Introducing the Samsung Galaxy S5 in February at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Samsung CEO JK Shin said that the company had learned that people essentially want four things from a mobile phone: a simple, powerful camera; beautiful design; seamless connectivity; and features that can help them stay fit.
For the most part, this is what Samsung has delivered with its newest flagship.
Such a reductionist approach is also helpful when considering the GS5, or really any device from Samsung, which since the debut of Galaxy S II has been making clear its belief that more is more. On the S5, there are two apps for opening videos, two apps for storing photos and two apps that will listen to your voice commands. And these come in addition to the countless shortcuts to things for which button-based access already exists.
Sometimes, though, more is a good thing.
The rear camera, for example, is now 16 megapixels, up from 13 on the GS4, and it’s a bright spot on this device. The camera captures rich, saturated color and artfully handles gradation of light, particularly in outdoor afternoon light (though on the perfectly lit floor of the New York International Auto Show, it also captured some stunners).
Samsung has, of course, also packed a variety of features around the camera, most of which are welcome. There are filters (but also “effects,” and buttons for adjusting temperature, hue, the individual colors in an image and more) an easy-to-use video-trimming editor, the ability to snap photos while taking video, Selective Focus, which lets you blur the background, and even the ability to fast-forward a video by swiping on it while it’s playing.
On the connectivity front, the GS5 includes what Samsung calls a Download Booster—technology that lets users activate Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiFi simultaneously, for an “unrivaled” experience. While I didn’t do side-by-side tests with other phones, neither did such a need occur to me while I was using the GS5, which hopped to attention, no matter how many apps were open or what I was asking it to do.
Samsung introduced two new smartwatches and a fitness band alongside the GS5, and the four share many of the same features, including fitness-focused apps, a pedometer and a heart-rate monitor. It’s understandable that these were included in the phone—not every GS5 user will buy a Galaxy Gear smartwatch—but using them on the phone made it clear that where they belong is in the watches and fitness band.
The GS5 is too big to hold while running farther than from one room to the next, and there’s no chance of its fitting into the little back-of-the-calf pocket women’s workout pants often include, for the sake of a key or an ID (though I have managed to shove an iPhone 5S in such a pocket).
Maybe apps like the RunKeeper or the Workout Trainer will inspire more users to get moving, which is good, but it’s all less fun if it’s not tied in real time to the bells and whistles on the phone. As a workout partner, the GS5 may be best when used to cue up music and then shoved into the cup holder of a treadmill. (And in that instance, you could stop to check your pulse.)
Whether Samsung succeeded on the design front is arguably subjective, but I’m inclined to believe that most people will agree that the ridged plastic—doing an impersonation of metal—that outlines the device looks kind of cheap, and that it’s a bummer that the facade of the GS5 looks so much like that of the GS4.
Samsung Galaxy S5 to Appeal Most to Fans of the Brand
Samsung did make one major aesthetic change, in swapping out the hard plastic on the GS4’s back cover for a perforated faux-leather on the GS5. I do prefer the feel of this new material to the older plastic options, which would get warm in the hand and feel a bit slimy. But it’s hardly beautiful, and from Apple and others, we’ve been told to expect nothing less.
What is beautiful is the GS5’s 5.1-inch display. The display packs in 432 pixels per inch, to an impressive result. Video and photos are a pleasure to look at, but even apps like Instagram feel newly special on so much rich, color-saturated real estate.
Another key differentiator of the GS5, which also fits under the design umbrella, is that it’s water- and dust-resistant. When the hatch that protects the microUSB slot is firmly closed, it’s really waterproof. (One reviewer went so far as to drop the S5 in a pitcher of margaritas—a waste of a happy hour, in my opinion.)
What Samsung was trying to do is not give anyone an underwater camera but save them the horror of losing a phone to a spilled cup of coffee, or a windy day at the beach.
At Mobile World Congress, JK Shin said customers want “meaningful and relevant improvements,” and in making the GS5 not only solid (a cover would be a joke) but spill-proof, Samsung has, most successfully of all, met those very real desires.
The Galaxy S5 isn’t revolutionary enough, or beautiful enough, to convert happy iPhone users, and anyone who likes the Android platform but has been unimpressed by Galaxy flagships in the past may want to consider the HTC One (M8) instead. But for current Samsung users, and those on older Android phones who are ready for an upgrade, the GS5 is everything you expect from Samsung—and, of course, more.