Jag Venugopal's Blog

July 21, 2013

Samsung has a ways to go before dethroning iPhone

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 4:34 pm

I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone. The price from AT&T was just right, the screen looked tantalizingly big, and I kinda like Android over the iPhone.

But if Samsung intended the Galaxy 4 to be the iPhone killer, they have much more ground to cover. Don’t get me wrong, the basics are just fine. Slim body, large screen, good battery life for a smartphone, when paired with the Battery Guru software, standard Android features. In short, its one heck of a smartphone, if you’re into using Google (gmail, search, voice, etc) for everything.

The disappointments are in areas where Samsung tried to innovate beyond the current smartphone paradigm. One much-ballyhooed feature involves tilting your head to get the screen to scroll up and down. After a few minutes of trying it, my luddite daughter, who was in the same room, took great delight in asking if I was having a seizure, seeing my head bob up and down at random. Well, so much for that, but there’s another feature where you can tilt your phone to get it to scroll. That works. Most of the time. A third doodad has you waving your hand over a sensor to scroll up and down a page. Now this I mastered, though I suspect my colleagues often wonder why I feel the need to swat imaginary flies off my smartphone so frequently.

Yet another feature allows you to see a preview of your email by pointing your finger at it. Similarly, one can get a preview of the contents of an album. But, it seems downright silly to point to my smartphone, inches above the screen, as if I was about to release a bolt of force lightning on the Gorilla Glass.

Even when it works, most of the finger pointing and hand waving stuff only works on Samsung’s additions to Android — the browser and email apps in particular. The sensors haven’t been integrated into the OS, and therefore no other app is aware of their existence.

I had high hopes for the infrared blaster on the device, hoping to use it as a universal remote. We have a Logitech Harmony that I bought off ebay, and which has worked perfectly for our home theater for over a year now. Alas, here too, the Samsung excites, only to ultimately disappoint. The software does not recognize my Sony CT 100 sound bar. Given that the sound bar is also an HDMI multiplexer that mediates between cable, Blu-Ray and Roku, not being able to use this makes the whole universal remote thing rather useless.

Being on the rather tubby side of things, I figured I’d use the Samsung health application to lose a few pounds. Here again, it took my height and weight (the latter being a growing number), and… did absolutely nothing with it. I was asked what my calorie target was. Well hello, shouldn’t the app be telling me what my target ought to be?

So, I’m back to using the Galaxy 4 as a big, generic Android phone, with some pluses like a thin body, an SD card slot, and a replaceable battery. Nothing wrong with that. I like it. But not one of Samsung’s new features is good enough to be satisfying.

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