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Samsung’s new high-end Galaxy S4 smartphone was introduced last week with an over-the-top, broadway-style extravaganza at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

The 5-inch, Full HD (1920×1080) AMOLED display has a pixel density of 441 pixels per inch (ppi), which makes the 326 ppi of Apple’s newest, the iPhone 5, look decidedly unimpressive. You may appreciate the irony: With its “Retina Display,” Apple established high pixel density as a marketable specification, and it now trails its primary rival in ppi as well as screen diagonal. By the way, several panel-makers have shown 5-inch, 440-ppi LCDs for smart phones, so look for more display-related sand to be kicked in Apple’s direction.

Samsung's new Galaxy S4 smartphone with Full HD 5-inch AMOLED display.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 smartphone with Full HD 5-inch AMOLED display.

It was widely predicted that the S4 would use eye-tracking to scroll the screen, but Samsung execs said the technology wasn’t ready yet. Instead, scrolling is controlled by tilting the phone (“Smart Scroll”), and the phone decides whether to dim or not to dim based on whether you are looking at the screen or away from it, which is a carry-over from the S3. In addition, a video will pause if you look away from it, a feature called, rather unimaginatively, “Smart Pause.” The phone will also respond to voice and to non-contact gestures.

There are new sensors for temperature and humidity – as well geomagnetic and proximity sensors, accelerometer, gyroscope, and barometer carried over from the S3. A new infrared (IR) gesture sensor has been added to support the non-contact gesture interface. The phone also contains an IR LED so the phone can be used as a TV remote control. (All TV brands are supported.)

The phone has a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. I know it’s a waste of time, but I can’t resist saying the obvious: That 13 (or 10 or 8) megapixels on a tiny cell-phone camera chip is nonsensical since the microscopic receptor sites that result are necessarily noisier than larger ones would be. What is clever, though, is that the two cameras can be fired simultaneously and their images combined in various ways. One is that the front-facing image of the photographer can be embedded within the photograph he or she has just taken.

All of this is supported by an octo-core processor (in some markets) and an impressively large 2600mAh (9.9 Wh) battery.

The OS is Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. That’s the latest Android version, but the phone is upgradable to Key Lime Pie, the next Android version, which should be introduced mid-year.

The Galaxy S4 is an impressive phone with an impressive display. We’ll have to see if Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 5S upgrade shifts the balance, but Apple’s ability to produce exciting new products seems to have died with its founder. Or perhaps that product-development imagination is just buried in the lower echelons, where it has not yet been recognized.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

Posted by Ken Werner, March 22, 2013 11:24 AM

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About Ken Werner

Kenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.