The Samsung Galaxy S IV will be announced at an event on March 14 in New York. It's so close we can almost feel it in our hands. And thanks to the leaky ship that is the internet, we've got a pretty good idea of what to expect once it's real.
Last year's Galaxy S III wasn't just a great Android phone — it was a blockbuster. Ten months is enough for any device to lose some of its shine, but when it was released, it was the most hotly anticipated Android phone ever made, and it's since moved some 40 million units. The Galaxy S IV is going to need a monster overhaul both inside and out if it wants to play leapfrog again.
Samsung opted out of this week's Mobile World Congress to make its Galaxy IV impression, opting instead to invite the entire known universe to a March 14 blowout announcement all on its own.
After the phone becomes official, expect an on-sale date up to two months later and Europe to get it first. That puts the street date in May or June.
We have no reason to think the new flagship won't be called the Galaxy S IV, though it might lead to a little confusion. The Qualcomm processor in the Galaxy S III is called the Snapdragon S4, Apple's flagship a few years ago was the iPhone 4S, and Google's current Android envoy is the Nexus 4. All those similar names start to blend together, huh? No matter. If Apple can call every big tablet an iPad, Samsung can keep its numerical progression.
The Galaxy S III's polycarbonate plastic body (below) has the distinct advantage that you can drop it a million times without destroying it. However, no matter what colour you paint it, the hardware is intensely ugly compared to the iPhone.
Last year, you could get away with functionality alone, but in 2013 the once-dopey Android market is full of handsome handsets. Notably, the HTC One just shed its plastic shell for a Jony Ive-style block of aluminium.
Information on the Galaxy S IV's design is thin. The just-announced Galaxy Note 8.0 has the same plastic build as the Galaxy S III, so it may make sense that Samsung keeps consistent across the whole product line. Let's hope not though.
If you're into highly unsubstantiated rumours based on photographs of printed pictures, here's how one supposed leaked press image has it:
Here are another batch of supposedly leaked shots that appear to have a 1920x1080 display and a physical home button:
And the same source that released the images was kind enough to put out a video as well.
Then again, plenty of folks are confident that the Galaxy S IV will have a home button. The jury's still out on this one.
Everyone seems to think the Galaxy S IV is going to be bigger than its predecessor. Rumours originally pegged it for a 5-inch, 1920x1080 AMOLED, 440ppi display, compared to the 4.7-inch touchscreen on the Galaxy S III. But more recent reports indicate that Samsung has had to ditch the AMOLED in favour of Full-HD SoLux display.
Screen quality is a core selling point right now, and Samsung must be feeling the pressure from its competitors to increase screen resolution and pixel density. Apple has been unrelentingly touting its "retina" displays, and the new HTC One's 4.7-inch, 1920x1080, 468ppi display puts the 310ppi screen on the Galaxy S III to shame.
As for the bigger display, it's in keeping with Samsung's tendency towards industry-leading size, not to mention that the company has previously indicated plans for a 5-inch Full HD screen in the product roadmaps it flaunts at trade shows.
By now, the Galaxy S III's camera is unacceptably bad by flagship phone standards. Camera performance has become increasingly important, and companies like Nokia — with its excellent PureView processing technology — and HTC — home of the UltraPixel — stealing the limelight from previous leaders.
A few rumours and some supposedly leaked images over at Androsym say that Samsung will outfit the Galaxy S IV with a 13-megapixel camera. That also happens to be the same resolution as Sony's latest 1/3-inch Exmor Rs image sensor. If this is the case, the company will probably roll out some kind of visible (if not necessarily effective) new processing tech.
Even though Samsung doesn't really have a reason to gamble on the Galaxy S IV, the company been investing heavily in imaging technology over the last few years. And last fall that tech started landing in its mobile devices. The Android-enabled Galaxy Camera released late last year was run by the company's mobile team — even though the 24x zoom lens and 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch image sensor was ripped directly from an existing digital imaging product. Otherwise, from its screen to its guts, the Galaxy Camera was basically a Galaxy S III. In other words, Samsung already installed a larger 1/2.3-inch camera on a Galaxy S phone. There's no reason it couldn't ditch the 24x lens that made the Galaxy Camera bulky and put that larger sensor in the Galaxy S IV.
In December, Samsung's digital imaging team told Gizmodo that it was very serious about the potential of products like the Galaxy Camera — and that there would be news on that front "soon". It's reasonable to think that soon is now.
A larger battery — something in the 2600mAh range — seems to be a no-brainer. The 2100mAh battery on the Galaxy S III is painfully inconvenient. Indeed, every large, LTE Android phone is suffering growing pains because these phones just can't make it through the day. A bigger, higher-resolution screen on the GSIV would only exacerbate the issue. Don't expect anything massive like the monster 3300mAh Motorola Droid Razr Maxx's, but an upgrade to a 2300mAh battery — which serves the HTC One well — would be the minimum and realistically it will need something much larger to keep from frustrating the hell out of customers.
Wireless charging has also become more commonplace on new top-end phones; it would be somewhat disappointing if it the new Galaxy S IV didn't have it.
It seems almost a lock that the Galaxy S IV will launch with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean); other Samsung products are already up to speed with the latest and greatest, so the flagship will be as well. Key Lime Pie won't be official until Google I/O in May, and it's likely Google will reserve at launch for its next Nexus device.
It won't be pure Android though, because, well, of course not. Samsung's TouchWiz UI will return to the Galaxy S IV with an update and probably some nifty new features. There's a rumour that Samsung is building an app called "Samsung Orb" to take 360-degree panoramas, which seems at this point like an obvious win.
The Samsung Galaxy S IV may also add touchless gestures. This rumour cropped up in early February and we're only mentioning it because Samsung has already implemented the tech in other products. Samsung SmartTVs, for instance, already have motion cameras that let you control menus on board. Many Samsung cameras also support a few gestures already, including zoom and shutter release. It seems likely enough that you'll see the same on the Galaxy S IV.
Another similar rumour that has been suggested by a number of sources, including the New York Times, is that the Galaxy S IV will have "touchless scrolling". The idea is that the phone will gaze deeply into your eyes so it can tell when you've reached the end of a particular block of text and automatically move down. Bloomberg reports that the eye-scrolling feature might not show up until later iterations of the Galaxy S line, but the Galaxy S IV may have some eye-tracking features, like the ability to pause video when you look away.
As with the Galaxy S III, there will be two versions of the phone for LTE and non-LTE markets. In the US, the 1.7GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 used on the HTC ONE is a good bet because of its integrated LTE.
In international markets without LTE, the current wishful-thinking rumour is that the Galaxy S IV will run the crazy 8-core Exynos 5 Octa chipset that Samsung announced back at CES. That would be way, way more power than processors on other flagship currently on the market. Probably more than the Galaxy S IV needs. Because of that, we might see the less-ambitious Exynos 4 Quad instead.
As for other internals, Samsung probably doesn't need to bump the Galaxy S III's existing specs much. You don't need much more than 2GB of RAM these days. Besides the obvious 32GB and 64GB of storage, there could be 128GB version as well.
Networking, Carriers, Connectivity
The Galaxy S IV probably won't evolve much in this area except for the possible addition of wireless charging. The phone will almost certainly launch on AT&T and Verizon followed later by Sprint, with 4G LTE support across the board. There should be Bluetooth and NFC onboard as well, potentially with some cheeky pairing and sync features. Wi-Fi, duh.