Android this week: Galaxy S5 launches; Nokia X hands-on; Android security boost

Have we really been talking about the Galaxy S5 for nearly six months? Yup and we’ll likely be talking about it for another half-year as well, but the difference is now we know what we’re talking about.

Galaxy S5 and Gear

Samsung launched the Galaxy S5 along with a trio of wearables at Mobile World Congress this week. The handset didn’t offer many surprises, unless you were counting on a high-resolution “2k” display; Samsung kept last year’s 1080p resolution while enlarging the screen from 5- to 5.1-inches.

A new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801(s qcom) chip powers the phone, bringing improved battery life and faster image processing. Samsung chose a 16 megapixel rear camera sensor while the hone has a 2 megapixel camera on the front. The phone is also dust and water-resistant by default so I don’t expect an “Active” variant of the phone because this is likely it.

Galaxy S5 settings

The early verdict is favorable based on our hands-on look provided by Alex Colon. Samsung has simplified its software interface and focused less on including new features that may or may not add value. Says Colon,

“Simplification is a big theme for the Galaxy S5’s software in general. The phone is running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. Samsung has cleaned up the interface considerably from its TouchWiz past. It still looks nothing like stock Android, but it also looks better than anything else I’ve seen from Samsung so far. I like Samsung’s new icons and its minimalist take on the Settings menu. There are still probably more settings to choose from here than you’ll find on any other smartphone, but the layout looks neat, clean and approachable.”

I think that’s exactly what Samsung needed to do with the Galaxy S5 as the complicated interface and “everything but the kitchen sink” approach for the Galaxy S4 wasn’t appealing to me. The company appears to have taken a similar and welcome approach with its new Gear Fit wearable: I call it a lite smartwatch as it provides support for just a few key smartphone notifications along with several health tracking stats.

gear fit

The Gear fit doesn’t actually run Android, however, the Nokia X phone does. So too do the Nokia X+ and XL; two handset variants of the X that were unexpected.

Nokia X group

The X family of phones won’t impress those who currently use Android but it’s not a phone meant for them. Instead, Nokia has built a low-cost handset with a fork of Android that relies completely on Microsoft’s cloud services. The Nokia X, which starts at €89 ($122 US), is meant to get first-time smartphone owners using Microsoft and Nokia apps. When ready to step up to a better device, these folks will hopefully consider a Lumia running Windows Phone because the experience will be familiar. That’s why I think Microsoft will keep the Nokia X line available once it closes its deal to purchase Nokia’s phone hardware business.

Does Nokia have a compelling product? Perhaps, says Colon, who got a chance to use a Nokia X this week. While the phone performs slow, it’s a nice step up from Nokia’s even lower-cost Asha line which doesn’t currently run Microsoft apps. And Nokia says the X phones will run around 75 percent of all currently available Android apps.

Android Verify Apps screen

Speaking of Android apps, not all of them are safe. Google added a Verify Apps feature to Android in 2012 that checks apps prior to installation. Computerworld reported this week that Google is beefing up the feature so that apps will be monitored even after installation. Expect the improved security to be part of a Google Play Services update for all phones running Android 2.3 or greater.