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Samsung Galaxy S5 Review: More Evolution Than Revolution Despite New Hardware Features

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The Galaxy S5 (or S 5, if you ask Samsung) is the company’s latest flagship phone and sure to be a swift seller. The phone is, in its own way, beautifully designed and the materials, while clearly plastic, are durable and should maintain a luster over time. Is this an iPhone replacement? No, but it is a replacement for the S4 that should please shoppers already predisposed to Samsung and Android.

Video Review

Basics

  • 5.1-inch, 1920×1080, 432 ppi display
  • 16/32GB storage, 128GB expandable via microSD
  • 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, LTE
  • 16MP rear camera, 2MP front facing camera
  • Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • Fingerprint reader, optical heart rate monitor
  • MSRP: $199.99 on 2-year agreement, $650 off-contract
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Heart rate monitor is genuinely handy, especially for aging population
  • Latest TouchWiz UI is best-designed yet

Cons

  • Still feels like a plastic phone
  • More misses than hits with fingerprint scanner

Design

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is not a revolution in industrial design. It looks like the GS4, with a bit of influence from the Note 3 that Samsung released last fall. The unit I tested had the black pebbled faux leather back, which is surprisingly pleasant to both touch and look at, and the phone is rimmed with a faux metal plastic border that reminds me of something from a 50s diner stool. It’s not the refined, all-metal design of the HTC One M8, but it is appealing in its own way. I still think Samsung would do well to join the big boys like Apple with use of high-quality materials, but if we must have plastic, then this is the plastic I’d opt to have.

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One advantage of the plastic: the back, at least, is relatively durable and drop-proof. Also, the phone is remarkably light, especially given that whopper of a display it’s packing. Plus, this is a water-resistant phone that doesn’t look like a water-resistant phone (read: it isn’t bulky) so that’s a plus. The USB flap door that ensures completely IP67 environment protection is a pain, however, given the frequency with which you’ll have to fidget with it to charge and connect to your computer.

Features

Samsung has refined TouchWiz, and the My Magazine feature on the Galaxy S5 is a nice way to get your social and news fix in one place, reminiscent of the BlinkFeed feature on HTC’s Sense UI. The built-in Samsung apps all get updates this round, but the best new features on the device are, surprisingly, the ones that sort of seemed glommed on unnecessarily.

The heart rate monitor Samsung included on the device uses pulse oximetry to detect a person’s heart rate through their finger tip. The concept is surprisingly simple, and my veterinarian brother says they’ve been using the tech to find your pet’s heart rate for years; essentially, it shines a light through the capillaries in your finger tip, taking snapshots of the size of the blood vessels within in rapid succession, to detect how engorged they are and then translating that into a number representing beats per minute. It’s a highly accurate measurement method, and indeed in testing it returned results that made sense given my relative level of activity, caffeination, time of day and more.

The fingerprint sensor is also interesting. It works decently well, but has a higher failure rate than Apple’s Touch ID sensor, at least when used natural with a one hand grip, swiping the thumb down from the screen over the sensor pad. This makes it suboptimal for use with unlocking the device, but used as a specific security tool for unlocking sensitive data within apps, or for authorizing payments, both of which are possible since Samsung makes the hardware feature available to third-party devs, it becomes a lot more interesting.

That said, both of these features are unlikely to make a splash in your daily life. The heart rate monitor is a handy shortcut for aging users who need to keep tabs on their cardiovascular health fairly regularly and change their behavior accordingly, but for the most part, it’s little more than a neat trick to pull out at parties and then quietly forget about.

Of the software features included on the Galaxy S5, the best is probably Milk Music, which is for U.S.-customers only and offers streaming radio, ad- and subscription-free. The service works great as a replacement for terrestrial radio thanks to its auto-start, dial-based discovery interface that required minimal user input to get to the music, and it has an impressive library of tracks thanks to Samsung’s use of Slacker Radio to power the service. Milk Music is available to any recent Galaxy device, however, so it isn’t necessarily a reason to buy.

Display

Samsung’s GS5 display is definitely a sight to behold, but it’s very hard to impress in the display world these days – or too easy. In terms of display quality related to pixel density and the crispness of text and graphics, I haven’t been able to discern a difference since Apple introduced its Retina display on the iPhone 4. The Galaxy S5′s screen size is impressive, however, and makes for a great way to watch mobile video thanks to full HD resolution and a 5.1-inch diagonal surface area, all in a phone that manages to still not feel overly large for a pocket.

Is it the best screen in the smartphone business? Very possibly. Is it a huge improvement over the GS4′s screen? For most users, no, and in fact, it actually has less pixel density than its predecessor. If screen quality is a key decision point for those considering an upgrade from last year’s model, then keep that wallet closed; the GS4 still has an excellent screen, and the GS5 hasn’t made any strides in that regard to merit an expensive upgrade. Plus, as with seemingly every Android device, auto-brightness still has major issues getting things right. Apple seems to be alone in divining the secret sauce for properly dimming and brightening your display based on ambient conditions.

Camera

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 benefits from the company’s alter-ego as a camera maker, and works very well in optimal conditions, with fast autofocus and high res 16MP captures. But it still doesn’t fare all that well in low-light situations, the bane of all mobile cameras, and some of the features new to the GS5, while impressive from a tech standpoint, leave a lot to be desired.

Specifically, the focus selection option on Samsung’s phone is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it produces great final results, letting you create portraits with background blur that look like they were taken with much more expensive cameras with fancy interchangeable, wide aperture lenses. On the other hand, they take a long time to capture, which makes getting candids with them near impossible, and taking portraits an exercise in “wait, no don’t move yet, it’s still processing.”

The trade-off for your patience is that the photos are much better in terms of overall quality than the selective focus pictures captured with the HTC One M8′s Duo Camera (which captures images much faster though). But the effect can be replicated on other devices, including the iPhone, using third-party camera apps, so it has a lot less value as a selling feature for the GS5 over other handsets.

Battery

The battery on the Galaxy S5 is removable, so that’s already a big advantage over some of the competition. It bumps up capacity over the GS4′s power house by 200mAh, which puts the total at 2,800mAh. In practice, it improved things over the GS4 and gave a full day of use under normal to high circumstances, but the HTC One M8 still outperformed it overall. The GS5 doesn’t offer any quantum leaps in battery tech, in the end, but if you like having the option to swap, it’s there with the GS5, and not with the One.

Bottom Line

The Galaxy S5 offers some genuinely useful stuff that the Galaxy S4 doesn’t, with extreme water and dust-protection (which really works, based on a brief 30-second submersion test and use in a fairly strong downpour) that should give most users a lot of extra peace of mind. It also increases the screen size even further, refines the look and feel of the all-plastic case and improves the onboard camera. You get some extra hardware widgets on this new model, both of which feel a little like kitchen sink additions.

Overall, though, the Galaxy S5 can’t help but feel like a dressed up Galaxy S4. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and new users will be very happy with their purchase. It might not be enough to convince existing device owners to upgrade, however, and if you’re on the fence between this and other devices like the HTC One M8 or the upcoming iPhone, it’s probably best to wait it out or try competing devices in person. I stand by my declaration that the One is the best Android smartphone currently available, but Samsung’s GS5 is a close contender for the crown.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/CloGeccIGhI/


Google Strengthens Android App Security With Continuous Post-Install Scans

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Google is making a change to its Android security systems today that is meant to ensure that users who install apps from outside of the Google Play store are a bit safer from malicious apps.

Currently, Android users can have Google scan their apps for malicious code at the time of installation. Going forward, Google will expand this program with a more service-based system that will continuously check the device to make sure that apps are “behaving in a safe manner, even after installation.” This means that as Google learns more about mobile malware, it can now check for this kind of code even after you’ve installed an app. Until now, once a malicious app had made it through Google’s security systems, there was no way to detect it later.

The new continuous checks use the same app-scanning technology Google already uses on Android and in its Chrome browser.

In total, Google says, the regular “Verify apps” feature in Android has been used more than 4 billion times so far. Google expects that most people will never see these new warnings pop up on their devices. When they do, though, they will look almost exactly like today’s Verify apps warnings. In today’s announcement, Google stresses that those warnings are highly effective. Only 0.18 percent of installs in the last year occurred after someone received a warning that an app was potentially harmful.

It’s no secret (PDF) that Android accounts for the vast majority of mobile malware. Very little of it (0.1 percent according to some reports) comes from Google’s own Play store. Instead, the main vector for malicious mobile apps are third-party stores — often in countries where Google doesn’t offer an official store itself.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/jf1MFxz-WAQ/


Google Strengthens Android App Security With Continuous Post-Install Scans

0 comments

Google is making a change to its Android security systems today that is meant to ensure that users who install apps from outside of the Google Play store are a bit safer from malicious apps.

Currently, Android users can have Google scan their apps for malicious code at the time of installation. Going forward, Google will expand this program with a more service-based system that will continuously check the device to make sure that apps are “behaving in a safe manner, even after installation.” This means that as Google learns more about mobile malware, it can now check for this kind of code even after you’ve installed an app. Until now, once a malicious app had made it through Google’s security systems, there was no way to detect it later.

The new continuous checks use the same app-scanning technology Google already uses on Android and in its Chrome browser.

In total, Google says, the regular “Verify apps” feature in Android has been used more than 4 billion times so far. Google expects that most people will never see these new warnings pop up on their devices. When they do, though, they will look almost exactly like today’s Verify apps warnings. In today’s announcement, Google stresses that those warnings are highly effective. Only 0.18 percent of installs in the last year occurred after someone received a warning that an app was potentially harmful.

It’s no secret (PDF) that Android accounts for the vast majority of mobile malware. Very little of it (0.1 percent according to some reports) comes from Google’s own Play store. Instead, the main vector for malicious mobile apps are third-party stores — often in countries where Google doesn’t offer an official store itself.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/jf1MFxz-WAQ/


Neat Photo-Sorting App, Impala, Lands On Android To Herd More Cat Pictures

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Be careful of Impala, the helpful, AI-powered photo-sorting app which has just landed on Android. You might not like what it reveals about your life after it’s sifted through your personal photo stack and pigeon-holed your phone snaps into respective buckets — with labels like ‘Cats’, ‘Indoor’, ‘Women’ and ‘Party Life’.

The respective ratio of ‘Cats’ vs ‘Party Life’ on my phone is, let’s just say, pretty one-sided.

Impala launched on iOS back in November. The company behind the app, Euvision Technologies, was spun out from the University of Amsterdam where its founder and CEO, Harro Stokman, earned his PhD in computer vision. 

If you have a lot of photos on your phone to sort, the app’s algorithm will take a while to sift through them all to determine what it’s looking at. For example, I had more than 2,000 photos on my iPhone and it took more than 20 minutes to wade through all the cat shots and categorise them into the equivalent of ‘definitely cats’ or ‘possibly cats’.

It’s by no means perfect. Each automatically generated category includes a sub-section entitled ‘less sure’ for shots that straddle the algorithm’s own logic buckets. A shot of trees against an evening sky in which the collective silhouette of the trees resembles the shape of a mountain got pigeon-holed into a ‘Mountains’ album, for instance.

But for an algorithmic eye it’s really not bad. The ‘Text’ category it pulled out of my phone is pretty faultless, handily gathering up all the app screengrabs, emails, receipts and other word-related photos that are mixed in with the shots I take for aesthetic, rather than utilitarian, reasons.

Point is, a smartphone camera is a multi-functional tool these days, being ever on hand to assist, so an app that automatically sifts and categorises photo-output is a smart addition to your digital arsenal.

The Impala Android app includes a filter function to automatically apply filters to shots, based on the categories into which photos have been sorted.

“The app offers three filters: One for persons, one for architecture, and one for food. The filters applied depends on the photo category. More filters may become available as in-app purchases in future,” said Stokman.

There’s also a shoot function inside the app which labels whatever you point the camera at with the algorithm’s best guess in real-time — examples might include #food, #hands or #person.

While the Impala apps are free, Euvision licenses its technology to a range of third-party clients such as social network sites doing photo moderation. The Netherlands police department is another client, using its software for tracking down child abuse photos.

The mobile version of Impala is a stripped down, lighter weight version of the software it has commercialised. The apps also function locally on the device — with no photo data leaving the user’s handset to safeguard privacy.

You can download Impala for Android from the Google Play Store here. The iOS app has had 90K downloads to-date, according to Stokman, the “large majority” coming from Japan.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/L21UXGHGpE8/


Apple Puts iOS 7 Adoption At 87% As iOS 6 And Older Fade To Black

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Apple has just released updating figures around iOS version adoption as measured by its own tracking of app usage, and iOS 7 and up now accounts for 87 percent of all iOS devices by that measurement, with iOS 6 making up 11 percent and older versions accounting for just 2 percent of the total picture.

That’s a very thoroughly homogenous mix, given the comparable Android numbers; Google’s own mix shows that the overwhelming majority of devices are still on some version of Jelly Bean, with a big chunk on Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich, and only a relatively small 5.3 percent on KitKat (4.4) or higher.

Apple’s numbers are slightly conservative compared to ones we’ve seen from other sources, too, including Mixpanel, which saw usage cross 90 percent a couple of weeks ago, and still shows it hovering just below that threshold. The adoption has risen from 74 percent late last year, charting consistent gains throughout 2014 so far.

Higher adoption means fewer headaches for developers, and a guaranteed consistency of experience across devices and users for both Apple its third-party software-makers. Google is trying to move some of its OS pieces into Play Store independent services to keep its experience easier to normalize, but Apple is still far and away the winner when it comes to the consistency of mobile OSes.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/ld0r88PTUdQ/


HTC Dips Back Into The Red, Posting Q1 Loss Of $62M

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HTC has posted another loss-making quarter. The company has released unaudited financial results for the first quarter of 2014 today, posting a net loss before tax of NT$1.88 billion ($62.06 million) on quarterly revenue of NT$33.12 billion ($1.1 billion).

That’s the second loss-making quarter in the past three quarters for HTC. Last year the company posted a Q3 net loss of NT$3 billion ($102 million) — its first ever loss-making quarter, albeit one which came as no surprise after more than a year of sliding sales in the fiercely competitive Android handset space.

HTC then narrowly avoided another loss making quarter in Q4 — reporting net profit after tax of NT$0.31 billion (circa $10.3 million) on total revenues of NT$42.89 billion ($1.4 billion).

However that marginal Q4 profit was attached to a one-time windfall from HTC selling its stake in Beats Audio. Now the company has swung back to another loss in Q1 — a loss which Reuters notes as being wider than analyst estimates.

The Taiwanese mobile maker, which revealed its latest flagship smartphone at the end of last month (the HTC One M8), is going to need to shift an awful lot of M8 handsets if it’s to pull its business out of the fiscal doldrums. Any positive momentum from the release of that new flagship won’t be felt until Q2.

HTC said its operating loss for Q1 was NT$2.05 billion, and net loss after tax was -NT$2.28 per share based on 823,438 thousand weighted average number of shares.

One bright spot for HTC is that sales in March climbed nearly 2.2% — to NT$16.2 billion – which Bloomberg notes is the first such increase in monthly revenue since October 2011. HTC said it’s expecting revenue to continue growing this month, and throughout Q2.

“The company expects to see positive trajectory of its revenue in April from March and forecasts quarter-on-quarter revenue growth in the second quarter,” it said in a statement.

In addition to the flagship One M8, HTC bulked up its mid-range Desire line with a new phablet and mid range handset announced in February. It has previously said it intends to focus on lower priced devices to try to drive sales volume.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/techcrunch/android/~3/SQ_KIeM-Y9E/


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