The Samsung Galaxy S5: When a Committee Builds a Smartphone
Why do all the new, hotly awaited phones produce global sighs of disappointment?
Maybe it’s because phones have reached their final form. Their primary features have evolved as far as they’re going to go.
Or maybe it’s because Steve Jobs is gone. There’s nobody in that Driver’s Seat for the World, choosing the direction for the entire industry to follow. There’s no single source of decisions like “Cellphones will have touchscreens from now on,” or “The next big thing is the tablet,” or “The next important mobile feature is voice control.”
The Samsung Galaxy S5. (Photos by David Pogue/Yahoo Tech)
Exhibit A: The new Samsung Galaxy S5, which goes on sale tomorrow ($200 with a two-year contract from Sprint or AT&T; $200 for two from Verizon, with contract; $660 with no contract from T-Mobile). It’s the successor to last year’s very popular Galaxy S4. It’s a large, beautiful, fast phone that runs Google’s Android operating system. It’s one of many phones in this category.
And if you had to characterize the direction Samsung has chosen for its new flagship phone — well, you couldn’t. There isn’t one.
Oh, there are a lot of nips and tucks, all welcome. And there are a couple of minor new hardware features. But current owners of last year’s Galaxy S4 model will not experience any obsolescence anxiety.
You know how Apple refines every other year’s iPhone instead of redesigning it (iPhone 4, iPhone 4s; iPhone 5, iPhone 5s…)? Well, if Apple had named this phone, it would have been called the Galaxy S4s.
The hardware: Giant, plastic, and waterproof
The S5 looks almost exactly the same as last year’s model. It’s handsome, although its body is made of plastic. It’s not nearly as classy as the metal or glass of the iPhone or the HTC One (M8).
Plastic has its advantages, of course: It’s durable, it allows a good wireless signal to pass through, and it pops off easily when you want to replace the battery or insert a memory card (take that, iPhone!). The S5’s plastic back has little dimples that make it extra grippy. It just doesn’t look or feel as satisfying as its rivals.
The 5.1-inch screen is too big to operate with the hand that’s holding it, unless your thumb can stretch like Mrs. Incredible’s. But Samsung has a clever, if weird, fix for this: Among the Galaxy’s 732,852 features is one called “One-Handed Operation,” whose function is to shrink the screen so that you can reach all of it with your thumb. It leaves empty black areas around the shrunken image. Clever! But if you wanted a smaller screen, why would you have bought a big phone?)