Are the Galaxy S 4’s Software Features a Gimmick?

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Software, for the time being, is the biggest differentiation between the Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4 by Samsung.

Sure, as it’s been explained countless times now, the specifications are different. The S4 has a larger, much more dense display, a faster processor (on both models) with more cores, the battery has 500 more milliamp-hours and the camera is a 13-megapixel sensor, versus 8-megapixels in the older model.

But as I explained earlier today, the real world performance advantages between the Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4 will ultimately be negligible. The only truly significant upgrade is in its display, as the million extra pixels should counteract the graininess of the PenTile subpixel arrangement on the less dense display.

As all these specification bumps become less important (or less significant), software and design differentiation are key. And while Samsung may not have put a lot of effort in a totally new design, is has software engineers innovating new and unique features left and right.

Samsung unveiled just shy of two dozen new software features in the Galaxy S 4 yesterday evening. All were software features that aim to drastically change the way you interact with your smartphone, to simplify your life and make your phone a “life companion”. Air Gesture, for example, allows users to control their device without ever touching it. A swipe with your hand can scroll through content on the device or even answer a call. AirVIew works just as it does on the Galaxy Note II with the S Pen – hover the S Pen over the display to preview content. But on the S4, which is not compatible with the S Pen, Air View works by hovering a finger over the display.

The software is what truly differentiates the Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4 … for now.

Smart Scroll and Smart Pause work similarly to Smart Stay and Smart Rotate in that they track eye movement to operate differently. With Smart Stay, the screen stays on as long as you’re looking at it and reading; Smart Rotate keeps the device orientation consistent with your face; Smart Scroll scrolls content based on your eye movement; and Smart Pause pauses video when you look away from the device.

S Health turns your phone into a fitness-aware device what uses various sensors to track your exercises and sync up with other fitness peripherals.

There were several camera features introduced, as well. Dual Camera allows the front and rear shooters to work simultaneously, in videos and in stills, allowing the camera holder to be included in the activities. Sounds & Shot allows you to annotate pictures and videos with short audio clips. Drama Shot is basically Burst Mode on steroids, allowing the camera to take over 100 stills in four seconds, and the end product can display multiple shots in a single frame. And Eraser lets you delete moving objects from the background of an image.

S Translator, similar to Google Translate, offers speech-to-text and text-to-speech translation.

And these are only the most notable features. Samsung Knox, Group Play, Adapt Display, Story Album and more have also been added to the mix.

So what do we make of all this? Samsung’s big gambit is clearly adding a large helping of software features in lieu of any jaw-dropping specifications or a major design refresh. And, honestly, we’re fine with that. Some of us aren’t terribly thrilled with the rehashed design. But software differentiation is great … so long as the features are noteworthy, useful and original.

Air View allows the user to hover their finger over the display to preview content.

Many of the features introduced by Samsung last night weren’t entirely new. Dual camera functionality was announced on the LG Optimus G Pro just days ago. Eraser is a feature coined from the Scalado (now part of Nokia) Remove technology, as debuted in several BlackBerry 10 previews last year. (For the record, it could simply be licensed.) And Samsung Knox is not unlike BlackBerry Balance.

That aside, how many of the features introduced last night are actually useful? How many times will anyone actually use these features?

Looking back on my time with the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III, I can honestly say I have only ever used the features a time or two. Outside of general testing and showing off to friends and family, I have never enabled them and used them. Smart Stay fixes a problem I’ve never really had – I learned a long time ago to bump my screen timeout to a few minutes and just hit the power button when I’m done.

The only features I have used consistently are Popup Browser and Multi-Window. But I have yet to see a compelling feature from the Galaxy S 4 and new version of TouchWiz that I can see myself using more than once.

It’s hard to deny that eye-tracking features aren’t cool. Smart Scroll and Smart Pause, Smart Stay and Smart Rotate are all innovative. But how hard is it to scroll with your finger? And how accurate is it? What will keep it from scrolling when I just want to look at the bottom of the display? And I’ve never thought, “Man, I wish this video would pause itself when I look away.” Not once, and I still don’t see the appeal.

Air View was kind of nice on the Note II, though I rarely used it. It makes sense with the S Pen. But hovering your finger seems a bit strange. What does that accomplish that a long-press or gesture couldn’t? Dual Camera is probably the only feature I can see any true appeal in, yet I can’t figure out when or why I, personally, would ever want to use it.

Point being, Samsung loaded its phone down with a bevy of new software features, features that will eventually trickle down to other devices. I hate to be such a naysayer, but not a single one of the newly introduced features is anything that remotely moves me. They’re all a bit gimmicky – features that might raise a brow, but also features that few will ever use in normal usage.

What say you, folks? Are any of the features introduced yesterday evening of interest to you? Or do they all seem to solve problems you have never had? Does it seem as if Samsung is grasping at straws to innovate software?

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+