Samsung launched the Galaxy S4 on Thursday at a launch event called SamsungUnpacked. The event featured awkward plays, bad executive presentations, and a celebrity MC, but the takeaway is that the company is distancing itself from Google and Android with the new device.
SamsungUnpacked was packed full of awful, awkward mini-plays
Samsung introduced a variety of Samsung-only software features and showed improvements on old ones. These features and services demonstrated an escalation in Samsung's efforts to build a Samsung-centric ecosystem (like Apple). Some of those features are even redundant to features already offered by Google through Android.
More telling, Google wasn't mentioned once in the hour-long event, and I don't believe I heard the word "Android," either. It couldn't be more clear that Samsung is in the process of using Google's free Android to build a platform it can call its own.
What is interesting is Samsung clearly pushing their own ecosystem over Google's although confirmed Google Play on device.— Michael Gartenberg (@Gartenberg) March 14, 2013
To be sure, the Samsung Galaxy S4 includes Google Play, as confirmed by Michael Gartenberg in the tweet above, but after watching that event I can't help but wonder how long that will be the case.
First, let's give a quick look at the specs:
Samsung Galaxy S4
"Less to hold, more to see"
Samsung introduced a great tag line for this device, "Less to hold, more to see." The GS4 comes with a 5-inch display, but Samsung noted that it's 7.9mm thickness, 136.6mm length, and 69.8mm width make it smaller than the Galaxy S3. It's a great tagline, even if the device is marginally thicker than Apple's iPhone 5 (7.6mm).
The display is a full HD-capable Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, much much larger than the iPhone 5's 1136 x 640 resolution. It even has a higher pixel density than Apple's Retina Display, 441 PPI compared to Apple's 326 PPI. Samsung will likely get a lot of mileage out of this difference.
It's built on Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) and features either a 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor or 1.6 GHz Octa-Core Processor, depending on the market. It's a 4G LTE-capable device and it will be introduced in a 155 markets around the world some time in April.
It has the usual sensors—Accelerometer, RGB light, Geomagnetic, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer—while adding a Temperature & Humidity and Gesture sensors.
It's in the software where Samsung made it clear that its hardware is far more than just-another-Android-smartphone. Let's look at those features.
At an Angle
Samsung made much of the two cameras that come with the device, including the ability to use both cameras at the same time. Users can blend images from both cameras into one, and you can also have a video call where you show your viewers both you (front camera) and what's behind the camera.
Group Play allows users to share music, photos, documents, and games without the need of either a cellular or Wi-Fi network. Using the "Share Music" aspect, GS4 owners can share their music with up to eight Samsung GS4s at the same time "to create the best party atmosphere." Users use the NFC-based knocking feature to activate "Share Music."
This is one of those redundant features that Google already excelled at with Google Translate. S Translate is Samsung's home grown effort to allow voice-based language translations for those times when you're in a pinch without a common language. S Translator also translates text, which is also redundant to Google Translate.
This service does require a cellular connection as it is server-based.
Samsung Smart Pause & Smart Scroll
Samsung Smart Pause pauses a video during playback if you look away from the screen and starts it up again when you look back. Hopefully you can turn that off, because it seems like that could get really annoying really fast.
Samsung Smartscroll uses eye movement combined with wrist motion to automatically scroll email or webpages.
Air View & Air Gesture
Samsung's Air View allows users to hover their finger over the contents of an email, S Planner (Samsung's calendaring app), an image gallery or video, and preview it without having to open it. Similarly, Air Gesture allows users to accept an incoming phone call, change songs or scroll a document without touching your screen.
S Voice Drive
Samsung is also eschewing Android for voice controlling maps and navigation in the GS4 using S Voice Drive. This allows you to check messages, and control your mapping services with your voice, similar to Siri. We'll have to wait and see how the two services compare.
There's a built in OCR service that will read business cards for you, Samsung WatchON that turns your GS4 into an IR remote, and a healthcare concept called S Health that monitors you.
Android Stuff That Is There
There are Google services on this device, including: Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Latitude Google Play Store, Google Plus, YouTube, Google Talk, Google Places, Google Navigation, Google Downloads, and Voice Search.
Samsung lists them in its press release, but none of them were mentioned in the press release.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is certainly an Android device, hands down the best one on the market today. The screen is remarkable, the hardware specs impressive, and the new services interesting.
Better yet, Samsung is moving away from blindly copying Apple's iOS. Most of the the new software features are not based on Apple features, and we didn't see anything that looked like an Apple interface aside from the rows of icons that has been at the center of previous fights.
If the GS3 was a hit, the GS4 will be a bigger hit, but Samsung is pitching this device as a Samsung smartphone, not an Android smartphone.