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Samsung S5 Mini - part two
I'll try to make this more thematic than yesterday's.
When connected to a computer, the Samsung S5 Mini will appear as an MTP device. Thankfully Samsung has ignored Google's attempts to screw up the filing system in 4.4.x and have provided something that looks and feels like Android of old. It seems that Google wants to restrict apps to only being able to see a small private portion of the filesystem, akin to iOS. The downside is, like iOS, it will require specific software to interact with the device. I can understand wanting to restrict app behaviours, however it is extremely irritating to lock the user out of the filesystem. One of the biggest gripes I have with iOS is that it is evidently all too easy for an app to strew temp files around that are never deleted and accumulate. It is reprehensible to uninstall an app claiming 400MiB to reinstall the same app with a fresh copy requiring only 75MiB (and what the hell is with an app requiring that sort of space just to install itself anyway?). At least I can poke around the Android folder and tidy up stuff that has been left behind, like thumbnails (often contain thumbnails of images no longer present), plus the obvious benefits of drag'n'drop file copies to/from the device.
Why is this in the Security section? Simple. If your phone is locked, plugging it into a computer will show up as an MTP device. An empty MTP device. It is only when the phone is unlocked that files will be accessible to the computer. That's a nice touch.
There is a "private mode" available for Gallery, Video, Music, Voice Recorder, and My Files. You can move files that you want to keep hidden (you know, your porn stash and that treasure map you surreptitiously took a photo of) into a special "private" storage. When you have private files accessible, they will appear as if part of the regular list of files. When private files are not accessible, these files will simply cease to exist. Private, and hidden.
The phone can be locked, asides from a SIM PIN, by a drawn pattern, a PIN, a password, and a registered fingerprint. In order to make things less obnoxious for you as a user, you can set a delay between the screen turning off and the access method being requested. I have set up my phone to lock 30 seconds after the screen turns off, except for if I turn off using the Power key in which case the phone will lock instantly.
You can set an "Owner information" that will display on the lock screen. Mine gives my name, address, and landline number.
None of this is unbeatable, and it wouldn't stop a Fed that would have no qualms about tearing off a finger if your phone was worth getting into and you weren't willing to unlock it. And if somebody nicks your phone, it can be made eBayable by performing a factory reset from the recovery menu. However, your data will be lost rather than compromised, and as long as you have a SIM PIN, your account can't be abused either. It is sufficient security for normal domestic users such as you and me.
What can I say? I've heard some reviewers claim that this phone is sluggish and pointing to all manner of benchmarks to justify this. Well, let's look at it differently.
#1 - The device doesn't struggle with 1080P video recording and playback. This can be evidenced simply by looking at the camera's capabilities.
#2 - To reiterate the first point, here is YouTube effortlessly streaming Animenz and TehIsher's Haruhi Medley duet. In HD. I'm not surprised the phone coped. I am surprised my internet did. Ditto the HD version of the 747 landings at, what is it, Saint Lucia? Something like that, the airport where the planes land just beyond the beach.
#3 - YouTube has changed how it behaves. Downloaders need to download the video, then the audio, then mux the two together to make a composite file containing both. I plan to use the Android YouTube downloader as it is just so much faster than YouTubeDownloaderHD on my PC. This is no fault of the PC software, it's just that my phone beats the crap out of my PC at doing this, by a factor of many. Muxing a five minute song... it just flies.
#4 - So you're watching a video, right...
It is "Yes, No, Continue" by Moumoon. It's funny, but, you know, wouldn't it be nice to be able to play that and see if something interesting has happened in the world?
Easy. Pinch in over the video. You'll end up with a little playback panel over the current screen. Anywhere.
Pinch it to change its size, tap it to pause/resume, double-tap to return to the player.
Oh, and when you're in the player, you can pinch out to zoom into the image and drag around the zoomed part. Like. Whoa.
Oh, and when I say you can play anywhere, I mean pretty much anywhere (except on top of another video)...
There's nothing else much I can say. I concentrate on video and video encoding as these are the tasks that use the most processing. It doesn't take much to write emails, though the swipe style keyboard is quick to respond. Web pages appear reasonably quickly, I would imagine the perceptible lag is down to network lag rather than the phone being slow.
More than anything, we must remember that the sort of specs that this phone is offering were considered top end and cutting edge just two years ago. If you aren't into processor intensive games, I don't imagine you'll find the four cores and GPU packed into this phone to be "underpowered".
The display is a fairly small (4.5") HD (720×1280) panel, but being AMOLED it offers greatly increased contrast. For a start, the actual pixels light up (as opposed to traditional LCD devices which have a backlit array of pixels which turn on and off to make the image. As a result of this, for perhaps the first time in my life, I can watch a movie where the black is an honest true black. Not a sort of murky grey. No more do I have to juggle between having a sort of black while keeping a sort of white. Here, I can have absolute black and absolute white.
The display is a "Pentile" type, meaning that it has a different arrangement to a traditional RGB array. Some people claim that this greatly affects the resolution, however to be honest when you are working with an HD resolution in a space smaller than your hand, such things are easy to overlook. Even without my glasses and a magnifying glass, it is difficult to view the pixel matrix, which probably isn't surprising given that it is a density of 326 pixels per inch - the same pixel density as the Retina display on the iPad mini 2. Refresh rate is liquid, viewing videos shows no lag or flicker. Viewing angles? Well, the display elements themselves emit light, so there is no issue with polarisers and the usual LCD elements. In other words, I have just looked from every extreme and the screen looks exactly as it should from that angle.
There are two things you need to keep in mind, however. Firstly, the display creates light, it doesn't reflect it. This means that the display will be near invisible in daylight if you have the display set low. Use the auto-brightness to deal intelligently with this. Samsung, in their wisdom, have included a +/- slider so you can trim the automatic value to be brighter or dimmer as per your preference. Secondly, unlike a conventional display, this consumes power according to what is being displayed (which is why the battery saver disables colour). The display may look awesome at max brightness where the image is vibrant in a way that I haven't experienced before; however that's using the most power. If you can take knocking the brightness back a bit, you can save power. Don't panic, it's a bit like the display on the iPad Mini - you probably won't need 100% unless you're trying to watch a video in bright sunlight.
This is a photograph of the screen at half brightness. The slightly mottled effect is because I have an anti-reflect screen protector fitted. It does slightly interfere with the image, but it offers the dual benefits of being non-reflect (which is probably what causes the mottling) and it prevents things from scratching the glass. It is supposed to be Gorilla Glass, but I don't plan to put it to the test...
The hardware doesn't seem to like 10 bit AVC nor VP6 video ... MX Player to the rescue - the hardware is up to decoding 10 bit H.264 (480P) in software since the hardware cannot. I can't say about HD, as I've only tried it with a 480P video.
Otherwise... the internal player has coped with everything I've thrown at it which isn't an extensive test, just the videos that I have transferred over. Subtitles too. And what it can't do, MX Player can, so you pretty much cannot lose.
Be careful playing things with weird encodings - if something messes up the media stuff in the OS, audio and video playback will cease until the phone is restarted. This is a quick thing to do, but it's annoying none the less.
As already mentioned in the previous article, the camera is functional if not exciting. This is one of the places corners were cut to push the price down (this is a Galaxy S5 mini, not a smaller Galaxy S5). That aside, at 8mpix, it outclasses a lot of phones (and even my iPad Mini) which are in the land of 5mpix. Also outclassing a lot is the fact that both cameras are capable of FullHD.
Hidden away as a widget is a thing called "Magnifier". I thought this might be an on-screen magnifier, but it actually switches the camera to a macro mode using the screen as a viewer. You can turn the front light on for a better view, and take photos (1280×720) of what is seen. Pinching in and out will zoom accordingly.
Note - however - there appears to be some sort of clash between the Flash and using it as a light in Magnifier; namely if you use the light in Magnifier, the Torch won't work any more which might not be of much importance. What will be, however, is the flash won't work on the camera either. This problem doesn't occur if you use magnifier without the light.
Oh, and as expected, a quick Restart restores sanity to the bright light.
Remember the annoying pull down notification thingy that used to tell you everything you didn't want to know?
Here's Samsung's "Touchwiz" take on it.
The buttons at the top control common features. You can tap the boxes-thing at the upper right to open up more buttons for the less common things.
S Finder finds stuff on the device. Not tried it. Quick Connect allows you to share content with compatible devices. Not used this either.
Next is the control for screen brightness, plus the toggle for auto brightness. Easy to get to.
Below that, the music player, if it is active (else this doesn't appear).
As I have earphones plugged in, there then appears a bar listing tasks associated with earphones - music, MX Player, phone, video player, YouTube.
Below this come the notifications. The weather report at the top is standard. I'm British, I like knowing what the weather is supposed to do, even if the forecast is rarely correct...
Does this all look horribly complicated? Or maybe you are afraid that poking tiny little buttons is a recipe for disaster with oversized fingers? Well, fear not. You can switch on "Easy Mode" which makes things bigger and clearer.
Here is the home screen in Easy Mode:
Want to call a contact in Easy Mode? It couldn't be simpler:
So you have a billion tracks and you don't know what to listen to... try the Music Square. With Passionate and Joyful on opposing sides, and Exciting and Calm opposite at the top and bottom, there are 25 "feelings". Tapping on one will build a short playlist to match the emotion. It doesn't always get it right, but it's an interesting way to choose "similar" tempo songs.
There are just so many little features here and there that are so easily overlooked but show that a lot of effort has gone into making something a little above the norm.
Or, to put it another way - sometimes I have questioned whether or not the designers of a device actually use the device that they have created. This is not so with the Galaxy S5 Mini. You get a feeling that the people that made this actually use them themselves and have put in all those little things that help make the user experience that much nicer.
There's yet more I've not touched upon, like the pop-up toolbox for commonly wanted tasks - that floats on top of the current screen. I don't use it, but it looks like it would be quite useful to those who do.
There's also something called S Voice for vocal control of your phone - sort of like the better known Siri. Here's a list of things it is supposed to understand.
Oh, yeah. It's a phone, isn't it.
The loudspeaker is suprisingly loud and clear (playing music, mind you). The call clarity is quite clear. The phone supports Orange's "Voix HD" (much better bandwidth than the standard POTS) but I don't think I have anything else that can do HD voice calls.
General use seems to be about average - I think a battery will do a day of normal use. Video recording and GPS suck power and also cause the device to heat up, so it is best to use those more sparingly. Usefully it will happily charge from a USB port so plugging it into a computer will do the dual job of file management and charging.
I have, however, only had this phone for a few days so I can't give estimates as to how it compares with my previous. At any rate, a geniune Samsung battery might work out to be pricey, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than dealing with a glued-shut case. Kudos to Samsung for not following the unfortunate trend of sealed-in batteries.
No comment, except to say that the previous reading was when I excused myself to visit the toilet at work.
Well, it isn't every phone that can measure your pulse!
A more intensive measurement can tell me if I'm stressed. I'm not right now, which is good. With a "wearable" thingy I can track my sleep. Given that my sleep is abysmal and I rarely sleep more than three hours without waking up, I don't think I want to know. I can also track my food, weight, and exercise. Finally, the phone can act as a pedometer with GPS to tell me where I've been (I know my memory sucks, but I think I'd remember that much...).
A peculiar omission and something wanted something gained
The peculiar omission is that there is no FM radio. This is peculiar because the IFixIt teardown shows that the radio comms is provided by a Broadcom BCM4334 dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi / Bluetooth 4.0+HS / FM receiver combo chip. The receiver is present in hardware, but...?
The something wanted is that text messages have no "received" indicator. If you ask for a message acknowledgement, it pops up in the notification. My Xperia U would place a small tick beside the message that was received marking this clearly as a received message.
The something gained is that when sending emails, a little notification will flash across the top of the screen when a message has been sent. It is nice to know that the message has gone.
Something else gained. If your phone is placed down (like on a table or a locker), you can set it to give a quick vibrate when you pick it up if there are messages. You might not be able to see the LED, so the brief vibrate is enough to tell you to go look for the notification... It's yet another nice touch.
And the last mostly hidden feature
I can't take a screenshot. Screenshots are disabled.
What is it?
This is a special mode that switches to a really simple home screen that is running in ultra low power mode. You don't have access to Facebook's app, but you can turn on the Torch, make a phone call, access the Internet, sound an emergency alarm, and lock into GPS and share your location with a predefined contact.
Pressing the power button three times rapidy will attempt to send a message you your predefined contact(s), and it can include pictures and sound if you have specified those options. The phone will shut off everything when it isn't needed to save battery life, and when I switched over to Emergency Mode to see what it was, the estimated battery life was 70 hours. This will, obviously, vary depending on what is being done.
You know... This is one of those features that you could pass your life not requiring - but should you need it, you'll thank god that your phone is capable. Emergencies are no fun, so the ability to get a "ohcraphelpmeNOW!" message to a friend or family member could be invaluable, as is the option to have the phone disable everything unnecessary. You don't need music, multitasking, and 4G when you're wondering if you'll live to see the next sunrise.
This is an unexpected feature, but an appreciated one. It's... you know... nice to know that if everything goes pear shaped, I have a communications device that will attempt to rise to the occasion instead of saying "charge me please" after a few hours.
Believe it or not... there's more. But I'm going to stop here for now. I think I've covered the major things, at least the ones I've found...
Thanks to Mom for allowing me to use her photo as the example contact.
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|VinceH, 22nd January 2015, 12:39|
I first had that emergency message feature in a phone around 2006/7ish. I can't remember what the phone was - possibly something from Mitac(?) - but it the feature was activated by holding a particular button down for a prolonged time. The result was the same - a message sent to a preselected contact, with GPS location details.
Potentially handy for someone like me, in case I accidentally fall off a mountain or something while out hiking somewhere remote... until you realise there's no coverage in the sort of places that might happen! :)
I haven't seen it on any phone I've had since, though - including my current (now a couple of years old) Galaxy S3. Nice to see it feature on one again.
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