The Samsung Galaxy S5 is here, and now we know everything about the 2014 flagship from the Korean smartphone maker. It’s pushing into phablet territory with a 5.1-inch, 1920×1080 display, and it comes with a fingerprint reader on the home button, as well as a heart rate monitor around back near the camera flash. The Galaxy S5 is also dust and water resistant, which may be the most useful new feature to ship on the phone.
Samsung’s Android 4.4-powered flagship doesn’t deviate that far from its predecessors in terms of case design, packing the larger screen into a larger chassis but sticking with a plastic (though there is a higher end metal variant) backing, rounded corners and a pill-shaped home button, but the fingerprint scanner and heart-rate sensor are significant hardware additions. The Galaxy S5 also seems to have a significant focus on health and fitness with this update, which could preface a similar move with the next generation of iOS software and hardware.
‘Seeing’ Your Heart Beat
On the new Samsung phone, the heart rate monitor will track your pulse and provide that info in S Health 3.0, Samsung’s fitness monitoring app, which already tracks steps taken and calories burnt. An optical heart rate monitor that works with your fingertip also appears on the new Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatches. For those who are curious about the inclusion of such a feature, Withings ships a step counter with a built-in monitor, which adds another dimension to health tracking and can be used in combination with other data to give a clearer picture of overall health.
Pay By Finger Swipe
The other big new hardware feature here is the fingerprint sensor. Many will no doubt accuse Samsung of copying Apple once again, but the fingerprint sensor here is quite different from Apple’s on the iPhone 5s. It can register three separate fingerprints, and registration takes eight swipes (it’s swipe-based, rather than asking you to hold your fingerprint down as with Apple’s). You can unlock the phone using fingerprint recognition, but also use it to authorize PayPal to make payments online – for anything. That’s much wider-reaching than Apple’s usage of fingerprints, which is limited to unlocking and to finalizing purchases made via iTunes.
Since it’s using PayPal, that means this could be used to pay for physical goods at retail, too, which potentially opens up a lot of mobile payments options for Samsung. All will depend on how easy the fingerprint tech is to use in practice, however, and how resistant it is to attempts to foil or dupe the security system.
The finger swipe can also unlock Private Mode on the Galaxy S5, which provides access to content that a user would rather keep hidden from anyone else who might gain access to their phone, like kids and strangers. It’s a handy and much-needed addition to mobile, which so far hasn’t had any really easy way to limit access to on-device media and content selectively.
4K Video And Adjustable Focus
Another highlight of the Galaxy S5 is the new camera, which now offers 16 megpixels on the rear – and video capture of 4k resolution (even though the screen on the device itself can only manage 1080p, or one quarter of that). The Galaxy S5 isn’t the first phone announced to have 4K video capture capabilities, but it is part of a limited early group, and that’s something that might be more appealing to consumers now that 4K TVs are becoming more affordable and consumers are looking around for content sources: at this rate, home videos could beat broadcast TV to the punch.
The new camera also has a slow motion function like in the iPhone 5s, as well as post-capture refocus selection, like in the expensive and cumbersome Lytro light field camera. This is another feature that should make its way to many mobiles this year, but it should definitely help Samsung sell some smartphones to shutter-happy mobile photogs.
There’s also hybrid autofocus, which includes both contrast detection and phase detection, which is the same kind of system used in advanced DSLRs and mirrorless digital cameras. Samsung promises this autofocus will be able to lock on in as few as 0.3 seconds, making it the fastest ever for a smartphone.
Other specs for the Galaxy S5 include a microSD slot for expanding storage (which could work with the newly announced 128GB capacity for iPhone-beating storage) and a Download Booster software feature that combines LTE and Wi-Fi data connection for superfast downloading of larger files, though at the expense of your mobile data bandwidth. The rugged design means you can take it anywhere, but you’ll have to deal with a flap for the Micro USB 3.0 charging/power port on the bottom.
It packs a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, NFC, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, and either 16GB or 32GB of storage, so no real surprises here. It does offer a black and white mode for power saving (and promises up to 10 hours of LTE web browsing or 12 hours of video playback), which is interesting, and it should go on sale on April 11 in a first crop of almost 150 countries according to Samsung.