Should You Upgrade to the Galaxy S 4?

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Having sold over 50 million Galaxy S IIIs worldwide, the Galaxy S brand has quickly become a common household name. And we all were expecting big things from Samsung for the follow-up device.

Weeks of rumors and leaks alleged the successor would be more of an incremental upgrade, sharing a nearly identical design and offering specification upgrade to catch it up to the host of 5-inch 1080p flagships unveiled earlier this year.

Yesterday evening, all speculation was put to rest as the Galaxy S 4 was made official and detailed in grandiose style. A tap dancer, cheesy scenario role-plays and an orchestra brought this phone into the limelight to thousands upon thousands of heads in Radio City and Time Square, and nearly half a million others watching on YouTube.

And in light of this new model, we are left wondering whether we should turn in our old clunkers and upgrade to the Galaxy S 4.

The design, just as most leaks suggested, resembled a hybrid offspring of the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III. It features the less rounded corners of the Galaxy Note II while it shares a similar faux-metal trim around the edge of the device, like the Galaxy S III. And, in terms of size, the S4 exists somewhere in the middle at 5-inches – both smaller than the Note II and larger than the S III.

The design of the Galaxy S 4 is a mix between Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II.

Specifications are neither terribly impressive nor anything to scoff at. Its 5-inch Super AMOLED display sports a full HD pixel resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. It will come with 2GB RAM and in either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB capacities with the ability to expand storage via microSD card. The SoC depends on market. The global variant equips Samsung’s own Exynos Octa 5410. The other variant, presumably all U.S. models, will feature last year’s quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, not the 600 or 800 chips the Qualcomm 600 chip. Around back, it comes with a 13-megapixel camera, and keeping things running is a 2,600mAh battery.

Samsung also showed off a handful of software features. Dual Camera uses both the front and rear camera, simultaneously, to include the person manning the camera in any videos or stills. Our own Stephen Schenck explains the other camera features, “Sound & Shot is just what it sounds like, letting you add audio annotation to pictures. Drama Shot lets you shoot 100 still pics in a go, and Eraser lets you remove moving objects from the rear of still photos.” It also introduced AirView that no longer requires the S Pen to work, thanks to a new display technology. Also among the ‘wares introduced were S Translate, S Health, Samsung Knox, Air Gesture, Group Play, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and S Voice Drive.

No question, Samsung packed a ton of new features in the Galaxy S 4, both in hardware upgrades and software. But is it work forking over a couple hundred – or upwards of $600, if you go sans contract – more dollars for the new model? Should you offload your flagship model from last year and buy into the new hype?

As per usual, there’s no single answer that caters to all types of consumers.

If you absolutely need the latest and greatest, your heart won’t be content until you upgrade. Seeing people with the S4 while you rock a One X or S III will turn you green with envy – assuming you even notice it’s the S4, not the S III. (Sorry, had to.) You’ve also probably been weighing your options since CES and were holding out to see what Sammy had up its sleeve. If this is you, the answer is simple. Upgrade. Whether that’s to the S4 or another high-end model is up to you to decide.

If you are a proud S III owner, there is little incentive to upgrade. This new model of the Galaxy S was not directly marketed at the 50 million people who purchased an S III. The upgrades, while significant on paper, don’t translate to such drastic changes in real world performance. Sure, the Exynos Octa SoC promises better battery efficiency, but as our fearless leader and own Adam Doud said on Twitter last night, any performance improvements will go unnoticed. And the brunt of the software features – excluding those that are hardware dependent, such as AirView and IR controls – will eventually find their way to other Samsung models.

Performance returns will be minimal.

For S III owners, the biggest improvement is the display improvements – a 4.8-inch 720p Super AMOLED (PenTile) display to a 5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display (also PenTile). That’s a jump from roughly 308 pixels per inch to 441 pixels per inch, just enough to potentially negate most of the adverse effects of the PenTile Matrix subpixel arrangement. So if you’re dissatisfied with the display on your Galaxy S III, upgrading might be worth it. (Hang tight for the full review, though, as we’ve only had a quick look at the display so far.)

And for all of you with some other 2012 flagship device, such as the One X, Note II, DROID RAZR HD or RAZR MAXX HD or even an iPhone, it all comes down to how satisfied you are with your current device, its software and build quality.

If you’re not a fan of Sense or HTC’s build quality and design, chances are, you’re probably not going to like Sense 5 on the HTC One. It’s a matter of whether you can surrender exceptional hardware for a device made almost entirely of cheap plastic. If the Galaxy Note II is too big for your tastes, a step down to a 5-inch display with minimal bezel may be just what the doctor ordered. And if you’re on the brink of tossing your iPhone 4S or iPhone 5, the Galaxy S 4 will be among your top choices if your eyes are set on Android.

This is a particularly difficult question to answer as it’s one everyone will be asking as they go to upgrade their phone, or as the S4 starts to become available. A concise answer is simply too broad. But if you’re content with your current smartphone, the improvements on Samsung’s latest model will be barely noticeable, at best. And this holds true for most owners of any 2012 flagship model looking to upgrade to a 2013 model. Displays have matured from great to exceptional, build quality has improved across the board (even if marginally so), processors and GPUs are slightly faster and more efficient, cameras are better but still need improvement and battery life still needs work. (For the record, I will not be happy with battery life until I can use my phone nonstop and only charge it a couple times per week.)

For some, these minimal enhancements may be all it takes to push their love for their smartphone over the top. Others will find it’s not a worthwhile investment. It’s up to you to decide where you stand.

So tell us, readers. Is the Galaxy S 4 the next device for you? Or are your sights still set on another smartphone?

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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+