There is something about smartphones and me. Many a times that something has always revolved around one smartphone brand: the Galaxy brand. The epitome of that Galaxy brand is the Galaxy S series of smartphones. Since the first Galaxy S made its debut back in 2010, it has grown from an Apple iPhone copycat to its own man, to a lovable brand. One that has everyone talking everytime we approach the release date of a newer Galaxy S smartphone. In the last few days, I have been reading reactions from all Samsung fans out there about Samsung’s latest and greatest, the Galaxy S5. I have read as well those from Samsung’s device critics and seasoned analysts. There’s something clear from all those views and opinions: it did not meet their expectations. Those are their views and opinions. What about mine? I am not that significant but let me add my two pence.
The Galaxy S5 will be available in 150 countries starting April 11th so until then, there’s not much about closer user interaction with the device that those of us who never made it to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona can say about it from an up close experience. Nevertheless, the internet has made it easy to access materials of any nature. I happened to have watched the webcast. That live stream and the reactions it brought is a stark contrast to the reactions after the Galaxy S III was announced back in May 2012. The Galaxy S III was a surprise. It was also the first time that Samsung went out of its way and besides throwing in TouchWiz in the mix, added a few “cool” features which when eventually featured on ads, made the iPhone look like a phone from the last century. Since the Galaxy S III went on to be a best seller and smashed all manner of records, I expected Samsung to stick with a winning formula: i.e not make any changes on the design of the Galaxy S III and add some more custom features to its successor, the Galaxy S4. That they did and that is why I did not at any given point consider the S4’s added features as just gimmicks.
The Galaxy S5 however is a different story. It comes out at a time that Samsung’s aged flagship failed to keep on the growth momentum that its predecessor had set and the rumoured internal sales targets that were never made. Make no mistake, the Galaxy S4 was a best seller amongst all non-iPhones sold in 2013. You can’t take that away from it. It blew out devices that people expected to perform well like the HTC One and later in the year the LG G2. That lends a lot of credence to my belief that Samsung made a good decision to stick with a winning formula last year. That was last year. Things aren’t going to be the same this year. May be they will but that is a tough bet to place.
We have the LG G Pro 2 out already. By any means, it is as good a smartphone as any other top class device either in the market or not yet released. There’s HTC’s upcoming flagship. HTC made the jump to a premium, more polished design last year and even if they stick with that already dated design, it won’t be a bad thing (that applies only to the likes of Samsung who can move mountains; anyone else who wants to take Samsung head on needs a lot of differentiation, trust me). Sony has just released a beastly Xperia Z2. Huawei is yet to announce what it will be doing with a successor to the Ascend P6. There’s competition. The competition did not rest and they were all working round the clock to come take Samsung’s hold on the smartphone market.
Save for the many devices that Samsung releases in a calendar year, the only true high end international smartphones from Samsung last year were the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note 3. Between the start of the year 2013, the S4’s announcement and shipping date and now, Samsung’s competitors have shipped at least 3 very high end devices that at any given point acted as flagships. LG has had two devices in its Pro lineup already and one in its G series. Sony has had quite a number. What does that tell you? Effort. No one is sleeping. I’m not saying Samsung is sleeping because the Galaxy Note 4 is definitely going to kick ass and if you’bve been following tech news keenly you already know how gorgeous that Gear Fit is, the point I’m putting across is that the Galaxy S5 could’ve been better.
The Galaxy S5’s design is totally uninspired. That’s the truth. Of course it will feel nice in the hand and all but we can agree that they could’ve done better. I know concept designs are just that, concept designs but just look around the world wide web. You’re likely to come across several dozen good looking Galaxy S5 concept designs. Seeing as it is that Apple is likely to up its game when the iPhone 6 eventually comes out, the Galaxy S5 lost the chance to charm the world and make that next iPhone not much of a big thing to everyone but traditional Apple fanboys. That it clearly did not do. How it will hold up the design prowess of the iPhone is something I’m sure the marketing department will spend sleepless nights on. The Galaxy S5 presented the single greatest opportunity for the Galaxy S series to win over new fans and cement itself as the gold standard of smartphones. Come on, the iPhone has had its fair share of that. Time for a new guy.
The good or bad news is that in the droidsphere, no other OEM comes close as far as commanding the influence that Samsung has is concerned. While they all make some really nice devices, they don’t a lot of effort to let the world know about them. In fact unless you camp on tech blogs, all you’re likely to see more is Samsung Galaxy and all you’re going to hear more about is the iPhone. That’s the sad truth. Others just come somewhere in between. So that’s good news for Samsung. I am sure we’ll be sold on the hype that competitors have or will bring better devices that it will end there. Nothing more till the sales figures show the Koreans doing just fine despite not hitting last year’s percentages. There’s room for redemption in the Galaxy Note 4.
The good thing about the Galaxy S5 is that Samsung has not forgotten what we have always liked it for: swappable batteries and a microSD card slot. Those are two main reasons why people will still pick a Galaxy over some shiny “insert device name here”. I doubt newer features like that heart rate sensor and fingerprint scanner would be key in influencing buyers to get the device. Probably the ultra power saving mode and the 16 MP camera (again without OIS. Why?) with its many predetermined modes will be key influencers after the reviews are in but why when there are other phones with large capacity batteries like the Galaxy Note 3 and the G2?
For guys tied to carrier contracts whose Galaxy S III two year contracts are running out, the Galaxy S5 is a no brainer. It’s a worthy upgrade. For guys who have been toying with the S5’s predecessor, the S4, I’ll have to lay my hands on the new guy before being in a position to say whether it is a worthy upgrade or not. As of now, your Galaxy S4 is just as good. There’s no need to talk about Note 3 users since they can hold out for a serious upgrade of their current monsters in a few month’s time.
That’s the problem with the S5. It is not so striking that those who would’ve gone for other devices will have to stop in their tracks and rush to pick it. It is not the sort that you’ll see and immediately be like “please take my cash”. I guess those are the problems you have when you’ve reached the top. Apple has been there. Selling the same thing with a few minor tweaks and at times non-functional maps but still raking in the sales. As somebody who has been a genuine lover of Samsung devices over the last three years, I hope they realize very quickly that this plateu status does not do them any good and get back to that well paved road we were all cruising on when they last took the stage at the IFA in Berlin last year.
I could go on and on about the Galaxy S5 but let me stop there. What about you reading this? What do you think of the Galaxy S5? Is it all that you hoped for? Could it have been any better? Notice I did not talk about the specs. I have seen guys bashing the S5 because every other top device has 3 GB RAM, this and that processor blah blah blah. I won’t touch that because again, how much of all that do you actually make use of? About TouchWiz, we need another whole article. Sound off in the comments and as always my Twitter feed.