Review: Samsung’s smart S4 software selection

Alex Walls
May 7, 2013

Samsung’s released a host of new and improved ‘smart’ software features for the Galaxy S4 ‘ so just what do they do and are they any use?


Samsung’s bid at entering the mobile fitness market with S Health is a useful, but not revolutionary, offering.   There’s an enormous amount of waiver you have to agree to (generally saying that users must agree that S Health is a guide, not a doctor’s opinion) but the app has interesting offerings like a comfort level meter, which gives readings of how high the temperature and humidity is around you. I’m unsure how accurate this could really be, but it gave our office atmosphere around about right (high temp, low humidity). It also has a pedometer which seemed to work fine, even in my bag, and a calorie counter, which is tedious like any such tool, but made easier by a large searchable data base of foods.

S Health could be useful but I’d be more inclined to opt for one of the (free) fitness apps which have been in the game longer; it feels like more of a ‘why not?’ offering than anything else.


Air Gesture is a series of non-touch gestures to control the S4.  Gesture to unlock

One such is Air Jump, which jumps down a page on a browser or between photos on single photo view, or between songs when on the Play Now section, with the wave of your hand. Again, this feature will only work on the pre-loaded apps, which is annoying. It’s also important to work this distinction out, because otherwise you just look insane, trying to interact with a stolidly silent phone.

The feature is a tad buggy for the browser (it worked fine with photos and music), sometimes missing quite deliberate gestures; out of 20 attempts, Air Jump worked 15 times, and it’s important to have your hand very much in front of the camera.

It’s a neat gesture that makes you feel like a Jedi, and I think could be one of the more genuinely useful offerings for folks with wet hands or trying to listen to music while cooking. If only it were incorporated into downloaded browsers and apps, as well as other parts of the apps it works in (such as the general music screen).

Quick Screen is a feature that shows important information when you wave your hand over the locked screen of the phone while lying flat.   This worked well and is useful ‘ if you’ve got wet hands or just want to see whether you’ve missed messages, it’s a handy function.


Air View gives you a preview of information in emails and videos when you hover your finger over the screen. This worked well (again with the pre-loaded browser, and the pre-loaded ‘Email’ app, but not the Gmail app, annoyingly) but it’s quite difficult to avoid actually just touching the screen. Sections of video previewed on both Samsung and Google’s video apps worked really well. This and the email preview are where this function would be particularly useful ‘ seeing whether it’s the email you want before opening it and skipping to the exact right place in your video would be helpful.

The feature also shows the song title of the upcoming track when in Samsung’s Music app.

SMART PAUSESmart Pause looking away from screen

Smart Pause recognises when you’re no longer watching a video by the angle of your head, and pauses it, playing the video automatically when you turn back to the screen.

This feature works remarkably well, using videos loaded onto your device, in both Samsung’s Video app and Google’s Play Movie app, as well as with YouTube videos loaded on the pre-loaded or Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) browser. So if you’re watching on Chrome, too bad.

Moving your eyes won’t trigger the automatic pause function, and neither will shallow movements of the head, particularly nodding down towards your chest (so no joy if you fall asleep while sitting up). However, it doesn’t require huge angles for the sensor to recognise you had turned away either. Weirdly enough, although this was possibly due to the angle I may have been holding the phone, the sensor recognises head turns to the left at a lesser angle (ie. better) than those to the right.

Fairly significant movements are a good idea, because it means when you’re fidgeting around settling into position or just shifting to a more comfortable one, the video is less likely to pause and break your flow.


Smart Scroll uses either the angle of your head or the angle of the phone to scroll through browser pages when used with the pre-loaded browser.

There was generally a bit of lag when loading a web page as the phone worked out whether it would allow Smart Scroll or not.

Tilting your head requires solid head movement and upon testing, wouldn’t work most of the time when trying to scroll the screen back up. A fairly solid head movement is required as well, which isn’t really comfortable when reading text on a screen.

Tilting the device worked quite well although had a tendency to go a bit haywire and scroll randomly.

Again, this could be a useful offering if perfected, removing the need to touch the screen when your hands are otherwise engaged, but I just found Smart Scroll annoying in its general lack of functionality.

S TRANSLATETranslate from email_2

Samsung’s built-in translation application, S Translator, seemed to struggle with its tasks; it’s slow to recognise voice input (although this could be down to my terrible French accent) and it translates phrases, both oral and written, quite directly;  “Comment t’appelles tu?” was translated as “How calls you?” instead of the more colloquial “What’s your name?”

The function is handy in that it has a direct shortcut within emails, however this takes a while to load and has the same problem.

A test phrase from a French friend which read: “Hey Alex, today I ate toast with some honey, they were crunchy. Besides that, I went to the beach because it was a sunny/beautiful day. That’s all. Kisses.” was translated as “Cuckoo Alex, today I ate slices of bread with honey, they back up crusty. Besides, I was with the beach because the weather was nice. That is all. Kisses.”

Google Translate’s attempt was better although still flawed: “Hey Alex, today I ate toast with honey, they were crispy. Apart from that, I was at the beach because it was beautiful. That’s it. Kisses. “

Also check out What Mobile’s Friend Test  here, the full Samsung Galaxy S4 review  here  and a comparison of the S4 and its closest rivals (and siblings)  here.

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