Xiaomi teased its new smart TV earlier this week. Rather than the third-generation product many expected, it today unveiled a smaller and cheaper version of its (already reasonably priced) Mi TV 2. Read More
As if it could be any other way, the just-announced Samsung Galaxy S 4 is Samsung’s, and perhaps even Android’s, best phone yet. In fact, it very well may be the best smartphone on the market, period.
We’ve been through months of speculation, hype, rumors, and leaks, but the truth is out, and the Galaxy S 4 still has much more up its sleeve than the leaks suggested. More than any other Galaxy before it, the Galaxy S 4 is proof that the company can build a central brand the way Apple has with the iPhone. Both the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S series have been selling in the millions, and the Galaxy S 4 looks like it will hold up that trend.
Even with loads of new software, like an enhanced camera application, hover-style gesture features, and a slew of baked-in apps and services from Samsung, the Galaxy S 4 still brings the heat in the hardware/spec department. Here are the specifics:
The Galaxy S 4 clearly has a small ring of competition in the spec department. The only phones that are on this level are the Xperia Z (1080p 5-inch display, 13mp camera, quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU) and the HTC One (4.7-inch 1080p display, 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 quad-core CPU, and an “Ultrapixel” camera) and LG’s Optimus G Pro (1080p 5.5-inch display, quad-core Snapdragon 600, 13-megapixel camera).
Of course, they each have their own pros and cons, but the Galaxy S 4 seems to be the most compact, lightest, and fastest among them. Samsung hasn’t been clear about the exact brand of the processor for the U.S. version, but it did say that it was a quad-core Snapdragon CPU clocked at 1.9GHz, which we believe may be the Snapdragon 600.
However, “processors vary by region,” says Samsung, and the Asian and European version will sport the long-awaited Samsung Exynos 5 Octa eight-core processor.
The Galaxy S 4 design manages to both fit in with the Galaxy S family and stand on its own as a unique breed. For one, Samsung packed a bigger display (5-inches diagonal) into a package that’s actually smaller than before. The GS4 is the same width, slightly shorter, and .7mm thinner than its predecessor.
As such, the bezels on the Galaxy S 4 are slightly thinner on all four sides, which means it’s all screen, all the time. And what a screen it is. The Galaxy S 4 display is 5 inches of unadulterated Super AMOLED 1080p brilliance. Surrounding it, the Galaxy S 4 takes a hybrid shape, something between the straight lines of the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S II with the curved tops, bottoms, and corners of the Galaxy S III. The elongated home button is unmistakably GSIII-style.
The Galaxy S 4 also sticks with familiar materials, and unfortunately that still means a whole lot of plastic. Both the front panel and back panel (which is removable) are made of brushed plastic, but with a textured pattern of tiny circles laid over it. It gives the phone an industrial, textured look, but in reality all you feel is smooth plastic.
Around the edge, you’ll notice a new embellishment to the S series: a metallic bar that runs along the edge of the device. Though it looks a lot like metal, it’s actually polycarbonate and meant to protect the sensitive corners of the device.
It would be nice to see some more premium materials in this generation of the Galaxy S, but the plastic and polycarbonate construction let Samsung fit many components into a very compact, light package, according to Director of Product Planning Drew Blackard.
The Galaxy S 4 uses a new 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, bumped up from the 8-megapixel shooter on the Galaxy S III. It’s still centrally placed on the upper back half of the device, complete with LED flash, autofocus, and 1080p video recording. On the front, the Galaxy S 4 sports a 2-megapixel camera.
The higher megapixel sensor is nice, and will surely make a slight difference, but where the Galaxy S 4 camera really evolves from past generations is in the software.
For one thing, the camera app now uses the same UI as the Galaxy Camera, with a brushed silver finish to the buttons and much simpler navigation. Clicking the mode button along the bottom will bring up a simple scroll wheel full of various modes. When one is highlighted, the menu gives the name as well as a description. More sophisticated users can also see these mode options in a grid view for quick changes.
Along with some of the same modes we’ve seen on both the Galaxy Camera and newer Galaxy smartphones like Beauty Shot, Samsung has added way more modes into the mix. One is called Eraser, and it lets you remove unwanted people from a shot. Samsung says it comes in handy for shots that have been photo-bombed, or tourist shots at busy places. The camera senses any motion that goes through the frame and lets you choose to remove it, as if that person had never walked through your shot of the Eiffel Tower.
The Galaxy S 4 also has a dual-shot mode, which is just a button press away from the main camera interface. This lets you use both the front-facing camera and the rear-facing camera at the same time, for both recording and still captures. There are various filters, such as Oval Blur, Postage Stamp, Cubism, and Split, which give you different options for the theme of your dual-shot creation. You can resize the pop-up picture, and move it around the screen using simple drag and drop tools. It’s pretty amazing.
Some other modes include Drama Shot, which lets you take a succession of photos of some action (like someone skiing down a mountain) and turn them into a composite of the entire sequence, and Sound and Shot, which lets you record up to 9 seconds of audio to pair along with a picture.
Samsung even jumped on the GIF train with the likes of Cinemagraph and Vine to create a gif-making mode, called Cinema Shot. It lets you take a short recording, and then determine which parts of the shot stay still and which parts remain animated. In fact, it’s almost exactly like Cinemagraph.
But Samsung took one step past capture and even built an app called Story Album which lets you create photo albums of special events or trips through templates, and use TripAdvisor to add extra location data to your story. You can even print your album through a partnership with Blurb’s print distribution network.
There’s a lot going on here, so try to keep up. We had recently heard that the GS4′s “wow” factor would be all in the software, and that’s exactly right. Most of TouchWiz is the same, though it seems to get lighter and lighter as the phones get faster. The one very noticeable edition was a set of extra toggle buttons available in the pull-down notifications menu.
Other than those particulars, let’s start with the gesture-based head-tracking stuff.
The most useful new feature of the Galaxy S 4 is Air View. It lets you hover over something on the screen to get an extended pop-up view of what’s inside. For example, if you hover over an email in your inbox, Air View will bring up the first few sentences of that email’s contents. If you hover over an album within the photo gallery, you’ll see nine thumbnails of the contents of that gallery. In fact, if you hover over an image while inside the folder, that particular thumbnail will expand to give you a better view of the particular picture. It’s all very reminiscent of what can be done with recent entries in the Galaxy Note line, except without requiring users to keep track of an S-Pen.
Air View is embedded in the email client, photo gallery, calendar, and a Galaxy S 4-edition of Flipboard, which lets you view and select headlines by hovering over a single tile.
Samsung also added an Air Gesture feature, which lets you control the phone without having to hold it — I could see this being used while driving. You can swipe left and right to switch between web pages, songs, photos in the gallery, etc. and swipe up and down to scroll. You can even accept calls by waving at the phone.
Rumors suggested that Samsung had developed some sort of magic-scroll eye-tracking technology, when in reality the Galaxy S 4 can actually only track your head, very much like the Galaxy S III’s Smart stay feature. The front-facing camera can detect that your head is facing the phone directly, which stops the display from dimming.
In the Galaxy S 4, that technology evolves to automatically pause videos when you turn away from the phone with Smart Pause. As far as scrolling is concerned, if you’re on a page that requires reading or scrolling, the Galaxy S 4 will let you tip the phone forward or backward to scroll (as long as the ff-camera senses that you’re paying attention).
Samsung said that using tilt-gestures as well as “head-tracking” technology to streamline browsing a page was “the most intuitive and natural to the end-consumer.”
As far as NFC is concerned, the GS4 includes S Beam and TecTile integration, but Samsung also lets you pair with up to eight other NFC-devices to run a feature called GroupPlay, which lets you play the same song across eight different devices… to create a party on the go.
Samsung also included an IR blaster on the Galaxy S 4 so that you can use it as a remote for just about any modern television. Called WatchON, it also includes rich information proved by an electronic programming guide.
Along with an updated camera and Story Album, the Galaxy S 4 brings a handful of brand new applications to the Galaxy S family. The first, and possibly most important, is S Translator. S Translator is available in nine languages at launch, including Chinese, English U.S., English British, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.
It is a standalone app that automatically translates information that is typed or copy/pasted into it. S Translator is also embedded in ChatOn, Messaging, and email.
The Galaxy S 4 also has an optical reader which turns analog information into digital, by reading business cards and turning them into address book contacts. S Translator is also embedded into the optical reader, which scans QR codes as well.
ChatOn, Samsung’s own-branded VoIP application, has been updated to include three-way video calls, screen share, and annotations. You can even use the new dual-camera mode to enjoy ChatOn calls.
Samsung has been making a big push in the health department with the new Galaxy S 4, and has thus preloaded the S Health app on the device. The app originally made its debut last July and seemed to focus mainly on linking up with existing health gadgets like fancy scales and blood glucose monitors. This time around, using the Galaxy S 4′s built-in pedometer, S Health tracks your activity throughout the day and knows when you’re running, walking or climbing stairs. The S Health app also lets you input your consumption activities to track caloric intake and get suggestions.
Speaking of S Health, Samsung is selling a few health-related accessories to tackle the ever-growing quantified self products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, and FitBit. That said, Samsung has introduced the wrist-worn S Band that tracks activity, temperature and humidity.
Samsung is even going so far as to sell a heart-rate monitor which you can strap on for your daily workouts, and a body scale. All of the accessories come with Bluetooth so they can pair back to your device and be recorded by the S Health app.
And since Samsung loves making special cases for its big-name phones, the Galaxy S 4 had to go big even with its case. It’s called the S View cover, and it has a little screen on the front that reads information from the phone. That way, even though the phone is locked, you can still see the time, SMS notifications, battery status, and choose to accept or ignore incoming calls.
Samsung didn’t specify which technology they used for the cover’s display, or whether or not it needs a charge or takes battery from the S 4, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear they took a page out of the YotaPhone playbook and are using low-power e-ink here.
Samsung didn’t clarify exact pricing, but said it would go for the same price as a “Samsung premium smartphone”. The Galaxy S III launched in the US at $ 199 with a 2 year contact.
In terms of availability, they didn’t give a specific release date but did say it would be on store shelves in 2013Q2, at AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket and U.S. Cellular.
Samsung is riding high on the success of the Galaxy S III and from what I’ve seen, the Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor with innovative features packed into a familiar housing. It’s a bit of a shame that Samsung announced the phone without giving a price or release date, but at this point, with Samsung the global sales and innovation leader in smartphones, it can do pretty much whatever it wants.
Well, that was quick. It’s only been two or so months since LG pulled officially pulled back the curtains on its flagship Optimus G smartphone, but it seems the Korean company isn’t done fiddling with the formula just yet. According to a recent report from Korea’s MK Business News, LG is already preparing a followup (tentatively called the Optimus G2) that could launch as early as next May.
At this point it’s tough to say whether or not the G2′s spec sheet is already set in stone, but MK’s report paints a pretty impressive picture. First up is the rumored inclusion of a 5-inch, 1080p display — LG is hardly the first to take the plunge into 1080p territory (that distinction goes to Taiwan-based HTC and its Butterfly J). During my week spent with Butterfly J’s American cousin, I found its 1080p display to be an impressive performer despite some minor flaws and it’ll be interesting to see how well LG’s own homebrew panel fares.
Honestly, the timing isn’t exactly a surprise here — both LG and its eternal rival Samsung were both expected to release 1080p smartphones in the first half of 2013 — but there’s more to the G2 than just a pretty screen. If the report holds true, then the G2′s internals are nothing to sneeze at either as an unspecified 2GHz Qualcomm chipset is expected to run the show. The original Optimus G was one of the snappiest I’ve gotten to play with in quite some time thanks in part to its beefy Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, so the G2 has a hell of a bar to live up to. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to have been much digging done when it comes to the G2′s battery — a wimpy little thing could spell doom for a device like this.
May might seem like a long way off, but don’t be surprised if the further leaks start trickling out well in advance. Frankly, between the Optimus G and the Nexus 4, LG has managed to impress me in ways I didn’t think the beleaguered company was capable of — here’s hoping the G2 is just as pleasant a surprise.
HTC and Verizon’s brief presentation wrapped up not long ago, which can only mean one thing — nearly all the members of the press leapt from their seats and made a beeline for the demo units for some precious hands-on time.
Of all the things the DNA has going for it, I honestly didn’t expect its weight to be what jumped out at me first — it weighs in at under 5 ounces, which is a surprising change of pace for HTC. Longtime readers may know that I’m sort of a sucker for the reassuring weight that HTC’s smartphones tend to have, but credit where credit is due — that HTC managed to squeeze everything into such a light package is pretty impressive. What’s more, the DNA is a remarkably grippable little guy considering the fact that it sports a 5-inch display of all things. It’s just about as thick as Samsung’s Galaxy Note II phablet (which, if you’ll recall, sports an even bigger 5.5-inch panel), but manages to feel slimmer than it looks because of some smartly tapered edges.
For a device that was meant to bring Verizon’s Droid line “back to its roots,” the DNA is awfully conservative when it comes to design. Gone are the funky little ridges seen on devices like the HTC Rezound, as are the peculiar, almost topographical raised sections on the original two Droid Incredibles. Instead, the only bits of personality to be found here are the red-tinged grilles that run along the DNA’s left and right edges. They’re a handsome touch to be sure, but the design may otherwise be a tad too minimal for some.
The Super LCD3 screen, as you would imagine, is pretty damn amazing. After taking off my glasses and getting right in there, I’m happy to report that it’s nearly impossible to pick out individual pixels. Verizon has a nasty (if understandable) tendency of loading their devices up with lurid red images and wallpapers, but firing up the browser and looking at other photos revealed vivid (but not oversaturated) colors and great viewing angles. Sure, the display can’t produce the sorts of deep, sumptuous blacks that an AMOLED panel can, but right now I’d gladly take the DNA’s screen over the Galaxy S III’s.
It’s always a little tough to get a concrete sense of performance with such a limited amount of hands-on time, but the DNA seemed plenty snappy thanks to its strong spec sheet and the buttery improvements found in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. I couldn’t help but load up Quadrant onto the thing to get a feel for the sort of horsepower it has under the hood, and came away rather impressed — it consistently saw scores in the high 7,000s, while stock devices like the Galaxy S III and the HTC One X tend to top out in the mid-5,000s. In short, the DNA’s got game.
As undeniably solid as the device is, there are still more than few questions that can’t be answered just yet. The biggest in my mind is battery life — the DNA packs a sealed 2,020mAh, but the toll resulting from a huge, bright display and that Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset remains to be seen. Fear not, though — a more in-depth review of the device is in the works.
Last week, we got a peek at HTC’s J Butterfly Japan-only Android phone, with a huge 1080p 5-inch display that manages a crazy 440ppi pixel density, and today, Android Central (via The Verge) is claiming a new North American HTC flagship phone coming to Verizon will offer the same screen on our shores. The HTC DLX, as the report claims it’s called, appears to share both design and specification cues with the J Butterfly, and would be Verizon’s first One-series smartphone.
Specs according to Android Central include the 1080p 5-inch display, as well as either an 8MP or 12MP rear shooter, as well as a quad-core processor (possibly the Qualcomm Snapdrago S4 Pro at 1.5GHz according to an earlier leak by xda-developers forum member Football) and 2GB of RAM, plus 16GB of internal storage and a 2,500 mAh non-removable battery. Android 4.1.1 with Sense 4+ will be on-board in terms of software, according to the leak, and it’s also an LTE capable device. The report also says we should see this launching with Verizon sometime around Thanksgiving.
HTC reported earlier that the J Butterfly’s display would make its way out to other markets, and we’ve previously heard that such a device was on its way and possibly headed to Verizon, so there’s good reason to believe this is real. Also, the specs are in line with that Japan-only smartphone, so it could essentially be a reworked design of that device aimed at the North American market. And if, like me, you’ve been very impressed by HTC’s recent offerings, there’s good reason to get excited about such a possibility, too. But not too excited, now that we’re living in the days of elaborate 3D renders that can do a damn good job of fooling the naked eye.