The Samsung Galaxy line has become the go-to device on the Android platform for a lot of people, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be waning any time soon. Coupling solid and powerful specs with Samsung support and a bunch of exclusive software features courtesy of TouchWiz, it’s no surprise that it gets a special place on Android and is seen by many as the main competition compared to the entries from Apple or Microsoft. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was just recently released, and with it comes the expected bump in power and a brand new design, but what’s new with the latest entry in the Galaxy series? Is it worth upgrading? Let’s take a look at what’s new!
1. New Design
TouchWiz is what Samsung calls the layer of services and design it adds on top of stock Android. This is what gives Samsung devices that uniform look and theme, and allows all sorts of services on top. TouchWiz has always been functional and usable, but the truth is that it was becoming stale and in serious need of a new, fresh layer of paint, as Android also has moved on in terms of design. Well, the latest iteration of TouchWiz comes with a brand new design and a renewed look, giving it a more modern theme that doesn’t look as out of place in KitKat. However, it’s not all good. With this latest change in looks, also comes even more inconsistency. This time, it doesn’t clash as much with the regular Android UI, it’s just that the Samsung software doesn’t seem to want to settle on a single look, and so what you end up with is a mixed bag of round and square icons, blue and white accents and other inconsistency across the whole OS. Still, it’s better than what it used to be, and doesn’t clash with stock Android as much as it used to, so I feel like this is a step in the right direction. If you like the extra features TouchWiz offers and are already used to it, this is a small price to pay.
2. S-Health/Heart Rate Sensor
Samsung has decided to included a new built-in feature in the Galaxy S5, namely the heart rate sensor that allows the device to measure your perceived heart rate. The way it does this is curious, and very unlike other implementations that usually use a dedicated sensor or band to get an accurate result. Instead, Samsung uses no dedicated hardware for this, and instead uses something called pulse oximetry, which is not a new concept and has been around for a while. Basically, when you use it, it shines a light through your finger and the sensor captures images of your blood vessels and relative blood concentration and detects your current pulse. It’s not a novel concept, and there are apps on the Play Store already that work just as well using the same concept, but this new addition makes sense given how it’s incorporated in S Health, and seems to be relatively precise. Overall, it’s something nice to have.
3. Fingerprint Sensor
Of course, one of the new features is the fingerprint scanner, which comes out in response to Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint recognition. However, it works a bit differently. The scanner is embedded in the home button, and unlike the newest iPhone 5S, it requires a swipe to detect the fingerprint, and simply resting your finger is not enough. However, it works just as well (some report a few more misses than usual, though), and is just as useful. By default, it allows you to unlock your phone, but some apps already are offering support for it, for example, PayPal can authorize and authenticate using the scanner already. It will be cool to see what other companies do with this sort of tech in the future, and what sort of apps will end up offering support for it. Right now, it’s a useful thing that is cool to have, but doesn’t have killer functionality yet.
4. Kids Mode
This brand new addition to the Galaxy line allows you to lock and secure your phone for your kids using certain restrictions and features. Basically, once you enable it, it allows you to lock out certain apps, only allow access to certain features, allows you to set a daily playtime limit and grants access to a set of built-in specific kid-friendly apps. It comes with a singing/recording game, a drawing app and a fun camera app that allows you to use filters, masks, and other fun stuff with your friends. This is a great addition and is actually quite good: the whole Kids app is colorful, friendly, easy to use, and filled with all the right features. The built-in apps are also really great considering this could have been little more than an afterthought, and actually seem quite fun and usable by anyone.
5. Ultra Low Power Saver Mode
Samsung has already included a Low Power mode before, as did many other manufacturers, where once enabled it would help conserve battery life by lowering screen brightness, or disabling background data and stuff like that, but this brand new mode does things very differently. Once enabled, it pulls back on almost everything at a hardware level: the display becomes monochrome (something that wouldn’t help on a regular device, but since the S5 comes with an AMOLED screen, this disables individual pixels), brightness is reduced and refresh rate is halved, only 2 CPU cores are enabled, and the ones left enabled are limited to a lower frequency. The phone also starts aggressively killing all non-essential processes and maintains basic functionality and nothing else by default. This results in amazing battery life, to the point where it could probably last over 24 hours consuming less than 10% of the remaining battery. No one else really has offered such a radical power-saving feature at this point (HTC has one in the works), and it really plays to the phone’s hardware, so this is a nice addition that actually makes a significant difference in day to day usage when needed.