Samsung isn't going to make a big song-and-dance when it finally reveals its next flagship smartphone, at least not literally. When it announced last year's Galaxy S 4, the company put on a pretty grand show in New York. However, that isn't to say the current darling of Android is keeping everything a secret when it comes to the Galaxy S5. In fact, the company has shared a surprising amount about what to expect, without us even getting close to the rumor mill. And, because Samsung makes the majority of its smartphone components in-house (processor, screen and battery) many of these announcements are made from the sidelines, months in advance, then not-so-miraculously appear (eventually) in the company's mobile devices.
Last year's Samsung flagship didn't scream that it was truly a new phone in its own right ... something that Samsung's Mobile EVP, Lee Young Hee even admitted.
Broadly, Samsung's said that it's had a "back to basics" rethink on its next smartphone -- a good idea given that the GS 4 really didn't fall far from the Galaxy S tree. Slimmer, faster and sharper are all good, but last year's flagship didn't scream that it was truly a new phone in its own right. It's even something that Samsung's Mobile EVP Lee Young Hee, admitted in an interview with Bloomberg. "It's partly true that consumers couldn't really feel much difference between the two products from the physical perspective." With this year's model, she added, "mostly it's about the display and the feel of the cover." So that's the front and back, right? At its most asinine, it could simply mean the GS5 will pillage the faux leather effect that's now the standard on both Samsung Android tablets and its Note 3 series. Samsung's already transplanted the look to a limited-run Galaxy S 4, but it's the mention of changes to the screen that's got us a little more enthused than last year.
Samsung's Galaxy Round was the first curved-screen phone, but it felt more like a proof-of-concept than a must-have smartphone. Software utilization of the odd curvature didn't really sell the concept, and (especially compared to LG's G Flex) distribution outside of Korea was (and still is) a rarity. Will the next smartphone follow up on the Galaxy Round's shape or take the curved-screen notion somewhere that's a little more, well, useful? When Samsung first introduced its smartphone-centered curved-screen technology, it was with a new concept family: Youm.
Will the next smartphone follow up on the Galaxy Round's shape or take the curved-screen notion somewhere that's a little more, well, useful?
This family of devices with wraparound (even folding screens) was very much a conceptual, fuzzy future-facing promotion, but the devices looked nothing like the Galaxy Round. The in-the-flesh demo model shown after the CES announcement offered a more realistic, handy way of utilizing curved-screen technology, scrolling notifications subtly along the edge of the device. Samsung is heavily invested in curved screens, and it could be the best weapon it has to differentiate from (most of) the Android pack -- it just needs a better reason to exist in a smartphone.
Going on Samsung's prior track record, screen changes are more likely to result in another increase in resolution. At Samsung's own Analyst Day back in November (a rare event for the company), it detailed a wide-ranging roadmap of where its components business is heading, including what it'll be bringing to its mobile devices in 2014. Let's temper these points though: new features and upgrades mentioned could well appear in another device that's not the GS5. (Gotta hold back something for the Note series too, right?)
Samsung's President of Device Solutions Stephen Woo said that Samsung's first (and less easy-to-understand) WQHD screen will appear in mobile devices this year. It's not 4K -- although that's on the roadmap for 2015 -- but it's still a substantial resolution bump. At 2,560 x 1,440, that's nearly twice as many pixels as a 1080p panel found on the Galaxy S 4. A resolution bump like this, however, could well be imperceptible to most eyes on a screen less than six inches across. As mentioned earlier, the company presented these slides without a definitive model in mind. It would, however, make sense when it comes to Samsung's useful Multi Window feature, which allows the ability to "float" an app in a window above another app, or even split the screen between two apps (e.g., full 1080p video and space enough to write an email while you watch.)
The presentation didn't stop there, however. It also touched on a new camera sensor, promising a 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor inside a mobile device sometime this year. Samsung's detailed its cheaper 8-megapixel cameras with the same technology, with the new technology promising to enhance light collection and reduce noise, improving color reproduction on the way. If the Galaxy S5 came with this incoming sensor, not only would it be an upgrade from the GS 4's 13MP camera, it would even match the photography-centric Galaxy S4 Zoom, at least on pixel-count.
We've heard a lot about the hardware, and not so much about the software. As Samsung continues to rein in its ever-growing lineup of Galaxy tablets and phones into a more cohesive unit, the Galaxy S5 will likely fit right in the center of that. It gets vaguer as to what that user experience will encompass, however. Samsung's latest Galaxy Tab Pro and Note Pro tablets showed off a new Flipboard-ish Magazine UX, which coexists alongside the more standard, icon-heavy Android home screen.
However, Google has been pushing against such divergent design and UI choices for a while. A substantial patent deal between the makers of Android and Samsung, as well as those reportedly "broad agreements" done alongside it, mean we're not sure what we're going to see on the Galaxy S5's home screen.
The company said in a statement concerning its relationship with Android that it would continue to "provide differentiated and innovative service and content offerings." Here's hoping incoming software additions are more like Multi Window and less like Smart Pause... and that Samsung's got something on its new phone more surprising than some redesigned icons. Less than two weeks to go until the reveal.