In an attempt to steal the thunder from Nokia, Asus, Sony, and a slew of other mobile device makers at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona, at the beginning of the week Samsung announced that the Galaxy S4 will be unveiled at its own exclusive event in New York on 14 March, with public availability to follow soon after.
With the slow but inexorable waning of the iPhone, both in terms of mind and market share, the Galaxy S4 is probably the most anticipated phone of 2013. The question on everyoneâ€™s lips, though, is whether Samsung can push the smartphone (and Android) envelope forward, despite lacklustre innovation from Apple â€“ and in the face of strong offerings from HTC. Letâ€™s run through the expected hardware and software specs of the Samsung Galaxy S4, and then analyse the current state of play in the mobile space.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is expected to have a full HD 1920 x 1080 display (up from 1280 x 720 on the S3) â€“ and the display might even make the jump from 4.8in to an edge-to-edge 5in. There were some early rumours of a flexible display, but they can be discounted â€“ the tech just isnâ€™t there yet.
It remains to be seen whether the underlying tech will be AMOLED or LCD, though reports suggest that Samsungâ€™s AMOLED production line isnâ€™t ready to produce 1920 x 1080 5in displays, while the LCD production line is raring to go. Maybe this will mean that the Galaxy S4 can finally compete with the iPhone in terms of image quality and accuracy.
Under the hood, the Galaxy S4 is expected to use Qualcommâ€™s quad-core Snapdragon 600 or 800 SoC. The Snapdragon 800 is particularly exciting because itâ€™s the first chip to be built on TSMCâ€™s new 28nm HPM (high performance mobile) process â€“ though, at 2.3GHz, it might be more of a tablet part.
There is also the possibility that weâ€™ll see two Galaxy S4 SKUs â€“ a Snapdragon model with integrated LTE for the US market, and an Exynos-powered model for the rest of the world. If the S4 does use Exynos, the most likely option is an eight-core Exynos 5 Octa â€“ four Cortex-A15 and four Cortex-A7 in a big.LITTLE configuration. There are still big questions about whether the power-hungry Cortex-A15 is suitable for smartphone use, so it will be interesting to see how the Galaxy S4 pans out.
Rounding out the hardware, the Galaxy S4 is expected to have a high-res camera (13-megapixel, according to some rumours), up to 64GB of flash storage, and 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Following the weak, uncertain, and confusing introduction of wireless charging in the Galaxy S3, we expect the S4 to rectify the situation and provide wireless charging by default. You can also expect all of the usual kitchen sink: Wi-Fi (which should step up to MIMO), Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and so on.
There are unlikely to be any surprises in the software department: The Galaxy S4 will almost certainly run a TouchWizzified version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean (sorry, Tizen fans â€“ keep on dreaming). There is also a rumour that the Galaxy S4 will launch with a pad accessory, which, when bonded with S Health, will give your phone the ability to measure your pulse and blood sugar, among other things.
Evolution, not revolution
In short, all indicators point to the Galaxy S4 being a fairly gentle evolution of the Galaxy S3 â€“ a lot like the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. A 5in screen would be exciting, but it really isnâ€™t that different from a 4.8in display. An octa-core Exynos would certainly offer a unique selling point â€“ but when you remember that four of those cores are wimpy, and that the Cortex-A15 cores are the reason your smartphone only lasts for six hours, your excitement will be quickly tempered. A laser keyboard, like the one shown in the (fan-made) video below is unlikely.
Truth be told, we would all be wise to temper our expectations when it comes to smartphone and tablet technology. There are some exciting concepts coming down the pipeline, but we are probably still years away from flexible, transparent smartphones, or high capacity batteries that can support pico projectors and other power-hungry features.
Itâ€™s easy to be fooled by the dramatic bombast pumped out by Apple, Samsung, and others, but actual paradigm-shifting technologies really donâ€™t come along very often. It has been five years since the launch of the first smartphone, and weâ€™re still firmly in the penumbra of the capacitive touchscreen; processors have got faster and screens have got larger, but thatâ€™s just the continuing, predictable, and thoroughly non-revolutionary march of Mooreâ€™s law.
Donâ€™t get me wrong: A mind-blowing smartphone that redefines the very meaning of the word will eventually come along â€“ just probably not today.