Smart Stay, a feature available on the Galaxy S3, returns on the Galaxy S4 and is accompanied by two new head-tracking options: Smart Scroll and Smart Pause. Smart Stay is supposed to keep your screen from dimming as you look at it, but it was as buggy on the Galaxy S4 as it was on its predecessor and often failed, depending on the lighting in the room. Smart Scroll registers when you tilt your head or the phone to scroll up or down. This function worked as advertised, though moving my head felt unnatural and tilting the phone often caused me to scroll down farther than I intended.
Of the bunch, however, Smart Pause deserves some ridicule. With Smart Pause enabled, your videos will pause whenever you look away from the screen--or at least that's what it's supposed to do. In reality, tilting the phone in a certain way caused playback to stop, which made watching videos on the phone during my bumpy commute an exercise in frustration. Smart Pause is off by default, and I recommend leaving it that way.
According to Samsung, the Galaxy S4 has more than 100 new features, but that means very little when many of the phone's headlining capabilities come across as broken gimmicks. Apps like S Health show that Samsung can make great software when it tries; I'd love to see the company put more effort into practical endeavors rather than wasting time and resources on half-baked novelties like head-tracking.
Dual cameras, drama shots, and more
The main shooter on the Galaxy S4 is a 13-megapixel camera with a single LED flash. Photos taken with the Galaxy S4 looked great, with vibrant colors and minimal digital noise. Photos taken indoors came out looking surprisingly good, though the results varied greatly from location to location. The phone has a Night mode for taking photos in dark environments, but my Night mode shots came out extremely grainy.
The Camera app benefits from a wide array of shooting modes, including Macro and Panorama. One mode lets you record audio while taking a photo, and another allows you to erase objects or people from your shots. I'm not sure why you'd want to record audio while taking a photo, but the ability to remove unwanted subjects from photos worked extremely well in my tests. I used it successfully to remove some bystanders from a photo of a bridge.
Two of the Camera app's shooting modes, Dual Camera and Drama, are especially interesting. Activating Dual Camera turns on the front-facing camera while the main camera continues to run, enabling you to "insert" yourself into any photos you take. I can see the feature appealing to families that don't want to leave anyone out of a vacation photo, but I had trouble properly framing my subjects while simultaneously making sure that my face was within the front-facing camera's rather small viewing angle. Dual Camera worked better when I held the phone in portrait mode, but who takes photos that way? (Terrible people, that's who.)
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.