Galaxy S5 preview: Is this the flagship Samsung phone we’ve been waiting for?

Preview
Galaxy S5 Hands On

Samsung might have missed out on an early opportunity to buy Android before Google did, but the South Korea-based technology giant still managed to become a dominant force in the smartphone market in just a few short years. Among leading global handset vendors, Samsung ships more smartphones each quarter than all of its rivals combined. And with the just-announced Galaxy S5 smartphone, Samsung will look to maintain or even extend that lead in 2014.

Following its launch, the Galaxy S4 became the fastest-selling smartphone in the history of the Android platform. But it wasn’t the best. Instead, a laundry list of gimmicky features made the phone a jack of all trades but a master of just one: the display.

Samsung smartphones are known for their gorgeous screens, and the S4 was no disappointment in that department. While its larger counterpart the Galaxy Note 3 took the honor of having the best smartphone display we saw in 2013, the S4 was certainly among the best in the business last year.

Overall, however, the S4 was not the runaway success Samsung and industry watchers thought it would be.

With the Galaxy S5, Samsung looks to make amends.

The Galaxy Note 3 unveiled last fall was really our first indication that Samsung intended to fight its addiction to “feature spam,” which is the practice of stuffing as many gimmicky new features as possible into each device.

This was one of two main things I was looking out for when I finally got some time to test the Galaxy S5 on Monday — whether or not Samsung continued to dial back the feature spam.

Thankfully, it did.

The new Galaxy S5 is not packed full of gimmicky new features like its predecessor was. Instead, there are a few new key features that actually add value to the user experience. Chief among them is a novel new power-saving mode that only displays black and white, and restricts which apps can run.

When you’re nearing the end of a busy day and running out of juice, this feature is going to be amazing. The new S5 also includes an integrated fingerprint scanner and it is dust-resistant and waterproof in up to 3 feet of water, which will undoubtedly save a lot of people some heartache.

The second thing I was on the lookout for was the Galaxy S5′s fit and finish.

We all knew that the Galaxy S5′s display would be remarkable (it is) and that its guts would be powerful (they are), but early reports went back and forth on whether or not the S5 housing would finally be built out of a more premium material. While Samsung’s displays and components are always top-notch, the feel of its flagship smartphones doesn’t compete with devices like the iPhone 5s and HTC One.

Unfortunately for those like me who were hoping for a premium option from day 1, the Galaxy S5 model unveiled on Monday is plastic. There may indeed be an upscale version to follow, but Samsung fans looking for the latest and greatest will have to make do with yet another plastic phone for now.

The back of the phone is no longer flimsy-feeling plastic like it was on the S4, and it’s also not weird pleather like the Note 3. Instead, it’s a perforated plastic that some will think is an improvement and others will not like at all.

In the end, Samsung has indeed created the Android smartphone to beat in 2014. It’s lightning-fast, it packs a wide range of proprietary features and the display is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s not the quad HD screen we were expecting thanks to a wave a rumors, but it’s still easily among the best in the business.

When the Galaxy S5 launches in the coming months, it will be a best-in-class device. Once again, Samsung has raised the bar.

Like the Galaxy S4, however, this is an incremental update. It’s not a game-changer by any means. It also doesn’t push into quad HD territory, and from what I hear that is largely due to yield issues. One of my sources has said that Samsung still plans to launch devices with quad HD displays this year, however, so early Galaxy S5 adopters should expect to have a bit of envy when that happens.

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 will begin rolling out worldwide on April 11th.

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