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Familiar face belies new phone features

Yeong Ah Seng | Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and Gear 2 smartwatch

The Samsung Galaxy S5 launch may not have elicited the fanfare which would have been seen at an iPhone's launch, but Samsung is still the leading smartphone-maker and has been churning out one model after another, while Apple seems to be in the doldrums.

The S5 looks pretty much like the S4 and the one before that, except that it is thinner.

The phone's casing is made of plastic and, from its looks, one would be hard-pressed to tell that it is a new Samsung phone.

But looks can be deceiving as the S5 has many new features:

A fast auto-focus camera (0.3sec) with HDR (high dynamic range), which means the pictures taken are good.

Rubber seal design to give it high water and dust resistance.

An Ultra Power Saving mode, with essential functions like phone and SMS still available while other features are shut down. This gives the S5 30 hours of standby time on just 10 per cent of battery life.

Make PayPal transactions using fingerprint authentication. But I would suggest users go easy on this for now, as the Wall Street Journal has reported that there is a security loophole which makes this feature vulnerable to hackers.

Download Booster makes use of both LTE and Wi-Fi to increase data downloads to the phone

. If the booster works for data streaming too - and I don't see why not - that would be a fantastic one-up on Apple.

In short, the S5 is a powerful smartphone with a great screen, but the plastic casing makes it look cheap in comparison to the iPhone.

It is also fragile. Even though my S5 was dropped from a height of less than 1m, it ended up with a noticeable dent.

What looks to be more interesting than the S5 is the Gear 2 smartwatch. It comes in three variants: Gear 2 with camera, Gear 2 Neo (without camera) and Gear Fit.

The Gear 2 is a definite improvement on the Gear 1. The screen and camera are much better. It even has a heart-rate sensor which, unfortunately, did not work too well. One moment, I appeared to have a heart rate of 56, but, just a minute later, it was 78! And I had not even moved from my chair.

This glitch aside, the Gear 2 has more functions. There is also a good number of apps, which would make the Gear 2 much more useful than the Gear 1.

A friend who just bought an S5 with Gear 2 is more enthused by the watch's TV-remote app, which works with almost every gadget in his home. Battery life is very good, lasting a few days without recharging, whereas the Gear 1 usually conks out after a day.

Even the charging cradle is more compact and ergonomic.

Between the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo, I would choose the Gear 2 as the camera (now mounted on the watch instead of the watch strap) can be useful for taking quick snapshots. It is also better positioned to take pictures.

As for the Gear Fit, it ties in with Samsung's efforts to introduce a fitness element to its phones and watches by incorporating features like a pedometer, monitor for daily calorie and food intake, exercise monitor and heart-rate monitor. Given the success of Fitbit and UP, Samsung hopes to be a player as well.

How much:
S5 ($1,068), Gear 2 ($398), Gear 2 Neo ($298), Gear Fit ($268)

myp@sph.com.sg


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