MANILA, Philippines – Almost a year ago Samsung launched the Galaxy S4 in New York. The phone’s predecessor the S3 did so well, that user interest in the phone was unprecedented.
Inside a locked room at a New York City hotel, hours before its unveiling, journalists from all over the world were given a first look at the yet-to-be-announced smartphone. The S4 was thinner, lighter, faster and more powerful but shared an uncanny resemblance to the S3.
I used the S4 for about 4 months and called it one of the best all-around smartphones of 2013. But like a techie playboy, I’ve since moved on to the next, latest and greatest eye candy. Smartphone polygamy is fun, but never completely satisfying.
In 3 days Samsung is set to unveil its newest flagship smartphone the Galaxy S5. The phone will get a big bump in specs – faster processor, better screen and better camera. But will it have that je ne sais quoi – that certain something special that will make you slow down and settle on a smartphone.
Here are 5 things that would make the Samsung Galaxy S5, ‘The One.’
We’re taught not to judge a book by its cover and that beauty is more than just skin deep. But let’s face it, the way a smartphone looks (and feels) is equally as important as how it performs.
Take the iPhone for example, the gold standard of industrial design. With its clean diamond cut edges, sleek lines, unibody frame, and seamless integration of glass and aluminum, Apple has created an experience that bonds the phone and its owner – a relationship that keeps iPhone users fiercely loyal despite issues like sucky battery life.
If Samsung retains its 3-year-old rounded corner, plasticky design, not even the best specs can save it. Now more than ever, there is clamor for something new, something premium, and something pretty. Forget bezels and aluminum coated plastic piping that frame the display, Samsung needs to pump up the volume with edge-to edge glass, using their curved display technology to create a screen that tapers off onto its back side. Users don’t want plastic, give them glass, aluminum and a mix of that faux leather for a better grip.
When we first reviewed Sony’s headliner smartphone the Xperia Z in early 2013, the box said “water resistant” and the fine print “no swimming pools” – but we took it swimming anyway and by the end of that day were convinced that all phones needed to be like this. Several iterations have gone by and Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact is now rated waterproof and pool ready.
Samsung experimented with water resistant smartphones when it announced the Galaxy S4 Active last June, a submersible S4 with a slightly different design and pared down specs. But why should we have to pick one over the other?
Imagine an afternoon lounging around by the pool. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to worry about getting your phone wet, say you wanted to jump in and take photos in the water? The technology is already out there and it should be a standard feature on all premium smartphones today.
I was completely satisfied with the S4’s camera until I tried the camera on the LG G2, a similar 13 megapixel shooter but with optical image stabilization (OIS) built-in. But that spark wore off too when I spent a month with the Nokia Lumia 1020, a 41 megapixel smartphone camera, also with OIS, and with a much larger image sensor.
We live in a market where megapixel count is used to sell cameras, the more the better. But photography experts will tell you that image sensor size plays a bigger role in image quality. Smartphone manufacturers, limited by how many megapixels they can squeeze into uber-thin smartphones are chiming in, HTC calls it ultrapixels but Apple on it’s iPhone 5S page says it best, “A large sensor allows the individual pixels to get larger. And larger pixels, not more pixels, mean a better picture.”
Forget 41 megapixels, the Lumia 1020 takes the cake with its 1/1.5” inch sensor, the S4 in contrast had a smaller 1/3.2-inch sensor. If you want to get really technical, a one-inch, 16 megapixel sensor, with optical image stabilization built in would be ideal. But most people don’t care about specs they just want to be able to take amazing photos and smartphone manufacturers need to give users just that – a fast camera, that can take close to DSLR quality photos, regardless of lighting condition.
Samsung has looked into security options for its smartphones before, but aimed more at the needs of its corporate clients. At CES 2014 it launched a partner program to get its KNOX enterprise security solution off the ground.
But it hasn’t done much in the consumer space, and it will need to.
Apple took the lead when it gave the iPhone 5s a finger print scanner. Built into its home button, Touch ID on the 5s unlocks the phone and authorizes app store purchases, but that’s all it can do for now. Imagine if it could do more than that. Scan your finger to authorize online transactions, auto-fill passwords, lock/unlock files and folders, and encrypt/decrypt texts and emails.
Google lets smartphone manufacturers build a layer of customization over its Android operating system. Samsung’s custom user interface TouchWiz is possibly the most polarizing implementation I’ve come across with: you’ll either love it or hate it.
While I’m a fan of the overall look and feel of the UI, TouchWiz is sometimes clunky and is weighed down by gimmicky, nice-to-have features that most users will never really use. For example a feature called Air View lets you hover over a text or email without tapping to open it; I never used it.
New features don’t have to be mind-blowing to make a difference. In fact it’s the simpler, thought out ones that are more useful.
For example Apple with iOS 7 introduced a feature called square camera – one other way to take photos on its camera app. Nothing innovative, but I use it all the time when the intention is to upload to Instagram. LG introduced double tap to wake screen and just recently the ability to assign a series of taps to turn on and unlock the phone. And then there’s Motorola’s MotoX which runs pretty much stock Android but has a nifty feature called “Always Listening,” which is a completely touch-free version of Apple’s digital assistant Siri. Just say, “Okay Google Now” and the phone will take voice commands and or run search queries, no button pressing required.
In 2013, Samsung shipped a record number of smartphones cementing its market dominance for a few years to come. Apple with only one two smartphones in its portfolio is a distant second, Korean-rival LG down in fourth while Chinese up and comers Huawei, Lenovo and ZTE are 3rd, 5th and 6th, respectively. Finnish smartphone manufacturer Nokia, which once dominated the cellphone market, is nowhere to be seen in the Top 5.
For Samsung the challenge is to avoid the same fate as Nokia, and to do so it has to innovate. Perhaps it’s also time for the company to go back to basics, and if this year’s “Unpacked” event is any indication, maybe things are looking up. Reports have it that last year’s tacky Radio City Music Hall launch event will be pared down to a more casual announcement when the phone is unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 24. Perhaps the same should apply to the S5, where a focus on functionality rather than spectacle would spell a winner. – Rappler.com