Samsung revealed the phone Thursday at an event at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The Galaxy S 4, which crams a 5-inch screen into body slightly smaller than the S III’s, will go on sale globally in the April-to-June period.
In the U.S., it will be sold by all four national carriers – Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA – and by smaller ones US Cellular and Cricket.
Samsung didn’t say what the phone will cost, but it can be expected to start at $200 with a two-year contract in the U.S.
In the past two years, Samsung has emerged as Apple’s main competitor in the high-end smartphone market.
The Galaxy line has been Samsung’s chief weapon in the smartphone fight, and it has succeeded in making it a recognizable brand while competitors such as Taiwan’s HTC Corp. and Korean rival LG have stumbled. Samsung has sold 100 million Galaxy S phones since they first came out in 2010. That’s still well below the 268 million iPhones that Apple has sold in the same period, but Samsung’s sales rate is catching up.
Research firm Strategy Analytics said the Galaxy S III overtook Apple’s iPhone 4S as the world’s best-selling smartphone for the first time in the third quarter of last year, as Apple fans were holding off for the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 took back the crown in the fourth quarter.
One way Samsung and other makers of Android phones have been one-upping Apple is by increasing the screen size. The S III sported a screen that measures 4.8 inches on the diagonal, already substantially larger than the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen. The S 4’s screen is 56 percent larger than the iPhone’s.
In a Wednesday interview, Apple Phil Schiller declined to discuss whether Apple is considering enlarging the screen on the next model of the iPhone, which is expected to be released later this year. He said Apple remains confident the iPhone 5 is the most useful, elegant phone.
Samsung believes the S 4 will set the new standard.
Apart from the larger screen and upgraded processor, the S 4 has a battery that’s 20 percent larger than that of the S III. Samsung didn’t say if that translates into a longer battery life – the added capacity might be gobbled up by the bigger screen or other internal changes.
The S 4 comes with a built-in infra-red diode, so it can control an entertainment center as a universal remote. This is a feature that has showed up in Android tablets before.
The S 4 comes with several new technologies intended to help users interact with the phone. For instance, the screen now senses fingers hovering just above the screen, and some applications react. The Mail application shows the first few lines of an e-mail when a finger hovers above it in the list, and the Gallery application shows an expanded thumbnail.
Users can control some other applications by making gestures in the air above the phone. In the browser, you can command the screen to scroll up by swiping from top to bottom a few inches from the phone.
The Camera application can now use both the front and rear cameras simultaneously, inserting a small picture of the user even as he’s capturing the scene in front of him.
When several S 4s are in close proximity, they can link up to play the same music, simultaneously – perfect for headphone dance parties.