Fully loaded smartphone for the everything-on-top crowd
Published: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
Samsung has taken a smart approach with its new flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone. Focus on the everything-on-it crowd. Fully loaded. You know, the burgers stacked up a mile high. Salads that include everything but the kitchen sink. Pizzas with so many toppings, you can't even see the cheese. The Galaxy S4 is that phone. Don't bother holding the anchovies.
Such a strategy makes perfect sense. Nobody is going to take down the Goliath that is iPhone with a slingshot and stone. You need to hit it with a cannon and boulder. Galaxy S4 has a 5-inch boulder of a screen and a 13-megapixel canon of a camera. “Everything but the kitchen sink” comes in the form of a customized version of Android's 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. Understanding these features is as overwhelming as the first bite of a mile-high burger. Take off the bun and you will see “condiments” like S Beam, Air Gesture, Smart Scroll, Air View, Story Album, S Voice, IR Blaster and S Memo. All have smart names and purpose but are voluminous enough to smother and confuse the user.
Smother is not something Apple does with the iPhone. Quite the opposite, actually. It takes a select cut of prime beef and puts it on a perfectly toasted bun. No special sauce, lettuce, cheese. Let the main ingredients do the talking. Going back decades, Steve Jobs reportedly had a fascination for rectangles with curved edges. Take a look at an iPhone 5 and you will see just how deliberate Apple treats those core ideas. Many would call it a minimalistic work of art. Samsung's work of art comes in the form of an oversized plastic frame. It's far from a work of art, but it's loaded with the “flavor” of features.
Does this strategy work?
“Everything on top” has been a boon for the South Korean device maker. Till now, nobody has touched the iRarified air of Apple in the smartphone market. Galaxy S has since settled in as the Pepsi to Apple's Coca-Cola. Some would look at sales figures and say that Samsung has actually overtaken Apple. Those same analysts would equate new features to innovation and conclude that Samsung has done a great deal more innovating.
What really matters for you and me is usability, and the Galaxy S4 has plenty to use. The measuring stick I use for smartphones is just how many other devices will it replace. Beyond being a phone to call mom every Sunday, the smartphone has evolved into a Swiss Army Knife of useful gadgets that fits into a single pocket. Or pocketbook.
The Galaxy S4 and its large screen is a powerful enough computing device to potentially replace all your other computing devices. At the least it seriously negates the need for an additional tablet. When it comes to cameras, I have often said the best one is the one you have with you. Unless you're willing to spend big bucks on a bulky professional camera and lug it with you everywhere, the S4 is a perfectly fine device for most purposes.
Sure, smartphones have doubled as good cameras for years now, just as they have made serviceable flashlights and alarm clocks. One interesting area where the S4 breaks new ground is as a universal remote control. Dealing with multiple remote controls just to watch a movie can be frustrating. Trying to find the one your kids lost in the couch can be downright maddening. Samsung offers a simple solution built right in your phone and with multiple options of slick user interfaces.
For most users who use their smartphone to browse, read or otherwise consume information, a new feature allows the screen to scroll or even pause based on your eye movement. You can also navigate by hovering your finger over the device. These are not game-changing features but more like everything-on-top functions that added together make the new Samsung a fully-loaded smartphone.
Not surprisingly, the Galaxy S4 has an “easy” mode that switches the navigation and usability to just the basics. Doing so renders many of the new features invisible and less confusing.
It sort of reminds me of when my 10-year-old scrapes off all the toppings from his pizza or when I pick out all the veggies from my chef salad.