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Why I am not disappointed that Samsung launched a "better" Galaxy S5
Samsung just introduced the Galaxy S5 LTE-A in its home market, South Korea, almost exactly one year after the launch of the Galaxy S4 LTE-A.
But while the predecessor’s main improvement was a new processor, this year’s Galaxy S5 LTE-A brings several nominal upgrades when compared to the regular Galaxy S5. That’s great news, right? I mean, Samsung just introduced the most powerful device out there, at least when it comes to raw specs.
So why are so many Samsung fans disappointed? And was it even possible for Samsung to release the Galaxy S5 with the S5 LTE-A’s specs in the first place?
Galaxy S5 LTE-A vs Galaxy S5: what’s different?
First, let’s look at the features that became the object of jealousy of Galaxy S5 users, starting with the screen. The S5 LTE-A features a Quad HD (2560×1440) AMOLED panel, which puts it on par with the LG G3 and the Oppo Find 7. The S5 offers probably the best smartphone display of any phone today, and if the Quad HD LTE-A uses the same tech, it should be even nicer.
The Galaxy S5 LTE-A is the first device to run on Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 805 processor, which combines four 32-bit Krait 450 CPU cores clocked at up to 2.65GHz, with an Adreno 420 GPU clocked at 600MHz and supporting OpenGL ES 3.1, OpenCL 1.2, and Direct3D 11.2. If you need a translation, that means you get a slightly better CPU than with the Snapdragon 801/800, but a vastly better GPU, bringing new features and an estimated 40 percent performance jump. There’s also 3GB of RAM, one gig more than on the Galaxy S5.
Finally, the Galaxy S5 LTE-A is capable of speeds of up to 225Mbps, compared with 150Mbps on the regular version, but let’s face it, only a fraction of users will ever get to enjoy such download speeds, due to the massive spectrum and infrastructure investments that carriers have to make in order to make it work.
Aside these big three features, the Galaxy S5 LTE-A is largely the same phone, and the design remains unchanged. There’s no metal to be seen, and rumors now target the Galaxy F for the long awaited switch to metal on Samsung phones.
Beyond the specs
Spec for spec, the Galaxy S5 LTE-A seems a big improvement over the Full HD S5. But if you think about it, the specs bump doesn’t necessarily translate into a nice jump in user experience.
The clearest advantage the S5 LTE-A offers is that Quad HD display, which is a great achievement for Samsung, but perhaps not great enough to justify waiting out for it. By that I mean that the difference between Full HD and Quad HD is smaller than the sheer difference in resolution suggests, simply because Full HD is close enough to the limits of visual acuity to make pixels go away for most users with average eye-sight. This is subjective though, so that is one area where the LTE-A may offer some users a better experience.
As per AnandTech’s benchmarks, the Snapdragon 805 processor brings a small 6% improvement in CPU operation speed, but depending on what you do with the phone, you might not even get that.
It’s another story with the GPU, which is clearly faster (the Adreno 400 series is a new generation), but according to the same source, the extra oomph will be offset by the increased workload of the Quad HD display. In other words, you’ll get about the same performance on the Quad HD Snapdragon 805 device, as on the Full HD Snapdragon 801 device. The extra gigabyte or RAM could help here, but I doubt the difference will be clear.
Finally, the LTE-A bit: with the exception of South Koreans, 225Mbps download speeds will remain out of reach of most users worldwide for many months, maybe years. In the United States, for instance, AT&T was the first to launch LTE-A in one market back in March, using carrier aggregation for theoretical speeds of up to 110Mbps. Because getting higher speeds currently requires more LTE bands to aggregate, it will be difficult for carriers to muster the necessary spectrum, especially in competitive markets, like the US.
Without doubt, it would’ve been amazing for Samsung to release the Galaxy S5 in February, with the specs of the LTE-A model it introduced today. But phone makers don’t live in bubbles – the Snapdragon 805 only recently became available, and not even the G3, which launched in late May, has it. Samsung could’ve used a Quad HD display, but we don’t know what impact that choice would’ve made on battery life, performance, price and release date.
While the Galaxy S5 could be better in many ways, I don’t think the screen and processing package are an issue. I’d rather see a full UI refresh and a better design, and I’d be truly disappointed if the LTE-A launched with that, just a few months after the Galaxy S5.