[MWC] Galaxy S5, Gear 2 (and Gear 2 Neo), and Gear Fit preview
The Galaxy S5 made its official debut at Samsung’s Unpacked 5 event at Mobile World Congress yesterday, earlier than we were expecting the company to come out in the open with its newest flagship, along with the Gear 2 (yep, it’s not Galaxy Gear anymore) and Galaxy Fit. We were live at the event and managed to get a personal look at all three devices; we were pretty impressed by it all, especially with the Galaxy Fit, so here are our impressions on Samsung’s newest additions to its already huge library of devices.
First, let’s get the most disappointing thing about the Galaxy S5 out of the way – yes, the design is still the same as the Galaxy S4, which means to say you’re once again stuck with a not-so-inspiring design when it comes to looks. However, the phone is as convenient to hold and use as earlier devices, and the back is a faux leather material (like on the Galaxy Note 3) with a golf ball texture (it also looks quite similar to a band-aid) that feels pretty good in the hand and considerable more premium than the Galaxy S4. Also included on the back is a heart rate sensor, next to the camera sensor, but overall, it’s the same design that we’ve gotten extremely bored of and will turn off a people, especially those who think the looks of a phone is important.
Now, on the good things.
Starting with the display, Samsung has outdone itself again, as the Super AMOLED display (still Full HD resolution) is pretty stunning and seemed better than the already awesome display on the S4. It’s sharp, the colors pop, and it’s got the brilliant viewing angles that we’ve all come to expect. Below the display, Samsung’s menu key has been replaced by the recent apps key, but other than that, it’s the same setup – two capacitive keys and a hardware home button; it’s a setup millions of. Of course, as we exclusively revealed, the home button also acts as a fingerprint sensor – it’s pretty accurate and easy to use, though we’ll naturally be waiting to use it more often to see how it works over the long run, so we’ll wait till our full review to give you the full details.
The biggest change in the hardware, however, is not a visual one. Samsung has added IP67 water- and dust-resistant capability to the S5, which means you don’t have to be as careful around the elements as before, and best of all, Samsung has managed to keep the phone’s size around the same as the S4 despite adding ruggedness. This is in stark contrast to Sony’s Xperia devices, which are rather big and unwieldy due to the rugged features, so Samsung gets some brownie points despite not making any changes to the actual design.
The camera has gotten a pretty big upgrade, as it’s now a 16-megapixel sensor. Samsung focused on getting the best quality in images and on things like fast autofocus and a better HDR mode that now works with video as well, a first for a smartphone as Samsung was quick to point out. We weren’t able to take too many images, but from what we saw, the camera works pretty fast (it can focus and take a photo in less than 0.4 seconds) and takes pleasing pictures, and we’ll be taking a closer look when we get our hands on a final unit in our full review.
The Galaxy S5, as expected, runs on Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, which has been improved and changed in quite a few ways this time around. A lot of elements have been made flatter, including the S Health, WatchON, and phone apps, the icons are now round, the notifications menu has been redesigned, but overall, it’s the same interface – simple, easy to use, but more visually appealing than before. It’s also faster and smoother, though as the display units were running pre-final software, there are a few instances of stuttering and rough animations, but very few.
Unlike its previous flagships, Samsung hasn’t focused on adding too many gimmicky features; instead, the company has come up with some really useful ones, including the Ultra Power Saving Mode, which can, according to Samsung, offer up to 24 hours of battery life in just 10 percent of battery by turning features like the color output of the display and making it black and white. Then there’s Download Booster that boosts your download speed, Kids Mode, security features that tie into the fingerprint sensor, or Selective Focus for refocusing on parts of an image, which are all pretty handy functions that should contribute to an even better software experience than before.
Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit
The Galaxy S5 was accompanied by not one, not two, but three new wearables: the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and the Gear Fit, with the last of those focused solely on health and fitness. Samsung has dropped Galaxy from the title, as each of the three variables runs on Tizen instead of Android, which has allowed them to increase the battery life and bring the devices closer to their own ecosystem. These are compatible with almost 20 Galaxy devices at launch – there’s still no compatibility with non-Galaxy devices, but that’s just another move that Samsung has taken to keep people in their ecosystem.
The Galaxy Gear was given a lot of flak on many fronts, and Samsung thankfully took them to heart and has fixed almost everything in the Gear 2. Battery life is rated at two to three days with typical use, and up six days if you use it sparingly. The camera, microphone and speaker have been shifted to the main body, which means you can now change your Gear’s strap as and when you see fit (you’ll also be able to get designer variants of straps, though as always, these might not be launched everywhere.) It’s also lighter and it looks better, mainly due to the fact that Samsung removed the four screws that ruined the look of the first Gear for many.
New features include a home button, which lets you go back to the clock in a single click instead of having to swipe down from the top one step at a time. An IR blaster is now built into the watch for controlling your television, there’s also a heart sensor on the back, and it’s also IP67-certified for resistance to water and dust. The design has remained mostly the same, but it’s overall a more complete device than the first-gen Galaxy Gear. There’s also a Gear 2 Neo, which is a cheaper version without a camera and an all-plastic build, so those not comfortable with spending too much on a smartwatch have an option to choose a cheaper version now.
The Gear Fit, as we mentioned, was the device that impressed us the most. We’ve always wanted a flexible display on the Gear, and while that didn’t happen with the Gear 2, Samsung did manage to fit in a really beautiful curved display on the Gear Fit, and make the device water- and dust-resistant at the same time. The Fit is mainly aimed at fitness, and has a built-in pedometer and heart rate sensor. It’s amazingly light (only 27g) and is pretty much the best-looking device that has come out of Samsung’s factories, and everything conspires to make it the device we’re looking forward to the most for reviewing.
Samsung has taken both their main flagship smartphone and its wearables to the next level with the Galaxy S5, Gear 2, and the Gear Fit, fixing things that were wrong with the earlier ones and adding just the right amount of new features that improve the overall experience. There’s less of a focus on gimmicks and more on making their existing devices better than before; we’ll be giving you full details on everything the new devices have to offer in our MWC review over the weekend.