It was a back to back day of press events for the opening day of Mobile World Congress but the biggest event of the day was reserved for Samsung and the launch of the much anticipated follow up to the Galaxy S4.
In an event that was clearly more understated than the glitzy, broadway-style launch of the S4 in New York last year the Galaxy S5 made its debut.
From a design standpoint the Galaxy S5 is an evolution of Samsung’s previous flagship Galaxy Smartphones. The front will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen the Galaxy S III or S4. The same black or white bezels, rounded corners are flanked at the top by a Samsung logo and at the bottom by the same rounded off rectangular menu button.
The back of the new Galaxy S5 is where the big visual changes come in. A perforated rear cover made from a soft touch plastic replaces the unfortunately cheap-feeling, hard plastic covers of old. Four new colours are available at launch, Electric Blue, Shimmering White, Charcoal Black and Copper Gold all of which looked vivid and bright in the bright lights of the convention centre.
The Galaxy S5 also has the same water and dustproof rating that we first saw last year on the Galaxy S4 active. The IP67 rating means that the new Galaxy S5 is completely dustproof and can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes without any damage occurring. Like the Sony Xperia Z2 and its Z1 companions, the Galaxy S5’s headphone jack is exposed but the microUSB 3.0 charging port on the bottom necessitates a small flap which keeps the water and dust out.
Internally the Samsung Galaxy S5 gets a significant upgrade in processing power from the S4. The decidedly last-year Snapdragon 600 processor is replaced by the latest Qualcomm made Snapdragon 801 processor that we first saw earlier in the day with the Sony Xperia Z2.
Puzzlingly though, there is still only 2GB of RAM which puts it behind the 3GB seen in both Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 3 and the Xperia Z2.
The display resolution remains at 1080p but increases slightly from 5-inches to 5.1-inches dropping the pixel density from 441ppi to ‘just’ 432ppi. After seeing the Galaxy S5 first hand we can confirm that the new display is just as sharp as the S4’s and that the typical over-saturated greens and oranges of Super AMOLED displays past makes a return.
The camera on the Galaxy S5 gets a significant bump from the Galaxy S4.
The new 16MP camera sensor is the first, according to Samsung, to have both contrast-detect autofocus as well as phase-detect autofocus (AF) which helps the camera focus exceptionally fast. Contrast-detect will be familiar to smartphone users in practice if not by name. We’ve all had a picture where we’ve tried to focus on something in a particularly bright environment and the phone struggles to pick up the correct object, zooming back and forth, that is the biggest problem with contrast-detect AF. Phase-detect AF takes over from the Contrast-detect AF in these types of situations and helps the S5’s camera focus much quicker in all environments.
There are also some new-fangled features for the Galaxy S5’s camera including the new high dynamic range (HDR) rich tone function. It lets the S5 show a preview of both photos and videos using the HDR function in real time on the display. Also included is a selective focus feature similar to Nokia’s refocus app which lets you focus on different parts of a picture even after you’ve taken it.
On the wireless connectivity front there is the standard Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac WiFi but the WiFi has a MiMo (multiple input, multiple output) antenna which allows it to establish even faster network connections. The LTE and WiFi connections can also be combined to speed up downloads with Samsung claiming that the Galaxy S5 is capable of pulling down a 1GB file in as little as 30 seconds. Using the Galaxy S5’s LTE connection to speed up downloads will use your data plan though and considering the slower speed of South African ADSL lines the result could be that more of the download is done over LTE than the cheaper fixed line broadband connection.
Along with the newly announced range of Galaxy Gear wearables, the Galaxy S5 has definitely beefed up its fitness credentials. A built in heart rate sensor finds a home on the back of the S5 right next to the camera flash. It integrates with a new version of Samsung’s S-Health app which now includes the Fitbit like ability to record food and water consumption along with the usual pedometer stats.
Security was also a big focus for the Galaxy S5 with a new fingerprint scanner integrated into the home button. Unlike the iPhone 5ses scanner which requires your finger to stay still on the home button, the Galaxy S5 requires you to swipe downwards on the button. In the functionality of both fingerprint readers there are yet more differences. While both can unlock the phone, the Galaxy S5 cannot authenticate purchases from the Google Play Store like the iPhone 5s can from iTunes. Conversely the Galaxy S5 has partnered with PayPal to allow payments through the platform to be authorised with fingerprints which Apple’s smartphone does not currently have.
Powering the whole show is a 2800mAh removable battery which, while larger than the 2600mAh battery in last year’s S4 it is significantly smaller than the 3000mAh battery in the LG G2 and the even larger 3200mAh in the Xperia Z2. To combat the shortfall there is a new ‘Ultra Power Saving’ mode which turns the display into a black & white affair while cutting off all unnecessary features including a data connection. According to Samsung it turns 10% battery life into a full 24 hours of standby time on GSM networks to receive calls and SMS messages.
After the handshake between Google end Samsung the expectation was for a normal Samsung looking Android experience, and that’s exactly what we got. Android 4.4.2 with Samsung’s, now familiar, dark blue and crazy green colour scheme return. The icons have been mostly turned into round circles to differentiate with the old S4 looking interface but it remains essentially the same.
Whatever the Galaxy S5 specs say, one thing is for sure. Samsung have rebooted the flagship into a lean, mean smartphone that will be at the top of a lot of people’s wish lists.
Expect the world to go crazy when it launches on the 11th of April.