samsung_web.jpgNEW YORK (AP) — Samsung Electronics is ratcheting up its rivalry with Apple with its new Galaxy S 4 smartphone, which has a larger, sharper screen than its predecessor, the best-selling S III. The Galaxy S 4, which crams a 5-inch screen into a body slightly smaller than the S III’s, will go sale in the U.S. sometime between the end of April and the end of June.

In the U.S., it will be sold b y all four national carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA — as well as by smaller US Cellular and Cricket. All told, Samsung plans to offer the Galaxy 4 S through 327 carriers in 155 countries, giving it a wider reach than Apple’s iPhone 5.

Samsung’s new phone can be expected to start at $200 with a two-year contract in the U.S. That’s comparable to the iPhone 5. JK Shin, the executive in charge of Samsung’s mobile communications division, promised the money would be well spent for a “life companion” that will “improve the way most people live every day.”

Apart from the larger screen and upgraded processor, the S 4 has a battery that’s 20 percent larger than that of the S III. Samsung didn’t say if that translates into a longer battery life — the added capacity might be gobbled up by the bigger screen or other internal changes.

The S 4 comes with a built-in infra-red diode, so it can control an entertainment center as a universal remote. This is a feature that has showed up in Android tablets before.

The S 4 comes with several new technologies intended to help users interact with the phone. For instance, the screen now senses fingers hovering just above the screen, and some applications react. The Mail application shows the first few lines of an email when a finger hovers above it in the list, and the Gallery application shows an expanded thumbnail.

Users can control some other applications by making gestures in the air above the phone. In the browser, you can command the screen to scroll up by swiping from top to bottom a few inches from the phone.

The Camera application can now use both the front and rear cameras simultaneously, inserting a small picture of the user even as he’s capturing the scene in front of him.
When several S 4s are in close proximity, they can link up to play the same music, simultaneously — perfect for headphone dance parties.

The Galaxy 4 S also will include a tool that enables users to create a dividing line so part of the phone is devoted exclusively to work while the other part is filled with personal information and photos. The feature is similar to a function on the latest BlackBerry — an
indication that Samsung is going after other smartphone makers besides Apple with its latest model.

The new features illustrate Samsung’s drive to make its phones stand out from the crowd of Android smartphones. Jan Dawson, an analyst with Ovum, said they could be seen as “gimmicks rather than game changers.”

“At this point, Samsung appears to be trying to kill the competition with sheer volume of new features — there should be something here for everyone, even if most of these new features won’t be used by most users,” he said.