time (even pictures and videos), Mobeam technology and also some interesting health accessories and a wireless gamepad where you insert your S4 and it becomes a full-fledged portable gaming machine.
The features that won’t get you all hot and excited
Looks: The Achilles heel of the S series continues with the form factor and looks remaining almost the same – and that’s getting monotonous. We all make a style statement with our smartphones and the S4 is still all plastic and looks almost exactly like the S III. The S4 needed to look premium, innovative and very exclusive – it doesn’t.
Non-clicker: Images with sound is a feature that records a few seconds of sound with each still picture that you take. It seems quite useless as you could just shoot a few seconds of video instead.
Speechless: SVoice drive is where you can respond to messages through voice commands with text to speech and speech to text while driving. May not work with Indian accents and its predecessor SVoice wasn’t very good either.
Wireless charging, not!: It’s Qi wireless charging capable, but it doesn’t have the wireless charging pad in the box. You have to buy it separately! Why, why, why? For a world that was supposed to move to wireless charging on EVERY phone, this is a death blow.
There you have it. The Samsung Galaxy S4 in all its glory. A phone that has a huge number of pros to its very few cons and takes the evolution of the smartphone up several levels. But is this now the best smartphone in the world? That’s a crown it has to earn next week, when I pit the S4 against the top five other smartphones in the world – in a full-blooded shootout!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, March 24
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