The next evolution of Samsung's stellar Galaxy series does not need to be as groundbreaking, or as innovative as the next iPhone. CNET already said it was the best device of 2012 compared to all devices, including the iPhone 5. The Galaxy S IV only needs to check mark a few boxes to retain its crown as the 'next best thing'. As long as it retains the same features, and remains consistent, it will continue to be a legitimate alternative to whatever Apple and its competitors are able to cook up this year.
And I'm afraid I might be disappointed by Samsung's refresh.
To learn more about what Samsung could do next, we need only look back ten months to the release of their previous interplanetary offering. The Galaxy S III was the least innovative out of all its Galaxy brothers and sisters, yet it was still a hit. It was able to combine many features important to the average consumer into an attractive, fun, and marketable package. Yet there were no drastic changes. It was, for better or worse, a polished and rounded Galaxy S II.
The screen grew ever-so-slightly to 4.8-inches, but exchanged Super AMOLED Plus, for HD Super AMOLED with a PenTile Matrix layout much to the displeasure of gadget lovers worldwide. However, consumers didn't really notice. After all, it was still dense and vivid at 306ppi, which was rather surprising for a screen this large. To clarify, it was dense for a screen this size released in Q1 of 2012.
Samsung chose to increase the battery size very slightly to 2,100mAh, which was just enough for everyone. There's no arguing that the Galaxy S III's longevity and stamina were both great throughout a day's moderate use. If the iPhone was a BMW, then the Galaxy S III was a Honda. It just worked and you could afford to fix it if it broke. After all, the battery was removable. Battery life seems like a very normal and simple feature, but it's much harder when considering what was behind that huge 4.8-inch screen.
The phone was released stateside with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 to play nicely with LTE bands. In most other parts of the world, Samsung paired their Exynos 4412 humming along at 1.4GHz. It worked. Battery life was not neglected.
The last feature Samsung was able to polish and market was their skin, TouchWiz. The Galaxy S III was a straight-forward device to use. There were no surprises when you needed to make a call, or send a picture. Has Samsung finally found the package to differentiate it from its arch-nemesis just across the Pacific?
With the Galaxy S III, yes. Samsung combined features important to the average consumer into an attractive package, and it sold well everywhere.
With the Galaxy S IV, no. It will not differentiate from its predecessor. It might be the iPhone 5S of the Galaxy line-up.
We know that Samsung has developed a 1080p screen and bumped the size a couple tenths of an inch to the new industry standard of 5-inches. Rumors suggest they've also been able to manufacture it with a new generation of AMOLEDs that use about 25% less power. From a manufacturing perspective, it makes sense. Samsung has been talking about a getting rid of PenTile for a while and finally can when it matters. 1080p is "in" right now. Unfortunately, we might be getting the short-end of the stick. Despite a lush 440ppi screen and an increase in size, the Galaxy S IV will not change the way we use our phones, like we know they can. I'd also argue that the extra pixels might not make a huge difference over what the iPhone 5 offers with their latest Retina display.
However, compared solely to Samsung's outgoing model, the screen will be the largest improvement far and wide over. It was a great screen in Q1 of 2012. This is the area Samsung will be able to deliver. Eyebrows will be raised and retinas will dilate worldwide.
The Galaxy S IV will definitely get a bump in the graphics and processing departments. We may be looking at the first device to feature eight cores running simultaneously. Samsung unveiled the Exynos 5 Octa at CES to extremely favorable reviews. Of course, we have not yet seen what it can do, but Samsung is claiming that graphics performance will be fantastic. Rumor has it that it will use the same PowerVR SGX 544 as the iPad 4 (the newest iPad), so we can expect it to perform smoothly with those extra four cores pumping the extra pixels along.
However, compared to the Galaxy S III, we will only be getting a bump in specs on paper. TouchWiz and the entire Galaxy lineup have been the only Android alternative to offer buttery-smooth performance day-in and out. The iPhone is no longer the most fluid user experience for as long as Samsung is making Galaxy phones. Windows Phone 8 is not far behind, if you'd consider them behind at all.
I'm afraid to say it, but, I'd be disappointed with the Exynos 5 Octa in a phone that isn't changing very much. The Galaxy S III is just the start of a long plateau for Samsung and usability. They have polished and matured Apple's approach to iOS by providing a fluid experience; they don't need to reinvent the wheel, and they won't be able to until the next major innovation in mobile tech rolls along. This is why the Galaxy S IV will not be as impressive in daily operation either. Having said this, I believe gaming will be very smooth. It's just too bad the games offered in the Play Store aren't pushing even the Galaxy S III's Mali-400 GPU to its full potential.
Samsung will probably make a slight jump over its predecessor in build quality. Despite the Galaxy S III being of polycarbonate construction, it raised eyebrows when people first heard about it. Then we grabbed it and forgot. To the Korean company's defense, it felt very good in the hand and really fits well. Having used iPhones regularly, this is more than I can say about how they feel in-hand. Apple's smartphones have traditionally raised eyebrows in the areas of durability and operation from this standpoint. The Galaxy S III was grippy, rounded, and didn't creak or bend as much as its plastic competitors. And it was still plastic. And we still bought it.
The real question is: does Samsung really need to make the Galaxy S IV out of anything else, then? I'm inclined to believe not because they're the best at making plastic.
The next Galaxy phone will have direct competition in-house. Samsung has announced that they will be manufacturing and releasing Tizen phones this year. How close will Samsung let consumers get to the next big thing? We may see a Tizen hero phone that surprises us in 2013.
Point being, we are staring directly in the face of the Galaxy S III Plus and no one will admit it. We know they can refresh an aging line and market the Galaxy S II Plus, so who is to say they can't do it with their best selling device ever?
Attention, everyone! Does this sound like a legitimate argument to the Galaxy S IV rumors abroad? What kind of features do you expect the Galaxy S IV to have? Are we truly about to see the next best thing, or did we already buy it?