Samsung Galaxy S 4 Is Imperfect, Will Sell Like Hotcakes

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-03-15

Samsung Galaxy S 4 Is Imperfect, Will Sell Like Hotcakes

Samsung, the world's top-selling smartphone maker and leading Apple irritant, introduced the follow-up device to the first smartphone in recent memory to have outsold the iPhone.

The Galaxy S 4 is small where it matters—it's thinner and lighter than its predecessor—and bigger where it counts. The display is now 5 inches and holds as many pixels per inch (441) as the human eye can discern, the processor is an octa-core and the camera is 13 megapixels.

And still, early feedback is a rather interesting mix.

"I tried to use some of the features but have to admit it was not so straightforward. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get to it. The hover did not seem to work, either," Carolina Milanesi, Gartner research vice president of consumer devices, told eWEEK via email. "The risk with these features is that they need to work flawlessly, and even then, users might see the wow factor for a few times but not go back to them."

Milanesi also questioned Samsung's message beyond the S 4.

"The big thing to me was the show Samsung put on, reflecting how they think of themselves as being bigger than Android, building an ecosystem of services and apps—some of which replicate what Google has to offer. The question then is," she asked, "are they doing this to lay the foundation to an ecosystem [when] they want to move to Tizen?"

Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston found the features to work but the experience not to be seamless from the start.

"In our hands-on trial of the S 4, all the features we used worked as described. However, while many of the features are cool, some of them can be a little complex to use the first time," Mawston told eWEEK.

"For example," he continued, "Smart Pause, where your eyes stop and start videos, needs to be turned on or off manually by clicking through various sub-menus in the software that can be difficult to locate. Samsung will need good point-of-sales training for staff and shoppers in retail stores to make sure some potential buyers are not scared off by the S4's huge array of choice of features and services."

In a blog post offering his first impressions immediately after the show, Mawston wrote that, barring any hidden bugs, "we forecast tens of millions of units to be shipped worldwide this year."

Apple, LG, Sony, HTC, BlackBerry, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and Motorola, he added, "will all be getting some sleepless nights in the next few weeks."

Ken Hyers, senior analyst with Technology Business Research, said the S 4 will be a "homerun" for Samsung and "shatter sales figures set by the S III," while at the same time "disappointing everyone who expected a revolutionary new experience from the device. In effect, it's the Galaxy S 3.5, not the Galaxy S 4 that everyone was hoping for."

Samsung Galaxy S 4 Is Imperfect, Will Sell Like Hotcakes

Hyers explained via email:

The display is larger and more brilliant—the 5-inch display has as many pixels as an iPhone 5. ... But, it's not the flexible display everyone was hoping for. It has an 8-core processor, but it runs an Android OS that will be outdated only a month after carriers begin selling the phone, when Google introduces Android 5.0 in May. It is packed with immense amounts of unique software and features, but there's not really any coherent plan integrating the software—it's almost as if Samsung told its engineers to just pack everything new they had into the device, and let the consumers figure it out later. Certain features like eye-scrolling work on some applications but not others. The design of the handset itself is nice—skinnier and with a little metal band running around the edge, but it's still made of plastic and doesn't really have a premium feel. In summary, it's really nice and innovative, but not as nice and innovative as it could have been.

The reason for those disconnects, he added, is that Samsung needs to differentiate itself from other Android supports, and that since it doesn't control the OS, it can't fully integrate its new features, making for a result that's more of a grab-bag than a coherent design.

"They will really need to focus on improving this, hopefully before they introduce the next Note," said Hyers.

Forrester Principal Analyst Charles Golvin was impressed by all the software advances Samsung packed into the S 4 to complement its hardware, he blogged March 14, calling these Samsung's real differentiator.

"From the ability to composite images from both cameras simultaneously, to compositing sound with still images, to embedded language translation integrated with voice to text and text to voice, Samsung's much-improved software skills translate to a wealth of new experiences for their customers," Golvin wrote.

Among the handful of media outlets that received a review device in advance of its unveiling was the Associated Press. In a review following the night's events, AP's Peter Svensson wrote that the S 4 has a "grab-bag of features that don't come together as a pleasing whole," and that it "doesn't really advance the aesthetics of its predecessor the way competitors Apple, Sony and HTC have done with their latest phones."

He also unflatteringly compared it to another flagship device, the BlackBerry Z10.

While the BlackBerry Z10's hardware isn't as impressive as the Galaxy S 4's, Svensson wrote, the Z10's "software is easy to use, and it's based on a strong idea: taking the pain out of communicating across email, text messaging and social networks." The S4, he concluded, "doesn't have the same clarity of purpose."

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