After a blowout event and bizarre press conference yesterday, the much-anticipated Samsung Galaxy S4 is upon us. In the run-up to its introduction the smartphone attracted huge interest and plenty of hype, which is only going to grow in the weeks until its consumer release. CNET will render our full opinion in a rated review then, but we know that you have plenty of GS4 questions in the meantime. Below are the most vital details about the handset, where it will land, and when you can get it. If you have any further questions, leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to answer them.
What are the GS4's most standout features? Believe me when I say that Samsung didn't restrain itself when adding features to the GS4. The device has just about everything you'd ever need and then some. As for basic specs, the highlights include an IR blaster, a 13-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video, a 2-megapixel front camera, a SwiftKey-powered keyboard, a powerful processor (more on that below), a 2,600mAh battery, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage with another 64GB available through the microSD card slot, NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, support for 4G LTE networks. There even should be some form of LTE interoperability, which is a big deal. Exact details are to come, but that's something that the iPhone 5doesn't have.
Yet, it's the oodles of software that really set the GS4 apart. Go to the First Take for the full list, but the features will include a better S Voice (a Siri-like voice assistant), S Health (fitness tracking), Group Play (wireless media sharing), S Voice Drive (hands-free voice control), S Translator (instant text and voice translation), Samsung's ChatOn messenger app, screen-sharing, video calling, and a ton of camera tools and editing apps.
All of that amounts to a very respectable list. But to quote CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, very few of these enhancements -- except, perhaps, the TV control app -- stand out as killer, must-have, cannot-possibly-live-without features.
What else can you tell me about the design? Samsung didn't deviate from its design fundamentals with the GS4, so the plastic body remains. Samsung says it uses plastic to keep its devices affordable and easy to produce in mass numbers. Personally, I don't consider plastic to be a deal-breaker, and it can be pretty durable, but I understand if it turns you off. Fortunately, the display shows needed improvements over the GS3's. It's bright, the colors are crisp and rich, and you use the touch interface while wearing gloves.
What's different from the Samsung Galaxy S3? Lynn La details the major spec differences here, but the short version is that the S4 is a bigger and thinner GS3 with modestly upgraded specs and more specialized software. On the whole, itlooks a lot like the GS3, but it has fewer curves and the display is larger and has a higher resolution (5 inches, 1080p). Also, the battery capacity is higher (2,600mAh), the processor is faster (see next question), and the rear-facing camera gets a boost from 8 megapixels to 13. In other words, it's a firm stride forward from the GS3 rather than a giant leap.
Will it be four-core or eight-core? Like the GS3, the GS4 will come in two different versions. One model will run on a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 series processor and the other will have a 1.6GHz eight-core chipset, which is Samsung's Exynos 5 Octa silicon. Samsung has not revealed which version will land in the United States or, for that matter, any other market.
Which Android OS does it use? At launch, the GS4 will use the latest version of Android available, Jelly Bean 4.2.2. That's great for now, but keep in mind that Google I/O kicks off in just two months. That's when Google should announce the next version of Android, Key Lime Pie.
Sure, we had the same situation last year -- the Ice Cream Sandwich-equipped GS3 landed just before we heard about Jelly Bean -- but I hope that the GS4 will get fast-tracked for an upgrade. The S4 also has Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. (I'm not a fan.)
How does eye-tracking work? As expected, the GS4 does have eye-tracking technology. Though this feature is rare in smartphones, the GS4 builds on the eye-tracking features we saw in the GS3. On that phone, you could keep the screen from dimming when your eyes were on it. In the GS4, however, we get a bit more. For instance, tilting the screen up or down while reading a Web site will make the page scroll accordingly. Also, the Smart Pause feature halts a video you're watching when you look away. When you look back it will resume again. The GS4 also responds to several gestures, which Jessica details in the First Take.
What about carriers in other regions? Nic Healey of CNET Australia reports that Vodafone is "interested" in the GS4 while allowing customers to register for updates. Telstra says the device is "coming soon" and Optus has confirmed that it will carry it.
In Europe and the United Kingdom, expect the GS4 to come to Deutsche Telekom, EE, H3G, Orange, Telenor, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, TeliaSonera, Telefonica, and Vodafone (exact availability will depend on country). At this time, Samsung has not announced carriers for Singapore or elsewhere in Asia. It's clear, though, that Samsung is doing one thing right: getting the S4 to as many carriers as it can.
When can I get it? For the most part, Samsung has promised only that the S4 will go on sale in the second quarter of this year, which could mean anytime from April 1 to June 30. U.K. residents have a firm availability date of April 26, but other operators, including those in the United States, aren't offering any specifics. As far as I can tell, U.S. customers should expect it to launch in very late April or the first part of May. That's about when the Galaxy S3 launched last year.
If Samsung is smart it will launch the S4 as soon as it can and not stagger the launch by carrier or region. Customers, not to mention cell phone reviewers, are tiring of vague availability promises like "the coming weeks" or "second quarter." What's more, in the fast-changing wireless world, the longer Samsung waits, the more likely it is that the S4 will be eclipsed by whatever flagship phone is introduced next.
The GS4 is thinner than the GS3 and has metallic trim.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
How much will it cost? We don't know right now. It won't be cheaper than $199 with a contract, but I'd place it more between $249 and $299. That's well within the range of what flagship phones cost these days. Of course, the exact price will vary by market and unsubsidized models and those on prepaid carriers will cost much more.
Will it support wireless charging? Just hit us with the difficult questions, why don't you? It was tough to get a straight answer out of Samsung on this topic at yesterday's event. I can report, though, that the S4 can support wireless charging, but it will be an optional feature and you'll have to pay almost $100 to get it. As we understand it, wireless charging will require a new back cover ($39.99) and a dedicated wireless charger ($59.99). The charger is said to be slated to hit stores in April, but the back cover may not go on sale until June.
Should I buy it or wait? That depends on what phone you have now. If you own a GS3, I don't think it's worth it to upgrade, even if you can get the GS4 at the subsidized price (whatever that is). If your carrier is willing to really cut you a deal by trading in your old phone, then it may be worth it, but I'd still wait a bit to see how it performs. On the other hand, if you have a phone that's more than a couple of years old and you've been pining for a new flagship Android handset, then I'd give it careful consideration. Alternatively, you could wait to see what comes -- and rest assured something else will come -- but I always liken choosing a phone to buying a plane ticket. That is, if you see something that you like at the right price, then you might as well buy it.
From left, the Galaxy S3, the HTC One, the Galaxy S4, and the iPhone.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
How does it compare to the HTC One? HTC's newest smartphone wonder, which only launched at the beginning of February, offers comparable specs and a gorgeous all-metal design that feels sturdier and more premium. HTC doesn't throw in many software attractions, but the One has everything that smartphone power users will need. Here's a handy spec comparison chart.
The One should go on sale before the GS4, probably by the end of the month, but at present it's scheduled to arrive at fewer carriers (AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in the United States). That last point speaks to a perpetual factor in the HTC-Samsung war. While HTC's phones can hold their own against Samsung's devices (the One X, for example, outdid the GS3 in some ways), Samsung can far outspend HTC on marketing, advertising, and distribution. In a perfect world that wouldn't affect which handset eventually wins in sales, but we don't live in a perfect world. And while HTC has accused Samsung of focusing more on show than innovation, HTC still has an uphill battle to fight.
Is it better than the iPhone? Well, hello, loaded question. We haven't tested the GS4 yet, so I'm not going to go there. But I can say that the GS4 will take the GS3's place as the iPhone's biggest competition. The point here is that Samsung is doubling down on making its phones as different as from the iPhone as it possibly can. The GS4 is the biggest and most powerful Galaxy ever, it's packed with every kind of software you can imagine, and it diligently checks every box on the list of hot smartphone trends (a large screen, an eight-core chip, and so on). Unlike Apple, Samsung has never shied away from detailing every spec and including bleeding-edge technology in its devices. The GS4 is no different. In fact, you can call it the anti-iPhone.