Review: S5 features useful, less about gimmicks

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm •  Published: April 9, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — There's a lot to like about Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone —among them, its relative lack of features.

Don't get me wrong. The company's new flagship smartphone has plenty of innovations, including water resistance, a heart rate sensor and a fingerprint reader to bypass security passcodes. The screen measures 5.1 inches diagonally, which is slightly larger than its predecessor's 5 inches and much bigger than the iPhone's 4 inches. The S5's camera is capable of taking 16 megapixel images, an improvement from 13 megapixels in last year's Galaxy S4.

What's most notable, though, is Samsung's decision to focus on features people might actually want. Some of the S4's features — such as automatic scrolling of content when you tilt your phone or head — came across as clutter or gimmicks that often didn't work as advertised.

Samsung also simplified the phone's interface. Like other Android phones, the S5 is still more complex to use than Apple's iPhone, but the flip side is you get many more ways to customize it, including the ability to unlock a phone by drawing a pattern on the screen rather than using a passcode. In the S5, Samsung plays down or removes many of the S4's less useful features, while rearranging the settings and layouts to make things easier to find.

The phone goes on sale Friday around the world, though a few carriers in Korea released it early. Through the major U.S. carriers, it will cost about $200 with a two-year service agreement or $600 to $660 without one.

Samsung is emphasizing fitness activities in its latest phone.

The heart rate sensor, located on the back just below the camera lens, doesn't measure your pulse continuously. Rather, you have to hold your finger on the sensor for about five seconds before and after your activity. The information gets stored in Samsung's S Health app. Other app developers can make use of the sensor, too.

If you need continuous tracking, Samsung has three fitness-focused wrist devices out Friday. They sync with the S5 and other Samsung phones to give you a broader snapshot of your activities. I'll be reviewing those features separately after I've had a chance to use the phone for more than an afternoon.

In keeping with the fitness focus, Samsung also offers water resistance, meaning you can submerge it as much as 3 feet deep for up to 30 minutes. You can splash away by the pool, or sweat on it during a run.

Sony Corp. goes further in letting you dunk its latest Xperia phones up to 4.5 feet deep, but multiple plastic covers must be intact to get the protection. With the S5, there's only one cover to worry about, plus the phone's removable plastic back. The S5 isn't meant for underwater use, but I was still able to take photos and listen to audio.

The camera's 16 megapixel resolution brings the S5 closer to what stand-alone cameras offer, though the megapixel count is just one factor. In my limited tests, many indoor shots came out blurrier compared with the 8-megapixel iPhone 5S. I'll be reviewing the camera features more extensively.

For now, I'll point out that the camera interface is simplified. With the S4, I would often turn on special modes and features by mistake and miss the shot trying to turn them off. The S5 reduces your choices or at least hides many of them. For instance, one button combines many of the previous choices and offers you the relevant ones based on circumstances. The S5 also promises a faster auto-focus, though it'll take time to test that promise.

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