The electronics giant announced its latest smartphone, the Galaxy S5, along with three wearable devices, including the Galaxy Fit fitness band.
NEW YORK — As one of the handful of tech companies whose every move is scrutinized closely by pundits and consumers alike, there had been a lot of speculation about what Samsung's Galaxy S5 smartphone might look like and do.
Now that the curtain has been lifted, here's what we know about the successor to the Galaxy S4, which is coming in April to the major U.S. carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
The new S5 is water resistant, has a 5.1-inch full HD 1080p display, with technology that Samsung claims takes brightness levels to new highs and dimness levels to new lows. And as rumored, the home button has an embedded fingerprint scanner that not only locks and unlocks the phone but that authenticates purchases made through the likes of PayPal.
This fingerprint scanner, Samsung's answer to a feature introduced by Apple on the iPhone 5s, can also be used to unlock pictures you want to keep private, or to take the place of other Web passwords. It works with up to eight fingers. You swipe down to perform the unlocking function, but I haven't gotten a chance to have it recognize any of my own digits yet.
The phone incorporates an advanced flavor of Wi-Fi, supplementing the fast global LTE bands that are also supported. Samsung says downloads of large files are extra speedy — 1 gigabyte in just 30 seconds, a potential boon to people who like to watch movies on the go.
Samsung has always piled on a bevy features to its devices — sometimes bordering on overkill — with many of those features focused on the camera. Among the tricks Samsung is touting this time around: a "phase detection" feature found on digital SLRs that speeds up auto-focusing (0.3 seconds, which Samsung says is the fastest auto-focusing available on a smartphone).
The HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging technology that has been on other smartphones works with video as well as digital stills on the S5. A new "blur" mode lets you selectively keep part of the picture in focus while blurring another part of the scene, a feature found on rival smartphones. The rear camera on the new Galaxy has a 16-megapixel sensor.
This latest phone might also give a boost to the burgeoning mobile payments space, supporting not only Google Wallet but the rival payments system known as Isis.
And if your children routinely snatch your phone — mine do — you'll appreciate a Kids Mode that lets you display only apps and features deemed appropriate for the youngest members of your household.
Another of Samsung's claims concerns power. The S5 permits wireless charging and promises battery life of up to 12 hours of video playback. A power-saving mode can keep the phone humming for 24 hours in standby, Samsung says, even when the battery droops down to a puny 10% level.
The 5.1-ounce device is made of plastic, not metal like a competitive device the HTC One, and the matte finish on the back (decorated by tiny holes) looks and feels similar to the back of Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 "phablet" that is already on the market. That's in stark contrast to the slippery plastic finish on the S4. The S5 comes in "charcoal black," "electric blue, "copper gold" and "shimmery white." To which I respond, where do the marketers come up with this stuff?
One area of emphasis is fitness. Samsung loaded the phone with what it said is the first built-in heart rate sensor. It sits below the camera lens on the rear (and can easily be mistaken for a camera flash). In addition, you can use the phone to track meals, workouts and to get motivated by a real-time fitness-coaching app.
Speaking of fitness, Samsung separately announced the Gear Fit, a bracelet aimed at keeping all of us in shape. It has a 1.84-inch curved Super AMOLED display. Over the weekend, Samsung also unveiled the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, with fitness apps of their own.
Samsung says it refined the user interface of the phone and simplified controls — I want to spend time with my own review unit before coming to a verdict on whether the company has succeeded.
The phone runs the "Kit Kat" version of Android, which is hardly a surprise, even if the new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches that Samsung separately announced over the weekend eschewed Anroid for the Linux-back backed Tizen.
The phone is water-resistant to a 1-meter depth for up to a half-hour as Samsung seems to be heralding a feature that has been a staple on recent Sony mobile devices.
The new Galaxy is not the only development to emerge from the universe that is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Nokia made news with the introduction of its first line of Android phones. Microsoft is in the final stages of acquiring Nokia, of course, and the Finnish company has been closely aligned with Windows Phones, including the Lumia Icon flagship that recently debuted as a Verizon Wireless exclusive.
The Nokia X, X+ and XL models will be positioned as more affordable phones compared with the Lumia. The phones will run Android apps, and Android is the underlying operating system, but Nokia is lopping its own interface on top to mask the experience.
Sony and HTC also showed off new devices, though HTC seems to be saving its next banner device for an event next month.
For now, it is Samsung hogging the spotlight. Stay tuned for a full review.