Metal-body Samsung Galaxy S5 mock-up

Just how likely is the rumored 5.25-inch, 1440p ‘super-flagship?’

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a solid high-end Android smartphone. We said as much in our hands-on preview of the device early last week. But among some sections of the tech community there’s been a whiff of perplexion — and maybe even disappointment — that certain hardware milestones weren’t reached this time around. What about the “2K” (2560x1440) display that the rumor mill — and Samsung’s own slides — had promised? And how come the GS5 has less RAM, and a lower default amount of internal storage than last year’s Note 3?

Even before launch there were rumblings of two different Galaxy S5 models being prepared — "regular" and "prime" flavors — seemingly corroborated by the appearance of benchmark results. The higher-end GS5 Prime, according to analysts and reports from the Korean press, would come with that elusive 2K display and 3GB of RAM. This, among a flurry of post-release rumors, has led some to believe that a larger, higher-spec’d Galaxy S5 could emerge later this year, with the name “Galaxy S5 Prime” appearing online in recent weeks.

But just how likely is this? And how might it fit into Samsung’s plans for the remainder of the year? Let’s dive in after the break.

Galaxy S5

What we didn’t get

Any major smartphone launch — especially one as highly-anticipated as a new Samsung flagship — brings with it a flurry of pre-release rumors, as sources both reliable and dubious spew forth purported spec lists and features. Sometimes the rumor mill gets it right, sometimes it gets it spectacularly wrong. Sometimes the dissonance between expectation and reality leads to a few vocal folks going off the deep end.

Slides from Samsung's analyst day point to 560ppi, 1440p phone displays for 2014.

One of the big rumors doing the rounds in the months running up to the GS5 announcement focused on the device’s screen. It was said be a 5.25-inch, 2560x1440-resolution panel with a whopping 560 pixels per inch. And one of the first sources to mention this “QHD” panel was actually a slide at Samsung’s own 2013 analyst day, giving it more credibility than the average internet rumor. The slide placed this 560ppi smartphone screen between the 1080p displays of 2013 and the 4K panels of 2015 on Samsung’s display roadmap. Stuff like this isn’t set in stone, but clearly a 1440p smartphone display with 560 pixels per inch is something Samsung is (or at least was) working toward. It’s the next natural stepping stone up from 1080p, and rivals like LG already have their own 1440p panels in the works.

Somewhere along the line, Samsung had the option to ship the Galaxy S5 with 3GB of RAM and a default 32GB of storage, but chose not to.

On the other hand, we’re left with niggling questions raised by the Galaxy S5’s RAM and internal storage. Sure, both are perfectly adequate for a high-end Android phone in early 2014. But however you slice it, the “base” model GS5 has less memory to play with than last year’s Galaxy Note 3, which is particularly surprising when you consider the storm-in-a-teacup over the 16GB Galaxy S4’s available storage. What's more, rivals like Sony and LG are already shipping 3GB phones. Somewhere along the line, Samsung had the option to ship the Galaxy S5 with 3GB of RAM and a default 32GB of storage, but chose not to.

Designing a smartphone — or designing any product, for that matter — is all about making the right compromises. Given that the GS5 is supposed to be Samsung’s primary flagship phone for 2014, it’s odd to see the company not using the absolute best hardware available to it. Doing so would come down to little more than money, of which Samsung has plenty.

You might think Samsung leads the Android pack by such a wide margin that it can afford to coast on hardware this year. But to take that view is to ignore the company’s only real competition — Apple.

Snapdragon 805

What’s coming later this year

It's unlikely Samsung would pass up the chance to put such a dazzling '2K' panel in a phone of its own.

So if Samsung’s not bringing its 5.25-inch 1440p panels (or 3GB of RAM) to the Galaxy S5, what’s it going to do with them? If such a display remains on track for 2014, it’s possible Samsung might merely sell them to other OEMs. After all, Samsung Display doesn’t exist only to make screens for Samsung Mobile. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that Samsung, as vertically-integrated as it is, would pass up the chance to put such a dazzling panel in a phone of its own. And if that phone isn’t the Galaxy S5, then just what is it?

This brings us back to the rumor mill. Reports from the Korean press began circulating in late September 2013 suggesting a third major flagship phone was to appear in 2014 alongside the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series, a device which was given the unlikely monicker “Galaxy F.” And in the months that followed we saw benchmark listings for SM-G900S devices (the European GS5 we currently know as SM-G900F) with 1440p panels, and more reports out of Korea suggesting the panels had entered mass-production. In January, Taiwan’s KGI Research put forth predicted specs for “regular” and “prime” versions of the Galaxy S5, hence the “Galaxy S5 Prime” name that’s been doing the rounds over the past month.

All of this fits easily into the realm of unconfirmed rumors, but there’s enough smoke here that there’s probably something loosely resembling a fire.

So for the sake of argument let’s say that there is indeed a “super flagship” version of the Galaxy S5 being prepared for launch later this year — perhaps sometime over the summer, as the rumors claim. What might be in it for Samsung?

iPhone 5-inch

A souped-up Galaxy S5 could be used to counter whatever's next from Apple.

Mid-2014 would be an ideal launch window for this kind of Samsung phone. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805, with its souped-up GPU, should be ready to ship around that time. It would also allow Samsung to regain the hardware initiative after the launch of 1080p, Snapdragon 801-based Android phones from the likes of HTC, LG and Sony. But most importantly it’d give Samsung a product with which to combat Apple’s anticipated big-screen iPhone 6, which is rumored for a late summer or early fall arrival.

As iMore’s Rene Ritchie points out in a recent editorial, 2014 isn’t an “S” year for Apple. In contrast to last year’s minor refresh, we’ll likely see the biggest iPhone hardware changes since 2012’s iPhone 5. The Cupertino giant is widely expected to encroach on Samsung territory with a big-screened iPhone this year — and such a challenge might demand a stronger response from Samsung than the current Galaxy S5. At the very least, the timing would be right for the Korean company to bundle new processors, more RAM, more storage and an eye-popping new display into a new high-end phone to combat Apple’s 2014 lineup. And the “Prime” could sit above the Galaxy S5 on the Samsung smartphone hierarchy without replacing it, giving the manufacturer two handsets to combat the expected regular and supersized iPhones.

Samsung logo

Would a Galaxy S5 Prime make sense?

Samsung is all about having an option available at every screen size and price point.

Competition aside, it's easy to see how a 5.25-inch beast might slot into Samsung’s lineup between the GS5 and the next Galaxy Note. Samsung's mobile strategy, in both the tablet and smartphone spaces, is all about having an option at every possible screen size and price point, and right now there's a space at the high end between 5.1 and 5.7 inches that a Galaxy S5 Prime could easily occupy. The most likely scenario isn't another "mainstream" flagship phone, but a larger, beefier handset for those wanting a bigger screen on a phone that's still one-handed — perhaps a sort of Galaxy S5 Pro.

Indeed, it's questionable whether such an enormous phone would have even made sense as a mainstream flagship. LG's G2 gets away with a 5.2-inch screen, but only with minimal bezels due to its funky rear-mounted buttons — if the "Prime" was to maintain the GS5's water-resistant capabilities it's unlikely it'd fit into such a small footprint. Again, if this device exists, it's not a straight-up replacement for the Galaxy S5. Nevertheless, if Samsung were to release an all-singing, all-dancing "2K" resolution phone just a few months after the Galaxy S5's arrival, it might be seen as short-changing early adopters of that handset, even if the intention is to complement rather than succeed the GS5.

There's always something newer and shinier on the horizon.

But here's the thing — there's always something just a little bit better on the horizon — that's the nature of the smartphone industry, and consumer electronics in general. And rumors of better hardware to come in July or August shouldn't necessarily influence the smartphone you buy in March or April. If you're willing to wait another couple of months, there's never not going to be a newer, shinier phone for you to buy.

Samsung slide

So will the Galaxy S5 Prime become a reality? In my own personal opinion, there's at least a reasonable chance. (Twist my arm and I might even say it's more likely to happen than not.) This kind of phone would allow Samsung to take the fight to Apple later in the year, while showcasing an impressive new display technology and catering to Android buyers wanting a really high-end, five-plus-inch phone that's not as enormous as the Galaxy Note. A mid-year bump would also align with the arrival new chips from Qualcomm that would be better suited to handling such a high-res display.

In the meantime, the regular Galaxy S5 looks like a strong entrant for early 2014.

What's your take on the "Galaxy S5 Prime" rumors? Would you buy one? Tell us what you think down in the comments!