The next Galaxy is here but it’s nothing out of this world.
In late-February, Samsung unveiled its flagship phone for 2014 – the Galaxy S5 – at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The previous iteration – the Galaxy S4 – was a massive success for the company, selling tens of millions and cementing their place as the number one smartphone manufacturer in the world. The Galaxy S5 builds on its predecessor with many refinements and a few new features. No doubt it’s a high-end smartphone, but should it be your next device?
Hardware and Design
Samsung has never been known for their impressive hardware design (that honour rests with Apple, HTC, and Nokia) and nothing changes with the S5. On previous Galaxy phones the back has either been a slimy and glossy plastic or a faux-leather plastic. The S5 introduces a soft-touch finish with a perforated (read: dotted) pattern dubbed a “modern-glam” design. Early reports suggest that this back is an ergonomic improvement, being more comfortable to hold and less slippery. Quite frankly, I think the new back retains the Galaxy reputation for looking tacky and second-rate. The S5 will be available in four colours: electric blue, shimmery white, charcoal black, and copper gold (the latter looks like a band aid, please don’t get it).
Turn to the front of the device and you wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking it for a Galaxy S4. It’s a familiar layout with Samsung’s now-iconic oblong home button flanked with two capacitive buttons. Unlike its predecessors, however, Samsung has replaced the menu button with a multitasking button. This is an overdue but welcome change nonetheless, designed to help you quickly navigate our increasingly-distracted and app-centric world. The display is a 5.1-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, which Samsung claims has improved adaptive auto-brightness technology.
Inside there is a 2,800mAH battery that supposedly lasts 10h of 4G web browsing and 12h of video playback. In comparison, the Nexus 5 has a 2,300 mAH battery; the HTC One has a 2,300 mAH battery; and the iPhone 5S has a 1,570 mAH battery. “That’s a lot of cat videos.”
Finally, the Galaxy S5 is water and dust resistant (note: not waterproof), which the company says will enable you to bring your phone into the shower! I don’t know why they stated this example explicitly, but the option is there.
Android phones don’t have a reputation for possessing great cameras. That said, Samsung tend to sit on the better end of that scale. They recognise that “the best camera you have is the one in your pocket” and have introduced the Galaxy S5’s 16-megapixel camera with three key improvements to the camera experience: faster autofocus, improved HDR, and selective focus.
They’ve claimed that autofocus only takes 0.3 seconds making it the fastest autofocus ever in a smartphone. In regards to HDR or ‘rich-tone mode’, the Galaxy S5 will give you a real-time preview with the adjusted lighting as well as enabling HDR in video mode (a smartphone first). They’ve also introduced a selective focus feature that replicates the shallow depth of field or background blurring of photos available with a DSLR camera. The sample shots they provided look amazing but I’ll believe it when I see it in person.
At it’s heart, the Galaxy S5 runs on Android 4.4.2 with Samsung’s user interface overlayed. Some of the unique features include:
Ever wish you could download something so much faster? This feature will combine both your Wi-Fi and mobile data connections to multiply your Internet speeds. Imagine the possibilities of marrying a 4G connection with university fibre-speed Wi-Fi!
Ultra Power Saving Mode
This is a powerful feature that could be a lifesaver. When the S5 is low on battery, this mode does a number of things including turning the screen to black and white, and turning off all connectivity except SMS and calls. This means that last 10% of battery will last another 24 hours without charging. If this is correct, the round of applause Samsung received for this is truly deserved.
Samsung (predictably) followed in Apple’s footsteps in implementing a fingerprint scanner into the home button. Unlike Apple, however, this does more than just unlock your phone. A simple swipe will also allow you to authenticate mobile payments, access ‘Private Mode’ (a secure folder for photos and videos you don’t want anyone else to see), and enable ‘Kids Mode’ to restrict what apps a guest can access on your phone.
S Health and the Heart Rate Sensor
In a renewed focus on health and fitness, the Galaxy S5 has a built-in heart rate sensor just below the camera on the back. With Samsung suggesting they’ve “worked out the workout”, I see this as a highly niche feature that will only ever be used when showing off to your friends.
The Galaxy S5 will launch on Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile in the coming weeks. Other retailers are already accepting expressions of interest with an approximate outright price of $900.00.
Should you get it?
I wouldn’t recommend it. We can attribute a large portion of Samsung’s success in the last three years to an oversaturation of marketing – it’s the only device you hear about other than the iPhone.
The Galaxy S5 isn’t the big leap in innovation that we’ve come to expect from smartphone manufacturers. It represents the plateauing and maturing of the industry as we move into wearable devices. As mentioned, the Galaxy S5 refines its predecessor and adds a few unique but non-essential features.
We’re still early in the consumer electronics season and I would encourage you to wait and explore other options. For example, Sony also unveiled their 2014 flagship phone, the Xperia Z2, last month and it is a strong alternative. The Nexus 5 remains a high-end phone for a fraction of the price (read my review here). And let’s not forget HTC, with their superior build quality, who are set to unveil the successor to the critically acclaimed HTC One later this month.