The hovering feature also sets the phone up for another problem. In my testing, I found that the phone sometimes registered a close hover as a touch. In other words, the screen was overly sensitive, thinking I was touching it when I wasn't. This may be fixed by the time the phone is in production, but it's potentially an annoying issue.
The S 4 tries to divine your intentions in two additional ways. It has an infra-red sensor that looks for hand movements up to about 4 inches away from the phone, and it uses the front-side camera to figure out if it's front of the user's face. Thanks to the IR sensor, the phone's browser responds to an "up swipe" in the air above it with by scrolling up, and to a "side" swipe by jumping to another tab. This could be pretty useful when the smartphone is the lunchtime companion and you don't want to grease it up with foody fingers, but again, the "air swipe to scroll" shows up in only a few applications.
The camera is supposed to engage when you're watching a video, pausing playback if it thinks you're looking away. This didn't work in the preproduction unit I tested, but it's hard to imagine that this is a feature to die for.
The list of user interface innovations goes on, but they don't amount to a coherent new way of interacting with the phone. Nor do they turn the phone into something that's intelligently aware of what goes on around it. It's more like Samsung is throwing a bunch of technologies into the phone to see what sticks. Sometimes, that's how progress works, but consumers might not appreciate being guinea pigs.The S 4 presents an interesting contrast to the BlackBerry Z10, which is coming out in a few weeks. Research In Motion Ltd. jettisoned the old BlackBerry software and rebuilt it from the ground up. The phone's hardware isn't as impressive as Samsung's, but the software is easy to use, and it's based on a strong idea: taking the pain out of communicating across email, text messaging and social networks. The S 4, unfortunately, doesn't have the same clarity of purpose.