Two of the most-watched names in the smartphone business, Samsung and BlackBerry, are upping their game with new models this spring -- but neither offers a game-changer.
Both Samsung's Galaxy S4 and BlackBerry's Q10 are strong upgrades that should please their fans, but neither device offers a killer feature that shifts the paradigm of the highly competitive market. That's less of a problem for market leader Samsung than for BlackBerry, which is trying to claw back into contention with a line of new smartphones.
With the S4, Samsung has offered a wide sampling of new features meant to appeal to tech enthusiasts and novices alike, but nothing to propel it farther ahead of its main competitor, Apple.
These include several software features that range from the great to the gimmicky. Users, for example, may find themselves enthralled with a feature that lets them remove passersby from snapshots, but probably will hardly ever tap on the face-slimming "Beauty Face" photo filter offered in the same menu. Other promising features, such as an auto-scrolling feature that detects when you're looking at the phone, don't work consistently enough to be useful.
The most remarkable feature of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is its screen. The company has managed to pack in a whopping five-inch display while actually making the phone a hair smaller than its predecessor, the Galaxy SIII. That, combined with Samsung's signature screen quality, gives users more real estate to browse or watch video.
The screen is also the distinguishing feature of BlackBerry's new Q10 smartphone , though for the opposite reason. The Q10, the second smartphone that runs the company's new software, has BlackBerry's signature keyboard tucked under a 3.1-inch, squarish touch screen that looks very small compared with those on other smartphones.
But this phone isn't necessarily meant to appeal to the average consumer. The Q10 is aimed at BlackBerry's most loyal fans, those who are unwilling to give up the keyboard on their older models but are dying to upgrade to a more modern phone. If that is the goal, the company has succeeded. The Q10 retains the form factor of older models while including features, such as an advanced camera and a snappier browser, that place its performance more on a par with other smartphones. While still sluggish compared with other high-end smartphones, the Q10's performance is a marked improvement over previous models.
As for the all-important keyboard, the Q10's keyboard is a little less crisp than the ones on previous BlackBerry models but still allows for faster, more comfortable typing than the virtual keyboards that pop up on touch screens. In a nice nod to its most devoted users, BlackBerry has included legacy features such as keyboard shortcuts that should keep its user base happy.
The battery in the Q10 isn't as long-lived as its predecessors', due to its better display, but you won't be left with a completely depleted battery at the end of the day.
Both the S4 and Q10 offer features for business types. For instance, they give employers the option to separate work information on the phones from personal information, which could appeal to businesses that are jittery about mobile-device hacks. They also include practical features, such allowing users to swap in a spare battery or expand the amount of storage on their phones.
The Galaxy S4 will be available at a price range of $149 to $249 with a two-year contract on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. T-Mobile, which no longer requires fixed service contracts, will sell the S4 for a $149 down payment, followed by 24 monthly payments of $20.
All four major carriers have confirmed they will carry the Q10, which BlackBerry says will be available by the end of May for a recommended price of $249.