Samsung Galaxy S5 review

It’s back to basics, Samsung says about the Galaxy S5. Time to focus on what matters — displays, batteries, and cameras — and to start to let the rest go. That’s the approach Samsung needed to take, but all it was was lip service.

Make no mistake: this is a very good phone. And Samsung did nearly all the important things well. With a great screen, great battery life, and a good camera, the S5 leaves me with few reasons not to recommend it — and the waterproof body is a fantastic bonus. But I don’t love anything about this device. It’s not beautiful like the One, not polished like the iPhone, not full of cool new software like the Moto X. The S5 is a very good phone, but it leaves me wanting more. I want Samsung to care about design, to believe that its customers have good taste and that there’s more to building brand loyalty than beating customers over the head with clever commercials. I want it to give me something, anything, that’s both truly different and truly great. But that’s not what Samsung does.

I like the Galaxy S5. I do. Millions of people will buy it, and very few will have problems with it. Yet I can’t help but hope that one day we all decide “good enough” isn’t good enough anymore. That we demand devices that are different, interesting, special. Samsung’s proved that it can do anything it sets its mind to — I can’t wait to see what happens if it decides to really, truly care.

Photography by Michael Shane

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Samsung Galaxy Note Pro review

Big, bigger, biggest

If you’ve owned or touched a Samsung device in the last several years, there’s nothing surprising about the Note Pro. It’s as if someone stood in a lab in South Korea, grabbed the edges of the Galaxy Note 3, and stretched. And then kept stretching: the resulting slate is 1.6 pounds, 11.6 inches wide and 8 inches tall, and it’s one of the largest tablets I’ve ever held. (The Toshiba Excite 13 still holds the title, barely.) It’s remarkably thin, though, at just 8 millimeters. It’s made of Samsung’s traditional plastic, in blue or white, with a chromed edge that looks metallic but feels as cheap as it is. Mercifully, though, Samsung has continued to eschew its glossy, greasy back for a faux-stitched faux-leather covering that sounds like a terrible idea, but looks okay and feels great. Samsung never used to pay attention to how your fingers feel as they rest on the underside of the tablet, and this change makes a huge difference.

The Note Pro is meant to be used in exactly one way: landscape mode. Reading in portrait looks ridiculous, and the device starts to tip out of my hands as soon as I grip it from the bottom. The physical home button sits on the bottom as I hold it in landscape, flanked by multitasking and back keys; the loud stereo speakers blast audio from both sides; and the camera actually faces me and not somewhere over my right shoulder. It’s meant to be used flat on a desk, too, or cradled by your elbow, since it’s virtually impossible to hold in one hand and only slightly more stable in two.

Its sheer size makes it a great way to show something to a co-worker or client, but too big for almost anything else. I often lie in bed, on my back with a tablet held above my face while I watch TV shows before going to sleep. The Note Pro all but blocked my entire vision, was so bright it left me seeing spots, and tired my arms out pretty quickly. Playing Asphalt 8: Airborne gave me a headache, the frenetic game jittering so large so close. It’s essentially like holding a television two feet in front of my face.

The screen itself is quite good, a 12.2-inch, 2560 x 1600 panel with great colors and viewing angles. But I can’t help wondering if Samsung could or should have done better. The Note 10.1 has the same resolution in a smaller display, and side by side with the Pro is noticeably sharper. The Pro is so designed around its screen, and its best features improve with every available pixel, that something even higher-res would have helped make the Pro worth its $749.99 sticker price. As it is, bigger doesn’t add anything: you’re getting larger icons and bigger text, not more pixels to work with.

And above all, that’s what Samsung’s trying to do with the Note Pro: give businesses something to work with.

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Sony RX100 III bets a better lens

Most notably, it’s got a new 24-70 f1.8-2.8 lens, with a faster aperture than the lens on the other two RX100 models, and which uses the Zeiss T* coatings. Of course, it’s all about trade-offs: you lose a bit of the zoom range in exchange. I think it’s worth it, however. The other significant update is an EVF that pops up like a flash. However, it takes the place occupied by the hot shoe on the RX100M2. The LCD now flips up vertically for — what else? — selfies.

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Upgrading to the newer Bionz X processing engine also gives the RX100M3 some enhanced features, including Lock-On (tracking) autofocus and adjustable autofocus area size. For video shooting, it incorporates the higher bit rate 50Mbps XAVC S codec in additon to the veteran AVCHD and MP4 codecs; a dual-video record mode that will let you shoot low-resolution video for wireless upload alongside the better-quality video; Zebra (tonal clipping indicator); and clean HDMI output. Because Sony expects it to be used for video, it also has the Intelligent Active Mode IS which compensates for shooting while walking. And while I’m not a big fan of Sony’s proprietary app platform, the RX100M3 has support for Playmemories.

The biggest sadness here: it uses the same, rather lackluster contrast-autofocus system as most of Sony’s other compacts. Plus it still lacks a grip.

There’s some intense competition for your $800 USD. Canon’s PowerShot G1 X Mark II has a larger sensor and a zoomier lens, the Ricoh GR has a fixed focal-length lens but an APS-C-size sensor. And then there’s a host of interchangeable-lens models with larger sensors in that price range including Sony’s own Alpha A6000 (though the kit lens probably isn’t as good as that of the RX100M3, the A6000 has much better performance), as well as much bigger dSLRs from Nikon and Canon.