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HABEMUS S4! [We Have A New Smartphone!]

Samsung’s planned March 14th press conference for the Galaxy S4 seemed as much anticipated as the white smoke that billowed from the Sistine Chapel the day before.  HABEMUS S4! (translation: we have a new smartphone!)

Details of the new Galaxy S4 were revealed with a big dog-and-pony show and the S could stand for Sexy.  Features such as dual camera recording, smart pause and air gesture will give consumers new ways to use their device while giving Apple cold sweats and nightmares.

The phone will go on sale sometime between late April and the end of June, from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, US Cellular and Cricket, Samsung says.  The phone companies will set the prices but expect this phone to start at $200 with a two-year contract.

The screen is slightly larger than last year’s big hit and previous model, the SIII.  At 5 inches on the diagonal compared to 4.8 inches for the SIII and 4 inches for the iPhone 5. It sports a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, as much as you’d find on a high-definition TV set.  The bigger screen is crammed into a chassis that’s actually a hair narrower and thinner than the SIII’s.  This is quite a feat.  Samsung shrank the frame surrounding the screen to make room.

The Galaxy S4′s camera rear-facing camera was upgraded to a whopping 13 megapixels.  The most impressive camera feature seems to be the Duel Camera record, which does pretty much exactly what the name infers: It lets you capture footage from both the rear and the front-facing camera.  This was designed to solve the problem of excluding the cameraperson from being in the video or photo by adding the actions of the person behind the camera into its own frame that plays in unison with the main camera’s footage. This duel camera feature can also be used in video calls, allowing the person on the other line to see what you’re seeing during the call.

The camera, er smartphone, has many new shooting modes.  Highlighting these include a function that makes it possible to capture more than 100 shots in just four seconds.  You can then browse all those captures and pick your favorites to put into a single frame composite picture or save them all as a homemade .gif with Drama Shot.  This is just one of twelve shooting modes.  This includes another called Sound and Shot, which captures voice and pictures together.

Of course, sometimes you’ll capture things that you don’t really want in your photo. That’s where the new Eraser feature comes in. It allows you to completely eliminate a part of your snapshot that you didn’t see when lining up the shot. This tool will be the worst enemy of photo bombers everywhere.

Samsung is taking the whole “touch screen” thing further by now sensing when the user’s finger is hovering over the screen.  In other words, you don’t even need to touch the phone to make it react.  Hovering over a thumbnail of a picture in the Gallery will reveal a bigger thumbnail, and hovering over one email in a list will show a preview of its first lines.

In the “how come no thought to add this feature before” category comes an infrared blaster.   This will give ability to control any TV or set-top box with your phone, browse for TV shows by genre and set custom recommendations based on viewing habits.  No more worries about losing your remote control.  In fact there may be little need to have an actual remote control since your home electronic gear may now be controlled via the S4.

Controlling the phone can be done without actually touching it thanks to “air gesture”.   The S4 uses the front-side camera to sense hand movements up to about 4 inches away from the phone.  The phone’s browser responds to an “up swipe” in the air above it with by scrolling up, and to a “side” swipe by jumping to another tab.  This could be pretty useful when the smartphone is the lunchtime companion and you don’t want to grease it up with foody fingers.

The SIII was my favorite smartphone last year and I can assume the S4 will be near or at the top of  my 2013 list.  As I await the release date I will buy time tossing out my remote controls, conventional cameras and – depending on the new apps coming – possibly my car.

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