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Smartphone Feature Bloat Is the New Crapware

The latest flagship phones from Samsung, HTC and LG are crammed with all sorts of whiz-bang features. And there’s a good chance you’ll ignore most of them.

Take a quick look at all of the features included in the Samsung Galaxy S4. There are gesture controls, Multi-Window Mode, Air View, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Air Call Accept, Air Browser, Air Jump, WatchOn, Samsung Hub, S Translator, Optical Reader, Group Play, S Health and Story Album. The notification drawer alone has 19 different quick settings. This is progress?

If you thought people looked ridiculous talking into space while using Bluetooth headphones, just wait until you see them waving their hands frantically in front of their Samsung Galaxy S4 to activate Air Gestures. Try doing this on a packed train, and you’re going to take someone’s eye out.

Smart Scroll is yet another feature designed to make Galaxy S4 owners look ridiculous. Our own reviewer had to bob his head up and down to move Web pages up and down. I don’t want my Web-surfing sessions to look like a scene from “Wayne’s World.”

Next, the HTC One has SenseTV, BlinkFeed, Zoe and SenseVoice. The Optimus G Pro has QSlide, QMemo, QRemote, QTranslator and Video Editor.

Now, I’m not saying that all of these features are bad, but when you take a kitchen-sink approach to features, some are destined for the drain.

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Take, for example, TV remote control apps. On the surface, these seem to combine two devices well. Powered by Peel’s technology, both Samsung’s WatchOn and HTC’s Sense TV provide program info and let you change the channel with a tap of the screen. However, having tested a number of smartphone-based TV remotes, the one thing they all lack is the ability to change channels by feel alone. When you’re mindlessly couch-surfing, or want to increase the volume, you don’t want to have to look down at the remote.

To smartphone company execs, these whiz-bang features may seem great on paper, but they shouldn’t confuse inflation with innovation. All these new features are in danger of becoming the next crapware on phones. They’re just as annoying, and even harder to remove.

A lot of people criticize Apple for not innovating as quickly as the competition, but there’s something refreshing about the company’s relative restraint. The iPhone has added meaningful features over the last couple of years, such as Siri, Shared Photo Streams and elegant Facebook integration, without sacrificing ease of use.

Android fan? I’d take a purer Nexus 4 — or the upcoming Motorola X Phone — over a skinned-to-death Samsung, HTC or LG handset any day. You control what features are worth adding and which ones belong on the cutting room floor.

Oh, and what the hell is a Zoe?