Samsung, Meet Icarus: Galaxy S4 Features Aim High, Risk Melting Waxy Disappointment

You remember Icarus, right? Greek boy with wax wings takes errant flight path, meets watery death. A classic metaphor for reach exceeding your grasp.

Samsung: Meet Icarus

Samsung threw so much at us during the keynote launch of its flagship Galaxy S4 that it's difficult to unpack all of it. 

Samsung is big on naming things. Every new function or feature in the Galaxy S4 comes with a snazzy title and, undoubtedly, a huge marketing campaign for convincing us how remarkable it is. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S4 is not exactly reinventing the smartphone. 

Samsung may need to brace itself for some blowback, given its over-the-top approach. There's something to be said for understatement, as Apple so frequently demonstrates and as Google has done with its Nexus series. Samsung wants to be everything to everybody. It's a fool’s errand. Keep trying and ultimately you become the fool.

So what are some of these mind-blowing features that you're going to hear so very much about? Let’s take a closer look.

(See also: Samsung Galaxy S4 First Impressions: Beautiful But Bloated)

Dual Camera: A feature that allows you to use both the front and back cameras of the Galaxy S4 at the same time. Also allows for Dual Video Call where you can show people what you are looking at during a video call with the front facing camera.

  • Takeaway: OK Samsung, you got me here. This is a cool and innovative use of the dual-camera concept... that was introduced a couple of years ago with FaceTime on the iPhone. This basically taking FaceTime and stretching it to the extreme. 

Drama Shot, Sound & Shot And Story Album: Samsung is stretching out its camera functions. Drama shot allows you to see all the action in a photo in one continuous loop while Sound & Shoot allows you to capture the sound and voice happening during the photograph. Story Album organizes your photos by metadata — time, geo-tag, people etc. specific to that event. 

  • Takeaway: None of this is really groundbreaking, as companies like HTC, Apple, BlackBerry and Nokia all have very similar features. Sound & Shoot is creative but, ultimately, probably not terribly useful.

Group Play & Share Music: Allows users to share music, photos, documents and games with people around them (at least those also toting Samsung devices) without a data connection. Share Music allows users to play the same song on multiple phones, basically creating multiple mobile speakers.

  • Takeaway: Group Play and Share Music are basically extensions of previous Samsung features that allowed users to share photos with other Samsung users. Samsung has turned this to other types of media and music.

S Translator: Instant translation using voice or text for apps like email, text message and ChatOn (a feature in Dual Video Call that allows you to share your screen).

  • Takeaway: Google already has a fairly robust translator in Android. Samsung’s own translator will only be a great feature if it cooperates with Google’s apps like Gmail, Talk and Voice. If not, it's just another redundant Samsung app.

Smart Pause & Smart Scroll: Pause enables the users to control the screen by where they look. For instance, if you're watching a video, the phone will pause it if you look away. Smart Scroll allows you to scroll up and down emails or a browser without touching the screen.

  • Takeaway: We didn't get a lot of hands on time with the Galaxy S4, so it is hard to say if this is cool or annoying. It will definitely be a different type of experience. Hopefully Samsung gives users the option to toggle it on and off.

Air Gesture & Air View: Gesture allows a user to interact with the screen without actually touching the screen. Just hover your finger over the screen and swipe between apps or pages. View lets you preview an app, email or page by hovering your finger over it.

  • Takeaway: If you have ever played with the Galaxy Note II and its S Pen, you are well aware of the Air features. Functional and useful at times but perhaps superfluous features.

WatchOn: Allows you to control your various home utilities (TV, DVD player) by turning your Galaxy S4 into a remote.

  • Takeaway: So, Samsung basically just put infrared into the Galaxy S4 and turned it into a remote. Just like a universal TV remote. Hey, why the hell not.

Tired Yet?

The primary problem with Samsung’s last two flagship smartphones is that it was very easy to get lost in all of the various features that Samsung threw at us. Add in Android apps that do basically the same thing and your phone can start getting confusing very quickly. 

The same principal applies to the Galaxy S4 as to the Galaxy S3 when we reviewed it last year: more is not always better. Sometimes more is just more. Taken individually, each of these functions is fine and good. Some are more impressive than others, but none (outside of Smart Scroll, perhaps) are really groundbreaking. 

More is what Samsung does, and generally speaking, it does more very well. If that's the type of experience you're looking for in a smartphone, you'll probably love the Samsung Galaxy S4. If you want something simpler but still powerful, the HTC One or an iPhone 5 may be the way to go.