I've been reviewing mobile handsets for a long time, but I really don't care to discuss milliseconds of difference in processing power or download speed or pixels on the screen or clinking two phones together to exchange porn. I'm interested in just two things:
1) Can this handset be integrated into my daily life without me throwing it against a wall at any point?
2) Does this handset make me excited about the future of the technology.
I've used every flavor of phone for long periods of time under extreme conditions. I've never fully gotten behind one OS or hardware maker as the end-all of the ecosystem. If anything, I like Android for their openness and HTC for their hardware design -- as painful as the latter has been over the last 12 months.
Regardless of that fact, I've been called an Apple fanboy and a Samsung fanboy.
In fact, I've watched from the sidelines as the cacophony surrounding the Apple/Google mobile war has reached ridiculous levels. I'll get called an Android/Samsung/Google fanboy for this review, I'm sure of it. I might even get called an Apple fanboy again, as the circumstances are just that wacky.
But that's cool because it's over, and the various fanboys can start screaming about XBox One vs. Playstation 4.
The XBox is far superior and anyone who says differently is an idiot or being paid by Sony.
You get that joke, right?
The Last Shot Has Been FIredThe Samsung Galaxy S4 officially ends the iOS/Android battle with an entry that, hardware and software, completely levels the playing field while providing no major innovation worth more than a cursory mention, which I'll do here:
The waving to scroll and following your eyes thing that the Galaxy S4 does? It's executed pretty roughly and not very useful. I feel like GOB Bluth pulling off bad magic tricks - Ooh, I can read my email summaries with a waaaave of my hand - is this your card?
Also, running two apps at once? This is not a PC, nor should it act like one. I think the last five years of mobile UX design have pretty much hammered that point home.
Anyway, deciding which phone to take home and love is no longer about design, performance, cost, apps, or the future. You like Apple? Get an iPhone 5 or wait for the 5s. You like Android? The Galaxy S4 is a worthy mobile experience, leaving nothing wanting.
That being said, HTC still hasn't sent me a One, which just adds to my frustration with them. It looks awesome, but so did my Incredible 4G (which is what I rock), two Android OS updates ago -- which is pre-Google Now -- which is unforgivable. I've got a separate column coming about HTC, so I'll leave it there.
The Next Innovation Must Be EvolutionaryI also think we've seen the last major innovation in the current round of mobile handset usage.
Apple (here comes the fanboy bait but this is totally true), started this round off and shattered the bar with the original iPhone. The various Android pushers never produced a single killer handset but, through incremental advancements from a number of hardware and software players and some huge, if behind-the-scenes, innovations in the Android OS, kept raising that bar.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 neatly packages all of those incremental advancements, everything you'd expect from a top quality, got-it-right Android phone in one package - but certainly nothing earth-shattering when compared to the S3. I suspect this is what Samsung was aiming for, so kudos. I also suspect the iPhone 5s will do the same for iOS, the smoothed-out version of the iPhone 5 with some minor new bells and whistles.
I mean seriously, what is the iPhone 5s going to do to make an ever-shrinking undecided consumer rush out and have to have it? Is it going to make you money? Or 3D-print dark chocolate? Or do your laundry? Because the current innovation cycle is about tapped out.
My guess? The next innovation in mobile phones will mean you'll very rarely remove them from your pocket.
This also means the mobile wars might be over for Microsoft and Blackberry. Microsoft put out a great handset in the HTC 8x and it got largely ignored. Blackberry, as expected, never got its way-too-little, way-too-late new OS off the ground, failing to push the Q10 and Z10 far enough to stave off disaster.
So I'm calling it here - I just don't think there is any next step in media, social, personalization, payments, etc, that is going to be evolved with a handset. The next massive innovation in mobile is going to be in the watch, which will be less like a watch and more like a band. Either way, it's going to happen on your wrist. Or somewhere on your body. Let's hope it's on your wrist.
The Replacement KillerMy mobile experience is deep. I do everything on a mobile that can be done that isn't silly. I watch video, play games, talk, video chat, text, tweet, shoot and share photos and video, navigate, hunt for local, pay, use coupons and discounts, run, find and listen to music. These things are a part of my life.
So it's very rare that I can completely replace my handset with a demo handset and make that work without frustration or missing something. I tried with a lot of phones, including over a year ago with a 4s (which I bought - Apple never sends me anything, not so much as a charging cable), and it lasted three days.
None of the Android phones made solid replacements either. I just don't conform. I shouldn't have to. The technology should be robust enough at this point.
It was about an hour with the S4 before I felt comfortable porting my life over to it, and beyond some minor gripes with the stock keyboard (it just sucks), the back button being on the right, and the capacitive buttons in general being off a bit, resulting in me clicking ads I didn't mean to click, everything worked as well or better than my every-day handset.
The screen is gorgeous. The speed and the hostpot are blazing, there are no hitches with everyday use. The battery gets me through the day. The camera is on par with the best out there, but certainly no 42-megapixel Nokia (which, by the way, is not the innovation I'm talking about).
Google Now, which is my favorite part of Android at the moment. doesn't necessarily improve with this handset, but as this feature gets smarter, we'll get closer and closer to personalization -- if shit like PRISM doesn't scare everyone away from it first.
Again, that's another column.
Android Grows UpHere's more flame bait. The Galaxy S4 is actually on par with the iPhone 4 (ironic!), in that it glues together all the promises of the Android OS in one handset. It's ubiquity, in that so many people owned the Galaxy S3 that the S4 is the must-have, no-hiccups, streamlined version, with a better screen, better camera, just about better everything.
Even though they exaggerated the performance specs. Oops.
Now look again to the iPhone 5, which was just sort of an upgraded upgrade and a much-needed break from the minute size of the Apple product. It didn't fail, but it didn't soar. The S4 soars, putting a lot of pressure on an S5, which it probably won't live up to.
The real proof we're at the end of the mobile wars is almost anecdotal. I've had several friends switch over from iPhone 5 to the Galaxy S3 or S4, and they're doing so not because they keep hearing how great Android is, but because they keep hearing how great the Galaxy name is.
Samsung has created the closest thing to a true Android brand that Android has ever seen, and in that, the fragmentation is reduced just enough to make it competitive.
How I know it's not totally over? When same said friends posted their defections in social media, the trolls were endless and brutal.
At least now they're totally pointless.