iPhone 5 Killer? iPhone 6 Killer More Likely

WD-Samsung-S4TWO OF THE Witchdoctor team attended the NZ launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone in Auckland today. The launch was streamed live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, where the Americans put on a show that was cheesier than a cheese factory, all the better to make a big song and dance about the world’s best smartphone.

How can I make that bold statement without a full review, or even touching an actual Galaxy S4, for that matter? Well it’s easy, actually – Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and Note 2 are both serious contenders for the ‘Best Phone Ever’ title, but in terms of power, functionality and flexibility the S4 takes the ball and runs with it – into a whole new ballpark. Apple’s team will be staring at the specs and features of Samsung’s new superstar and wondering how to top it. Frankly, unless the iPhone 6 is something more than a vaguely evolved iPhone 5, which was itself pretty much a stretched (and vaguely evolved) iPhone 4S, then the Cupertinio crowd are stuffed.

Samsung has basically adopted Apple’s approach – figure out what makes a device easier for people to use, ask what the users actually want to do with it and then build that exact device.

The S4 is a big unit – the 5-inch screen is perilously close to phablet territory. At only 7.9mm deep, it’s thin (until you wrap a case around it) but people seem willing to accommodate a bigger phone to have a bigger screen and 4.5-inch and more seems to be the new standard. The AMOLED screen has a resolution of 441ppi, which is up there, as the 1.9 GHz Quad-Core or 1.6 GHz Octa-Core processors (the actual CPU depends on the local market) but this phone is less about specifications than what the numbers allow the user to do.

For example, the camera functionality is impressive – the 13MP front camera means nothing unless the sensor and lens are vastly improved but assuming the images are at least standard smartphone fare, the S4 offers some very different and cool ways to interact with, and share the images and video:

The Dual Camera function allows simultaneous use of both front and rear cameras and users can choose from a variety of frame effects, which blend the two pictures. They can also adjust the size of the small picture inside the big one, with eight options to combine the two. Dual Video Call allows users to make or receive a video call while showing what you are looking at during the call.

There are no less than twelve shooting modes including Drama Shot, which is one continuous time-lapse, and Sound & Shot, which stores sound and voice as the picture is taken. Story Album allows photos taken by the S4 to be automatically gathered and sorted according to the user’s timeline, geo-tagging information, or a specific event to create a photo album. These albums can be ordered and delivered as an offline photo album through a partnership with Blurb.

The S4 has a very cool S Translator mode, which provides instant translation, using text or voice on applications including email and text messages. It also allows users to speak to the phone in one language and have the phone repeat that in other languages to become a semi-universal translator. Travel companion of the year, thy name is S4.

The phone also offers a range of sensors including temperature and humidity, smart scrolling that give screen control based on where the user is looking (the camera monitors the eyes; and there’s also an enhanced driving mode, gesture modes that allow the user to control aspects of the phone without actually touching the screen, a built-in optical recognition reader, and an infrared remote control that’ll run TVs and other IR equipped devices.

There’s lots more, all driven by huge processing power and a big battery to make sure the thing doesn’t die after a couple of hours.

In many ways, this phone appears to be a big step forward and as much as it pains me to say this, the iPhone 5 that I was about to upgrade to is very much on hold until I can get my hands on an S4 review unit to test. Android really has come of age.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 will be available towards the end of April.

Launches & Lunches Notes

As far as the actual launch event goes, Samsung’s local PR agency always puts on a slick show but the insistence on offering every manner of meaty by-product to the ravenous horde of journalists, with barely or nary a thought for the vegans and vegetarians in the room is getting a bit old. Especially when the wait staff haven’t been briefed to perhaps refrain from offering the pork in a bun, the strange seafood on a stick or the hot dog to the non-meat eaters over and over and over. I was a vegan at 12h33, it’s safe to assume that I’m still a vegan at 12h41 and having that meaty whiff under my nose for the 27th time is just overkill. Also – when the solitary vegetarian plate does make its showing, perhaps first offer it to the blokes who’ve indicated over and over and over that they don’t eat meat before letting the meat eaters chow it down (as they always do).

Some may see this as a truly petty complaint and I really don’t want to sound like a totally ungrateful SOB but I’ve been to enough of these Samsung launches to build up holiday pay from the PR company. You’d think they’d have figured this out by now – especially since Gary indicated that he was a vegetarian when he accepted the invitation. Very cool phone though, even for vegans. ASHLEY KRAMER

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