Samsung upped its game in the smartphone space with the unveiling of its latest Galaxy S model, the S4, which will supersede the S3 in its lineup.
The S4 includes a 5-inch Super-AMOLED screen, up to 64 gigabytes of embedded memory and 2 GB of RAM, and an industry-first octa-core processor running at 1.6 GHz. Camera capabilities include a 13-megapixel sensor on the rear and 2-megapixel sensor on the front, with the ability to take a picture or video using both at the same time. The S4 will also ship with Google’s latest Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system.
Samsung did note that it will also offer a version of the device with a quad-core processor running at 1.9 GHz in some markets.
The still-available S3 included a 4.8-inch screen and a mere 8-megapixel rear camera. The S4 now inches closer – literally – to Samsung’s Galaxy Note II tablet/smartphone that has a 5.5-inch screen, and further away from the 4-inch screen on the current iPhone 5.
While still made from plastic, Samsung claims the materials used are of the highest quality and the device will be available in both black and white models when it goes on sale in late April. Samsung added that the device will eventually be available across 327 carriers in 55 countries. Supporting that reach will be both 3G and LTE versions of the device, as well as both TDD-LTE and FDD-LTE models. Samsung added that the LTE models will support network speeds of up to 100 megabits on the downlink, though such speeds are not expected to be commercially available from carriers through at least the lifespan of the S4.
In addition to its cellular capabilities, Samsung said the S4 will include support for 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, near-field communications and Bluetooth 4.0 as well as have sensors for barometer, temperature and humidity readings.
Domestically, AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Leap Wireless were all named as being part of the device offering during the second quarter. International operators mentioned included Deutsche Telecom, Everything Everywhere, H3G, Orange, Telenor, Telia Sonera, Telefonica and Vodafone.
Pricing was not announced, but it’s expected that at least domestically the “basic” 16 GB model will retail for around $200 with a standard two-year contract. However some analysts seemed to hint that carriers could take advantage of the Galaxy lines increasing consumer awareness and price the S4 at a premium. This could help carriers offset increasing subsidies as well as an expected increase in price of the S4 compared with the S3 model. Macquarie Equities Research said in a note that the S4 could cost carriers up to $600 compared with the approximately $540 they paid for the S3. Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA seemed to be preparing for the S4 launch by cutting the price of the current S3 model by $100.
Competitively, the launch looks to take some steam away from recent moves by rivals. LG made a big splash with device rollouts at the recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, while BlackBerry is set to expand the reach of its Z10 device and Nokia continues to push its Microsoft Windows Phone-powered Lumia line.
Initial reaction to the device was somewhat muted as analysts expressed some reservations as to how the device will impact Samsung going forward.
“The Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor to earlier members of this line, and will doubtless sell well,” noted Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst at Ovum. “But it highlights a couple of the key challenges Samsung faces. Firstly, having innovated rapidly over the last several years to vaunt itself into top spot in the world smartphone rankings, Samsung now faces essentially the same challenge as Apple: how to continue to improve its devices year on year when existing phones are already top of their class, and there aren’t obvious shortcomings? And secondly, how to set Samsung’s devices apart from other devices that share the Android operating system that provides so much of the functionality? As rivals such as HTC and Sony up the specs of their devices and provide ever better hardware, it becomes more and more important for Samsung to differentiate on software and services.”
Dawson added that by including just about every possible technology into the latest device Samsung would make it difficult for rivals to respond. That, combined with Samsung’s seemingly unlimited marketing budget, should help the company continue gaining market share.
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