Samsung Galaxy S4 hands-on: First look
Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S4 with a new 13 megapixel camera, along with several new camera features and a refreshed camera UI to go with it. The simultaneous video recording and still capture is now coupled with an HTC Zoe-like feature, where the phone records 9 second clips with sound and uses them for previews.
There's also Drama shot, which takes a burst of 9 photos and combines them in a single image and Cinema photo, which is identical to the Cinemagraph functionality in the Nokia Lumia lineup. It lets you create animated gifs where only a part of the image is moving, while the background is static.
The next cool camera feature worth noting is dual-video recording. Just like the LG Optimus G Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S4 lets you capture video with both its back and front cams simultaneously, and combines them into a single clip.
The final noteworthy feature of the Galaxy S4 camera aims to get rid of photo bombs, by letting you remove objects from the frame before saving it to the gallery. All that functionality is accessed through an interface inspired by the Galaxy Camera, where the modes are located on a jog dial.
Our only regret is the lack of a dedicated camera key on a yet another Samsung flagship. Sure the on-screen controls are responsive enough and the touch to focus partially makes up for the lack of a halfpress-enabled shutter key, but it's not quite the same.
We managed to capture a few photos with the Samsung Galaxy S 4 camera. The lighting at the event wasn't the best and the units there were running a pre-release version of the software, but considering the tricky conditions the output came out pretty decent. It's still way too early to be passing any verdicts though.
Air gestures and Smart controls
Samsung set out on a quest last year with the Galaxy S III to change the way you use your smartphone, and the Galaxy S4 continues the push. While Smart Stay is a pretty cool feature to have and Smart rotate had its occasional uses, what the new Samsung flagship puts to the table is far more spectacular.
First you get a couple of new "Smart" controls, dubbed Smart pause and Smart scroll. The first one of those automatically pauses the video you are watching when you move your eyes away from the screen, to resume when you look back. Smart scroll on the other hand, detects eye-movement and scrolls a web page as your gaze moves down towards the bottom of the screen.
The Smart pause seemed to work pretty well, but we found that smart scroll is more likely to respond to you tilting the phone, rather than actually detecting eye movement. Since both of these features use the front-facing camera, Samsung says that they might not be available in darker environments where the camera is unable to locate and track your eyes. However, unless you place the smartphone too far away from your eyes, the illumination of the screen usually suffices to make them work.
The other novelty on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is called Air gestures. Those use the Galaxy S4 new IR gestures sensor and work in the web browser, music player and even in the dialer. The Air gestures allow you to command your phone by simply waiving in front of it. This way you can scroll longer web pages (vertical waves) or change active tabs (horizontal waves). It might sound a bit awkward at first but it's actually responsive and quick enough to be fun to use.
The Galaxy S4 has also borrowed a page from the Galaxy Note II book and features hover touch. Since there's no stylus here, it's made to work with fingers, giving you a small blue dot on the screen whenever you hold your finger a centimeter or two away from it. This makes it easier to avoid wrong presses when handling small items in the web browser and also enables some nice features like previewing the content of a folder in the gallery without opening it.
The hover touch also works on speed dial and Samsung's exclusive edition of Flipboard. While it does use the Note II SDK, Samsung says that it relies on special tech exclusive to the Galaxy S4 display.
We managed to spend some more quality time with the Samsung Galaxy S4, so we took a closer look at the user interface, including some of the gesture controls and the camera UI. Check it out below.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 may look pretty similar to its predecessor on the outside, but the truth is it's a substantial upgrade. You get a larger screen of more than twice the resolution, a chipset that offers twice the processing power, a larger battery and better camera in a shell that's actually more compact than the Galaxy S III.
And that's not even all - Samsung also invested quite a lot of effort in the software and made sure the Galaxy S4 ships with the latest available Android release garnished with a boatload of exclusive software features. Sure some of them are mere gimmicks, but many are genuinely cool and/or useful and we can bet the better part of them will catch up.
Of course, despite all the war gear it carries, the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn't invulnerable. The fact that the smartphone didn't address the main criticism about its predecessor, the design, means that competitors like the HTC One and Xperia Z have their chance. It's not going to be easy, mind you, and the Galaxy S4 enters the fray as the odds-on favorite.