Samsung Galaxy S4: It's innovative - but are there too many features for its own good?

Jonathan Weinberg
Yahoo! News

Samsung has finally unveiled its Galaxy S4 smartphone - packed with a host of new features it hopes will keep it one step ahead of the iPhone.

The company showed off the 4G Android-based device at its 'Unpacked' event in New York late last night. But the fourth generation of the handset, due out on April 26, is already dividing opinion among technology experts.

Many believe it is Samsung's best chance to steer people away from Apple's iOS operating system but some fear its new wave of features - some of which verge on the gimmicky - will be overlooked or unused by many general users.

                                                     [More pictures of the Samsung Galaxy S4]

Among the features announced was the expected motion-tracking called Smart Pause, which lets owners control the screen using their eyes. For example, when you are watching a video, it pauses when you look away, then starts again when you look back. The technology also means you can scroll the browser or your emails up and down with your eyes.

Air Gesture allows a wave of the hand to select items such as music tracks and Air View gives the ability to see what's in an email or folder just by hovering your finger over it.

With Dual Camera you can take simultaneous photos and videos using both the 13 megapixel rear camera and lesser two megapixel front snapper. These can then be blended together to make a digital collage. Both can also be used for group video calling and can capture sound attached to still images.

Simon Stanford, of Samsung Electronics UK & Ireland, said many of the adaptations came from customer suggestions. He said: "We are restless about innovation, and are constantly striving to create unique experiences for our customers that will transform their lives. The Galaxy S4 does just that.

"We have listened to what consumers around the world want and taken the intuitive technology from the Galaxy SIII a step further."

The Galaxy S4 comes in black or white with more colours expected later this year. It is also the slimmest yet at 7.9mm and has a tough five inch Gorilla Glass screen.

There's even a built-in translator that can listen to spoken words in foreign languages and tell you what they mean and as part of Samsung's attempt to connect up all its technology, the Galaxy S4 can be used as a remote control for its other products such as TVs and DVD players.

Group Play also allows S4 owners to share content without needing a Wi-Fi or cellular signal while a new S Health hub within the phone can gather various health and wellbeing information using a range of accessories such as fitness trackers.

But Yan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum, believes throwing in so much innovation at once may now cause Samsung a problem going forward.

He said: "The improvements to eye tracking and the additions of S Translator and the hover feature and so on are good steps in this direction, but they can be seen as gimmicks rather than game changers.

"Samsung appears to be trying to kill the competition with sheer volume of new features – there should be something here for everyone, even if most of these new features won't be used by most users.

"There are lots of features, but based on past experience most people will never even find them on the device."

Yan added: "Having innovated rapidly over the last several years to vaunt itself into top spot in the world smartphone rankings, Samsung now faces essentially the same challenge as Apple: how to continue to improve its devices year on year when existing phones are already top of their class, and there aren't obvious shortcomings?

"As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services."

Jason Jenkins, editor of CNET UK, said: "Quite a few new features are pointless - who wants to wave at their phone to control it, for example? Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy S4 will sell incredibly well. The S4 will wipe the floor with the Android competition, just as the last one did."

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at, said while the device does have its merits, it could be set for a battle for smartphone supremacy. He explained: "Samsung's latest effort looks set to be the biggest handset of the year – and that's in spite of an inevitable iPhone sequel. However, several manufacturers are trying to fan the flames of a revival, and a string of strong recent launches from BlackBerry, Sony, and HTC will give Samsung some stiff competition."

But according to Scott Hooton, chief commercial officer at Phones 4u, recent YouGov research showing 46% of smartphone owners are considering getting a Samsung model next. It backs up what his company has seen with pre-registrations already much higher against those for the last Galaxy SIII model.

The Galaxy S4 will also be a key test for the new 4G superfast mobile phone networks coming to the UK this summer. It could boost take-up of 4G subscriptions but with Vodafone, O2 and 3 not yet having their service up and running, EE will be the first to launch the Galaxy S4 on a 4G platform.

Fred Huet, of analysts Greenwich Consulting, believes the differences between the latest Samsung and Apple's iPhone are now extremely telling, but he does not rule out the US electronics giant pulling a rabbit from its hat later this year.

He said: "Apple has recently faced a barrage of criticism for failing to deliver that 'wow factor'. The ball is now firmly in Apple's court and nobody should rule them off surprising the world once again at their next device launch this summer."

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