A closer look at the latest Samsung Galaxy S5 rumours: Iris-scanning and a radical redesign

We didn’t exactly need Samsung to tell us that the Galaxy S5 was coming, but this year the company has broken its tradition of feigning ignorance on the next generation. A senior Samsung executive has been chatting up a storm at CES 2014 in Las Vegas, and let slip some details on the company’s upcoming plans. Hopes that a Galaxy S5 would be announced at Mobile World Congress in February have been dashed to ribbons, but the wait won’t be much longer – the S5 is being targeted for a March or April release.

Samsung has been releasing new variants of its flagship Galaxy S line annually for the last four years, but each time the excitement (and spectacle) seems to get bigger. Last year’s announcement of the Galaxy S4 took the form of a huge stage production with actors, choreography, and sets (along with a bit of misogyny thrown in for good measure). The point is, Galaxy S announcements are a huge deal now – Samsung’s flagship is the only Android phone that can, by itself, rival the iPhone in terms of popularity.

Samsung has hung its hat on packing in features to make its phones distinct in the crowded mobile market. According to the Samsung exec with the loose lips, the Korean phone maker is working on iris recognition technology. This would presumably allow you to unlock the phone with your unique eye imprint rather than a PIN or your face. Samsung might be trying to one-up Apple, which just added a fingerprint scanner to the iPhone 5S. There is no guarantee the tech will be ready for the GS5, though.

For iris scanning to be feasible, the device would need a super-high resolution front-facing camera. Lending credence to this approach is the existence of Samsung’s Smart Stay feature, which uses the camera to tell if your eyes are open and looking at the screen. So you could maybe take some really nice selfies too.

However, regular visible light images aren’t great for getting iris scans of people with dark brown eyes. That’s why most commercially deployed iris scanners use near-infrared light with a wavelength of 700-900nm. It’s possible Samsung could go this route – the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 already include infrared sensors that are used for head tracking. A more powerful sensor in the Galaxy S5 might – possibly – be able to do iris scanning.

The thing to remember about Samsung’s feature-packed software is that some of it just won’t work right. Many of the “Smart” features introduced in the GS4 only worked enough to be profoundly annoying. If head-tracking features like Smart Scroll and Smart Rotate only work when they feel like it, what are the odds that iris scanning is going to be a good experience out of the gate. Don’t get your hopes up on this one.

According to the CES tease, Samsung is also planning a more radical redesign for the GS5. The Galaxy S4 was a little on the boring side because it looked very similar to the Galaxy S3. This time the company is apparently looking to improve the display and the feel of the casing. Samsung is famous for using slippery, unpleasant plastic, so maybe it’s finally looking into a more premium material. As for the screen, a 5.25in 2560 x 1440 AMOLED has been rumoured. That would be about 560 pixels per inch, over 100 more than the Galaxy S4 and 200 more than the iPhone 5S. PenTile doesn’t really matter at that point.

Alongside the Galaxy S5, Samsung is expected to announce a new version of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch with a sleeker design. By all accounts, uptake of Samsung’s £250 wrist computer has been poor. It has only been a few months since that device was released, so perhaps a do-over signals a change in direction – maybe even a reasonable price. Keep an eye out for Samsung sending out invites to an Unpacked event in March or April.