The next phone from Samsung’s biggest line of Android phones is just a couple of weeks away from being announced in Barcelona at a special Unpacked event during Mobile World Congress. What do we know about the phone so far? The truth is that we don’t know much for sure, but there are so many rumours out there that we figured it’d be fun to take a swing at what we think this phone will be like.
Samsung and Apple suffer from the best kind of problem in the weeks leading up to a big announcement. They have become so popular that leaks and rumours come from every direction, and we eat all this up because it’s fun to know as much as possible about what could end up being the biggest phone of the year before it arrives.
Coupled with this ravenous quest for knowledge on any given subject is the desire to provide false information for laughs or attention. Especially with smartphones, it’s not always easy to sort truth from fiction. The Galaxy S5 is undoubtedly on the way, and like it or not there’s a mountain of possible truths out there about this flagship phone.
Galaxy S5 hardware
Samsung has a well-documented history of using plastic for its phones. You can spot a Samsung phone by its glossy plastic surface in colours that often have incredible depth to them, almost like paint on a car. The Galaxy S4’s plastic casing was also amazingly flexible, and responded well to surface scuffs and drops in a way that few other phones are able to. Unfortunately, this also gives some users the impression that the phone is cheaply made, since it is so light and flimsy feeling. Compared to the iPhone 5S and HTC One, it’s hard to say that the Galaxy S4 feels well made.
This continued with the company’s other Galaxy models until late last year with the Note 3 and the Note 10 2014 Edition, which both featured textured plastic that resembled leather complete with a fake stitched edge that helped eliminate complaints that Samsung phones were slick and slippery. The leather feel is much more rigid, though the excess plastic around the edges to simulate the stitching can also feel cheap when holding the phone. (A new Black Edition S4 is also incoming with this faux leather).
The Galaxy S5 has been rumoured to come in two versions this year, and multiple sources have pointed at one of these versions featuring a partially metallic surface to offer a more premium and sturdy feel. These versions are expected to be separated by the designators “Prime” and “Standard” when they are announced, and the differences are not expected to stop at the external materials. In fact, the separate version release feels almost like a page out of Apple’s recent playbook addition, where both phones are new and interesting but one is clearly superior to the other.
Despite spending the last few months being reminded by Motorola that specs are not the most important part of a phone, it is difficult to ignore what has been seen so far in benchmarks and leaks for the Galaxy S5 Prime and Galaxy S5 Standard. When it comes to the best hardware for smartphones right now there’s only really a few places you can go, so most of this section writes itself just based on what we know is available. One interesting rumour that keeps circling is a curved display for the Galaxy S5, but so far there hasn’t been any reason to take that one seriously.
Qualcomm and Samsung have been working together for quite some time now, and with their latest Snapdragon processors being almost universally compatible with the LTE bands being deployed in the world today it’s hard to justify using anyone else for a smartphone right now. The quad-core Snapdragon 800 clocked at 2.25Ghz with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of on-board storage is just barely slower than the Nexus 5, but not in a way that should ever be noticeable in side by side real world comparisons. The Galaxy S5 Prime is also expected to be one of the first phones with a 2K display, meaning it will have a 2560 x 1440 resolution display.
The Galaxy S5 Standard appears to have more Samsung parts under the hood than the Prime version. The Octa-core Exynos 5422 processor clocked at 1.5GHz with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage may sound underpowered when compared to the Prime model, but the truth is the big.LITTLE architecture on the Exynos is able to handle simultaneous programs in ways that Qualcomm’s more traditional chipset cannot. Also, with a 1080p display instead of a 2K display there will be scenarios in which this phone won’t have to work nearly as hard to deliver the same visual results as the Prime model, which will help the overall feel of the phone during daily use. This Exynos variant is also expected to be the European (though not necessarily the UK) version of the phone, so it may be limited to those markets permanently.
One thing both versions of the Galaxy S5 seem to have in common is an incredible camera. The Galaxy S4′s camera offered an excellent experience thanks to great hardware and a ton of extra software to help take the perfect shot. Samsung has clearly stepped up their game in terms of hardware, so it is reasonable to expect they have done the same with software in the next version of this phone.
The Galaxy S5 is expected to have a 16-megapixel sensor on the back, the same as what is currently offered in the company’s second-generation Galaxy Camera. This sensor allows Samsung to compete with Sony’s 20-megapixel smartphone and Nokia’s line of extremely high-end camera sensors, perhaps even allowing for greater than 1080p video recording. On the front of these phones there will be a 2.1-megapixel sensor, which seems to be a minor update over the previous front-facing camera Samsung had been using with the S4.
Naturally, software is going to be a big deal for the Samsung camera, and over the last two years the Galaxy line has grown to offer dozens of features in its camera app. Nothing particularly interesting has leaked out so far about the camera app for this year’s flagship, but it is likely to have gotten the same facelift that the rest of the TouchWiz UI has received, and it will surely contain more than a couple of new toys to play with.
Android 4.4.2 has been here long enough that it’s impossible for Samsung to use anything else with their biggest phone, but anyone who has used a Samsung phone in the past couple of years knows that the user interface is unique and often includes quite a bit of extra fluff.
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI looks a little flatter and more vibrant in the Galaxy S5 screenshots that have leaked so far, with special emphasis placed on unique widgets and Google Now-esque features on the lock screen and home screen. The health features are no doubt designed to cooperate with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which we’ve heard is possibly due for a hardware update soon as well. The UI update also appears to accommodate the full screen nature of the 4.4.2 UI, complete with a transparent navigation bar where appropriate.
A big part of Samsung software is the immense feature set that comes with a Galaxy phone. Eye tracking, gesture control, DLNA streaming, and more than a few fun things to do with your voice are just a short list of things that Samsung has been doing over the past couple of years. Eye control, specifically keeping the phone awake and moving text on a screen based on the position of your eye, is expected to be a major facet of Samsung’s presentation again this year.
Google has apparently been leaning on Samsung to make its extremely unique user experience a little less extreme, and to do a lot less in the way of competing directly with Google when it comes to services offered on the phone. As a result, we’ll likely see the Samsung Hubs replaced with Google Play. There’s still going to be plenty of Samsung’s special sauce around, especially if the rumours about ChatON are correct, which claim that it’s going to be gaining video chat with this version update.
It’s going to be a great phone
Without even seeing this phone, there are a lot of reasons to be confident that Samsung is going to deliver something exciting. Samsung has been making Android phones for a while now, and they have learned a lot by trying so many different ideas. Their phones have reached a level of brand recognition that can only be achieved by paying attention to your users and releasing hardware that they actually want to use, with features that are unique and interesting enough to want to explore.