Samsung has announced updates to their flagship smartphone and smartwatch, in addition to introducing a new fitness band. The company is hoping to get a jump on Apple who have appeared to shift their yearly cycle to September. With the Samsung Galaxy S5, they have opted to focus on evolutionary changes, which was similar to their strategy with the Galaxy S4 announced last April. Iterative changes might be sufficient to get their base excited, especially those due for an upgrade, but will it win new customers?

Samsung Galaxy S5

The Galaxy S5 looks similar to the previous generation S4, which looked similar to the S3. It features a 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display, a slight bump from the 5.0-inch display. From the front of the device, you would be hard-pressed to pick out the newer model. On the back, they’ve moved away from plastic to a dimpled leather look reminiscent of the Nexus 7, that should be more grippy. There are also new colors and yes, gold is among the new choices. Internally, a 2.5 Ghz processor with 2GB of RAM powers the S5. Storage capacities remain at 16GB and 32GB. These are less of an issue with Samsung given their continued support of microSD expansion, which now supports up 128GB, providing for a whopping 160GB of storage capacity.

As we’ve seen over the previous year, cameras remain the focus of all the smartphone manufacturers. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 gets yet another jump in megapixels, moving from 13 megapixels to 16 megapixels, with support for 4K video. More than just megapixels, they have simplified controls and added new software features to improve upon image quality.

  • Phase Detection Auto Focus: Advanced auto focus speeds for capturing a shot quickly – first smartphone with phase detection auto focus, a feature usually found in DSLR cameras
  • Real-Time HDR: High Dynamic Range (HDR) preview mode makes it easier to choose when to use HDR – like trying to photograph a beautiful sunset. It also enables users to capture HDR photos or videos with no shutter lag or post-processing.
  • Selective Focus Mode: Blur images near or far for a creative, one-of-a-kind shot
  • Shot and More Mode: The camera chooses and recommends Drama Shot, Best Photo, Best Face or Eraser shot after the picture is taken to create the best photo

Instead of offering separate ‘active’ versions, Samsung has incorporated ‘water resistance’ into the Galaxy S5. It is rated IP67 for dust and water resistance. IP67-rated for water and dust resistance, meaning it can be submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes at a time. This means 100 percent protection against dust and up to 30 minutes submerged in 1 meter of water. This makes the Galaxy S5 ideal for your shower or tub.

Fingerprint Sensor and Quick Connect
Samsung now offers their version of Touch ID. A built-in fingerprint sensor allows users to lock and unlock their device. Like AirDrop, Quick Connect allows easy sharing of content files or your screen through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Direct.

Getting A Jump On Fitness
The Galaxy S5 has a built-in hear rate monitor. It uses the rear camera to monitor your heart rate. Place your finger on the camera and it will track real-time data both before and after exercise. This ties in with their fitness band, the Gear Fit, not to be confused with the Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo smartwatches. The Gear Fit is more akin to a Nike Fuel, that features a 1.84-inch curved Super AMOLED display. It tracks steps, monitors hear rate and provides notifications of incoming calls, texts and emails.

Gear Fit

2nd Generation Smartwatches
Also among the bevy of announcements were updates to their line of Galaxy Gear smartwatches. There are two versions of the Gear 2. One runs Android and the other runs Samsung’s Tizen OS. The camera has been moved from the strap to the watch face. Like the Gear Fit, the Gear 2 smartwatches allow users to accept or ignore incoming calls and messages, and providing instant notification options based on a user’s activity and habits.

Galaxy Gear 2

Samsung has been able to strike early this year. Early hands-on reviews seems to point the Galaxy S5 being more of an evolutionary phone. If you love Android and Samsung, it’s probably a very good upgrade, much like people moving from an iPhone 5 to iPhone 5s. Samsung seems content throwing features at the wall, hoping some will stick. While it appears to have slightly upgraded materials, the S5 won’t make anyone forget the HTC One or iPhone 5s. Samsung has owned the ‘large display’ smartphone category, mostly because they’ve been the only big player. Apple’s big move was the 4-inch display, but that’s likely to change with the iPhone 6.

With Apple rumored to release the iWatch, a wearable device that will report back to a ‘Healthbook’ app in iOS 8, Samsung has offered their version first. It will be interesting to see how the Gear Fit matches up with Apple’s smartwatch when it is finally introduced. Curiously, Tim Cook shared this tweet yesterday while remembering Steve Jobs on his birthday. “Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right.” Look at the state of smartphones previous to the iPhone for context.

The design of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is not what one would call inspired, but it doesn’t have to be in order for them to sell phones. Their core audiences can look past the plastic and appreciate Samsung’s specification push and lax position on allowing storage expansion. We’re also seeing manufacturers reach a bit of ceiling. The Galaxy S series cannot go any bigger, otherwise it’ll overlap with the Note. The focus now has to be on improving customers experience with their smartphone. Having read no shortage of stories of iPhones being dropped in toilet bowls or finding their way into pools, the addition of water resistance is a great feature. For months, we’ve known about the convenience of Touch ID, so it will be interesting to see how implementation of their fingerprint sensor compares. Having a new device on shelves isn’t going to hurt Samsung, even one that appears to be evolutionary. They still have the Galaxy Note 4 and perhaps a new smartphone that helps them shed that plastic label.