Why did the Galaxy S4 falter and what does the Galaxy S5 need to reignite the love?

February 21, 2014
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In this Friday Debate, we look back at one of the biggest Android devices from 2013 and to its successor, due to make its debut on Monday. Although highly anticipated and predicted to break sales record, the Galaxy S4 was received with less enthusiasm that the S3 and the S2 before it. It wasn’t a failure by any means, but that lack of excitement turned into missed sales targets for Samsung. It’s safe to say that the Galaxy S4 was a disappointment.

Now Samsung wants to go back to basics for the Galaxy S5. Will it succeed in rebooting the franchise or will the S5 lack the spark again? What does the Galaxy S5 need to have in order to be a huge success?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments!

Robert Triggs

My biggest complaint with the Galaxy S4 was the attention spent on more trivial details, rather than focusing on what consumers would really make use of. S Health, Smart Pause, and Group Play were all neat little touches, but most people wouldn’t take a trip to the store for them.

Don’t misunderstand me, the Galaxy S4 was a good handset for both hardware and software, the problem was all in the message.

Samsung’s previous handsets were really pushing Android hardware and software ahead, the Galaxy S2 and S3 were really great smartphones for a number of reasons. In fact, the entire operating system was playing catch-up to Apple a few years ago, but now you could certainly argue that Android is out in front.

Other manufacturers, by comparison, have had a much better time selling their wares based on features that interest a lot of consumers. Sony’s waterproofing is obviously useful, HTC’s focus on superior sound quality strikes a chord with a lot of consumers, and with LG squeezing in top of the line specs at much cheaper prices, you can begin to see where enthusiasm for Samsung started to wane.

Remedying the situation is simple, Samsung just needs to go back to basics and offer consumers something that they’ll find immediately useful. Superior camera quality (ISOCELL?), qHD screens, waterproofing, improved audio DACs and functionality, are all features that will grab the consumers attention, rather than small software additions and tweaks that people may or may not use. Android software is in a good place right now, and whilst a new Touchwiz will be nice, a superior piece of hardware is what I’d really like to see.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the Galaxy S5, Samsung made it clear that it’s going backs to basics, and that’s exactly what the company needs to do.

Andrew Grush

While there was a lot to love about the Galaxy S4, in many ways it simply felt like a minor evolution to the Galaxy S3, not a massive leap forward. Sure, it had excellent specs and some cool new software tricks, but it touted the same design and really didn’t really have the same WOW factor that the GS3 had when it debuted.

Thankfully, the rumor mill already makes it pretty clear that Samsung is getting ready to rectify some of the mistakes that some folks feel the Korean giant made when introducing the GS4.

Not only is the GS5 expected to change the look and feel of the Galaxy S (likely with aesthetics similar to the Note 3), but we’ve also heard reports that suggest Samsung is going to put a lot of focus into the camera with a 16MP shooter that may have redesigned flash and could even ISOCELL technology. There’s also the promise of a fingerprint scanner and the possibility of a QHD variant.

If Samsung can deliver on the promises that we’ve heard from the rumor mill, the Galaxy S5 could bring the excitement that the Galaxy S4 arguably lacked. Bottom-line, they need to find a way to make the GS5 really stand out, without relying on software gimmicks to do it.

Although we still can’t say with any certainty what the Galaxy S5 will bring to the table, like Robert, I’m cautiously optimistic about the S4’s successor and believe that Samsung is intent on delivering a handset truly worth of the Galaxy S name.

Adam Koueider

The Galaxy S4 was sort of a two sided story. On the one hand, almost every spec was improved, and on the other, there was the remarkably similar design. Samsung isn’t the only one to have continued a design language for two years, but unlike Apple, Sony and (possibly) HTC, the design was one of the faults against the Galaxy S3 and hence the S4. When you pick up an S3 and an S4, neither of them gripped you as a flagship smartphone. It didn’t help that every Samsung phone, from the $100 budget phones, right up to the Galaxy S4, all looked more or less identical.

There’s also the features, which most people simply didn’t use. Sure, Samsung sold a boatload of Galaxy S4s, and it’s probably the biggest selling Android smartphone, but it wasn’t the all conquering beast that the S3 was.

So how can Samsung get back on top? The Design from top to bottom needs a refresh. I’ll be a little disappointed if Samsung just uses the Note 3’s design, but one thing’s certain, Touchwiz needs a revamp. Samsung should be focusing on 4-5 features which work well (Read: perfectly) and which will actually improve the customer’s experience with the device.
Samsung knew that it couldn’t afford to become lax, and it did a little with the S4. I’m sure that Samsung has something big up its sleeve which will make all of those people at the end of their Galaxy S3 and Note 2 contracts jump at.

Jonathan Feist

I would hate to chalk it up to simple factors like economics, human bloodlust and the faults of others, but the Galaxy S2 and S3 came to market at a time of stagnation of other manufacturers. The iPhone line was, at that time, experiencing exactly what Samsung is now, a plateau in design and abilities. S2 and S3 captured many users that were simply bored with their Apple product or that recognized the need to get off of the sinking Blackberry ship.

The Galaxy S4, one might argue, did not face any competition on the ‘premium’ level, except its own predecessors. With a large part of marketing for the earlier devices focused on human bloodlust, “we’re better than …” S4 marketing was a shift to “this is what we do…” I believe that, for the most part, users don’t want to hear what they can do, they already know what they want out of a device, and are already doing it on the S3.

Shifting back to economics, Galaxy S3 users are on the tail end of the all too popular 2-3 year contracts. Matched with new inexpensive competition like the Nexus 5 and Moto X, there was a serious financial barrier to the S4. However, with S3 users’ contracts ending, I believe the S5 will see many sales strictly from the lifecycle that those contracts created, regardless what the device looks like and is capable of doing.

Samsung got what it wanted and has established itself as a household name. Household names rarely rock the boat, they just chug along trying not to screw it up. The innovation and excitement comes from new players that have nothing to lose – Samsung was there, but if they do not capture that feeling again, users will be busy looking at the other shiny new toys on the market.

What do YOU think?

Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.

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