News Column

Samsung Galaxy S4, Tech Review

May 23, 2013

Within the S Health app on the Samsung Galaxy S4, there's a feature that can measure the temperature and humidity around you and tell you whether conditions are comfortable.

That pretty much sums up the tone and usefulness of all the heavily hyped new features on the S4.

Samsung has obviously gone to a lot of time and effort to pack the smartphone with unique new apps and capabilities to create an atmosphere of wonder and adoration. For example, the phrase "life companion" gets pasted on the lock screen whether you want it there or not.

Because none of the features are things most people would want to actually use and a few of them actively annoy, it all comes across as weirdly desperate. It makes the S4 feel like a clingy girlfriend, or an adorable puppy so excited to see you he piddles on the carpet.

Don't get me wrong -- the U.S. Cellular version of the S4 is a solid, strong phone. It's powerful, the screen is large and beautiful, the Web browser blazes through pages and the 13-megapixel camera takes some of the best pictures I've seen on a smartphone. In terms of basic capabilities, the S4 is a big step up from the S3.

It's just too bad about all the pointless new features. But because Samsung is hyping them, I will too.

Smart Screen is probably the most ambitious feature -- the phone scans your eye position and then automatically scrolls the screen to where your eye is pointed.

That's the theory, at least. In practice, Smart Screen either scrolled the text far past where I wanted it to go, or decided it should scroll up when I was looking down. The only other time in my life when something gave me a headache faster was when I got hit in the face with a volleyball.

Air View gives you a preview of an email, calendar item, image or video when you hover your finger slightly above the screen, but I could never get it to work properly. That's probably because hovering your finger slightly above the screen is akin to patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. You may as well just tap the thing already.

Air Gesture lets you accept a call or scroll through a page by waving your hand, but waving to scroll advanced the page exactly one screen at a time. Why is the phone so obsessed with getting me to scroll in new ways? Sliding my finger is easy and gives me precise control.

S Translate lets you swap languages in a text, email or written phrase, or it can translate via voice. But that's not paired with voice feedback, which would have been helpful for pronunciation, and there are only nine languages available. Plenty of apps do this one better.

S Travel is a widget that randomly sifts through pictures of places around the world, and clicking on it lets you book a trip there through TripAdvisor. It's only handy if you pick your vacations via roulette wheel.

S Health tracks things like your steps, your exercise, food intake and the baffling comfort level. It's not bad but demands a fair amount of effort to keep track of, plus the pedometer has to be manually started each day. Again, there are better apps.

The camera is perhaps the sole recipient of software tweaks that actually improve the experience. The S4 has loads of options for picture-taking in a variety of situations, such as close-ups, night, action shots, rich color and more. Best Photo mode rapidly takes five pictures and lets you choose the best, which could be a good way to eliminate stray blinks.

But again, Samsung just couldn't help throwing in a crazy new feature without asking who would possibly use this. In this case, the camera can take pictures from the front and the back simultaneously, resulting in a picture with your face stamped on there off-center.

I can't help but ask: Why? It's not as if Samsung needs the attention because it rules the Android world. And the features aren't overcompensation, as the phone itself is a great performer, even if it isn't quite revolutionary.

No matter. Turn these features off, wipe the widgets from the home screen and try not to look at the "life companion" message. The Galaxy S4 doesn't need the gimmicks and Hallmark card atmosphere to get your appreciation.


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Source: Copyright Tulsa World (OK) 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services


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