The Samsung Galaxy S IV can do a lot of things Apple's iPhone 5 cannot — and a lot of things it doesn't need to do at all. The new phone has a grand total of 35 software features, some of which don't work all that well, others of which are gimmicky, and a handful which are actually useful. At last night's event, I had a chance to play around with the Galaxy S IV, and Samsung has officially overextended itself in the add-on department: Nobody needs their cellphone camera to be this loaded; it may be 2013, but it's still just a camera. And everyone's talking about the motion-sensing capabilities, but there's only one eye-controlled feature; the rest of the tap-free "solutions" are all spread out, and some of them don't even really work.
None of which is to say that the phone doesn't run very well in its most essential functionality — it's fast, it's thin, it's light, and the Internet runs smoothly and quickly. It's just that a lot of the other things, which were built in, on, and around to lure away iPhone owners, turn out to be half-baked... and kind of annoying. Here's a comprehensive list of everything that's just a little too much:
Camera Stuff: When you tap over to the Galaxy S IV's camera functionality, you're greeted with a lot of photo-taking options. It's like the days when everyone got a Canon Powershot camera for the holidays, which they don't anymore for a reason. Some of the camera featurettes make sense — "Night," for example, actually makes your darker photos look. But then there's one called "Beauty Face," which promises — guarantees! — to make people look more beautiful, with face-slimming camera tricks. I tried that out on a woman testing the phone across from me, and she looks this beautiful in person, too:
Motion Sensors: Theoretically, one of the coolest parts of this "iPhone killer" is that it has a lot of that next-generation motion-sensing technology. (As we learned last night, women might find it especially useful while in the kitchen, where they belong, apparently.) However, the technology isn't quite precise enough. There is a hover feature called Air View for reading texts without touching the screen, but it takes a very specific touch:
A lot of the motion stuff, like Air Gesture, which allows phone swiping — without phone touching — takes some practice before you can get it to work successfully. But, perhaps it's a learned touch, like iPhone typing upon its launch....
Language Translation: The Galaxy S IV has an S Translator feature that's very useful in theory, set up to run with nine different languages. In Thursday's night's very loud room, with a lot of people clogging the WiFi, it did not work at all. Phone Arena has a video of that exact problem. The translator couldn't even take the English word "hello" and turn it into Spanish. Some might chalk that up to a situational issue, but in moments of desperate translation — in a crowded square in Spain, say — can a person count on silence and incredible WiFi or 4G LTE?
More Camera Stuff: Some of those camera featurettess work just fine, but it's hard to imagine situations in which anyone would actually, you know, want to use them. Dual Shot, for example, allows simultaneous use of front- and rear-facing angles... at the same time. It puts the person's face in that postage stamp on the top right in the picture below, or you can choose fish-eye, a heart, and other decals like that....
I imagine people will use this feature much like the MacBook Photo Booth filters. Which is to say, for about five minutes, ever. Same goes for Cinema Photo — it animates photos, kind of like a GIF thing — and Sound Shot, which puts sound on top of photos. Drama Shot could be borderline fun, allowing someone to take a bunch of pictures and putting them together to show someone in motion. But, again, it's the kind of thing you might use once.
Motion Sensors, Now with Sound: Samsung Adapt Sound adjusts the volume to a personalized level, which sounds scary and kind of silly.
Yet More Camera Stuff: The simultaneous camera comes in handy for dual-video calling, which adds another person to video chat and could be great for family catch-up and business purposes. As for the camera-editing options: Eraser takes multiple shots of a situation and, with a tap, removes a potential photo-ruining aspect of a pic — and removes it pretty cleanly. The camera also has high dynamic range, panorama, and a 360-degree option, all of which actually help enhance a photo and which average photo users can get a lot out of.
Motion Sensors... for Your Eyes: Unlike the other motion controls, Eye Control Video Pause works very well, actually topping a video and being pretty futuristic in a dynamic way. Adapt Display dims the screen if it senses a lot of text, making it easier on the eyes.
S Health: It was hard to test this out in such a short period of time. But this health monitoring thing sounds promising, for those brave enough to use it.
Sharing: Samsung has a "Group Play" category that lets up to six people share music, pictures, documents, and play games. Everyone likes to share a lot of stuff — it's the overwhelming amount of other stuff that might not make iPhone users share in the love.