A couple of friends asked me recently whether they should upgrade their respective smartphones to the impending Samsung GALAXY S5 that is to be officially launched tomorrow (27 March) in Malaysia, especially since that the price was leaked and rumoured to be around the RM2,199 to about RM2,399 range.
So being an S3 user myself for the last 18 months or so, I thought it good that I’d pen down a few points as to whether I think it’s a worthy upgrade. Now this is not a definitive guide, and don’t expect recommendations at the end. It’s just a few thoughts for you, dear reader, to think about when considering an upgrade.
First up is to review the specs but I won’t mention them all as you can view them here.
Some of the more interesting features available on the new S5 are: A fingerprint scanner, IP67-grade dust and water resistance, a heart rate monitor, a new quad-core processor, and 4K video recording.
The downside however is that the S5, rumoured to be upgraded with a metal body design and given a new user interface called Magazine, did not happen. Ditto for the S5 getting a new rapid-charging battery.
Before getting to the question at hand, it’s worth to note a general observation about smartphones today. IMHO, many smartphone makers have reached a plateau in terms of what they offer users today.
What do I mean?
Just take a look at the hardware offerings on the S5. While there is no doubt the new 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB RAM – or for that matter, the rumoured octa-core 2.1GHz Exynos processor to arrive later – will indeed be faster than its predecessor, how much more processor power does one need on a smartphone?
Looking at the power of these devices, Samsung’s super large AMOLED screens, increase of pixel-per-inch density, and hardware such as 8-core processors; how much can Samsung push the envelope any further before it encounters the law of diminishing returns?
In this respect, Carolina Milanesi, consumer devices analyst at Gartner, sums it up well when Samsung’s S4 was first launched:
“We are at the point where the majority of sales in this segment come from replacement, not new users. In other words, the addressable market is starting to be saturated and now it is about keeping their refresh cycle short. The problem is, though, that technology innovation is slowing down and as we move to more innovation being delivered via software, the cycles are getting longer rather than shorter.”
Gimmicks vs real useful features
With that context in mind, the first question is to ask why you are upgrading. If you are doing so because you feel you’re at the end of your S3 lifespan, the S5 should be – but not the only one – on your radar. More about this later.
If you are using another smartphone and are thinking of upgrading because you think the S5 features are cool, then I would urge you to think again.
As already explained, smartphone vendors are already reaching their innovation plateau and as such what they do is to replace real innovation with gimmicky features, IMHO.
Case in point: When the Samsung S4 first came out, it seemed to me that all it wanted to do was to push as many features onto that model as it can, and in the process try to lure potential upgrades.
But if you’re honest with yourself, many of those features felt gimmicky and I suspected that not many ordinary users would use those features on an everyday basis. For example, an S4 feature where a video clips stops when one’s eye is turned away while watching the screen – do you really need this?
Even if you did, the novelty of using such feature would surely wear thin after, say, three months.
The same applies to the S5. It may have a heart rate monitor, but ask yourself, would you use that on a daily basis? After all, if you’re really an exercise buff, wouldn’t a purpose-built heart rate monitor from, say Nike, be more useful?
Granted, you may use the finger print scanner everyday, but is it really that big of a deal not to have it as a secure way to access your smartphone? Would you be significantly disadvantaged if you continue using a PIN code to unlock your phone?
Sure, the 4K recording and IP67-grade dust and water resistance is nice to have, but do you truly need it?
So unless you’re a die-hard Samsung fan boy, do pause and reconsider.
From S3 to S5? Think again
Now if you’re an S3 user, the S5 could be one of your options for an upgrade. But the next question to ask yourself is would you cough up over RM2,200 ringgit on a smartphone?
Or are there cheaper alternatives out there you should consider? I believe there are.
The thing is smartphone upgrades a few years ago, say, from a Samsung S2 to a S3, was perhaps a no brainer. There was scarcity of choice in the market at that time and the S3 was truly a game changer, thanks in part to its hardware specs but also because of Google Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean operating systems, which were a real improvement from Gingerbread.
However, it’s a very different world today. If you own an S3 now and are looking to upgrade because yours is dying out on you, there are plenty of options you can consider.
The other criterion to ask yourself is: What are you looking for in a smartphone? Is it a large brilliant screen? A great video and camera function? Speed of the device? Simplicity in design? Gimmicky features? Large storage capability? A great price?
In today’s world, I believe there’s no one phone that fits the bill for everyone. And that’s fine because today, there isn’t any lack of choices of smartphones for everyone out there.
And frankly speaking, even smartphones that are under RM1,500 do give you great features and value for money these days.
Ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend rather than on what gimmicks there are on your next smartphone.
For me, it’s about simplicity and speed of device. And for what I want, I would consider upgrading to say a Moto X – though not available officially here – as that is a smartphone that is closest to the original Nexus 5 and is really fast to use.
My point is that at the end of the day is there isn’t any need to rush headlong into buying the Samsung S5, as much of what it brings to the table is evolutionary and not revolutionary.
For many smartphone makers, even Apple, this has been the case for some years now. Just look at its incremental add-ons from iPhone 5 to 5S/5C.
Until this trend changes and real innovation happens, save your money and buy yourself what you need, and not you want.