Samsung Galaxy S4 Review: What it Means for Healthcare and mHealth

3-18-2013 1-51-17 AM

Last week Samsung descended on Radio City Music Hall and held the unveiling of its new Galaxy S4 smartphone. Attendees described the event as “spectacular,” “unprecedented,” and a “magical night” as Samsung paid Broadway actors to play out scenes using the new phone for two hours.

The event further substantiates the recent trend of marketing departments making product launches more about the launch event than about the actual new product. Gone are the days of Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck letting his unyielding excitement for his company’s new device steal the show.

Still, with the launch Samsung introduced what is unquestionably the most powerful smartphone on the market and, unlike Apple’s unveil of iPhone 5, Samsung introduced groundbreaking new features as well.

Blurring the Line Between Smartphone and Tablet

With the Galaxy S4, Samsung continues to blur the line between tablets and smartphones, as smartphones across brands are getting bigger and tablets across brands are getting smaller. 2013 has been hailed as the year of the big smartphone, and Samsung equipped the S4 with a five-inch screen, the largest smartphone from a major manufacturer yet, an inch larger than that of the iPhone 5.

On the other end of the spectrum, Apple trimmed almost two inches off the iPad in making the iPad mini, which at 7.9 inches has received broad market appeal and is outselling its bigger brother to the point that tech writers are speculating that it may be the demise of iPad 4 designs altogether.

Clearly the market is pushing for a device somewhere between smartphones and tablets, and Samsung shows an acute awareness of that trend and aims to please with the Galaxy S4, compelling consumers for the first time to consider what they want in a tablet as opposed to a smartphone, and whether a single device could serve dual purposes.

Will this be the first smartphone to compete head on with tablet sales? It could be, but if it’s not, that day will come soon enough.


Samsung matches hardware heavyweights like the HTC One pound-for-pound and punch-for-punch, and absolutely blows Apple’s iPhone 5 away in the hardware department. It includes:

  • 1.9 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor (vs iPhone 5’s dual core 1Ghz A6 processor)
  • 13-megapixel rear facing camera (vs iPhone 5’s 8.3-megapixel)
  • 2 megapixel front facing camera (vs iPhone 5’s 1.2 megapixel)
  • 2GB of RAM (vs iPhone 5’s 1GB of RAM)
  • 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of memory options

While it is certainly true that most consumers do not select a smartphone based on hardware, healthcare consumers tend to be both more demanding and more pressed for time. In this light, the Galaxy S4 is going to deliver a faster user experience than any phone on the market, including the iPhone 5. Will speed be enough to lure folks out of the Apple ecosystem? That depends entirely on whether the bells and whistles it comes with can justify learning an entirely new operating system.


Airview is what every EMR vendor needs to deliver but doesn’t, the ability to hover over an item on the screen and get an immediate pop-up style view of the screen behind it. Rather than opening an e-mail, simply hover to get a view of the message contents while staying on one primary screen. Rather than opening the details of a calendar event, hover over the event to expose the details.  It is being called a “frictionless way to navigate data-heavy apps.” It is a game changer in the way we have approached navigation and has direct implications in the data-heavy world we live in in healthcare.

Hands Free Everything

Galaxy S4 is the first smartphone to hit the market with gesture control. Dubbed Air Gesture, manufacturers advertise that you can now use sweeping air gestures to control the the phone without having to even touch it. Though most touch-free innovations have obvious benefits in a healthcare setting, one scenario where this may help is simply when using the phone after putting on latex gloves. Because hand gestures can be used to navigate menus, open apps, scroll through documents or messages, or pull down the notifications panel, latex gloves become less problematic when it comes to interacting with the phone.

Best-of-Breed Camera, and Why It Matters

The camera on the Galaxy S4 delivers an unprecedented 13 megapixels as compared to iPhone 5’s 8 megapixels. This is enough to rival most standard point and click digital cameras and will be ample for routine care needs like capturing wound care images for clinical documentation. But this is mHealth, and we can push the envelope a little further than that.

With health startups tackling melanoma detection or heart rate monitoring with apps that leverage the smartphone camera, the value of data within these images has already been demonstrated. Significantly increasing resolution allows user to capture closer and more detailed images. That image and the data stored within it represent future health innovations that developers can one day leverage to deliver increasingly powerful mHealth apps.

S-Health, the On Board Fitness Tracker, and More

The Galaxy S4 comes with an internal sensor that allows it to act as a pedometer, tracking the number of steps walked or run throughout the day. Though not as sophisticated as the offerings of Jawbone’s Up or Fitbit, the Galaxy S4 brings entry-level activity tracking to the masses, which can only be a good thing for healthcare.

The device is also capable of capturing and storing ambient temperature and humidity. Through Bluetooth, the app will accept and track metrics from a variety third-party cardiac monitors and glucose meters.

Add to this a diet tracking feature that allows for calorie counting, backed by a database of common food items, and the full scope of S-Health app comes into view. All of this data is combined and displayed in a longitudinal tracking dashboard of the user’s overall health and wellness.

Accessories Optimized for Healthcare

Recognizing that a pedometer is only useful when it is with you, Samsung has extended the capacity of the S-Health app to include integration with the new “S-Band,” a pedometer bracelet that will track your steps when you are not carrying your phone.

The activity tracker market is already crowded, but has consistently had problems growing beyond a core user base of fitness and quantified self enthusiasts. If priced right, an activity tracker that works seamlessly with a core app that users are already familiar with may be the baby step that the general public needs to start to move toward a more measured health experience.

As reported here earlier last month, the medical device department of Samsung has complemented the release of the Galaxy S4 with its own release of a wireless scale and heart rate monitor that will push data directly to the S-Health dashboard.

Overall Impression

Apple faltered with the iPhone 5, as it never regained its momentum after the terrible reaction consumers had to its Apple Maps. However, no competitor has delivered a product to market strong enough to capitalize on that moment of weakness until now. For the first time since the launch of the iPhone, the situation in the smartphone market is balanced in just such a way that this may in fact be the long speculated iPhone killer.

The Galaxy S4 delivers the wow factor with innovative first-to-market features like Air Gesture and Airview. It brought more hardware to the fight and packed it into a form factor that shows a heightened awareness of where the market is heading. It added sensors that are unavailable elsewhere, and will undoubtedly attract countless app developers excited to see what they can do with the new tools and data.

The phone will also likely be the most important device contribution to mobile health this year. Samsung valued health and wellness with the Galaxy S4 in a way that no other vendor has dared to do, putting it on a pedestal as a cornerstone of its core operating system and aligning its other business units to build accessories that will support the effort.

Overall, whether this phone turns out to be the iPhone killer depends on whether consumers are willing to leave an ecosystem they are familiar with in favor of something that offers new features and enhanced workflows, which only time will answer.

Ultimately, whether the Galaxy S4 outsells the iPhone is an exciting side story, but it’s not important. What is important is what Samsung has established with this launch that health and wellness is a key strategic aspect in the future of mobile. That is something that we can all be excited about.

  • SiMBa37

    “Apple faltered with the iPhone 5”

    I think you need to get your facts straight. As of this writing, the iPhone 5 is the best selling smartphone. You know what is the 2nd best? The iPhone 4S.

    Apple collects 70% of all profit from smartphones in the industry. Samsung may have marketshare (they do not release sales numbers), but collect 22% of industry profits from smartphones. Keep in mind that Samsung’s marketing budget outshines everyone, including Apple.

    So just explain, how Apple has faltered?

  • stevemc

    As a daily user of both iOS and Android, the point here is not the horse race between the two platforms, but that one of the leading vendors has decided not only to bake mHealth features into their device, but also to promote it as a key feature to consumers. The previous Galaxy S III has sold 40 million handsets, and the Galaxy S IV will also likely sell in the tens of millions of units. Maybe only a fraction of consumers will use these features, but in the rivalry of smartphone vendors, features added by one leader tend to be adopted — extended, even — by other vendors.

    This is yet another sign that 2013 will be the year mHealth hits the mainstream. As more sensors, and software to leverage the sensors, come to mainstream devices this should be a year of interesting innovation.

    I can easily imagine a feature like Google Now — which Google is said to be bringing iOS as well as Android this year, could be another piece of this puzzle. Google Now looks at patterns in the users’ data and device use and then can create anticipatory alerts or provide relevant information. Today this takes the form of using GPS for recognizing daily commute routes and then providing traffic alerts, or providing flight info based on a combination of email ticket confirmations and GPS info as you approach the airport. With embedded mHealth sensor information and plans/goals/targets for the individual, technology such as Google now could help to turn sensor data and health plans into a dialog with the user about daily progress or alerts in the event of problems.

  • The S4 definetly creates new opportunities in healthcare, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it will really change the game. The hardware specs mean absolutely nothing. Performance today is far more about software and integration than it is pure hardware performance. The iPhone 5 delivers the best foreground performance, bar none. I’m sure the S4 will give the iPhone 5 a run for its money, but it won’t be noticeably faster for the vast majority foreground operations. Android is inherently much more prone to lagging than iOs is.

    Although new features like AirView could be useful, most users won’t remember to use it correctly. There has never been any point in human computer interaction (HCI) history in which humans have been instructed NOT to touch the device they’re interacting with. Some users will definitely make use of this feature, but my guess is that most will find it annoying and turn it off because it functions backwards to what humans have been trained to do for the past 30 years. Some users will love the function and use it well, most won’t.

    It’s nice that Samsung is catering towards the mHealth market, but I don’t think they will really do much of anything to make a dent. Like Apple, Samsung is a consumer electronics company, and they’re marketing the phone as such. The best thing that can happen for mHealth to really take off for consumers is for doctors to start using something like Happtique to prescribe patients apps. Patients may listen to their doctors about healthcare. They probably won’t listen to Samsung.

  • Sanjay Negi

    Wow new feature in Samsung Galaxy S4, good for users now they can easily monitor their health. S4 can change the game of smartphone industry.

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