March 14, 2013 — -- Forget the touchscreen. Okay, maybe not entirely, but with the Galaxy S 4, Samsung is rethinking the way we interact with our phones. It has features that allow you to control the phone with waving and tilting motions.
"We focused on fun, relationships, convenience and health with the Galaxy S 4," David Park, marketing manager of Samsung Electronics, told ABC News.
Unveiled at a large event at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the phone includes a number of upgrades from the Galaxy S 3, which has surged to become the bestselling Android phone on the market and the leading competitor to Apple's iPhone.
The software and gestures you use to control the phone may be the biggest story about the Galaxy S4, but Samsung has also freshened up the hardware.
The 7.9mm Galaxy S 4 looks a lot like the Galaxy S 3, albeit with a slightly thinner body and a larger 5-inch screen. The screen is also much crisper, with a 1080p, Super AMOLED panel. Internally, the phone has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. It has built-in temperature and humidity sensors, and a removable battery.
Unlike the aluminum iPhone 5 and the HTC One, the entire phone is still made of tough polycarbonate, even though the edges look metallic. The phone will come in two colors: white frost and a black mist.
Focus on Camera
The standout hardware feature is the 13-megapixel camera (the S 3 had an 8-megapixel camera). The camera will take crisper and better low-light shots, Samsung says.
"We have brought the interface from the Galaxy Camera to the phone," Drew Blackard, director of product planning, told ABC News. "We have wanted to make it easier for people to know how the modes work with images."
In addition to the new interface, there are new features like dual shot and recording mode, which lets you combine photos and video from both the front-facing 2-megapixel camera and the rear camera into one shot or video.
Waving and Looking at the Phone
After you take those photos you don't just have the option to swipe your finger on the screen to look through them. Using Samsung's new Air Wave feature you can actually wave your hand over the screen to cycle through the photos. The software, which uses a sensor on the front of the phone, also works in the Web browser; wave to the left to go backward in the browser and wave right to go forward. You can also wave across the screen to accept a call.
And if waving isn't your thing, there's always tilting. While it had been rumored that the phone would use eye-tracking software, Samsung's Smart Scroll works a bit differently. Using a sensor and the camera on the front of the phone, the phone recognizes that someone is looking at the screen with facial recognition software. Then you can tilt it to scroll up or down. ABC News got to test both the tilting and waving features. Both worked as promised when we got the hang of it, but it really is an odd way of working with a small device.
Will users actually use the features though? "There's a lot of new technology in the device but the question is how many of these will be of significant value to consumers such as the ability to 'swipe' through their browser without touching the screen," Michael Gartenberg, Gartner research director, told ABC News." Gartenberg added that Samsung will have to also educate users how to use and find the new features.
S Health, S Translate and More S
But in addition to those, Samsung has added a host of new features that might add to people's daily lives. S Health takes advantage of the accelerometer in the phone to track your steps and other fitness activity. Like the FitBit or Jawbone Up, Samsung is also getting into the fitness band or tracker market; its products will integrate with the app.
Other apps include S Translate, which can translate voice to text, and Samsung's remote app, which uses the IR blaster in the phone to become a remote control for your TV.
The Galaxy S 4 will be out in the second quarter of this year at all of the major U.S. cellular carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Samsung is not announcing pricing at the moment, but said it would be in line with what you would expect from a premium Samsung smartphone. The Galaxy S 3 costs $199 with a two-year contract.