Monday, March 18, 2013

My firsthand experience with the new Samsung Galaxy S4

The new Samsung Galaxy S4, a successor to my Galaxy S3 mobile phone, is out. It just launched at the Radio City Music Hall, New York City, a couple of days ago.

I was one of the lucky people in the Philippines who was able to try out almost all of the new features. Seated with several tech bloggers in the club lounge of a local hotel, we watched the livestream of the entire launch on a flat Samsung TV.

The hype was all there, Broadway style. I guess holding it in Radio City Music Hall, New York, famous for the Rockettes, meant you could do no less than a Broadway introduction.

The whole shebang began with a short video of a boy, about 10 years old, carrying a small box labeled "Unpacked". He does a short tap dance on the steps of his home before getting into a limousine and drives to Radio City. That video then segues into the actual launch, which began with Mr. J K Shin (President and Head of the IT Mobile Communication Division of Samsung Electronics) doing the opening remarks and giving a teaser of what the new smartphone was going to offer.

That was quickly followed by a series of short skits with emcee Will Chase interacting with the different characters onstage as each skit introduced a new feature of the S4.

Here are some tech specs of the Galaxy S4:

Body: The S4 looks almost like the S3 (same width but slightly shorter and 0.7mm thinner). The body looks more solid too compared to the "plasticky" feel of the S3
Screen: 5" diagonally (making it a bit bigger, screenwise, vs my S3) with super AMOLED, 1080p display
Operating System: Jellybean 4.2.2
Camera: 13mp rear camera (autofocus, 1080p video capture), 2mp front camera
Processor: 1.9 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor
   4G LTE: Cat 3 100/50 MBPS (up to Hexa band)
   Wifi a/b/g/n/ac  (HT80)
   Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE)
   IR LED (Remote control), MHL 2.0
Memory Options: 16GB built-in with options for 32GB, or 64GB; microSD (expandable to 64GB)
Other Features: Accelerometer / RGB Light / Digital Compass Proximity / Gyro / Barometer plus Temperature & Humidity controls and IR (infrared) gesture
Battery: 2600mAH
Color Options: White Frost or Black Mist

Right after the launch, we had the chance to actually hold a phone unit and play with the S4's many new features (sorry, no pics of the phone for now until it is launched here!). But I do have some pics taken using S4 features and I'll walk you through the rest of my experience.

Dual Shot

I am putting this feature first because it is one of my favorites. You know that feeling when you always end up being the photographer and never being in the picture? Well, you need not be left out anymore when taking photos. The rear and front cameras can be used simultaneously. Using a number of different filters, you can frame yourself on a corner of the photo (like the Stamp filter) or place yourself side by side with those you are taking pics of (using the Split filter). Other filters include Overhead Blur, Fisheye, Heart shape, and even Beauty Shot which my girl absolutely loved because it gave her face an instant airbrush look.

See what happened when my girl took a picture of my friend Noemi and myself, with her still in it.

Dual Shot using the Stamp filter

Dual Shot using the Split photo filter
Sound & Shot

If you thought pictures just meant still photos, think again. The Galaxy S4 incorporates the capacity to add a 9-second audio WITH the picture! So just imagine taking a vacation picture and adding "This is me at the Acropolis, Mom!"

Air View

No need to click a picture or open up an email. Just hover your finger over the photo or email and get more details. Hovering gives you the first few lines of the email with option for an expanded view. This is made possible by using the infrared gesture built into the S4.

Smart Pause

In the S3, I'd see an eye icon pop up every now and then. At first it looked a bit creepy until I realized that it was actually checking my eyes to see if it was open or shut. That determined whether the phone would go into idle mode or not. In the S4 it seems they have taken that feature a step further by letting that eye check pause a video you are watching when you look away.

I tried watching a video on the phone and looked away. True enough, video paused and resumed when I looked back at the phone. This is not yet that flawless though. There is a 2-second lag before the video actually pauses or resumes. And it doesn't always work especially if you only shift your eyes. The phone seems to actually detect a head turn before it pauses. Anyway, there is always the Pause button, right?


How many times have we experienced a spoiled shot because as we are taking a picture, someone in the background jumps in and photobombs our photo. Or just as you press the shutter, someone walks into the photo from behind. Arggggh moment, right? Well, now the Eraser feature of the S4 allows you to actually 'erase' those people from your background.

This really intrigued me so we tried it out. What the S4 does is speed up the shutter and take about 5 consecutive shots when you press the button. It compares the background and detects movement behind that should not be there. Then it highlights IN PINK HUES the blurred, moving people it detects in some of the shots but not in the others and suggests those areas for removal. Touch the pink areas to confirm you want to erase them and presto, the areas are 'erased' by creating a composite picture out of all the shots taken and all you end up with is a clean background.

S Health

Since the S4 can show temperature and humidity, it can also be hooked up to a pedometer to record how many steps you have walked as well as calories burned. You initially input your physical details such as weight and age to refine the results. It can track diet to give you an estimate of your state of fitness too.

Drama shot

Imagine the S4 taking more than 100 shots in 4 seconds and choosing the best shots that you can choose as your final pictures. Other camera phones may have a similar feature but you'd have to check each frame to select the ones you want. With the S4, the chosen pictures can be shown in one frame as a collage.

S Translator

This is great for traveling to places where you can't speak the language? During the launch, they showed how this worked. An Amerian traveling in Shanghai typed out his question in English and the phone asked it in Mandarin. Then the Shanghai guy answered in Mandarin, the S4 recorded it and typed out the English equivalent. Neat!

Aside from American English, the S4 can do translations in 9 other languages: French, German, Chinese, Latin American Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Brazilian Portuguese. S Translator is integrated with Chat On and Messenger so you can do translations even with chats.

Smart Scroll

Got only one free hand and you are using it to hold the phone? You can still scroll without needing your other hand. Just tilt the S4 and it automatically scrolls up or down.

S Voice Drive

Great for drivers' safety. It is an interface with S Voice. Just pair with car's Bluetooth to optimize it. You can do tasks hands-free while driving like making calls, finding music, receiving messages, checking the weather, and more - and do them safely. You can respond to the messages.  S Voice Drive acts like a personal assistant for you while driving.

Group Play

Music, photos, documents and games can be shared across several S4's even without wifi or a cellular signal. Users can immediately connect, share, play and co-create content on the fly. The Share Music option allows users to stream music across several Galaxy S4's (up to 8 devices) so that all users hear the same music playing. At the same time, the feature assigns a speaker function to each device to create a sensurround effect. We tried it out with about 4 Galaxy S4's and one S4 was assigned as LEFT speaker, another as RIGHT speaker, another the CENTER, and so on.


Maybe this was named after Fort Knox (a term that conjures images of a locked-down, secure place). That is what Knox is doing on the Galaxy S4. It is described as a piece of software on top of the Android software that separates work space and personal space. You get security on the work space and privacy on your personal space.

Air Gesture

Using the infrared of the phone, I waved my hand across the sensor on the upper right of the phone's screen and watched photos scroll left or right depending on how my hand moved. Then I opened a website and scrolled up and down again just by waving my hand. I did not have to touch the screen at all. If you ask me where that feature can be useful, think of when you are applying makeup and have both hands busy or you got greasy hands while cooking. You can still flip through a recipe site or check photos without messing up your phone's screen!

In the short while that I had the Samsung Galaxy S4 in my hands, I saw just how rich and feature-filled it was. Samsung has really gone all out to find out how to make life so much more convenient for smartphone users.

Watch out for the Philippine launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 coming very, very soon. If my first impressions are anything to go by, I know that there are many out there (including me) who will just love to be the owner of a Galaxy S4. Shhhh, don't let my S3 hear me say that.

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