Pass on the Samsung Galaxy S4

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --True to its annual cadence, and to the surprise of nobody, Samsung will introduce the worldwide best-selling flagship smartphone -- the Galaxy S4 -- this Thursday evening in New York City. It is likely to be the finest smartphone hardware the world has ever seen.

And I recommend you skip it.

Yes, the world's best smartphone hardware will be launched, and you should take a pass.

Let me explain.

Let's first establish that as Samsung's most extreme fanboy, I love Samsung. I have more Samsung devices than I can count, from Chromebooks to tablets and smartphones. In fact, the best smartphone ever -- relative to its time -- remains the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, in my opinion. I use it right now because it's the best.

The reason you should skip the Samsung Galaxy S4 is this: You need to keep the focus on what really matters in terms of selecting a smartphone -- software -- and not the commodity side of the equation -- the hardware.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 will launch with an operating system no higher than Android 4.2. On top of Android 4.2, Samsung has molested this software with its own "special sauce" called "TouchWiz," often referred to as a "skin." Actually, it's a little more than the word "skin" implies (simple cosmetics), but I'll get into that later.

The problem is that this "special sauce" is not like hot fudge on your vanilla ice cream. It's more like ketchup on your vanilla ice cream. It subtracts from Android attractiveness rather than adds to it in a positive way.

The problem with this ketchup on your vanilla ice cream is two-fold:

1. The experience on Day 1: The experience on Day 1 is at least somewhat debatable. The reason Samsung is bothering to employ hundreds -- perhaps thousands? -- of software engineers to create a flavor of ketchup it believes will improve your vanilla ice cream is because the company actually believes it improves the taste.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether this merits all this duplicative labor to molest the otherwise unvarnished look and feel of Android. Samsung would argue that it looks better, and that it adds and changes some functionality so that your Android smartphone becomes easier and better to use.

We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. You have to make up your own mind as an educated consumer. Take a look at the software on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (made from November 2011 to October 2012) and compare it with this new Galaxy S4 and chances are you will strongly prefer the Nexus version.

2. The experience down the road: This is the key part of the argument. You don't own your smartphone for a week or a month. You will own it for probably at least two years. It's a computer, and it needs new software to stay fresh and relevant with the rapidly evolving capabilities.

If your Android smartphone isn't a GSM unlocked Nexus, your software upgrades will arrive with the speed of a government bureaucrat returning from vacation: Reluctantly, some time in the nondescript future, if at all.

If history is any guide, Google ( GOOG) will unveil the next version of Android on May 15. Odds are that it will be called Android 5.0, aka "Key Lime Pie."

Let's assume that you buy your Samsung Galaxy S4 when it becomes available in the weeks after this Thursday's launch, shortly before May 15. Now you have Android 4.2, albeit in a molested version. When will you get Android 5.0, which Google will unveil on May 15?

I can see the Samsung press release already: "We are working hard to upgrade our software to Android 5.0, and expect an upgrade to become available in the coming months."

Nice. "In the coming months." That's like living in Novosibirsk in 1977 and finding out that you have cancer, your Soviet doctor telling you that treatment will be available "in the coming years."

Eventually, though, the Galaxy S4 will get Android 5.0. If you have the patience to wait for this glorious moment in time, you will be caught up -- except you will still have to deal with a molested version of Android then, too.

However, the goal posts will keep moving. After Android 5.0, Google will follow swiftly with 5.0.1, 5.0.2, 5.1, 5.1.1, 5.2 and so forth -- probably before 2013 is over. When will Samsung Galaxy S4 get any of those software updates? Who knows? Will the Soviet doctor deliver in time for you to still care?

Then, some time in 2014, Android 6.0 will be introduced. Will the Samsung Galaxy S4 get it at all? What's Samsung's motivation to prioritize it?

The point here is that there is a better way.

A year ago that better way was called Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It continues to run the very newest Android software still to this day, and you get these updates right away, faster than anyone else.

Almost 18 months after its initial release, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be running the same Android version that the two generations newer Galaxy S4 will be running from Day 1. That's what you want from your smartphone, and that's what the Samsung Galaxy Nexus gave you and still gives you today.

So what should you do?

If the Galaxy S4 isn't the answer, how do you proceed? The answer is this: Wait until May 15 and see what Google announces in terms of a new Google smartphone that will run Android 5.0 straight out of the box.

Such a new Google smartphone could be made by Samsung itself, Motorola, LG or someone else. Perhaps there will be several. Who cares? It doesn't really matter who makes it.

Your other alternative is to pick up a used Samsung Galaxy Nexus on eBay ( EBAY), possibly for $100 or less, and no contract required! If you can't find one, and if you want something that will for sure be upgradeable to Android 5.0 quickly, pay $349 and get an LG Nexus 4 directly from Google at

Lesson learned: Software trumps hardware

The hardware differences between all of today's top-tier smartphones are relatively minimal. They all get their latest chips from Qualcomm ( QCOM), they all have screens of similar resolutions, and so forth. Does it really matter if that screen is 4.8 inches or 5.0 inches?

The game has moved from hardware to services. To get those services, you have to have the latest software. To get the latest software, your device must upgrade right now, not six or 12 months after the fact. This is why your Android should be a Nexus.

As I described in an article last week, Google may be broadening its Nexus strategy to Motorola and its own in-house skunk-works department. These devices may run Nexus software but not be called Nexus, just to keep people calm, avoiding in-your-face competition and conflict.

Whatever they will be called -- Nexus and/or otherwise -- those are the devices you should buy, the ones that ship with Android 5.0 right out of the box, already in May, and will be getting the software upgrades to 5.1, 6.0, etc., right away -- not many months after.

So do yourself a favor and take a pass on that Samsung Galaxy S4.

At the time of publication the author was long GOOG, AAPL and QCOM.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.