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Were the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch theatrics there to mask an unremarkable phone?

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Galaxy S4
Galaxy S4

Last night the Samsung Galaxy S4 was unveiled, in a frankly bizarre and theatrical event in New York.

The roll-call of skits of questionable taste made us wonder whether the whole endeavour was the brainchild of Samsung mobile boss-man JK Shin following an acid bender while watching Jerry Springer: The Opera.

There were tap-dancing children, there were offensively stereotypical middle-aged women high-fiving Galaxy S4s, there was… well, a load of embarrassing nonsense.

What makes it worse is that we’re almost certain that JK Shin doesn’t have a penchant for recreational drugs, and have no idea about his taste in musicals.

We have to wonder – why? The Samsung Galaxy S4 had a curiously lifestyle-inflected launch.

From one perspective, we understand going for this sort of angle. Although the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 were originally thought-of as geeky gadgets, they’ve gained acceptance a long way out of that ballpark. Whatever target Samsung was attempting to hit, though, they missed with their launch hijinx.

The launch also served to alienate part of that original geeky crowd, as core elements such as the multiplayer NFC gaming feature, any in-depth discussion of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s CPU and exploration of the camera beyond its gimmicks was curiously absent.

So why did Samsung focus on the gadget gimmicks of the phone, rather than the meat of its features? Is it because the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t really all that interesting? Here are a few arguments for that idea.

Camera Generico

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has pretty impressive-sounding camera hardware. It has a 13-megapixel sensor and an LED flash.

However, if you have to fondle as many phones as we do, you’ll know that in 2013 this is entirely unremarkable. We’re 95 per cent sure that the Samsung Galaxy S4 uses the same Sony sensor as a half-dozen other phones due out within the next few months. And this is a massive part of image quality - arguably the most important element.

Its reworked camera interface looks good and should prove a solid upgrade to the one seen in the Samsung Galaxy S3’s current version of TouchWiz. But it’s not new. It’s not original. It’s just nicked from another Samsung product, the Galaxy Camera.

Octa-core? Pull the other one

Then there’s the Octa-core processor, which barely got a mention in the Samsung Galaxy S4’s launch event. To be fair to Samsung, it may have been left out because not every territory will get the Galaxy S4 with the eight-core processor in tow. Some will have to “make do” with a quad-core Snapdragon processor.

However, putting a geekier hat on, we could argue that the Octa-core processor isn’t really an eight-core chip in the way that its name suggests.

The Exynos 5 CPU of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is really more like two quad-core processors jammed together. One’s there for performance tasks, and another is a less power-hungry team for day-to-day tasks.

Delving into the hardware more reveals the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t really as much of a Sony and HTC-trumping monster phone as some may have hoped. And it isn’t really all that exciting an upgrade from the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Hand-me-downs

The other big upgrade of the Samsung Galaxy S4 over its predecessor is its 1080p-resolution screen. However, you can argue that the biggest change in going from 720p to 1080p is a phone is the battery life hit, not the image quality increase.

There are only so many pixels you can appreciate on a 5-inch screen at arm’s length away from your eyeballs.

But here’s the real humdinger that nullifies the idea that the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a truly exciting upgrade over the Galaxy S3 – the older phone will get almost every software upgrade of the S4. Samsung says that the only bits S3 owners miss out on are those that are technically impossible. The only one that comes to mind is the WatchON remote control-replacer app – as the older phone doesn’t have an IR blaster.

What are you left with? A phone with a slightly larger screen, a body that’s a millimetre thinner, and a camera that’s only likely to produce better image in excellent lighting conditions. Is this the outlook for phones? Is this what’s meant to get our gadget lust fires stoked? We can't say we're all that impressed.

Is Samsung’s slightly hum-drum new phone enough to sway you towards an HTC One?

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