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Samsung Galaxy S 4 hands on: Nice phone but new tricks disappoint

The phone on the right is a Galaxy S 3, the phone on the left is a Galaxy S 4. Can you tell the difference at first glance?Rosa Golijan / NBC News

The Galaxy S 4, Samsung's new flagship phone, is supposed to make you feel like a wizard — wave to toggle between pages, point to get previews. It sounds amazing ... in theory.

In reality, the impressive-sounding features of the Galaxy S 4 — Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, Air Gestures, Air View, and so on — won't exactly blow any minds. When I tried them out, they failed to work half the time.

AlsoRead: Samsung Galaxy S 4: Bigger, thinner, smarter

Admittedly, I only spent a bit of time with the phone and I used it in a strangely lit environment full of flashing cameras, but still. I expected magic.

Galaxy S 4
Rosa Golijan / NBC News

When I tried to wave my hand to toggle between Web pages, the Galaxy S 4 only sometimes recognized my gesture. When I hovered my finger over a list of messages to preview one, the phone took forever to realize my intent.

I sighed. Once you strip away these features, all that's left are some camera gimmicks — great, it can record delightful little audio clips along with a snapshot, and use both cameras to make one single shot — and a phone that looks a great deal like its predecessor.

Yes, my first few moments with the Galaxy S 4 were disappointing at best. But once I got past the letdown of the glitzy features, I realized that the important stuff is pretty solid.

As promised, the phone itself is a bit slimmer than the Galaxy S 3. It feels lighter, too. And it sits just right in one's hand.

Rosa Golijan / NBC News

And the interface! Android 4.2.2 — better known as Jelly Bean — is zippy. It's been a long time since a phone with Samsung's heavy skin appeared to function seemingly without lag.

I look forward to trying out the Galaxy S 4 for a prolonged period. Perhaps the touch-free gestures will work better in a "normal" environment, away from the strange lights of Radio City Music Hall, or maybe I just need some practice getting the waves and flicks down. More importantly, I hope the "usual" phone features still feel as solid as they did in these first few first moments.

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