It's hard to imagine the Samsung Galaxy S5 not being one of the most popular smartphones of 2014. So maybe the real question is whether it's actually any good? Or, more specifically, whether it's worth the upgrade from last year's Galaxy S4? Let's compare the two phones' features and specs and see if we can lend a hand.
The Galaxy S5 is four percent longer and wider than the Galaxy S4. The GS5 is also about three percent thicker than its predecessor.
High-end mobile devices often get lighter and thinner than the model they're replacing, but the Galaxy S5 does neither. Not only is it thicker, it's also 12 percent heavier than the GS4.
A few months ago we heard some murmurs that the Galaxy S5 would dump plastic for a more premium metallic build. So much for that. The GS5 continues Samsung's recent love affair with pleather — only this time with some dimples thrown in for good measure. It's the closest a phone has ever gotten to my grandmother's living room upholstery, circa 1979.
Another rumor bites the dust, as talk of a 2K or even 4K Galaxy S5 display is also shot down. The GS5 has the same 1080p resolution as last year's flagship, only spread out over four percent more real estate. That means the newer model has a slightly lower pixel density, though 432 pixels per inch is probably still more than you'd ever need.
One of the GS5's big additions is a fingerprint scanner that lives under the bottom of the screen, near the home button. Similar to the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s, it lets you use your unique-as-a-snowflake print to unlock your phone. Samsung is trying to one-up Apple, though, by also integrating PayPal payments with the scanner. Unlike the iPhone's sensor, you'll need to swipe your finger across the screen and home button, rather than just resting it there.
The GS5 also introduces a heart rate monitor that ties into TouchWiz's S Health app. The sensor lives just below the phone's rear camera.
Samsung has thrown some water and dust resistance into the GS5, rated at IP67. That's the same rating that last year's Galaxy S4 Active, Samsung's outdoorsy version of its 2013 flagship, brought to the table.
The LTE version of the GS5 sports Qualcomm's just-announced Snapdragon 801, a slightly faster variant of the beastly Snapdragon 800. Like with the Galaxy S4, some non-LTE markets will see an octa-core Exynos processor in its place.
One of the few specs that stayed the same this year is the GS5's 2 GB of RAM.
The GS5 actually lost a storage option (64 GB) that the GS4 had. Its microSD card slot is still in tow, though, and storage hoarders can snag one of SanDisk's new 128 GB SDs to help make up for the skimpier internal space.
The GS5 also holds a bit more juice. It's too early to jump to conclusions about its battery life, but this certainly isn't a bad sign. For what it's worth, Samsung says it will give you 10 hours of web use or 11 hours of video-watching.
Both handsets have removable batteries, so you could always carry a spare if you're going to have an unusually long day away from power outlets.
The GS5 also has an interesting new "Ultra Power Saving Mode." When turned on, this mode turns the display black & white and shuts down unnecessary background processes when your battery hits a critical level. Samsung says that using the phone in Ultra Power Saving Mode will give you 24 hours of uptime on just a 10 percent charge. If it lives up to that promise, then this could be an incredibly handy feature to have in a pinch.
The GS5's rear camera gets a resolution boost, up to 16-megapixels. It also records 4K video and has a new feature that lets you simulate a high-aperture lens by blurring a subject's background.
Both phones have IR blasters, in case you're into using your phone as a remote control for your TV.
Kudos to Samsung for launching all of its recent major flagships with the (at the time) latest version of Android. The GS5 continues that trend with KitKat. If you own a GS4, then the Android 4.4.2 update should be rolling out soon, if not already.
The GS5 launches in April, a year after the GS4 touched down. Samsung points to April 11 as the big roll-out date, but you'll want to check with your local carrier to see if they'll be pushing it out on the big day.
What we do know is that Samsung appears to have pulled back the reins and avoided feature creep. The GS4 launched with such an overwhelming list of features (most of which looked much better in commercials than in day-to-day use) that we find this newfound restraint refreshing. More importantly, the few features that Sammy did focus on — fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor, power saving mode — look like they could actually be worth paying attention to.
With that said, the GS5 does look like a relatively minor upgrade over the GS4. If none of the new phone's unique features tickle your fancy, then there's probably little reason to throw down for the newer model. The Galaxy S4 still has a terrific screen, zippy performance, and is thinner and lighter than the GS5. It's getting harder and harder to innovate with high-end smartphones, so brace yourself for more of this kind of incremental upgrade in the foreseeable future.
Most of all, remember that we're just barely scratching the surface here. Much more to come as we approach the Galaxy S5's April launch.
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