So on Monday in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 along with the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit smartwatches. The device was met with instant bashing from a large portion of the tech community due to the fact it looks almost the same as the Galaxy S4 from last year, but most importantly it’s “lack of innovation”.
Let’s all go back to last year with the Galaxy S4. The launch was as gaudy as it could get, and Samsung emphasized all of it’s “innovative” features such as Air View, Air Gesture, Smart Pause and more. However, none of these features turned out to be particularly useful, nor did they work well. All these features actually ended up hindering performance on a device with a processing package more powerful than the average home computer. While these features may have technically been innovative – as to mean, they hadn’t been implemented yet in a mobile device – they weren’t special at all. Samsung had crammed so much crap into their flagship device that they lost their throne at the top of the Android kingdom, where HTC and the One firmly sat for most of 2013. As well, TouchWiz, Samsung’s proprietary user interface (or skin) was so heavily customized, you could barely tell it was Android. Samsung had loaded the S4 with their own replacement to each of Google’s applications and services, and if you didn’t know better, the average consumer probably didn’t even know that the phone ran Android. There were rumours swirling around for the latter half of 2013 that Google was getting frustrated with Samsung and their outrageous skinning of Android, that they had to intervene and tell Samsung to tone down their customizations.
Now, flashback to Monday and the Galaxy S5 announcement. Samsung CEO, JK Shin, comes out on stage and highlights 5 main features of the Galaxy S5, five truly useful add-ons to Android. They highlighted the camera, the fitness chops, the design, the connectivity and security.
Each one of these five “features” all have practical real world usage, completely different than the random, useless, buggy features they highlighted last year with the Galaxy S4. The camera now comes with a bigger sensor for better low light shots, and features the fastest autofocus of any smartphone, not to mention a simplified UX that fixes the biggest issue with the Galaxy S4’s camera suite. Useful? I’d say so. The preloaded S Health and accompanying heart-rate sensor and Gear smartwatches all provide a complete health and fitness solution to the phone, that are all integrated. You’re not going out and buying a separate fitness band and loading up another app (well you are buying the fitness band, however, it’s a Samsung band). With S Health and any of the new Gear smartwatches you have an integrated solution to help keep up with your fitness and health goals. Once again, something that’s most definitely useful. The Galaxy S5 comes with a special “Download Booster”, powered by WiFi Memo, that accompanies your WiFi connection with your LTE connection to provide you with the fastest download speeds on any phone available. Again, something that’s practical and useful. And last but not least, the S5 comes with a fingerprint sensor integrated into the home button, which is activated with a swipe down over it, that can be used to lock certain applications in your phone as well as for mobile payments, instantly making it more useful than Touch ID on the iPhone 5S. It may be a little wonky as the swipe gesture used to scan your fingerprint might take a few tries to get right. Samsung is also putting out an SDK to take advantage of the fingerprint sensor, so app developers can integrate it into their apps in all the ways people have been wishing the iPhone 5S could. And again, another feature that most definitely has real world use. One last feature that they didn’t feature so predominantly in the announcement were the stellar battery saving improvements they added to the software. There’s a new power saving mode that when your phone hits 10% battery left (or whatever threshold you choose) that turns off all unnecessary sensors and features (such as WiFi, data, Bluetooth), and turns the screen black and white while only allowing calls and text messages. It’s said to add an additional 24 hours of standby. Couple that with the slightly larger battery and the S5 might just become the king of longevity in the smartphone world. These incremental improvements may seem negligible, especially to Galaxy S4 owners.
The insane rumours may have rendered the Galaxy S5 dead on arrival as it didn’t include many of the most hyped features that were so heavily leaked in the months prior to it’s announcement. But what else could you ask for in a smartphone in 2014 that the Galaxy S5 doesn’t include? It may seem like such a small upgrade but that has more to do with the fact that the Galaxy S4 was already so feature packed and so well specced. The camera in the Galaxy S5 is a definite improvement over the S4, the processor is a definite improvement and the slightly larger battery is an improvement (if only due to the fantastic battery saving features in the S5).
In 2013 we hit the plateau of smartphone specs. A 1080p display at 400+ pixels per inch is already WAY more than enough resolution. The king of 2013 processing power, the Snapdragon 800 was already insanely powerful. All day battery life finally became an Android norm, with phones such as the Sony Xperia Z1, the LG G2 and Galaxy Note 3 all featuring batteries with 3000+ mAh. Camera quality was the only thing which could stand to really be innovated and pushed to the next level, and smartphone cameras in 2013 were already fantastic. With the S5, Samsung upgraded all that it could from the S4. It now features the newest Snapgragon 800 series processor, the 801, it has a larger battery that comes in at 2800 mAh, and much improved camera, and still the same amazing display from the S4 that probably couldn’t get any better. So now in 2014, the race to the top of the spec list is finished. It’s time for refinement, and making the user experience better. Small incremental upgrades will be abundant this year. Just think of how good and how well performing smartphones were in 2013. Look at the Sony Xperia Z2 for example. Sony used the same formula Samsung did. The Z2 features the same processor, and larger battery, the same camera, and a much upgraded display (since the Z1’s display was awful). The upcoming “All New HTC One” will most likely follow the same formula, upgrading the camera (it’s weakest point), upping the display size, and finally adopting proper Android navigational buttons (it’s other weak point). 2014 will not be another year of massive spec improvements as there aren’t big spec improvements to be made, and the Galaxy S5 did things just the way it should have been done for a 2014 smartphone.
The next thing that makes the Galaxy S5 important is the boot-up screen. At first thought, you might think “Who cares about a boot-up screen?”. However, this is the Galaxy S5.. Sure to be the best selling Android phone of all time, selling tens of millions of units, and in big font at the bottom of the Samsung Galaxy S5 splash screen theres a disclaimer, “Powered by Android”. Going back to how I said some general consumers may not know that their Galaxy S4 even ran Android, now all of the tens of millions of people who purchase a Galaxy S5 will be reminded that their phone is running the Android OS. That is a HUGE win for Google and the Android ecosystem as a whole. Now all the people who may not have had known that their phone ran Android will know. This is huge marketing for Google, and for Android. This makes the Galaxy S5 one of the most important smartphones of the year hands down.
So, do you still think the Samsung Galaxy S5 isn’t important? You shouldn’t. It’s a very important phone, and not to mention, a pretty damn good one.