When the Samsung Galaxy S4 debuted around a year ago, some critics considered it to be a bit of a damp squib. While there was nothing wrong with the device per se, most of the new features it brought to the table were minor and gimmicky. It felt like a nominal, unessential upgrade that S3 owners could safely ignore (apart from quadriplegics, who wants to control a phone with their face?)
This time around, things are different. Samsung has made a concerted effort to provide new tools and features that are actually worth crowing about. Here are five of the most noteworthy improvements, along with our initial impressions on how they handle.
This is the big one. The Galaxy S5 is IP67 certified straight out of the box — which means it can survive in a metre of water for up to 30 minutes. In other words, you can drop it in the toilet or leave it in the bath and it will still work perfectly, provided you fish it out in half an hour.
Verdict: This is a huge improvement over previous Galaxy handsets; particularly if you suffer from butter fingers and like to use your phone near water. Samsung demonstrated this feature at last night’s event and the test units functioned perfectly throughout. One caveat we noticed was that the screen automatically locks when the phone is submerged — which means you can’t actively use it underwater.
Ultra Power Saving Mode
This is a neat battery-saving hack for people who like to use their phone as an actual phone. The mode switches the phone to a monochrome display and disables all battery-hungry apps and features. If Samsung can be believed, it will be possible to eke out a full day of phone use with just 10 per cent battery life when using this mode.
Verdict: We think this feature will be a very useful addition in situations where battery life is critical — think camping in the wilderness, or during commutes home when you’ve forgotten to charge your phone.
Mobile Tap and Pay for Westpac and Commbank customers
The Galaxy S5’s inbuilt Near Field Communication (NFC) chip allows Westpac and CBA customers to make contacless payments at any Tap ‘N Pay terminal; just like a PayPass credit card. While this in itself isn’t anything new — Commbank already provides this feature for Galaxy S4 owners — Samsung has added additional functionality to make contactless payments more convenient and secure.
Chief among these is an integrated fingerprint reader developed in conjunction with PayPal — this should help to make unauthorised phone payments next to impossible. Samsung has also introduced an inbuilt Wallet app that can be used to register numerous cards and accounts.
Verdict: We obviously didn’t get to test this feature on the showroom floor, but it’s hard to imagine how they could get it wrong. We’re willing to bet this will become a must-have feature in future phones.
Heart Rate Monitor
With three new Galaxy Gear smartwatches on the way, Samsung is clearly a strong believer in the fitness computing craze. This has rubbed off on the S5, which comes with an inbuilt heart rate monitor.
This is achieved with an infrared scanner near the camera’s flash which measures the user’s pulse rate through their finger. This information is then relayed via the integrated app.
Verdict: We’re not entirely convinced about the viability of this feature. Most people who are serious about fitness will already own a heart rate reading gizmo — and who wants to take a 5-inch smartphone with them on a run?
The Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera that boasts some intriguing new software features. According to Samsung, the unit’s advanced autofocus takes less than half a second to zero in on a subject. There’s also a new High Dynamic Range (HDR) option that is ideal for low-light conditions — we tested it in a fairly dim showroom floor and the results were pretty spectacular.
There’s also a new selective focus option which allows you to refocus an image after you’ve already taken a photo. For example, you can add emphasis to a subject in the foreground by throwing the background out of focus. Again, we tried this out at the Samsung event and it worked a treat, although you do need a few metres of distance in-between each field.
Verdict: The S5’s camera is a decent upgrade that actually brings some useful tricks to the table. While it’s not hard to get similar results from most editing programs, the in-camera tools make it possible to instantly upload polished shots to social networks. Hurrah!
When it comes to new features, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a genuine leap forward — the water resistance is the obvious crown jewel, but we think the lion’s share of new features are genuinely useful. If you’re an Android fan, this could be the OS’s new flagship.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 goes on sale on 11 April with an RRP of $929. For a full breakdown of mobile contract deals, head to our Galaxy S5 Planhacker page.