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Samsung Galaxy S4: When is it too much?

The Samsung Galaxy S4, the followup to the most successful phone in the world, is now in stores. Chock full of new features, applications, and widgets, did Samsung over-do it?

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— Easy Mode. It's not entirely new, as the S III and the Galaxy Note 2 have it, too. But Samsung makes that option more prominent when people set up the S4 for the first time. Icons in Easy Mode are larger, so you are less likely to hit the wrong one and have to figure out how to go back. You also get fewer choices for customizing the phone and using its camera, so there's less confusion about which to pick. Easy Mode isn't as easy to use as I would have liked, though, because features and settings from the regular mode creep in now and then.

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— Multi Window. Again, this feature isn't entirely new, but it's the first time I noticed it. It allows you to run two apps side by side, the way you've long been able to on traditional computers. That means I can keep up with Facebook on the top half of the screen, as I send email from the bottom half about all the dumb things my friends are saying on Facebook. Unfortunately, it works with a limited number of apps. Foursquare and Instagram aren't among them. And I needed an online video tutorial to figure it out.

— Air View. When you point to an email or calendar entry with your finger, you see contents pop up in a bubble. That way, you don't have to open the entry and find the back button to return to what you were doing. Samsung has this feature on the Galaxy Note 2 phone, but that's designed for use with a stylus. On the S4, you simply hover over the entry with your finger. I wish it would work with more apps. For instance, you can use it with Android's generic email app, but you can't on the one made specifically for Gmail.

All of these would benefit from being part of Android rather than an add-on from Samsung. Easy Mode would truly be easy if it were designed from the start that way rather than as something that couldn't fully separate itself from the main Android. More apps would work with Multi Window and Air View if they were standard features, not ones app makers have to adapt for one by one.

And then there are some features that got in the way:

— I mentioned the competing ways to watch video and buy apps.

— Another is Smart Pause, which automatically pauses video when your look away from the screen. The phone's front camera detects your eyes. Smart, but the feature also pauses the video when you cover your eyes, say, to avoid a gory scene in a horror movie. It's as if the phone is forcing you to look. And there are few times my eyes are glued to video. I typically multitask and watch video while doing other things.

— Smart Scroll detects the tilt of your head or the phone to automatically scroll text, such as when you're reading a long article on a Web browser. Smart, but it sometimes scrolls past what I want to read. It's difficult to move the text back without touching the screen, something Smart Scroll is supposed to eliminate. And at times, I have to keep my neck up in an uncomfortable position to stop scrolling.

— With Air Gesture, you wave your hand over a sensor for such tasks as browsing a photo album or scrolling through text. I can see it being useful when you need to answer a call while driving (not that you should), but I had difficulty getting the phone to respond properly with photos and Web pages. It reminds me of automated water faucets that won't let me wash my hands no matter how much motion I make.

Fortunately, the phone comes with many of these features already turned off, and you can turn off others you don't need or want. It took me a while to figure out that the Wi-Fi connection on my phone kept mysteriously turning on by itself because of some feature called Smart Mode. So Smart Mode is now off. Group Play is a feature that lets you share music and photos with other S4 users on the same Wi-Fi network. But I don't know of any S4 users, and it doesn't work with Group Play on the S III. I couldn't uninstall the app, so I buried that in a new folder called Junk.

The S4 has plenty of other features I could dismiss. Some might like the camera's ability to erase a stray individual out of photos or to combine several images of motion into a single shot. But I'm a purist, and I'm not a fan of manipulating images. And the feature for using the phone as a TV remote control? That's what remote controls are for.

The S4 might be for you if you like having lots of features and don't mind spending time customizing it. I myself don't like to spend time doing that, and many people never change the default settings. I've been using the S III as my main phone since July, and I've rarely found a need to reach into its bag of tricks. I simply want a phone that is easy to use.

The S4 can be that, but first you must figure out how to hide all its gimmicks.

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