Korean phone giant Samsung Electronics, locked in a bitter battle with rival smartphone maker Apple in the marketplace on sales and in courts over patents, launched the fourth iteration of its Galaxy series smartphones on Apple’s home turf in New York.

It was also launched with Apple style showmanship and Broadway razzmatazz at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York, with thousands of curious spectators watching the show live outside in Times Square on giant billboards.

The Galaxy S4 comes less than a year after the hugely successful S3 debuted and marks the increasingly desperate battle for smartphones in a market crowded with make-or-break new launches from Apple, as well as a struggling BlackBerry and Nokia.

“Our inspiration was you,” said J.K. Shin, President and Head of IT & Mobile Communications Division at Samsung, while unveiling the phone. “All the innovative features of Galaxy S4 were developed based on the insights and needs we found from our consumers all around the world,” he added.

The new features include a sensor which tracks whether you are watching the screen and pauses starts or pauses the video stream accordingly. It also now recognises hand gestures to scroll pages and uses a nearness sensor to allow you to preview files or pictures by simply hovering your finger near the screen.

In form, it is betting that users prefer larger screens but thinner phones, and sports a 5-inch display housed in a case just 7.9 mm thick.

Camera

The camera wars have been stepped up a notch, with the S4 sporting a 13 megapixel main and a 2 megapixel front camera – but its the software tweaks which may give the phone an edge as a snapper. A ‘dual camera’ function allows the person taking a picture or video to insert himself into the frame he is capturing. There is even a dual video call facility, and a ‘sound and shot’ mode where you can tack on a few seconds of live sound to a still picture.

Clearly aiming at multiple global markets, the S4 has an embedded translator which currently recognises nine languages and can translate from voice to voice or voice to text on the fly.

The Galaxy S4 supports HSPA+42 Mbps and 4G LTE. The TDD/FDD LTE Dual Mode version will be introduced later this year.

Air View function

There are some other nifty tricks which are bound to make this a conversation piece for a while. The ‘Air View’ function, for instance, allows users to hover with their fingers to preview the content of an email, S Planner, image gallery or video without having to open it. You can even see a magnified view on the internet browser, or a phone number saved in the speed dial on the keypad. With ‘Air Gesture’, you can change the music track, scroll up and down a web page, or accept a call with a wave of your hand.

Samsung Galaxy S4 will be available from Q2 globally. The price has not been disclosed, but will be key in setting sales volumes. Last quarter, Samsung shipped 63.7 million smartphones while Apple shipped close to 48 million, according to research firm IDC. Globally, Samsung has the largest share of the smartphone market, although the US remains its last frontier, with Apple still the dominant player.

(This article was published on March 15, 2013)
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