Samsung releases Galaxy S5, new wearables

Andreu Dalmau/European Pressphoto Agency - Samsung President J.K. Shin presents the new Samsung Gear smartwatch during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Samsung announced its new flagship smartphone Monday with feature improvements aimed at making its devices more indispensable to daily life, rather than adding crazy new features to make its devices stand out.

The Galaxy S5, introduced at a news conference at the Mobile World Congress, sports a new look and some new colors such as blue and gold. But it didn’t deliver on the craziest hopes that Samsung fans had for the phone. In the news conference, the company said that it did, however, shore up the key features that mattered most to its customers. These include improvements to the camera, which now has a 16-megapixel sensor, as well as making improvements to the phone’s speed and battery life.

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While smartphones are the focus at this year's Mobile World Congress, \

While smartphones are the focus at this year's Mobile World Congress, "phablets" are taking some of the headlines.

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These practical improvements are meant to solve everyday problems, such as that horrible sinking feeling you get when you phone dips below a 10 percent charge. Even in that situation, the company boasted that the S5 is able to last another 24 hours on standby mode. That leaves you a lot of time to find an outlet and enough juice to get an emergency call or text from your friends and family.

The S5 is also water-resistant — you can stand a rain shower, though not a scuba-diving session — and also has a fingerprint scanner. Users can scan their digits to unlock the phone, gain access to a separate section of the phone used for personal files and photos and, in some cases, as validation for mobile payment.

Design-wise, Samsung has changed the back of the smartphone to a new, perforated texture that looks kind of like an adhesive bandage.

Samsung also increased its focus on making its devices into workout companions. In the S5, that means the inclusion of a heart-rate monitor — something that’s also included in its next-generation wearable products, which were also revealed Monday.

An all-new wearable device, the Gear Fit, sports a curved screen that hugs your wrist and finally produces a practical application for Samsung’s much-anticipated flexible screens. The Gear Fit is more like a Pebble smartwatch than the Galaxy Gear: It can get notifications from your phone, but it doesn’t have a microphone or speakers to act as call conduit. Its long, thin 1.84-inch screen will display updates from the device’s heart monitor and pedometer.

Samsung also updated its smartwatch line to be more stylish, and not just because it dropped the “Galaxy” from the line’s name. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are both a bit more sensible than the Galaxy Gear, given that they don’t have any wiring in the band. That opens Samsung to offer more fashionable bands for its watches. That’s a design option that cuts down on the watches’ bulk and can only work in the watches’ favor.

The Gear Neo does not have a camera, which should help with the devices’ bulkiness as well. All three devices have a longer battery life than the 24-hour range on the Galaxy Gear — another key improvement for Samsung if it’s looking to pick up adoption.

The wearable devices all run Samsung’s Tizen rather than Google’s Android mobile operating system. This isn’t as much of a problem as it may seem for the app development world, since there weren’t that many Android apps built to run on the Galaxy Gear. Still, Samsung will have to be aggressive about adding useful apps if it wants be at the center of the smartwatch revolution.

 
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