Less than a year after the launch of the Galaxy S4 smartphone – and the battery issues that came with it – the Samsung Galaxy S5 was one of a host of offerings the electronics giant presented to the World Mobile Congress yesterday in Barcelona.
Also to be released are the Galaxy Gear 2 – an upgrade to Samsung’s poorly-rated smartwatch Galaxy Gear – and the Gear Fit, a smartwatch focused on fitness tracking.
Almost identical in appearance to its predecessor, the Galaxy S5 is water and dust resistant and features fingerprint scanning, a 16-megapixel camera, a 2.5GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM.
More power, please
The Galaxy phones are Samsung’s flagship devices but the Galaxy S4 suffered many issues, including random rebooting, functional lag and overheating.
In particular, Samsung’s battery woes made headlines last year. Some sites reported a 30% return rate of the Galaxy S4 to network carriers due to battery problems.
Not so in the S5, according to Samsung. The new battery gives 20% more life than its predecessor, and offers an “ultra power saving mode” which dims the display, switches it to black-and-white and only allows essential functions to operate. With only 10% battery remaining, this new mode allows the device to last up to 24 hours on standby.
Patrick Howlett, from Deakin University, said battery manufacture is an important component of Samsung’s business.
“They supply many other devices with their batteries, including a number of Apple devices I believe, as well as having interests in other larger scale applications such as electric vehicles and electricity grid support,” he said. “I’m sure they are very keen to show that they can deal with any battery reliability or performance issues with their flagship phone.
"Battery life is a key limiting factor for these devices. If it can be increased then developers are free to incorporate more features that consume power, so long as a single charge can last a day – much less and I think a a lot of people will start looking for another phone. I guess time will tell, but given Samsung’s place in the battery industry I’ll be surprised if they haven’t resolved this issue to a substantial extent.”
Time and place
Samsung’s first attempt of a smartwatch did not impress reviewers. Roland Sussex, from the University of Queensland, said the first version’s functionality “did not seem to have been properly thought through”.
“Consolidating everything in the watch itself, over 100 apps and a better 1GB processor all make this a less constrained device,” he said. “This device looks a lot more promising than the first iteration, which looked more like an early prototype. But it looks like another promising step forward, rather than a game-changer.”
Professor Sussex said the new smartwatch will have broad appeal; that techies, teens and students will find it “snappy enough” for the time being.
“But this is a fast moving market, and personally I will keep my wallet in my pocket for another six months – at least until I see what the mythical Apple iWatch might offer,” he said.
A good fit for Gear Fit
Samsung has also started to make health and fitness a prime focus. The S Health app on the Galaxy S5 syncs with the Gear Fit smartwatch, which checks your heart rate while you’re exercising and displays orders on the screen if you’re lagging behind.
Rob Livingstone, from the University of Technology, Sydney, raised concerns relating to multifunctional wearable technologies in their potential to distract the wearer – for example, while driving.
“The fact that drivers are increasingly being distracted by technology while driving has a direct bearing on the road fatality and accident rate,” he said.
“Other than serious athletes whose performance metrics are important, wearable technology manufacturers are creating the mass market need for us to start taking a vital interest in our own biometrics.”
Mr Livingstone added that while the smartwatch will be interesting for the average person, it remains to be seen whether it contributes to a healthier lifestyle.
“Wearable technologies are becoming a consumer fashion statement, for the most part, and would appeal to those who enjoy technology for its own sake,” he said.