As is with every smartphone launch, there are a ton of rumors that lead up to the device’s actual launch. Some of those rumors eventually become true and others end up being complete fabrications. In many cases, those rumors and hopes of those reading them generally exceed the capabilities or realities of the components available. So, as the Samsung Galaxy S5 rumors began to leak people started to get excited and start to expect things that are unrealistic. Well, with the Samsung Galaxy S5, for the most part this wasn’t really the case at all.
Yes, Samsung has released a phone that comes in four colors and yes it is almost universally accepted as uglier than the previous version, but let’s focus on the important stuff, the internals and features.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with a 5.1" 1920×1080 ‘Full HD’ screen, which actually is barely bigger than the previous version of the Galaxy S4’s 5.0" 1920×1080 resolution. In fact, being a 5.1" SuperAMOLED display with the same resolution means that the pixel density of the display is actually going DOWN not up. A drastic departure from an industry-wide trend of improving display resolutions. Realistically, though, we don’t really need a larger display nor do we need a higher resolution, but if you’re going to launch a new flagship phone and use basically the same display why bother actually reducing the pixel density? Samsung is taking a step back here, instead of a step forward, which would have probably been either a slightly smaller screen size or the rumored 2560 x 1440 resolution that many were expecting. In terms of displays, I think almost everyone agrees that there are enough ‘large’ smartphone displays, especially from Samsung, so a 4.7" 1080P display like HTC’s One has would probably be more welcome than a 5.1" one.
In terms of processor, Samsung made an upgrade from the Snapdragon 800 in the Galaxy S4 with the Snapdragon 801. However, I believe that Samsung has made a grave mistake launching this phone with the Snapdragon 801 because it really isn’t much of an improvement over the Snapdragon 800 in the way that the Snapdragon 805 is. Since we talked about the Snapragon 801 during it’s announcement this week, we’ve gotten more details about what kinds of improvements it has over the Snapdragon 800. The biggest improvement is that it delivers a 45% faster camera processing capability than the Snapdragon 800. It also has a 28% faster GPU than the Snapdragon 800, a 14% faster CPU and 18% faster DSP and 17% faster memory. So, realistically, this new Galaxy S5 is going to probably be at best 15% faster than the previous version, not really a number many people are going to want to hear when they are told this is the latest and greatest. They also added the ability to record and play back 4K content on the Galaxy S4, but that capability has existed since the Galaxy Note 3.
For the Galaxy S5, the LTE modem is also pretty disappointing, even though the modem technology isn’t quite there yet. I believe that Samsung’s timing with the Galaxy S5 is too soon after the launch of the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 and doesn’t enable the company to properly launch a product with really groundbreaking technology. As such, the Galaxy S5 will be shipping with Cat4 LTE capable of speeds up to 150 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload. However, there will be variants of the Galaxy S5 that will be shipping with Intel’s LTE modems instead of Qualcomm’s which is a big deal for Intel as they have struggled to get major design wins. Unfortunately for Intel, this is probably going to be considered one of Samsung’s least exciting products as of late and is already getting a lot of criticism. As we had talked about earlier this week, Intel is closing the LTE gap on Qualcomm and the announcement that Samsung will be using Intel LTE modems is a clear sign of that.
Nevertheless, the Galaxy S5 does have a few other notable features, namely the fingerprint sensor, which Apple and HTC have already done and the IP67 water and dustproofing, which Sony has been doing for generations now. So, really, Samsung isn’t doing anything unique, revolutionary or ground breaking. The phone is also shipping with a 16 Megapixel camera sensor, which is the biggest any Samsung phone has shipped before. Only the Samsung Galaxy Camera has a 16 Megapixel camera, and that thing is incredibly thick and bulky compared to the S5. And because of the Snapdragon 801’s improved image processor and imaging pipeline, the S5 will probably take much better pictures than the S4 did. The S5 is also shipping with a USB 3.0 connector, which is like the Galaxy Note 3, making it yet another feature that isn’t really new or exciting, but still welcome.
This is all powered by a 2800 mAh battery, which is without a doubt bigger than the Galaxy S4’s 2600 mAh battery, but once again indicates the company’s lack of desire to innovate. They would rather do incremental improvements than really innovate at all. In fact, if Samsung had released this phone with a significantly larger battery I think a lot of people probably would have accepted it as a sound enough improvement and probably not have been as negative towards the phone as they are. Alas, Samsung did not, and their only real improvements were the camera and SoC, with only the camera needing improvement. And I believe a lot of that had to do with software, not hardware.
Samsung is releasing a mediocre incremental upgrade to a device that was already a mediocre incremental upgrade. Most people that own Galaxy S4’s or Galaxy S3’s probably won’t notice much of a difference from their current phone to the Galaxy S5 other than the fact that it ships with the latest version of Android and will probably have a much better camera. Additionally, I believe that Samsung’s timing is going to hurt them more than help them as it likely has restricted them from getting truly new technology in their ‘latest and greatest’ phone. This announcement paves the way for Nokia, LG, HTC and Sony to steal disgruntled and unimpressed customers away from Samsung who, as many people know, has a pretty sizable user base.