Groundhog Day: Why the Samsung Galaxy S5 is just another Android device

Groundhog Day: Why the Samsung Galaxy S5 is just another Android device

Summary: After the wait and the anticipation, Samsung has produced... another Android smartphone. But you've read this article before, haven't you?


Editor's Note: The original version of this article was published in March of 2013. It has been updated with virtually no refreshed content. Rest in peace, Harold Ramis.

I was hoping with the Galaxy S5 release announcement yesterday we'd see some really innovative, disruptive stuff coming from Samsung. But what we got instead was just another Android smartphone. Just like the S4 and the S3 that came before it.


Maybe I am jaded. Maybe I've been playing with these devices for too long. Or maybe the Android arms race has now escalated to the point where product differentiation has been reduced to "who's first to integrate the latest hardware components."

I have not been a user of an Android smartphone for some time now. I now have an iPhone 5s on Verizon for personal use and a Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 device on AT&T as my business phone.

But I am always observing the progress of Android smartphone technology, if only because I continue to use Android tablets (I own a Nexus 10, among other devices, such as two Kindle Fires) and there is always a chance I may reconsider my position and go back to an Android device as my personal phone.

After all, the platform continues to evolve.

With the release of the Samsung Galaxy S5, however, I've come to the conclusion that it would take a majorly disruptive effort by Google and the OEMs to get me back as a smartphone customer. 

It's like we've seen this all before. We've lived it all before. Hell, you've read this article before.

Sure, I'll continue to buy Android tablets in order to follow developments with the OS and keep pace with the industry. I'll also continue to do the same with iPads as well as with Microsoft's Surface. That's a no-brainer, considering that with Wi-Fi only devices, there's no carrier commitment and you're not tied at the hip to the thing all day long. 

However, a smartphone is a commitment. Not only do you need to carry it all the time, but at least here in the United States, the major wireless carriers require two-year contracts in order to provide smartphones at a subsidized price level.

One has to have a trusted and intimate relationship with one's smartphone. Without being particularly excited about the technology, it's hard for me as a smartphone user to justify going back into the Android ecosystem.

The Galaxy S5, much like the the Galaxy S4 (and the Galaxy S3) that came before it, it seems to me, was created in part to address Samsung's need to become increasingly independent of Google from a software differentiation standpoint.

This includes a gradual move to more homespun solutions like Tizen, which is now being incorporated into their Galaxy Gear line of smart watches.

In addition to independence from Google's implementation of Android, the creation of the Galaxy S5, like the S4 that came before it, is part of a critical path in Samsung's device evolution towards becoming 100 percent vertically integrated, and reducing their dependence on external component suppliers.

Sounds a lot like what Apple is doing, right? Groundhog Day.

Like the S4 that came before it, the Samsung Galaxy S5 represents the integration of even more of the company's own home-brewed hardware components, such as their line of Exynos SoCs into mass-market smartphones.

This has nothing to do with bringing excitement, innovation and value-add to the end-user. This is purely an economics and margins play.

Please don't interpret this as a negative. I believe vertical integration is an important part of any device manufacturer's recipe for overall success.

But as my Editor-in-Chief and colleague Larry Dignan pointed out a year ago, Samsung's directions, translation and cloud storage features are simply duplications of what Google has in their native Android implementation already. It's very hard to say that this is actual differentiation and value-add.

It would certainly not surprise me if Samsung, along their their increasingly deviated Android build and default applications, built out their own App Store to compete with Google Play, just as Amazon has done with their own Android implementation on the Kindle Fire.

So yes, the Galaxy S5, like the S4 (and the S3) that came before it is a nice piece of hardware. But at the end of the day, it's just another Android phone, and one that is only distinguishing itself in component integration and ecosystem (albeit duplicated) land-grab.

But exciting? A product I want to use and make a contract commitment to? No. 

Is the Samsung Galaxy S5 more Groundhog Day, or legitimate innovation in the smartphone space? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobile OS, MWC


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Fanboy detected

    You use that little thing I know. I had one in my hands this week and clearly undestood why the stocks fell strongly after the launch. Tiny little closed toy...
    José Ribeiro
    • So anyone who dislikes or does not want to use Android

      is a fanboy? So says an Android fanboy.
      • Meanwhile

        apple's commerials touting all their evolutionary features such as

        panaramic photo taking "cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzeee"
        noise cancellation
        a group of cult followers yelling "Sharp, Discover," and then it proceeds to show apps that have been around for years

        Siri is garbage. especially compared to Google Now. so yes go enjoy your Evolutionary features from two years ago
        You know it's sad when At&t commericals are more entertaing with the guy and the little kids touting it's advantages over Verizon using the iPhone even though in all honestly you can insert any phone in those commericials.
        • What does this have to do with iPhone?

          Man, you haters just don't know when the heck to shut up!
          • Nothing directly. I think the point is...

            ...the same types of improvements to the iPhone have been sold as revolutionary instead of the ho hum evolutionary improvements they really were. The GS4 is no different in this regard than the iPhone.

            IMO I would be hard pressed to see any new revolutionary changes to smart phones these days. However I suspect the next iPhone will be hyped up as another gotta have iteration of the product.
          • What 'ye' said

            In its current form, what else is left to do with a smartphone? Jeez, I can talk, text, surf, movies, video, pictures, social network, get directions, monitor my health!?, and anything an app can add to it. Any way you look at it, it's still going to look like a thin bar of hotel soap. Perhaps the next evolution is Google Glass, where you videophone everyone.
          • Except....

            Some of what you commented about are from third party app makers. First, easier to get support in one place. Second, who knows what *SOME* app developers have included [i.e. spyware? stealing your personal information?]. Third, you are paying for those apps most likely.
            Google Glass is not evolution. It's idiotic.
          • I wonder what kind of lawsuits that will bring,

            the video recording of someone without their ok? Or does it matter if they're in public compared to being at home where they should be able to have privacy?


          • Ah, people already are

            being recorded when out in public. Haven't you seen those ubiquitous video security cameras?
          • These days or ever?

            Everything iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc. have ever shown us was evolutionary. The original "smartphone" released decades ago wasn't even revolutionary. The only "revolution" to take to place in the mobile industry is "hype". It wasn't there before because it was a niche market. Now that we all have virtually the same device with virtually the same features you can only really differentiate on hype, although that seems to be fading because it has all been done before.
          • Echo Echo Echo

            You know guys, instead of spending all these electrons sneering at this or that for being an iteration or an evolution in order to put down the marketing guys who don't care, maybe it's time for a walk outside.

            Because, to me, it's pretty clear, it doesn't matter. Samsung and Apple are selling a bunch of stuff and the customers who add the 7th through 9th zeroes don't give a hoot about what is or isn't revolutionary. Apple and Samsung know it. The customers know it. You guys seem fairly bright, so why don't you know it?
          • DING DING DING

            Winner! The Smartphone eco-systems have become stagnant. We are seeing the same things over and over and it's nothing to be excited about. This is a great opportunity for MS and BB to steal some thunder. Make some nice devices and win some market share with great software!
          • It is also a chance for Cyanogenmod to make some money by providing

            updates to existing phones (keeping hardware out of landfills and spreading some of the big bucks that go to Samsung to other smaller players). It also let's Android catch up to where more phones have the more advance install base of the OS. I don't see Microsoft or Apple leaping forward too much (maybe Blackberry as they had such a long way to come), so I fee pretty sure by the time the Galaxy 6 (or next Nexus Phone) comes around with something that is innovative, I will likely be ready for the next Android phone.
          • Evolutionary...I think not

            Nokia has been the only Revolutionary hardware manufacturer....
            * Super Sensitive Touch Screen (can use your smart phone with gloves on)
            * Qi wireless charging
            * Off-line navigation
            * Nokia Beamer
            * 41 mp OIS camera
            * Nokia Camera
            * Integrated People Hub
            * Nokia Drive +

            True revolutionary advances in the usefulness of smart phones for the average consumer.
          • Well, maybe

            "...the same types of improvements to the iPhone have been sold as revolutionary"

            So you say, but should add "sold as revolutionary to those willing to believe that they truly are"
          • Look at your own nickname

            "NOmoreMicrosoftATall" saying "Man, you haters just don't know when the heck to shut up!"? Amusing.
          • Errrr....

            "Man, you haters just don't know when the heck to shut up!"

            [re: "haters"] Coming from someone with the alias "NOmoreMicrosoftATall".
          • Hyproctirical much?

            Says the person who goes by "NOmoreMicrosoftATall"...
        • Yeah, voice activated devices are everywhere.

          Even my 1st Gen Samsung Series 5 Chromebook has voice activated search via the built in webcam/microphone combo.
          Richard Estes
        • Try to get Google Now to hear you say 'Z'

          I created an app that was using voice, but I couldn't get Google Now to hear the difference between 'D' and 'Z'. Now matter what I said, it would always detect 'Z'. In the US, these letters are pronounced 'Dee' and 'Zee' and Google Now could not tell them apart. So if I said 'Dee fifteen', Google Now hears "Z15". Windows Phone has the same issue. But Apple gets this every time.
          A Gray