On Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung unveiled its highly anticipated new smartphone, the Galaxy S5. Rolling out its Unpacked event with a full orchestra and impressive display, Samsung placed the Galaxy S5 center stage, and it certainly has big shoes to fill considering last year’s record-breaking release. Here’s the thing, though, Samsung also claimed back in January that its goal was to go “back to basics.” We’ll let you decide if that’s what the company has done with its new flagship smartphone.
Updated on 04-10-2014 by Andy: Samsung is ready to launch the Galaxy S5, so we’ve added in the first TV commercial for the device, along with news on the Download Booster app which is missing from AT&T versions of the phone, plus a selection of videos showing just the phone’s toughness.
Samsung prepares to launch the Galaxy S5 at 11:11 a.m. on April 11
Samsung has confirmed through its official mobile Twitter account that the Galaxy S5 is ready to go on sale. The message reads “Get ready for the worldwide exclusive Galaxy S5 launch event,” and includes an image of a map showing the phone’s progress through the world over the next 24 hours or so. Samsung calls this the S Carpet (groan), and the journey begins in Australia, before spreading through Asia, the Middle East, Europe, America, and finally, Canada.
To celebrate the launch, Samsung has also posted the first U.S. TV commercial for the device, which you can check out below.
Mostly minor hardware upgrades
At 5.1-inches diagonally, the Galaxy S5 is only slightly larger and slightly more impressive in terms of hardware than its predecessor, the Galaxy S4. Samsung must have been displeased about something with the Big.Little octa-core processor that it tried out in last year’s International Galaxy S4, because the S5’s processor is still quad-core, clocking in at 2.5GHZ. Beyond that, the S5 retains the same 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM as the Galaxy S4, showing no real advancement in the core hardware tech. On the bright side though, the battery has been juiced up to 2800mAh in capacity, meaning better battery life than ever, the S5’s camera is up to 16 megapixels, and , like the Note 3, the S5 includes USB 3.0 support.
Screen described as the best ever tested by display experts
According to the experts at DisplayMate, where smartphone screens are put through their paces, the Galaxy S5’s 5.1-inch, 1080p screen is “the best performing smartphone display we have ever tested.” That’s high praise, and the company produced an exhaustive 7,000-word report on the subject, where it’s stated the screen is the brightest DisplayMate has tested, with the lowest reflectance, and the highest color accuracy. It’s also described as a major improvement over the Galaxy S4’s display.
Adding DSLR features to a smartphone
These days, smartphones give us less and less of a reason to carry around a point-and-shoot camera, and the Galaxy S5 does a lot to continue that trends thanks to an even more powerful camera app. This one not only adds special High Dynamic Range (HDR) functionality to allow your phone to adjust a photo based on the amount of light available, but also a special blur effect popular on DSLRs called selective focus. Selective focus allows users to decide what on the image should be in focus, say as a person or a face, and blur the background around them. These are certainly interesting features in concept, but we’ll see how they turn out in practice.
It’s resistant to dust and water (but don’t risk it)
Remember the whole Galaxy S4 Active debacle? This time around Samsung has brought dust and water resistance right into its flagship device, offering an IP67 rating just like the Galaxy S4 Active of last summer. While Samsung bragged left and right about it being “whatever-proof” and “summer proof,” we should forewarn you that IP67 is hardly rugged, and at best good for a shallow dunk in water (technically up to 3.3 feet deep). We have no idea what the Samsung Galaxy S5 warranty will be, but we warn users to think of this as “insurance” against exposure to water, rather than an invitation to go swimming with your phone.
Ultra Power Saving Mode is pretty cool
Power saving mode is something all Android devices come with, but at times it can be very disappointing feature. Some power saving modes turn off your cellular mode, conserving power but also defeating the purpose of having a phone in the first place. The one Samsung has developed aims to change that. According to the Unpacked keynote, the Galaxy S5, when in Ultra Power Saving Mode, can last a whopping 24 hours on standby with just ten percent of battery life remaining. That alone is impressive, especially because it leaves your cellular radio on, letting you still receive calls and SMS messages, even while your phone sits on the bleeding edge of a dead battery.
It has a fingerprint reader and heart rate sensor
Nobody should be surprised that Samsung was looking for a way to one-up the iPhone 5S and its built-in fingerprint reader. Not only is Samsung’s fingerprint reader stashed in the Home button of the device allowing for easy unlocking (just like the iPhone 5S), but it’s also capable of confirming payments. We’re not sure how this will work yet, especially since it sounds like storing credit card information is involved, but we hope Samsung will address the risks of keeping such sensitive information just a swipe away, as well as the problems that can come with accidentally swiping a payment.
Along with the fingerprint reader, Samsung stashed a heart beat sensor – yes a heart beat sensor – onto the back of the phone near the LED flash. The idea is that this can be used to monitor your heart rate before and after a workout, which is what Samsung brags as being a big part of the latest version of S Health. Unlike the new Galaxy Gear though, it seems a little awkward to take your heart rate while standing still, holding a finger up to your phone’s back. Still, we’re sure there’s a few gym rats who’d love to have this kind of technology always at their fingertips.
Special modes for children, privacy and faster downloads
Smartphones are not transformers, nevertheless, it seems Samsung is big on the whole “transforming” aspect of its new flagship smartphong, enabling special modes depending on who’s handling the device. The first mode they spoke of is Privacy mode, which allows users – thanks to the help of the built-in fingerprint reader – to restrict access to things like images and other content unless you are actually using the device (or at least as long as your finger is in easy reach.)
The other mode, which is certainly something new for a smartphone, is a special “Kids Mode” that will allow parents to give kids their devices without fearing the worst. The Internet is littered with stories about kids who have inadvertently spent thousands of dollars after parents handed over their iPad, but Samsung hopes to help curb this fear with a special mode that lets you decide what apps a child user can access, as well as choose cute and fun theme modes with custom apps and content just for kids. For those who don’t have kids, we recommend testing it out on your friends.
The last feature is a special download booster, which is supposed to allow simultaneous downloading from LTE and 3G networks in order to speed things up a bit. We don’t know how much this feature will affect battery life, or those with capped data, but it’s an interesting feature nonetheless.
No download booster for AT&T Galaxy S5 phones
Early reports from owners who have received their Galaxy S5 phones early, are saying the AT&T model isn’t coming with the Download Booster application installed. This feature combined Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connections to speed up large downloads, but is missing from the device’s quick launch menu, and app tray. According to Android Police, the feature will return in a future software update, but for now, it looks like AT&T devices won’t have the feature enabled. It’s not clear whether this was Samsung’s or the network’s decision.
T-Mobile confirmed in its original press release for the Galaxy S5 that the Download Booster would be included on its phone, along with devices connected to MetroPCS too, so it may be AT&T’s choice not to install the app on its phones.
See some Galaxy S5 phones tortured
The Internet is full of horrid videos which you wouldn’t usually want to watch, and the Galaxy S5 has attracted some sick individuals to take their flashy new devices, and torture them on film. It’s all in the name of science, of course, but those of a fragile nature may want to look away. The contain violent images involving knives, hammers, and boiling water.
Why? The boiling water is used to test the Galaxy S5’s water resistance, and it does very well, while the other video shows how it stands up to some heavy duty abuse. Take a look, so you don’t feel the need to do any of these things to your own phone.
When is it coming … and for how much?
Arrival in the U.S. is slated for April 11, with pretty much all the major carriers on board. You can find all the details on how to pre-order, or buy, a Galaxy S5 in the U.S. in our special post on the subject here. Additionally, it also contains details of the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit’s availability.
What do you think? Are you excited for the arrival of the S5, or is it too much of an incremental improvement on its predecessor?
Updated by Jeffrey Van Camp on 3-05-2014: I’ve merged what we now know about the Galaxy S5 since it’s debut on Monday, 2-24-2014 with a fact checked version of our rumor roundup for the phone, which was published up until the device’s release. Andy Boxall and Joshua Sherman contributed heavily to this article, as have other mobile team members like Simon Hill.