Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S4

The Samsung Galaxy S 4 could almost have been called the Samsung Galaxy 3S. The same way people expected Apple to move mountains, only to discover that the iPhone 4 successor was a progression of the same design philosophy, the Galaxy S 4 takes what the Galaxy S III offered and modernizes it. The transition from one device is much more dramatic in Samsung’s case, but the Galaxy S 4 doesn’t appear to be the Earth-shattering change that people hoped; it’s still a solid step-up from what you’ve already seen.

The Samsung Galaxy S 4 announced today looks similar to the Galaxy S 3 when staring at the front. It continues the “Inspired by nature” design of having round edges, but it stretches the frame to look taller and slimmer. It actually is slimmer in profile at 7.9mm, but it appears flatter and doesn’t have that continuous edge-to-edge flow that so many liked about the Galaxy S 3. The Galaxy S 4 has a polycarbonate plastic body that’s glossy – this is a Samsung phone, did you expect anything else? – and very smooth to touch. The plastic materials also make the phone feel incredibly light, even with the anti-theft security tethers used at the event weighing it down.

It’s hard to blame Samsung for going back to the drawing board of a formula that worked so well and led to tens of millions of smartphones sold last year. But while last year’s design might be good enough to repeat, the company gambles that consumers will be more interested in this year’s software. Samsung fumbled through an awkward presentation highlighting these new features, which ranged from pointless gimmicks to interesting takes on problems you probably didn’t know you had. During my limited hands-on with the device, a couple ideas seem like they will be hits – Smart Pause and Dual Video Calls being among the early contenders – and others seem like they will be pointless fluff options that people decide not to use (I’m looking at you finger-based Air View).

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The Galaxy S 4 doesn’t make much of a first impressions from a design standpoint, but only if you’ve been jaded by the parade of smartphones that have emerged in the past 18 months. If you already own a Galaxy S 3, the Galaxy S 4 does little to impress you aesthetically. The internal bump in processors, 1.9 GHz quad-core processor in some markets or a 1.6 GHz octa-core processor in others, will definitely grab your attention, however. Early benchmarks on the phone show that it will be incredibly powerful, so there’s definitely room to have a “wow” moment later on.

By Andrew Kameka