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Up Close With Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Three New Smartwatches

Brian Heater

Up Close With Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Three New Smartwatches

BARCELONA — Samsung promised the goods at its Mobile World Congress event here in Barcelona. The company didn’t disappoint, either, revealing a brand-new flagship smartphone and three new wearable watch devices, all of which we got to spend some time with last night after Samsung’s presentation. 

The centerpiece of the event was the Galaxy S5, the fifth entry in the company’s wildly successful premium Android handset line. The device updates 2013’s Galaxy S4 with some solid tweaks to both the software and the phone itself, including a redesigned operating system based on Android, an Apple-like fingerprint sensor to replace your password, a much-improved camera and several features focused on your health.

In doing so, Samsung appears to have made a terrific phone even better.  

There are a few changes to the body of the phone — most notably on the back of the device. Samsung tossed out the word “glam” to describe the new perforated back. It comes in a half-dozen different covers, including black, white and gold, and features little divots all around the surface. After playing around with Sony’s gorgeous Z2 smartphone earlier in the day, it’s hard to call the Galaxy S5 “glam.” Compared with the Z2, it’s still relatively chunky and a bit plasticky.

The S5 is, however, a bit more rugged than its predecessor, with built-in dust and water resistance. (You can read more about that here.) It’s not totally waterproof — you can’t go deep-sea diving with it — but still, it’s nice to see that feature becoming more common on flagship devices. 

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Photography is a big focus on the Galaxy S5. On the back of the device, you’ll find a 16-megapixel camera, a sizable sensor that should make for improved photography and a super-fast focus feature that lets you snap photos quickly.

Samsung has also baked fitness features like a heart-rate monitor and pedometer directly into the phone. The heart-rate monitor sits under the back camera; stick your finger on it, and the phone takes your pulse. You can also log your meals, step count and daily activity on Samsung’s updated S-Health app.

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Fitness, in fact, is a theme that carries across all of Monday’s announcements from Samsung. The latest version of the company’s Gear smartwatch sports those sensors as well. The real improvements here are to the build of the device. Samsung has added a physical home button and moved the camera directly into the bezel of the Galaxy Gear 2, from the wristband in the previous version.

That means the watch isn’t nearly as bulky as its predecessor. It also means you can swap wristband colors. The new Gear is smaller and lighter than the first generation, but it’s still a bit bulky for my taste.

Thankfully, there’s the extremely cool Gear Fit. The device takes the wearable fitness tracker theme exemplified by the likes of Fitbit and, erm, runs with it. The device features a bright, full-color display that curves to fit your wrist.

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Using that, you can receive notifications and other messages from your mobile device, making this thing half-smartwatch, half-fitness band. It’s certainly a fair bit bulkier than the competition, but it may be worth it for that added functionality.

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