Samsung Galaxy S5: Same Design, Stellar Camera

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Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung’s latest and greatest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S 5, has arrived. The Galaxy S series of smartphones are some of the most popular phones on the planet, Android or otherwise. While the original Galaxy S wasn’t universally liked, Samsung really hit their stride somewhere around the third generation, and both it and the Galaxy S IV were extremely good phones.

Like the last two versions, the Samsung Galaxy S 5 builds upon their basic slab of curved, dark plastic. The rear, like the Note 3 before it, is made of polycarbonate molded to look like plastic. The sides, with a deceptively metallic finish, are a blend of polycarbonate and glass fiber. 

Despite the extensive use of plastic – and lack of metal – the Galaxy S 5 isn’t a poorly built phone. On the contrary, it’s impressive that Samsung has managed to build a phone out of affordable materials that feels this nice. I wouldn’t recommend dropping it on the ground, but I also wouldn’t be concerned about leaving it to toss around inside your bag, either.

The S 5 centers around a slightly bigger version of the panel found in the Galaxy S IV – a 5.1-inch, 1080p panel. It’s still SuperAMOLED, despite rumors that Samsung had switched to an LTPS LCD display. It uses a quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, much like other mainstream phones, and surprisingly, just 2GB of RAM – likely a nod toward power savings over performance. 

There’s Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, ANT+ (which becomes even more obvious given Samsung’s push into the health/fitness market), IR, and either 16 or 32GB of storage – though you can always add more via a microSD card slot.

Available on the usual carriers starting April 11, the phone runs Android 4.4 KitKat – and while I can’t be certain, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the device pop up on Google’s Play store at some point, meaning that if you’re a little handy, you’ll likely have access to cutting-edge AOSP roms. 

Speaking of ROMs, the Galaxy S phones of the past have been famously burdered down by Samsung’s own customizations known as TouchWiz.  TouchWiz is still around, but it seems like it’s been engineered by someone with a defter hand this time around, and that’s likely thanks to their recent agreement with Google.

While it looks much like last year’s model, there are some significant changes. First of all, the home button down at the bottom of the phone now includes a fingerprint sensor, much like Apple’s iPhone 5s. Unlike the 5s, you have to swipe your finger down for the sensor to recognize it; in the past, that has meant terrible performance on smartphones, but Samsung has put substantial effort into making it work. Also unlike the iPhone, the Samsung’s fingerprint sensor can be used to customize your phone, launch apps, or authorize PayPal payments.

It’s not certain yet what sort of security Samsung has implemented in order to keep that sort of data secure.

There’s also a new hardware heartrate sensor, right next to the LED flash on the back of the camera – it fits with the new Gear Fit (ha ha ha) smartwatch.

The other major update to the platform comes via the camera. With a reported 0.3s focus time, Samsung has spent a lot of effort into improving the camera experience on their phones. The new focus speed is achieved by using a hybrid Contrast Detection and Phase Detection AF (C+PDAF) system – something you’ll find on much, much higher end cameras.

A new 16MP shooter on the back is paired with a 2.1MP camera on the front. New software includes the ability to selectively refocus some of your pictures after they’ve been taken – but we’re not sure if it really refocuses the subject or simply adds artificial bokeh to everything not in focus, so you can get an attractively blurred background. Either way, it could be something worth monitoring for heavier-duty photographers.

There’s also a new HDR mode for both pictures and video (the latter of which is a first for phone cameras). You can see the effect in real time, so you’ll know if it’s worthwhile before / as you take the shot.

Samsung included a 2,800 mAh battery, promising up to 10 hours of LTE-based (Cat 4) web browsing and 12 hours of video playback. Much like Sony’s recent flagships, the Galaxy S5 features IP67 levels of water and dust resistance – meaning you can use your phone in the rain, the pool, or even the shower.

There’s no word on what pricing will be for the Galaxy S 5, but you can probably make some educated guesses. Despite the new tech, it may come in cheaper than expected, as recent rumors indicate that Samsung is thinking of taking things in a more affordable direction.

Sony Xperia Z2 / Xperia M2

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