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5 things to look forward to with the Samsung Galaxy S5

This week at MWC, Samsung finally took the wraps off the new Galaxy S5. While the rumour mill had churned out all manner of outlandish claims leading up to the announcement, the device itself looks like a very premium product. Samsung restrained itself a bit this year and focused more on a handful of distinct features in its new flagship. As the April release approaches, here are the five Galaxy S5 features you should most look forward to.

Smarter screen

Samsung introduced a way to tweak the colour temperature and brightness profile of its AMOLED screen last year with the Galaxy S4, but this year its flagship is getting a lot smarter when it comes to the screen. A new light sensor on the Galaxy S5 allows the screen to automatically change the colour profile to match the lighting. This has the potential to be a lot more useful than simply altering the brightness.

The GS5 had another screen trick too. The brightness can be turned way, way down – lower than any phone has previously been able to go without a third-party app. This makes it great for using in a dark room, where other devices are still blindingly bright on the lowest setting. Samsung says the brightness can go even higher than before in bright light. That’s important for AMOLED, which tends to wash out in direct sunlight.

Samsung claims the new screen features will make the Galaxy S5 easier to use in all lighting situations. It might be the same resolution and almost exactly the same size as the Galaxy S4 screen, but there are some worthwhile improvements here.

Fingerprint reader

A rumour from January indicated that Samsung might use an iris scanner in the Galaxy S5. That obviously didn’t happen, but we did get a fingerprint reader as expected. Samsung has gone for a traditional swipe reader embedded in the home button – just swipe down with your finger to unlock the device. Apple’s Touch ID sensor is a little more fun, but Samsung has included some useful features.

When the phone is unlocked, the fingerprint reader can be used to access a private mode where important files and apps can be kept. No password, no pattern lock, just swipe and you’re in. The device supports different levels of lockdown with different fingerprints too. So for example, you can specify a fingerprint to access a restricted mode where all the apps and settings are tucked away out of reach.

The reader has an API that can be implemented by developers. This could allow you to log into apps and services just by swiping your finger. This functionality works out of the box for the Samsung device account. Samsung is working with PayPal to enable fingerprint authorisation for payments as well.

An even better camera

Samsung has long been at the front of the pack when it comes to photo quality on Android. The 13-megapixel sensor in the Galaxy S4 was great, but the 16-megapixel shooter in the GS5 is something to look forward to. This isn’t just about the megapixels, though – Samsung has optimised the software and hardware to do some neat stuff.

The new camera will leverage a feature called Phase Detection Autofocus, usually seen in DLSRs, to get the Galaxy S5 camera to focus in only 0.3 seconds. That means less lag time between pressing the button and snapping a picture – all the better to get that perfect shot. When you’re setting up for the shot, the Galaxy S5 can also offer a live preview of HDR mode. Capturing HDR images should be much faster as well.

The sensor will be able to record 4K video at a resolution of 3840 x 2160. You won’t be able to enjoy it in full resolution on the GS5’s 1080p screen, but 4K TVs are starting to come down in price. HDR is available in video mode too. A 4K video in HDR? Yes, please.

Water and dust resistance

There was a subspecies of Galaxy S4 last year that was water and dust resistant, namely the Galaxy S4 Active. This year the regular flagship phone includes most of those features itself.

The Galaxy S5 is IP67 rated, meaning it can be submerged in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. That said, Samsung advises not to submerge it if possible. There is a port cover on the bottom of the device that might be a bit of a hassle when you want to plug it in or use a case, but it’s necessary to keep moisture at bay. It will also keep dust and small particulate matter out, which means it can be used in more extreme environments.

Ultra power saving mode

Smartphones do a bunch of awesome things, but that encourages us to burn through the battery browsing the web and playing games. When you really need the phone to be a phone, it might be low on juice. Samsung’s new ultra power saving mode takes that into account and can extend the Galaxy S5’s battery life dramatically.

Ultra power saving mode is serious business – much more drastic than the power saving mode included on phones like the Xperia Z2 or HTC One. Samsung’s power saver turns the screen to black and white to save more power thanks to the way AMOLED works. It also shuts off all non-essential services like data and background processes. Basically, all you can do is take calls and send SMS.

By toggling this mode, the Galaxy S5 can make a 10 per cent charge last for a full 24 hours of standby. This is a very thoughtful feature that Samsung would do well to promote. Actually, there are a lot of thoughtful features included in the Galaxy S5. There are certainly more than these five things to look forward to.

For more on the S5, see our article which discusses which phone you should buy: The Samsung Galaxy S5 or Apple iPhone 5S. We've also got a hands-on with the Galaxy S5, and an article which answers the questions you might have about Samsung's new flagship.