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Sensors in the Samsung Galaxy S4 – review 2013

I love my new Samsung Galaxy S4. I do. The screen doesn’t make the phone as big as I feared it would, in fact, it’s hardly bigger than an SII. And that new screen is so crisp it makes e-reading a delight.

Recently however, I found out that this phone is absolutely saturated with sensors: a proximity sensor, geomagnetic, temperature, accelometer, barometer, humidity and of course the camera (we’re so used to that, that we won’t be reviewing it here – though the camera is one of the best on the market).

In short: most of the movement sensors aren’t all that useful. The ability for the phone to act as a weather measuring instrument is fun. The sensitive screen is great: it finally allows for scrolling with your nails! However, I tested it with my glove and that didn’t work, despite the advertisements. Two layers of handkerchief were the most covering my hand could have for the phone to still respond to the touch.

When I first used my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, I found I was constantly making it do things without meaning to. How come? Well, I think it was the movement sensors that Samsung built into this phone. After all, I had turned the ‘S-features’ all turned on. samsung galaxy s4 settings menu

That is: Smart scroll, Air View, Air Gesture and Smart Pause. What each of these does is look at what is happening around the phone to determine what to do. If you set up air gestures for instance, simply waving over the phone may move your gallery view to the next picture. Smart pause is supposed to stop a video if you look the other way. The idea behind Smart Scroll is that the phone will scroll down the webpage you’re looking at when your eyes are looking at the bottom.

Aside from the battery drain all these features produce – they will be checking for waving hands and moving eyes continually when turned on – I really don’t want my phone to do things on it’s own. That is: I am jittery enough to wave over the screen talking about a picture I’m showing someone. If that wave MOVES the picture it would be counter productive. It’s WAY safer for the phone to wait till I actually touch it to start doing something.

In short: those sensors could have stayed off the phone, if it had been my choice.

However, there’s another set of sensors that has the geek in me all exited. I can’t wait to tell my dad there’s an actual working compass on my phone.

samsung galaxy s4 compass 2013

There are various free compass apps on the Android Market, however they’re not created equally. The one I found works without a glitch, and without adds, is simply called ‘Digital Compass‘. As a former scout I recognize that layout: it mimics the layout of compasses designed to help one navigate a route on compass alone. What more can be said than that this adds another great feature to this phone to make it helpful in outdoor activities. samsung-galaxy-s4-thermometer-2013

Unfortunately my review of the thermometer isn’t so good. This is all due to the limitations of having a thermometer in a phone in the first place: when the phone gets hot, of course the thermometer will see that. When I had been busy with my phone for several minutes and it was warm to the touch, the thermometer was over 5 degrees C too hot. Even when it had just woken up this morning, it still measured the ambient temperature at a centigrade hotter than my thermostat thinks it is. This lack of reliability is so clear that Weather Signal, an app specifically designed to use the sensors in the Galaxy S4 to map the local weather, notes that “*Thermometer readings are experimental!*

Weathersignal sensor widgets



Crowd sourced results. As you can tell, there aren’t a lot of users in the Netherlands just yet.



The default setting for the temperature is Fahrenheit, however there’s an option to set them to Centigrade.

Sensor-geeks will love Weather Signal: it doesn’t only have widgets for all the weather related readings your phone produces, but also crowd sources the readings for a full on weather map. Here is how it looks on my phone. Note that the widgets are boring to look at on my phone in part because I have such a boring black background. They are in fact partly transparent, which should look great when you have a colorful background image.

I like the WeatherSignal widgets because of their simplicity. However, if you don’t know what those measures mean (and in many cases I don’t), the Galaxy S4 Sensors app is a bit easier to figure out:


 The only downside to this reading is that it’s not a widget: you have to check the app itself to find out what the current readings are. Still, I find it informative that the pressure is relatively high and 3 lx (lux) means it’s dark.

All in all – I think I’ll probably use all these rarely. Still, a compass will come in handy the next time I get lost. Having an indication of the temperature, humidity and pressure is sure to be a nice talking point occasionally. It may even educate me on these measures a bit. In fact, I think that just might be the main advantage of having such sensors in phones: they bring science experiments into the home, potentially. If I had kids 10 years old and up, I would probably try and tempt them for a few experiments with this.

As I started out saying: the S-features are both useless and battery draining. The same can’t be said for the other sensors: they have real geek value.

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