Hands On With The Galaxy S5 And The New Galaxy Gear Bands

We came, we saw, we checked our heart rates. As Samsung moves into wearables territory with the new Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Gear 2 bands, including the Neo and the Fit, we found that the devices were less about taking photos, media sharing, and other frippery and more about active designs aimed at users who are running, hiking, and braving suburban environments.

Say hello to Samsung’s latest, an ultra-thin, surprisingly handsome S-series phone that is obviously evocative of the S4 in almost every way but hides a few things under the hood. First, there’s a built-in optical heart rate monitor and pedometer for a bit of on-the-go medical telemetry. Then you get a 5.1-inch, 1920×1080 display, fingerprint sensor, and 4K video camera with Lytro-like adjustable focus. It tops out at 2.5GHz with a Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor but could go as high as eight cores with a planned upgrade.

What can we say about these devices? At this point not much. Benchmarks are still unavailable but all of the systems worked smoothly and the bands were surprisingly reactive and fun to use. The Gear Fit is familiar to anyone with a Fitbit or Jawbone Up but the screen is readable and easy to operate. The heart rate sensor on the S5 worked even too well – it showed I was at 102 bpm for some reason while Natasha was at 65. Clearly her vegan diet is doing something for her health. The phone is dust and water-resistant thanks to a little flap at the bottom that protects the USB port, as well as a physical casing that keeps out the elements.

What, then, does this redesign achieve? It upgrades the S4 in a meaningful way without straying too far from the original design. The sleek lines of the S4 and other competing smartphones are definitely at play here and the pinhole dots on the back add a sporty air to the proceedings. The back looks like driving gloves, albeit hard plastic ones, and I think the white looks best. Other colors include blue, black, and gold.

There was little fanfare around this launch and some would say it was because there isn’t much Samsung could have done to this device, at least at this juncture. A 64-bit version of Android is still in the works and the chip, a 2.5GHz quad-core processor, blazes through apps without issue for now. The next iteration of the S series will definitely be far more interesting from a processor standpoint, especially given the improved ARMv8 chips hitting the market.

Until the S5 arrives, there’s little to be said except that it’s a good, solid phone from the biggest manufacturer in the industry. Whether S4 users should upgrade is still in the air but even a few minutes with the device was enough to show us that Samsung’s still got it.

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