Galaxy S5 afterthoughts: Are smartphone lovers in for another boring year?

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After months of rumors and hype that had reached its boiling point, Samsung finally unveiled its brand new Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone on Monday. You can read my hands-on preview of the Galaxy S5 here, but in a nut shell, it’s a good phone. There are a number of new features that add value to Samsung’s user experience, and the company managed to dial back the pile-up of useless features that we have taken to calling “feature spam.” The screen is bigger, the battery lasts longer and the processor is more powerful. In the end, however, the Galaxy S5 appears to be the continuation of a very boring year for smartphone lovers, who saw precious little excitement in 2013.

We’re spoiled.

In the years following Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007, innovation in the smartphone space came hot and heavy. Touchscreens, more powerful handsets, app stores, faster data speeds and a wave of novel new features made it seem like the excitement would never end.

This smartphone technology surge also followed a period of several years during which top smartphone platforms including Symbian, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry OS grew extremely stale, so the rush of innovation seemed even more significant.

Fast-forward to 2013 and phone vendors hit a brick wall. HD displays weren’t new and exciting anymore, newly launched quad- and eight-core processors didn’t always provide drastic performance improvements over earlier chipsets, and the introduction of impressive new features slowed to a crawl.

The Galaxy S4 was an iterative update that failed to meet the lofty hopes of many consumers. It also failed to meet industry watchers’ sales expectations. Apple’s iPhone 5s sold faster than anyone thought it would but as we noted in our review, it was by far the least impressive or significant “S” update we’ve seen so far.

The HTC One was a gorgeous smartphone that finally brought top-notch fit and finish over to the Android camp, but sales were slow and HTC is still struggling. Google’s Nexus 5 offered an an unprecedented value, but the thrill ended at the phone’s price tag despite the fact that it was a very capable smartphone.

In 2014, we were hoping for something more. Things have not gotten off to a good start.

LG’s G Pro 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 are both iterative updates that bring no “wow” to the table. HTC’s upcoming One sequel is again shaping up to be the most beautiful Android phone in the business, but we haven’t yet heard rumors of any stand-out features beyond the possibility of 3D video recording, which doesn’t exactly perk up our ears.

Will anything truly exciting happen in the smartphone space this year?

Online chatter and word from one of my sources suggests that Samsung indeed has plans to launch a new smartphone with a quad HD screen this year. It will have twice the resolution of current 1080p smartphone displays, but is a phone with a screen that packs more pixels than the human eye can distinguish really that exciting? We’ll find out soon enough.

Apple also has bigger iPhones in store for us this year. Rumors suggest that the iPhone 6 will feature a 4.7-inch display and the bigger iPhone will sport a 5.5-inch screen. As we’ve noted in the past, we can’t wait for an iPhone 6 with a larger display. Catching up with where much of the industry shifted two years earlier is not exciting, however, and we’ll be looking for much more out of the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 later this year.

From where we’re sitting right now, 2014 is shaping up to be yet another year of iteration. We are going to see some great, great phones debut this year and the Galaxy S5 is definitely one of them. It’s a powerful device with a few new features that we really appreciate, including a new battery-saving mode that can squeeze 24 hours of usage out of a 10% charge. All things considered, however, the Galaxy S5 is not an exciting phone and I expect sales to reflect that.

Will there be any excitement in the industry this year? Will flexible display quality improve and afford awesome new form factors? Will iOS 8 and the next version of Android be jaw-dropping updates packed with exciting new features?

Maybe.

For the time being, however, it looks like the bulk of progress made at big consumer tech companies in 2014 will focus on wearables as smartphone sales growth continues to slow.

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