Eye-tracking software and the gestures sounds like a cool, futuristic power for controlling your phone with your peepers, but that’s really only partway true. It isn’t so much that the cursor or text follows the movement of your eyes, which you probably wouldn’t want anyhow, if you think about it. More generally, the software knows when you’re paying attention and when you avert your gaze.
Smart Pause and Smart Scroll are two features that build off the Galaxy S3‘s optional Smart Stay feature, which kept the screen from dimming when you looked at it. In the GS4, tilting the screen up or down while looking at it scrolls you up or down, say if you’re reading a CNET story, of course. As a daily commuter with one hand on the phone and one on a hand strap, I think this could be a more convenient way to catch up with news while on the train or bus.
With Smart Pause turned on, videos pause when you look away and start up again when you focus back on the screen.
The idea of Smart Pause, which halts a video you’re watching when your eyes dart away, then resumes when you start paying attention again. Smart Pause was more responsive and easier to control than the scrolling, which experienced some abrupt motions and a short lag time.
While you can make googly eyes at the GS4, most gestures are still reserved for your fingertips. Hovering features known as Air View make their way from the stylus-centric Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet to the Galaxy S4, but replace the stylus with your digit.
Hover your finger and you can preview a video clip or image from the photo gallery, glance at browser tab thumbnails, find your place on a video timeline, and check out an e-mail. You’ll also be able to magnify calendar events and get a closer look in speed dial. As I mentioned above, Flipboard has built a customized app to work with Air View that lets you hover over a tile to see which articles lie beneath.
You can control the Galaxy S4 by waving your hand in front of the camera sensor.
In addition to hovering with a fingertip, you can wave or wipe your whole hand in front of the screen (and sensor near the Samsung logo) to navigate around. For example, enable this gesture and you can agitate your palm to pick up the phone or switch songs in a playlist. Steadily sliding your hand back and forth can advance photos in a gallery, or browser tabs. You can also scroll up and down in a list.
The feature was a little jerky and jumpy when I tried it, but it did work. As with eye-tracking, you’ll have to wait a half-second to see results. Luckily, air gestures are sensitive up to 3 or 4 inches off the top of the phone, so you have a little latitude…or altitude, as it were.
Samsung really envisioned using these gestures in specific scenarios, mostly when your hands are already full with something else. For instance, you’ll probably never wave your hand over the phone to answer it unless you’re in a car, but when you do, it’ll automatically pick up in speakerphone mode. If you have Bluetooth pairing, it’ll kick into the car’s Bluetooth if you answer that way.
Likewise, passing your hand over the sensor to advance music titles works best when your phone is docked on your desk.