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Group Play makes a party

Group Play is one of the most social new features on Samsung's Galaxy S4 smartphone. Open it up and it essentially turns a group of nearby Galaxy S4 phones into a network.

What can you do on that network? Share photos and documents, blast music across devices like an integrated speaker system, and host a multiplayer game, like a poker tournament.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Shara Tibken/CNET

Step 1: Create or join a group

Samsung makes the setup process simple, which is a nice change from the complicated version of this app that rolled out last year with the Galaxy S3.

Here, you either join a group or you create one, starting with a single tap.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Step 2: Enter your password

Whomever starts the group picks the password, and it can be as simple or complex as you'd like. Since Group Play uses Wi-Fi Direct to link the phones, you'll be near enough to just tell others what the password is to join the group.

Password control makes it easy for more than one distinct group to share the same space without interfering.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Step 3: Choose your content type

A simple list tells you what you can share from the master phone to the rest, and also helps you access the music tracks, pictures, documents, or games.

You'll be able to share photos and documents with Galaxy S3 phones, but only Galaxy S4 phones work with gaming and music sharing.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Step 5: Pick your poison

After picking the type of content you want to broadcast, you'll select the actual item to share. In this scenario, it's a photo from the gallery. And that's it!

Updated:Caption:Photo:Shara Tibken/CNET

Music time

Samsung has added some really neat visualizations when sharing music across S4 phones. The colorful rings pulse with sound and light, changing hues as the song plays.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Shara Tibken/CNET

Pulse, pulse, pulse, pulse

Here's another view of Group Play's way with music.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Deeper controls

The group leader, the one who created the wireless access point, has total control over the volume and placement of each phone, which is, in effect, a speaker.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Calling the shots

When multiple people join a group, the leader has exclusive control over the sliding dials for the master volume and for each participant. As a node in a larger network, as long as you're part of a group, your speaker volume isn't your own.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Gaming: A full house

This is what gaming looks like when a bunch of people play together using Group Play. You all see the same moves on your Galaxy S4 screen, which makes for a pretty fun little diversion if you and your friends all happen to have the same phone.

The GS4 requirement is a limiting factor, to be sure, but knowing Samsung, there's a good chance it will migrate Group Play capabilities to its cadre of mobile devices, like the next Galaxy Note smartphones and tablets for a start.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
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