Samsung Galaxy S4 – Mixed Feelings

Samsung, what are you doing?  You had an incredible opportunity to quiet your critics, especially Apple, with your new phone.  Instead you pulled an Apple.  Lets forgo the technical specs of the Galaxy S4 or how it stands up against the competition, there are plenty of sites out there that do that better and have actually held the darn thing, something I cannot claim. Let’s focus on the gooey side of the tech, the impulsive feelings of a must buy.

The Debut

Samsung unveiled their latest phone last night, the Galaxy S4.  The launch event was odd , offensive to some, and just… weird.  It seems now that Steve Jobs is gone, every tech company feels the need to have a launch event of their own away from conventions, trade shows or other industry gatherings.  I have no problems with that, more power to them.  What is odd is the need to make the event unnecessarily extravagant.  I know Samsung was trying to showcase how the new features of their phone will add value to your life but I cannot shake that nagging feeling the spectacle felt like filler material more than anything else.  As if it could have all been done in less than 20 minutes :

Say what you will about Apple but their events were simple and product focused.

The Utilitarian

Samsung had a run away hit with the S3.  You can thank the awesome marketing, the next best thing, for that.  With Samsung leading the way in hardware sales and the minimal impact of Android competitors, it seems that there were very little need to truly innovate and it showed.  The S4 looks very much like the S3 and the build quality from this observer seems to be the same.  It is not to say the S4 is just an internal spec bump, it is sporting a bigger screen in a near similar frame as the S3, that my friend is a slick feat.  But that underwhelming feeling is still there… just like the iPhone 5.  Apple also increased the size of the screen and did the usual spec bump internally but the overall design was much the same, hence the letdown.  You could forgive Samsung for this iterative phone as there were no “must have” hardware on the Android side to really challenge them but the reality is, HTC and Sony stepped up.  Sony’s Xperia Z finally offer protection against the one thing all smart phones fear most, water.  The Xperia Z  is a slick slab sporting a 5″ screen with no physical buttons offering a pleasantly clean look while providing rubber seals to keep the handset safe from spills and dust.  That is cool.  The HTC One is not waterproof but offers a damn cool eye-catching aluminum frame that just oozes quality, similar to how I felt when the iPhone 4 came out.  In other words, the HTC One is damn sexy.  Galaxy S4?  It looks, and truthfully is, utilitarian.  It’s built on durable plastic, you can replace the battery, and you can add more storage, just like any other Android phone out there.  That is why it was exciting to see Sony and HTC break away and do something that is different.

People balk at the iPhone for the non-replaceable battery, lack of storage expansion, or how fragile it felt and actually was, but that was the point.  Apple created the “professional persona” with the iPhone brand.  It is a premium product that you want to protect and offer the illusion of luxury, not utility.  When you see a lowly BMW 3-series in a parking lot full of pick-up trucks, which vehicle screams clean-cut, and professional?  Samsung hammered Apple on specs not appearance, their marketing even focused on that.  It is the lack of emotional draw on appearance that will continue the trend of the pick-up truck for Samsung’s latest offering.

The Identity 

Google Android is slick, so much so that Google may be moving away from the word all together.  Every manufacture of an Android phone offers some customization to create an identity.  Samsung is no different and through a puppet matinée of a launch, we saw features the S4 will offer:

  • AirView
  • AirGesture
  • S Health
  • SmartPause
  • Dual camera recording
  • Multi window

With these features, it seems Samsung will keep forging its own identity and move further away from Google, hence my problem.

Regardless of the platform, a stock OS void of bloatware (skins, UI changes, etc.) that updates not only ensures  performance but also consistency.  Apple iPhone, Microsoft Phone 8, and Google’s Nexus phone provides up to date stock OSes for their devices.  With Samsung, it seems they are throwing everything at the user with features we did not know we needed or re-inventing ones that have already been done.  Who owns the experience on the Android phone seems akin to person stricken with multiple personalities, inconsistent identity and the fragmented behavior.  As a purist, I align myself to the OS vision, not the implementor that mask the intent.

The Impulse Factor

So does the Galaxy S4 create the impulsive need to buy?  Sadly no.  Looking at the device garners no emotion.  As a work horse, the phone is a confusing powerful beast, however at the end of the day, I do not see myself lusting for it.  Maybe Samsung is saving the eye-lusting for their next Note product.  It is just not there for the S4.

You can watch the launch below:


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