Business Technology

Thursday 18 September 2014

Exclusive: Getting to grips with Samsung Galaxy S5

Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor

Published 24/02/2014 | 19:00

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, Gear 2 smartwatch and Gear Fit fitness band are displayed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, Gear 2 smartwatch and Gear Fit fitness band are displayed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

So now we know. Samsung has launched the Galaxy S5 smartphone, the successor to its Galaxy S4.

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The phone includes a slightly bigger screen, slightly more power, a better camera and new sensors for reading fingerprints and heart rates.

But what is like? Should you consider it as your next phone?

The 5.1-inch device has a few new features that are worth mentioning. First, the device adds a fingerprint sensor on the phone’s home button, This can be used to unlock the phone and also to purchase items available using Paypal. Some websites using the online payment service recognise the S5 device and allow the user to skip their login and password by using their fingerprint instead. Fingerprint features were first introduced on the iPhone 5S, but there has been little feedback on whether people generally use the feature or not. I tried this feature and it mostly worked fine. The only minor quibble I’d have is that it’s a two-factor process: you need to wake the phone up and then swipe your finger (compared to the iPhone 5S’s process which starts the unlocking process the moment you touch its home button, even from sleep mode).

The smartphone also includes a heart-rate monitor sensor placed underneath the camera lens that can measure the pulse rate of a finger. I’m not sure how accurate this really is as my readings went from 70bpm to 100bpm. However, you’re not supposed to talk or move when you’re in the process of having your pulse read: I did both.

The function is designed to work in tandem with the phone’s reworked S-Health suite of apps, which include a pedometer, heart-rate monitor and other fitness apps.

The S5’s 16-megapixel camera is marginally more powerful than that of the S4 or the Note 3. One of its more notable allows you to choose which part of a photo you want to be clearest after the picture is taken. It does this by taking two photos at once, focusing on a nearby object and then on a background object. When reviewing the photo, the user can choose which part of the photo is to be sharper, or have both parts generally in focus. I used this a few times with mixed results. Because it’s a combination of two photos, the process takes longer than snapping a normal photo -- about two seconds, in fact. I also found that it only worked properly if I focused on the near item rather than the far item. Still, it’s an impressive feature and it’s interesting that Samsung is thinking along these lines.

Samsung has also introduced minor design changes that make the phone more robust against water and dust. The two main differences here are a dangling flap over its rechargeable USB port (a common feature in water-resistant Sony Xperia phones) and a thin rubber lining inside the back of the phone’s casing to protect the battery and internal electronics from moisture. Together with the marginal increase in screen size (to 5.1 inches), these changes add a little extra weight to the phone.

Samsung has instigated one or two minor changes to the way the phone’s operating system works. There is no longer a menu button on the bottom left corner of the phone: it is now a ‘soft’ button usually located on the top right of any given screen. This may disorientate seasoned Samsung users a little.

The S5’s power comes courtesy of a quad-core 2.5Ghz chip and 2GB of Ram supporting Android 4.4. There’s a choice of either 16GB or 32GB of on-board storage, while the large 2,800mAh battery promises to comfortably see a user through until the end of a day.

Aesthetically, the phone is very similar to its predecessor, the Galaxy S4, with the exception of a more tactile back cover (which strongly resembles that of the Note 3). Although Samsung has added four colours (white, black, blue and gold), the device has not been significantly altered in look and feel. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing: there’s nothing wrong with the look of the S4 (or the Note 3), but when a ‘new’ phone looks overwhelmingly like the old model, there’s a niggling sense of being deprived of a ‘show-off’ factor.

Samsung launched the product at Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest telecoms trade conference held annually in Barcelona.

There is no doubt that the S5 is going to sell well. This is not only down to the general decent functionality of high-end Samsung devices, but because of its unrivalled pot of advertising cash: everyone will probably know about the S5 soon.

But I would still hesitate to recommend it over the 5.7-inch Note 3, a phone I still regard as the finest overall smartphone on the market.

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