Pass on the Samsung Galaxy S4

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --True to its annual cadence, and to the surprise of nobody, Samsungwill introduce the worldwide best-selling flagship smartphone -- theGalaxy S4 -- this Thursday evening in New York City. It is likely tobe 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 youshould take a pass.

Let me explain.

Let's first establish that as Samsung's most extreme fanboy, I loveSamsung. I have more Samsung devices than I can count, fromChromebooks to tablets and smartphones. In fact, the best smartphoneever -- relative to its time -- remains the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, inmy opinion. I use it right now because it's the best.

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

The Samsung Galaxy S4 will launch with an operating system no higherthan Android 4.2. On top of Android 4.2, Samsung has molested thissoftware with its own "special sauce" called "TouchWiz," oftenreferred 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 yourvanilla ice cream. It's more like ketchup on your vanilla ice cream.It subtracts from Android attractiveness rather than adds to it in a positiveway.

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 reasonSamsung is bothering to employ hundreds -- perhaps thousands? -- ofsoftware engineers to create a flavor of ketchup it believeswill improve your vanilla ice cream is because the company actually believesit improves the taste.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether this merits all thisduplicative labor to molest the otherwise unvarnished look and feel ofAndroid. Samsung would argue that it looks better, and that it addsand changes some functionality so that your Android smartphone becomeseasier and better to use.

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

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

If your Androidsmartphone isn't a GSM unlocked Nexus, your software upgrades willarrive with the speed of a government bureaucrat returning fromvacation: Reluctantly, some time in the nondescript future, if at all.

If history is any guide, Google ( GOOG) will unveil the next version ofAndroid 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 becomesavailable in the weeks after this Thursday's launch, shortly beforeMay 15. Now you have Android 4.2, albeit in a molested version. Whenwill you get Android 5.0, which Google will unveil on May 15?

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

Nice. "In the coming months." That's like living in Novosibirsk in1977 and finding out that you have cancer, your Soviet doctor tellingyou that treatment will be available "in the coming years."

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

However, the goal posts will keep moving. After Android 5.0, Googlewill 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 ofthose software updates? Who knows? Will the Soviet doctor deliver intime for you to still care?

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

The point here is that there is a better way.

A year ago that betterway was called Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It continues to run the verynewest Android software still to this day, and you get these updatesright away, faster than anyone else.

Almost 18 months after itsinitial release, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be running the sameAndroid version that the two generations newer Galaxy S4 will berunning from Day 1. That's what you want from your smartphone, andthat's what the Samsung Galaxy Nexus gave you and still gives youtoday.

So what should you do?

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

Such a new Google smartphone could be made by Samsung itself, Motorola, LG or someone else. Perhaps there will be several. Whocares? 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 youcan't find one, and if you want something that will for sure beupgradeable to Android 5.0 quickly, pay $349 and get an LG Nexus 4directly from Google at

Lesson learned: Software trumps hardware

The hardware differences between all of today's top-tier smartphonesare 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 thoseservices, you have to have the latest software. To get the latestsoftware, your device must upgrade right now, not six or 12 months afterthe 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 itsown in-house skunk-works department. These devices may run Nexussoftware but not be called Nexus, just to keep people calm, avoidingin-your-face competition and conflict.

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

Sodo 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.

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