Samsung intros Galaxy S4 ''life companion''

Samsung revealed its next-generation Galaxy S4 smartphone yesterday. Ars Technica has the goods on the new Android flagship, which seems to be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Although thinner and lighter than its predecessor, the S4 accommodates a larger 5" display. The Super AMOLED screen boasts a 1080p resolution that works out to an impressive 441 PPI. However, this is a PenTile display, so there are fewer red and blue subpixels than there are green ones. The Verge says the PenTile subpixel arrangement isn't an issue given the high resolution. The viewing angles are apparently great, as are the colors. And the capacitive touchscreen works if you have gloves on, too.

Beneath the screen sits Samsung's own Exynos 5 Octa SoC, which boasts a whopping eight processor cores. Four of the cores are based on ARM's Cortex-A15, while the remainder are derived from the Cortex-A7. The former are there for speed, while the latter run at a lower clock rate and are more power-efficient. Not all regions will get the octa-core processor, though. Some versions of the S4 will be equipped with a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chip from Qualcomm.

The SoC is connected to 2GB of LPDDR3 memory and up to 64GB of flash. Just like on the old model, the back panel can be popped off to access a microSDXC slot and the removable battery. I'm not seeing any claims about the device's run time, but the included battery is rated for 2,600 mAh.

As one might expect, the S4 can connect to pretty much any wireless network you want. The rear camera has more megapixels than the Galaxy S3's (13, up from 8), and the operating system is Google's latest: Android 4.2.2. Samsung has layered its own TouchWiz UI on top of Android's default theme, and it's also added some new software flourishes.

A new series of "air gestures" allows you to manipulate the interface while hovering your fingers just above the display, which seems a little gimmicky but might come in handy if you're halfway through a bag of Cheetos. The air gestures reportedly work better than Smart Pause and Smart Scroll. Those features are designed to pause video when your face turns away from the display and scroll content in response to tilt input. Smart Scroll was rumored to employ eye tracking, but Ars says it actually uses a combination of "facial recognition and the physical tilt of the device."

Samsung's own product page calls the S4 a "life companion," which seems a bit silly but strikes me as fairly accurate. The handset has an integrated pedometer that provides exercise tracking via S Health software. There's also an IR blaster that will let you use the thing as a universal remote. Accessories abound, too, including a separate S Band exercise tracker and an Xbox-inspired game controller with dual analog sticks.

Overall, the S4 device seems to be more about little tweaks than big changes. Android aficionados can expect the new Galaxy to hit multiple worldwide markets in the second quarter of the year. I almost bought an S3 last summer, and I'd be tempted by the S4 if my contract were up in the coming months. However, I'm a little leery of buying into a TouchWiz-infused Android device. Samsung doesn't have a great history of promptly updating devices when fresh versions of the OS are released, and so far I've preferred Google's new software to Samsung's S-branded add-ons.

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