Lots of people get excited about new hardware, but it’s the software of a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 that really defines what it’s like to use. It uses Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but also has Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI on top.
This brings with it a whole roster of new features for 2013. Here are our picks of all the best bits the latest TouchWiz has to offer.
One of the most hyped pre-release software features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 was Smart Scroll. It wasn't what we thought it was going to be though. Originally mooted as something that would monitor your eyes for movement and scroll through text accordingly, it's actually a feature that scrolls when you tilt the phone, using the device's internal motion sensors. Much more sensible than eye-tracking, eh?
Redesigned Camera App
Remember the Samsung Galaxy Camera? Well the Samsung Galaxy S4 is going to get an interface based on that camera’s UI. It’s a sensible change given the Galaxy Camera used Android too. The interface is based around a dial of features that you flick through, a bit like the hardware dial on a “proper” camera. It may not effect camera quality as such, but should mean we get a bit more control over camera settings.
Unlike Smart Scroll, this features does involve eye tracking via the front-facing camera. Smart Pause will pause a video you’re watching when you take your eyes away from the screen. And just like Smart Scroll, it’s definitely a feature we’ll have to try before giving our full endorsement. After all, how many videos that you watch on a smartphone are things that really need your full attention?
Fancy yourself as a bit of a jetsetter? If so, then the Samsung Galaxy S4’s S Translator might come in handy. It’s a translator service that lets you easily translate between languages. Rather than having its own app, S Translator works with emails, in the ChatOn chatting interface and in your messages. This isn’t a feature that we can imagine using very often, but it gets a big old thumbs-up from us. Good idea, Samsung.
Samsung rapidly established itself as one of the pioneers of NFC last year. Not only did it use the standard in its top phones, it found new uses for it too. First we got S Beam, which used NFC to handshake between phones for quick file transfers. Now we have something altogether more dynamic. Group Play again uses NFC to handshake between devices. Then, using Wi-Fi Direct, the handsets can play games and music together. Big shot developers Gameloft and Glu have already optimised games for this service. Up to eight players can battle it out together.
This new feature is interesting because it changes the way you interact with your phone. Instead of touching the Samsung Galaxy S4’s screen directly, Air View reacts when your finger is hovering just above the screen. It’s used throughout the TouchWiz UI, to perform tasks like previewing videos, accessing speed dial favourites or magnifying content. It’s clever stuff, especially considering it doesn’t use a digitiser stylus like the Note 2, which performs similar feats.
Taking the Air theme one step further, Air Gesture lets you perform tasks with gestures that – once again – don’t even involve touching the screen. You can browse websites using this feature, change music tracks or even take calls. We expect you’ll be able to pick and choose the shortcut gestures you want to use in the Samsung Galaxy S4’s Settings menu. This is one feature that will take a bit of getting used to – but we can’t wait to give them a proper go.
Dual Camera Capture
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has two cameras: a 13-megapixel snapper on the back and a 2-megapixel video chat sensor on the front. The camera app lets you capture video from both... at the same time. Samsung says this should come in handy when, for example, you’re at a gig. We’re not so sure though – the last thing gigs need are more people with their phones out. However, it can also be used for video chatting, which we’re absolutely on-board with.
The most tangential of all TouchWiz’s new features is S Health. This is an app that’s designed to let the Samsung Galaxy S4 become part of your exercise regime. It’s an exercise tracker that knows whether you’re running or walking. This is just the beginning too, as you’ll be able to boost this basic functionality with a load of health-based accessories. The S Band is a runner’s tool that lets you log runs without having the phone with you. It’ll then sync with the phone once you get home. Samsung also plans to offer a heart rate monitor and a Smart weighing scale.
Almost the opposite of S Health is WatchON. This one is perfect for couch potatoes. It’s an app that uses the IR blaster of the Samsung Galaxy S4 to let you replace your home remotes with your phone. The days of Universal Remotes are well and truly numbered. The best news is that Samsung has been sensible and has not limited WatchON to Samsung tellies and home cinema boxes – all kinds of manufacturers are on the list.