At it’s Unpacked event in Barcelona, Samsung has released the Galaxy S5 — and, to the surprise of everyone, three new smartwatches: the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and the Gear Fit. We’ll talk about the smartwatches in a separate story and will focus on the Galaxy S5 here.
The Galaxy S5 is, for all intents and purposes, the Galaxy S4 but with a few cool new features: a fingerprint scanner, a heartbeat sensor, and some tech that constantly calibrates the AMOLED screen to compensate for ambient lighting, to ensure that those gaudy super-saturated colors are always present no matter the conditions. The Galaxy S5 is indeed splash-proof (similar to the S4 Active), but not ruggedized. This post will be updated with the release date and pricing when we know it (soon).
Specs-wise, the Galaxy S5 is not a huge step up from the S4. The 5.1-inch 1920×1080 (432 ppi) Super AMOLED screen is as wondrous as ever. Under the hood there’s a top-of-the-range Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974) SoC clocked at 2.5GHz, with the Adreno 330 GPU. There’s 802.11ac with MIMO, and LTE/WiFi aggregation — a relatively new feature that lets you download files over both connections at once.
On the back of the S5 is a heartbeat sensor (it’s close to the camera) — put your finger over it, and S Health picks up your heart rate very quickly. The home button, as expected, is now a fingerprint scanner — and yes, unfortunately, you have to swipe your finger over it (it remains to be seen how stable a 5-inch phone is, when swiping your thumb). There is a special chip that adjusts the screen’s contrast and color gamut, so that it retains the over-saturated AMOLED “pop” under different lighting conditions.
And then there’s the camera — a 16-megapixel beast that creates a small (nowhere near Lumia 1020-sized) bulge on the back of the Galaxy S5. Samsung is very proud of the autofocus, which is apparently very fast (0.3 seconds). There’s some neat features, like live HDR preview (for both stills and video). You can apply selective focus on the live view, too.
In general, the camera’s interface has been vastly simplified over the S4, which is a very good thing. It’s too early to talk about the image quality, but our early impressions are good.
On the software side of things, you’ll be glad to hear that the S5 is definitely a bit more sedate than the smorgasbord of useless crap that Samsung shoehorned into the S4. The interface is still TouchWiz, but it’s fairly minimal and inoffensive. There’s unfortunately no sign of Google Now.
The fingerprint sensor isn’t just for unlocking the phone — it can be used to confirm your identity with other apps (such as PayPal). There’s a Kids Mode, which does what you think, and Easy Mode (really) which simplifies the interface for older people. One of my favorite features is Ultra Power Saving Mode, where the phone falls back to a black and white display with just a few icons. This apparently extends the phone’s battery life immensely. Makes me wonder how long the phone would last if you only kept it in Ultra Power Saving Mode…
The chassis, unfortunately, is still plastic — but now the back is textured plastic (like the Galaxy Note 3), and the edges are now “chromed plastic” (i.e. plastic with silver paint on, I think). If you were hoping for a phone that looked or felt like a metal-bodied iPhone or HTC, you will be disappointed. As far the waterproofing goes, there’s a plug over the bottom USB port, and a rubber seal inside the backplate that keeps the battery dry. Samsung says you can dunk it — but you shouldn’t keep it under water. It’s splash proof, basically.
We will update this post with more hands-on impressions, release date, and pricing, in a little while.