The Galaxy S4 is now Galaxy S for real.
Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S4 (or Galaxy S IV, as it is officially known) at an event Thursday night in New York. The fourth in the increasingly popular Galaxy S line is Samsung's latest attack at Apple and its iPhone. And once again, Samsung is tackling Apple with a huge screen, an impressive camera and an entire suite of new, imaginative software features that differentiate the Galaxy S4 from any other phone on the market.
The Samsung Galaxy S4's largest physical change is its display, a 5-inch monster (up from 4.8 inches on the Galaxy S3), with an improved screen resolution and pixel density. (You can see full specs for the Galaxy S4 here).
Despite being a bit taller and wider than the Galaxy S3, the Galaxy S4 is thinner and weighs three grams less, at 130 grams. The rear camera, too, has been upgraded, from 8 megapixels to 13 megapixels.
The Galaxy S4 will run Android 4.2.2 "Jelly Bean," with Samsung's familiar TouchWiz skin loaded on top.
It is the additions to the software that are likely to get the most attention. As it did on the Galaxy S3, Samsung has added several new apps and features -- some of them quite fanciful.
Let's start with the camera, whose core software has been redesigned to resemble the shooting modes (like night mode, portrait mode, etc.) available on many consumer shooters. Samsung has also added several nifty new features, including a "dual shot," which allows you to shoot a photo with both the rear camera and front camera simultaneously, so that the photographer can join the subject of his or her picture; a mode that allows you to create a cinemagraph, where part of the photo is moving and part is stationary (as seen here); an "eraser mode," which takes several photos and then allows you to erase background movement, like someone walking behind the subjects of the shot; and several other imaginative modes that may be familiar from third-party apps on Android and iOS, but which are now baked into the native camera on the Galaxy S4.
Also getting a boost is Samsung's work on gesture recognition and eye tracking to control the smartphone. "Smart pause," for example, uses the front camera to detect whether you are looking at the screen while watching a video. If you look away from the screen, the video automatically pauses. Similarly, "smart scroll" can tell if you are looking at the screen while reading an article on a webpage. If you are, you can tilt the phone up or down to scroll up or down.
New gestures, meanwhile, allow the user to operate certain apps without touching the phone. "Air view" lets you hover your finger over the display to view a preview of certain content, like the first few lines of an email in your inbox, or your day's schedule in the calendar. "Air gesture" allows you to swipe your palm over the face of the screen to switch tabs on your web browser or skip a song in the music player. Samsung execs said in a meeting that this function was ideal for drivers or for those with dirty fingers while eating.
Other new features are more transformative. The Galaxy S4 -- like the HTC One, unveiled earlier this year -- comes with an IR sensor, which allows your smartphone to act as a remote control for most television sets, changing the channel, powering the set on and off and viewing a guide of your cable listings. A new app called S Health works as a kind of fitness diary. The phone comes with a built-in pedometer to track your steps, and you can input every meal you eat and the Galaxy S4 will estimate the number of calories you are consuming (and burning) on a daily basis.
The phone also comes with a built-in translation app, for both spoken words and text, and an option for the camera to "read" a business card and create a new contact based on that information.
Will that glut of innovative features prove sufficient to seduce iPhone owners to drop their Apple smartphone and try out Google's Android? For the first time since its launch in 2007, there was a month that the iPhone was not the best-selling smartphone on the planet. That honor belonged to Samsung and its Galaxy S III.
And, too, recently several prominent Apple bloggers have announced switching to Android smartphones. On Wednesday evening, the day before the Galaxy S4's grand unveiling, Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller took to The Wall Street Journal and Reuters to bash Android, claiming that Apple owners enjoyed and used their devices more, and that Android owners often had to wait to upgrade to the latest operating system.
(Indeed, the Galaxy S4 will ship with Android 4.2.2; Google is expected to announce Android 5.0 in May, and the upgrade process can take months in the United States).
The Galaxy S4, pictured next to an iPhone 5. (HuffPost)
Still, Samsung clearly has momentum on its side, with some suggesting that this launch was the first to match the hype usually reserved for the introduction of an iPhone. Whether the Galaxy S4 will live up to that hype -- in either sales or critical acclaim -- we will know soon.
Samsung did not immediately announce a price or release date, but did say that in the U.S., the Galaxy S4 would be available in the second quarter of the year, and for sale on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile at launch.
You can view several photos of the Galaxy S4, with many of the features mentioned in the article, below:
CORRECTION: An earlier version referred to the Galaxy S3 when we were discussing the new Galaxy S4. Old habits die hard.
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