I was actually pretty excited to see the new Samsung Galaxy S4. I was looking forward to the launch for most of the day yesterday. Not because I wanted Samsung to fail, which I don’t. In fact, anyone who knows me well knows my opinion of Samsung is glowing compared to what I think of RIM. I was looking forward to it because I always get excited for some fresh new high-profile smartphones. Minor or major in magnitude, they still tend to shake up the industry at least a bit. Competitors have more to deal with and consumers have more to choose from. Anything can happen.
Today, after seeing the presentation, I’m left with mixed feelings. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell happened last night, to be completely honest. Let’s just talk about that keynote for a moment or two. Some people compared it to Microsoft’s tweet choir at CES 2012. That was immensely painful, but it was just for a few minutes. The whole play theme of the GS4 launch wasn’t as bad in my opinion, but it was longer.
I wouldn’t normally talk too much about the presentation style a company uses to announce a product because many are them are at least adequate. The problem with Samsung’s skits that demonstrated new features (some of which have even sparked controversy for claimed sexism) is that I couldn’t keep up with what Samsung was announcing. The speaker would talk about the feature for two seconds and then out come more actors/actresses to demonstrate some bullshit real-world example. By the end of the show, I had forgotten half of what I just watched because of all the bizarre dancing and overly enthusiastic acting. I immediately searched for a press release so I could recall everything from the keynote.
A product unveiling is meant to get the message across about a product in a way that gets you excited and captures attention, not by entertaining with which the entertainment overshadows the product. It just felt gimmicky, a word I have a feeling I’ll be using a lot in this article. A cute little kid bringing out a box for the speaker – really Samsung? Playing the kid card? I thought that was Microsoft’s shitty tactic.
But I digress. Somewhere between the loose women dancing in high heels and the man rambling about the creepily high amount of photo albums he has of his girlfriend, a new smartphone was announced. Hooray!
The first thing the audience noticed was the design being almost identical to the Samsung Galaxy S III. There are minor changes, but those are mostly to accommodate the 5-inch display, up from the 4.8-inch display on the GS3. I never criticized Apple for keeping the same design once in a while for the iPhone so I don’t see a problem with Samsung doing it. As the saying goes: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Aside from the cheap plastic construction, I very much liked the design of the GS3 so I assume I’ll feel the same way about the GS4.
The 5-inch display with the mega 1080p resolution is nice, but not very beneficial to most users. Sure it’s bigger and sharper, but the difference between 4.8 inches and 5 inches is minimal. 306ppi to 441ppi from the GS3 to GS4 sounds like a huge leap, but after a certain point, pixels stop becoming discernible to the eye anyway. It’s kind of like trying to see with the naked eye Canada and Greenland from the United States. Canada is closer, but… you get the picture. More than anything, the display improvements benefit Samsung because they look impressive on paper.
The cameras got a megapixel boost and some software improvements. The rear jumps from 8MP to 13MP and the front goes from 1.9MP to 2MP. Cool, I guess. Maybe. The dual camera feature lets you take a front camera and back camera photo simultaneously and combine the two either by split screen or other means. This is something people will use for a week when they get a Galaxy S4 and then forget about. The Eraser feature removes unwanted people or objects from the background, which I always find to be very useful when it works well. It’s not something that sells the GS4 though because plenty of apps are already capable of that type of photo editing.
The rest of the software I find utterly unnecessary. S Health is a great app for people who track their health. If you aren’t one of those people, you aren’t going to care about it. Even Apple bundles stupid apps with iOS that no one uses like the Compass. S Health and Compass should be in their respective app stores and not packaged with the devices. Moving on, Smart Pause and Scroll and all that are the reasons why the word “gimmicky” exists. And S Translator is nice, but it’s been done before.
Oh and here’s the best part: the Samsung Galaxy S III is getting all the new software features permitted by its own hardware. That’s excellent news for GS3 owners, but that means the Samsung Galaxy S4 is basically just a GS3 with a larger and improved display. That’s less of a spec bump than what we got between the iPhone 4 and 4S. One spec notably left out is the processor speed because it will apparently vary depending on country, so we’ll have to wait for that.
Samsung was much smarter than Apple in regards to the name. “The new Samsung Galaxy S4″ sounds way cooler in marketing than “the new Apple iPhone 4S” does. It signifies a larger upgrade over the previous generation, whether or not that’s even true. Had Apple gotten the naming right, the current iPhone would be the iPhone 6.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Galaxy S4 is in fact its similarity to the Galaxy S III. The GS3 has an excellent reputation as the most popular Android phone to buy and one that people thoroughly enjoy using. I have many praises for it as well. The GS4 is mostly just a refinement of the GS3, which is a healthy step to take, and one that will certainly attract previous Galaxy enthusiasts as well as those simply curious about Android. (Personally, I’d recommend taking a closer look at the HTC One for the latter group of people as well.)
I just wish Samsung would stop with the gimmicks. I can’t write it any better than Brent Rose at Gizmodo did: “It feels more like Samsung is showing off what it can do, rather than giving you something you actually need.” Everyone already knows Samsung is very capable of selling a ton of phones through excellent marketing ideas, but true innovation is what could really push it miles forward.