While the demand for Samsung’s next phone has outpaced supply, those who’ve managed to get their hands on the new Galaxy S4 – from $200 on a 2-year plan -- already know about its attractive 5-inch screen, smart cameras and much-hyped S Health feature that allows you to track your workouts, calorie intake and weight levels.
But there’s a lot more to the device. In fact, I’ve been quite impressed with the smartphone’s little-known features that haven’t received a lot of coverage in the press.
After playing around with the phone for more than a week, the following are a half-dozen cool technologies you probably didn’t know the Galaxy S4 was capable of -- and how to enable them.
Read with head tracking
Leading up to the Galaxy S4 unveiling in March, a rumor predicted you’ll be able to use your eyes to scroll up and down content on a website thanks to a sensor on the front of the phone. Then, at the launch event, it was announced you can tilt instead of swipe the device to move words around – but no word on the eyes feature.
Well, it turns out you can in fact tilt your head – instead of the device – to scroll up and down a long website, hands-free. It's not based on your eye movement, but close enough; the sensor knows when you’re slightly nodding up or down and the content will flow in that direction. I’ve blown away some people by demonstrating this feature, which is activated in the Settings tab by tapping on “Smart Scroll.”
You can imagine this feature would also be ideal for those with physical challenges, perhaps with limited arm, hand or finger dexterity.
Waving for info
On a related note, the Galaxy S 4 uses a new infrared sensor to detect gestures near the phone -- without touching the screen. Turn it on or off by swiping down from the top of the phone (start at the Samsung logo) and tapping the “Air Gesture” icon represented by a waving hand. Green means it’s on, grey is off.
Now you can press and hold the icon to open up specific Air Gesture features, such as if you want to answer the phone by waving your hand in front of the screen. Or flip through photos or music tracks by swiping left or right. The same action can advance through web pages if multiple sites are open as browser tabs.
My favorite feature isn’t commonly known: Enabling “Quick Glance” under the Air Gesture tab allows you to wave over the top of your sleeping phone (say, on a table) and you’ll immediately see the time, text and phone message info, battery power, and more.
Wireless mirroring with a TV
While the Galaxy S4’s 5-inch screen is great for consuming content, your TV is likely ten times larger. So here’s how to wirelessly play content from your phone to your television:
On your S4, swipe down from the top of the screen (over the Samsung logo) and it’ll open your phone’s Settings. Tap “Screen Mirroring” and it’ll look for compatible devices, such as most 2013 Samsung Smart TVs and many new Samsung Blu-ray players. There’s also an aftermarket dongle that plugs into any TV’s HDMI port.
On the Samsung televisions, toggle between the input settings until you see “Screen Mirroring.” The two devices will pair within a couple of seconds. Now, whatever you access on your smartphone – photos, videos, music, notes or websites – it’ll show on the TV screen, wirelessly.
I just tried this and it worked like a charm. Once you sync once, it'll automatically connect going forward whenever you toggle to the Screen Mirroring input on your television.
You can also pair your S4 with DLNA-compatible TVs to push media there, such as photos and videos. Under the “Connections” tab on your phone, select “Nearby devices” to share your media via DLNA.
Two fingers are better than one
This one is pretty simple, but a real time saver.
Most Android users know you can swipe down from the top of the phone (start over the Samsung logo) to open up the Settings at the top of the screen, so you can toggle things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and so on.
But there are so many icons accessible on the Galaxy S4 – 20, in fact – you’ll need to swipe across, horizontally, to find what you need.
There is a faster way, but it only works on the Galaxy S4 at this point. Instead of swiping down with one finger from the top of the screen to open up the Settings, use two fingers and it’ll show all 20 icons for you (a grid of 5 x 4 icons) instead of having to scroll left or right to find and tap the one you want.
Peek using air gestures
One of the more advanced features of the Galaxy S4 is the ability to access content without even touching the screen – similar to what you can do with the S Pen on the new Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet.
With the phone, swipe down from the top of the screen and tap “Air View.” With this activated you can hover your finger over the screen when inside various apps to see additional information.
For example, place your finger over the screen in Flipboard and you’ll see headlines for each section (e.g. News, Technology, etc.). Or place your finger over a list of emails in your inbox to read a brief preview of what’s inside. Or hover over a photo gallery folder and you’ll see thumbnails of what’s inside.
One of my favorites is a web magnifier: place your finger over the text on a website to enlarge the words in that particular spot.
To access the various options within the Air View settings, press and hold the icon and you’ll see a few features you can enable or disable.
Speech-to-text and text-to-speech
You’ve probably heard about this one, but here I’ll explain how to activate and use it.
With a fingertip, swipe down from the top of the smartphone (start over the Samsung logo) and in the pull-down options, tap “Driving Mode” to enable it. The icon will turn green.
You can have S Voice Drive turn on automatically when paired with your car’s Bluetooth system – so you won’t need to turn it on manually. Select this option if you like.
Still in the “Driving Mode” options, you can tap to hear notifications read aloud, such as incoming calls (reads out caller’s name), text messages, how many new emails are waiting for you, alarms and scheduling info, and more. Check off the desired options. Too bad the phone can’t read your emails to you, but there are apps for that.
When you get a new text message, your phone will tell you who it’s from and you can say “Read Out” to hear the message. Now you can say “Read,” “Reply” or “Cancel.”
To perform a function using your voice, double-tap the Home button, say “Hi Galaxy” and say one of the key words to start: “Call,” “Text,” “Navigate,” “Play” or “Weather.”