Samsung’s Dumb Scroll
March 21, 2013

Samsung’s Dumb Scroll

Don’t touch the Samsung Galaxy S4.

That’s a bit of a less-than-clever pun to employ when describing a phone with the special features of the new S4, but it’s what I’m working with.

Since its unveiling last Thursday, much has been made of the Galaxy S4’s new features. Some believe these features make the phone something that Apple should be worried about. Still others believe Apple’s “control everything from beginning to end” approach still results in a better phone. Then there are others who just want to use the phone as a phone and don’t care about the differences between a Galaxy phone and an iPhone.

I envy those people.

It is true, however, that the new S4, set to be released next month, is a feature packed phone.

But how many of these features are actually useful and not just gimmicks, meant to be demoed and shown off, but not much else?

In the days leading to the Galaxy’s big debut, Brian X Chen with the New York Times and others began to talk about something called “Smart Scroll,” a feature that was said to allow users to scroll their phones with their eyes.

Because, you know, scrolling with your fat, fleshy finger is too difficult.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 does have something like smart scroll, but it doesn’t work like Chen said it would. Instead, it works just like a feature in Marco Arment’s Instapaper.

Using the built-in accelerometer, the S4 scrolls itself when you tip the device to the front or to the back.

Now, having something like this built natively into a phone (and most importantly, having the option to turn it off) could be very handy.

However, this version of Smart Scroll seems to me to be neither feature nor gimmick: It’s a consolation.

Samsung once again decided to stretch the size of their devices, expanding the S4 to five inches. This means the phone is now even harder to use one-handed, something Apple has been touting as a “feature” of the iPhone 5. It’s larger, but still one hand-able.

At five inches, it only stands to reason that the S4 will be even harder to navigate with one hand than it’s S III predecessor. Being able to scroll by just tipping the phone seems like a workaround, something Sammy’s engineers came up with because they knew people would need to get some info from the phone at times when they don’t have a spare hand to dedicate to the task.

Checking the shopping list with a basket full of food in the grocery store, for instance, is one situation where one-handed operation sure does come in handy.

Looking for your next gate at the airport is also much easier with one hand, as the other one is either tugging luggage or stuffing embarrassing airport food into your mouth.

You’re in a hurry at the airport, after all.

Without Smart Scroll, these simple tasks could be a little tricky to pull off one handed.

I’m no Luddite. I’ve used a Galaxy S III and a Galaxy Note II before. I also have pretty large hands and there’s no way I could use these things comfortably with only one free paw.

So yes, Smart Scroll is a nice feature for this phone. However, I see it more as a necessary workaround, a sort of hack to make sure the phone still worked the way they wanted it. It’s the price Samsung paid to make their phone even bigger.

It won’t be seen as a trade-off, however. It will probably be seen as a reason to choose the phone over other Android handsets or, and I shudder to think about it, proof that Samsung knows how to innovate.

Smart Scroll is clearly not an example of innovation, but it’s also not a feature.

It’s not a bad thing, of course. So long as you can turn it off, there’s no harm and no foul.

Image Credit: Samsung

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