MWC 2014: Don’t Be Mean To Samsung’s Galaxy S5

Michelle Maisto Lead

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 isn’t exciting enough for some people. Michelle Maisto jumps to its defence

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has faced a lot of criticism for its lack of innovation. But that’s not being fair to a solid upgrade with plenty of new features.

At an evening event at Mobile World Congress, Samsung introduced its newest flagship smartphone  alongside a Galaxy Gear Fit fitness band and two new smartwatches, the Galaxy Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

The watches weren’t a surprise—Samsung had put out a press release that morning. For many, the GS5 was not a surprise either.

Samsung Galaxy S5 (9)

GS5 spoilers

Before the Barcelona Opera House Chamber Orchestra had finished its stage-side, pre-show concert, and well before Samsung CEO J.K. Shin could take the stage and announce that Samsung understands what customers want, a Samsung web site jumped the gun, and posted online a press release for the GS5, nullifying embargoes and filling Twitter with stories by writers given early access to the phone.

All too many of these writers found the GS5 a let-down, unattractive, or both.

“Quite possibly the four worst words in the world used to describe Samsung’s GS5: ‘more of the same,’” tweeted Technology Business Research analyst Jack Narcotta, linking to a Cnet review, as the orchestra played on.

But it may be too glib to call the GS5 more of the same. Agreed, it’s not a major redesign, or a phone that seriously wows at a glance; but it is a solid upgrade that users of Samsung devices may ultimately be quite pleased with.

The GS5 has a very noticeably bright and rich 5.1-inch Full-HD Super AMOLED display (with a resolution of 1920 by 1080); is water and dust resistant; has a significantly improved camera with the fastest auto-focus on any smartphone on the market (says Samsung); has a built-in fingerprint reader; has a power-saving mode that can make a phone at 10 percent battery life last another 24 hours; includes a feature called Download Booster which can bond Wi-Fi with LTE for super-fast download speeds; and, among other fitness features, it has a built-in heart-rate scanner—the first on a smartphone.

A familiar face

Despite all this, some people glancing at the face of the GS5 won’t be able to tell it from the GS4, or maybe even GS III; but on the whole, that’s a solid new-feature list.

One major change Samsung did make — and which quickly proved as controversial as the changes it didn’t make — was to the back of the GS5, which is faux leather with a perforated pattern in white, black, gold or blue.

The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern tweeted an image of the gold GS5 alongside a Band-Aid and it was retweeted 3,500-plus times. There’s no denying the resemblance.

Still, anyone who has been appalled by the warm, slimy feeling of a hard-working, plastic-cased GS III will rejoice that the GS5 is a Galaxy flagship that finally feels good in the hand. One wonders why Samsung didn’t just go with the inoffensive leather datebook look the Note 3 received —  but perhaps the need for novelty was too great.

To offer a few more, though less-thrilling specifics, the GS5 runs Android 4.4.2 (KitKat); measures 5.6 by 2.9 by 0.32 inches; weighs 0.32 pounds (or 5.11 ounces); runs a 2.5GHz quad-core processor; comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal memory; has a microSD slot supporting up to 64GB of additional memory; and has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.

Samsung will begin shipping the phone around the world April 11.

“We fixed customer pain points, and we added exciting new features,” David Park, a Samsung marketing head, said during the presentation. He said it about the Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatches, but he may as well have been talking about the GS5.

Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit

Alongside the S5, the Galaxy Gear Fit is clearly an attempt to capture users of Fitbit and similar devices—or at least those considering them.

“It redefines the category,” said Park. “It’s not like any fitness band out there. It features the first curved AMOLED touch screen on a wearable device.”

The Gear Fit’s display is 1.84 inches, with a resolution of 432 by 128. It’s also a module that pops out of the hypoallergenic rubber band. This is so people can change colors (options are orange, black and brown), says Samsung, but hopefully it’s also to give the bands a wash, considering all the physical activity they’re likely to accompany.

When a user snaps the Fit onto her wrist, a heart-rate sensor quickly shows her BPM (beats per minute). On top of the expected fitness band features, such as a pedometer,. The Fit offers notifications for incoming calls, emails, SMS, alarms, planner information and data from many third-party apps. An app called Coach, for example, focuses on five key areas: exercise, food, sleep, stress and weight.

At launch, the Fit will be compatible with 20 Samsung phones, and like the GS5, it’s water- and dust-resistant.

“We’ve worked out the workout,” smiled Park.

Pricing for the devices is one secret Samsung has managed to keep.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 MWC 2014

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Samsung Galaxy S5

Originally published on eWeek.