After years of one-upmanship over screen size and battling it out with useless gimmicks (remember the LG Optimus 3D, the ‘world’s’ first 3D smartphone’, and the Samsung Galaxy Beam with built-in projector?) it’s refreshing to hear manufacturers like Samsung say they’re focusing on evolving their existing capabilities and delivering ‘essential and useful features,’ if their marketing is anything to be believed.
The S4 was bloated with slick-sounding functions such as eye-tracking and a no-touch interface that are great if you want to pretend you’re in a cyberpunk novel, but don’t serve much practical purpose.This time Samsung say they have listened to their consumers and are going ‘back to basics.’
So has the fifth generation of Android’s flagship phone finally shed the sci-fi pretensions in favour of actually helping people work better?
There are still a few pointless features on board that Samsung couldn’t resist including, such as a heart rate sensor, and with the growing range and quality of fitness wearables now on the market it’s difficult to see this as a selling point. How and why anyone want to use this is anyone’s guess, so it falls squarely into the realm of ‘gimmicky.’
The Galaxy S5 packs the powerful set of specs you’d expect, with its significantly improved battery life, Snapdragon 801 processor and LTE-A download speeds. But its primary draw is that it’s actually packed with some worthwhile down-to-earth add-ons – like the Ultra Power Saving Mode that are aimed at ‘maintaining seamless business continuity’ by extending emergency battery life, changing to a pared-down interface and automatically shutting down unnecessary features.
Its even bigger screen is likely to win over many users of work intensive applications, as there’s plenty of room to zoom when viewing documents. And in another nod to everyday usability, its 5.1” 1080p resolution screen comes with Adaptive Display- a feature that intelligently adjusts the tone and contrast depending on what lighting conditions you’re in. I found it worked as advertised and I can see this becoming useful for clear viewing during dark conferences and flights without being obtrusive to the people around you.
With its slightly cheap-looking plasticky outer casing it may not have the ‘bling factor’ of other phones in its price range such as the flashy HTC One M8. Samsung has continued to play it safe, choosing to go with rugged IP67 dust and water resistance rather than winning any beauty contests, although it’s reported to be coming out with a premium model – the Galaxy S5 Prime- that features a brushed metal body.
> See also: HTC One (M8) review: the diamond ring of smartphones
But with the BYOD environment in mind, the deciding factor for the IT department will be around security. Samsung have demonstrated a keen awareness of this with the S5’s many security-heavy updates such as on-device encryption and a wealth of customisable security options.
Employers distrustful of Android’s notoriously sparse security patches finally have something to reassure them with the inclusion of the ‘KNOX 2.0 for enterprise‘ security suite.
The revamped KNOX platform uses a security-enhanced version of Android that containerises work data and apps from personal data. Samsung describes it as ‘an expansive ecosystem to better meet the rapidly evolving enterprise needs of customers,’ representing a huge expansion on KNOX 1.0, which was just an app container and core security platform.
Its veritable Swiss army knife of products include a key and certification management, third-party container support, cloud-based MDM and support for two-factor biometric identification, an app marketplace and a wealth of customisation options. All of this comes pre-installed on the S5, though users will have to contact their IT department’s to activate it.
Plus it comes with a James Bond-style fingerprint scanner that can be used to unlock mobile payments, access secured files and a private user mode, although it’s admittedly quite awkwardly placed on the handset for quick access.
Many in IT are still unsure when it comes to Android for business, but the sheer choice of Android phones out there and the OS’s supreme customisability are big gains. Since the Galaxy line has a loyal following who will go for the phone whether their bosses like it or not, they could be making a sensible choice with the feature-packed flagship.