As is customary for this time of year, the rumour mill has already begun churning out a deluge of reports about the next flagship smartphone from Samsung. We would be lying if we said that the prospect of the Galaxy S5 wasn’t starting to pique our interest as well.
Last year’s hero phone from the South Korean company was, of course, the Galaxy S4. It was a commercial success, breaking its predecessor’s sales records on the way to sales of over 40 million units in the first 6 months after it released. But with a similar hardware and software design to the Galaxy S III before it, we were rather underwhelmed by the S4, especially with the strong competition like Sony’s Xperia Z1 and LG’s G2.
With the S5 Samsung has a chance to reclaim the Android smartphone throne. And just in case you were wondering, Samsung knows that it needs be on form. In an interview with Bloomberg Lee Young Hee, the executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile business, said, “When we moved to S4 from S3, it’s partly true that consumers couldn’t really feel much difference between the two products from the physical perspective, so the market reaction wasn’t as big”.
“For the S5, we will go back to the basics. Mostly, it’s about the display and the feel of the cover.”
So, what do we think the Galaxy S5 will be like?
After many complaints about the cheap plastic feel of the S4 will, the S5 will most definitely have a new look and feel. While an aluminium or similar lightweight metal is being considered, the associated weight and cost gains will probably nix that idea. A more reasonable assumption would be new polycarbonate based design similar to the Nokia Lumias or the iPhone 5c.
The downside to both of these materials is that it will more than likely spell the end of a removable battery in this flagship phone from Samsung, unless it can come up with a way of changing batteries inside a unibody design. Now that would be innovation we could get behind.
The display will more than likely remain at 5 inches or perhaps grow to match the 5.2 inch display in the LG G2, so as not to encroach on the Galaxy Note 3 at 5.7 inches. The big change will most likely come in a reduction of the bezels to make the phone physically smaller (again from the G2).
There are whisperings that there could be a 1440 x 2560 resolution display in the works however a 1080p resolution is already more than enough for a display of that size, with anything higher probably harming battery life more than anything else.
There is of course the possibility of a curved display finding its way into the S5. Samsung have already used one in last year’s Galaxy Round but we’d like to see an implementation that more closely resembles the Youm prototype from CES 2013 (skip to 1:20 in the video below).
Apple laid down the 64-bit gauntlet with its iPhone 5s, and this year will be all about other smartphone manufacturers playing catch-up. If the statement that Samsung’s “next smartphones will have 64-bit processing” by CEO of Samsung Mobile Shin Jong-Kyun is any indication then expect a Samsung-made 64-bit processor using ARM’s ARMv8-A architecture, in either a quad or octa core variant. Either variant could use ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, as Samsung has done with its Exynos chips, to keep power usage in check.
There is always the option of Qualcomm’s processors which Samsung used in the LTE versions of the S4 and the Note 3 last year, however Qualcomm is yet to release a high-end 64-bit processor in the Snapdragon 600/800 range which would be the only chips considered.
A problem comes into play when we address network connectivity for the Galaxy S5. So far Qualcomm, who supplied the chips for the LTE and LTE-A version of the S4, has not announced a high end 64-bit processor yet. Samsung will therefore have to do one of three things:
- Build a 64-bit processor with an integrated LTE radio.
- Put a separate LTE chip into the phone, which will reduce the overall battery life.
- Release a non-LTE version first, with an LTE model arriving later down the line. Just like it did with the Galaxy S4.
We’re holding thumbs for the first but will more than likely see the second as there is no precedent for Samsung building LTE capable SoCs and it won’t be able to afford falling behind the pack with a non-LTE phone in 2014.
Samsung may go all out and stuff 4GB of RAM into the Galaxy S5, but only if it can get the manufacturing yields out of the newly-announced 1GB low-power DDR4 memory chip. The chips, which Samsung only expects to be available some time in 2014, offer more than just capacity. LPDDR4 RAM is 50% faster and uses 40% less power compared to the current LPDDR3 based RAM.
While a new kind of memory may be a long shot we can, at the very least, expect a bump to the same 3GB that the Galaxy Note 3 enjoys.
Android 4.4 has been out for long enough to expect it to be included in the Galaxy S5. Expect the latest version of Google’s software to be vastly different to the stock installation on the Nexus 5.
What will more than likely be done away with is the nature theme that Samsung has used for the Galaxy SIII and S4. A cleaner design is something that Samsung’s TouchWiz customisation desperately needs, and slimming that down could bring a performance increase as well as improved battery life.
UPDATE: There have been several leaks of what could be the next generation of Samsung’s Android customisations.
With competitors like Sony’s Xperia Z1 packing a 20 megapixel sensor and the Nokia Lumia 1020 at 41 megapixels, Samsung will be pressured into doing something with its camera – currently a major use for smartphones. But it probably won’t be a sensor with more megapixels.
Expect some talk about a larger sensor – as in: one that has larger pixels – and a switch from a standard backside-illuminated sensor to a new Samsung-made ISOCELL sensor allowing for better low light performance. Combine this with optical image stabilisation similar to what we’ve seen in the LG G2 and PureView smartphones from Nokia, and the Galaxy S5 could have the best Android camera we see this year.
If matching Apple becomes the name of the game then a dual or even a multi-flash array could be added to the mix to ‘allow for more natural colour in all lighting conditions’.
The Galaxy S4’s 2 600mAh battery is beginning to look small compared to the 3 000mAh batteries in the Sony Xperia Z1 and even the BlackBerry Z30. Hopefully the bigger battery will also come with some improvements in the actual battery technology being used like we saw in the LG G2 last year. People want to use their smartphones for more than a day on a charge, and now that screen size has peaked at around 5 inches, it’s time to focus on the next thing that needs to be big: the battery.
What do you do when your biggest competitor adds a fingerprint scanner to its flagship smartphone? We’ll again turn to Mrs Lee’s Bloomberg interview for the apparent answer.
“Many people are fanatical about iris recognition technology,” he says. “We (Samsung) are studying the possibility but can’t really say whether we will have it or not on the S5.”
While Samsung may be looking into it (Err, really? – Ed), the more likely result will be nothing. Apple’s implementation of TouchID required more than a year to come about after it bought Authentec and its technology in 2012. We wouldn’t rule out a retinal scanner for future models, since Samsung’s proven it’s fondness for using eyes to control its phones.
Traditionally Samsung announces the next Galaxy S smartphone in March or April but a poor financial showing at the end of 2013 could bring that date forward. With the annual Mobile World Congress looming large Samsung may use the event to announce the Galaxy S5 to the world.
If it does, it’ll more than likely be to drown out its competitors with the inevitable media attention that the Galaxy S5 will draw, but this could backfire if any smartphone at the show is perceived as being better than the S5.
If Samsung waits until after the show then it risks further profit slides on the back of weaker Galaxy S4 sales as consumers wait for the S5 to be announced, but it will be able to control the media attention and make sure it has the best possible presentation to the world.
Personal note: I think it’ll be announced at MWC with a global advertising campaign that will drown out everyone else.