Say what you want about the Galaxy S5 design and how they have yet to innovate past their ideas for looks from the last few devices. The fact is they aren’t the only OEMs that haven’t changed up the style. For Samsung at least, it appears that it wasn’t because they didn’t see the need, but more because they truly feel that the polycarbonate dimpled soft touch plastic back was more in line with what they wanted from a design perspective. To them, it made more sense to create a new phone that evokes a sense of style yet has more of a connection to their human counterparts. Us. What I mean by that is Samsung’s design decision they made with the S5 wasn’t just lack of innovation, it was clear and concise choice. So they say. According to Senior Product Designer Dong Hun Kim, they made the decision to go with a plastic back cover because the texture feels warmer in the hand as opposed to if they went with something that was metal, stating that they wanted to go with something that not only felt pleasing while holding it, but also provided a better grip during use. Metal, apparently wouldn’t have given them the feel and grip that they wanted, and instead giving the S5 a more heavy and cold feeling.
Whether you buy into the answers that were given to engadget’s question to Samsung of “why stick with plastic?” or not, it actually makes a little bit of sense. Kind of. It isn’t too far fetched to think of plastic as feeling warmer in the hand. Naturally, plastic just has a truly warmer feel to it no matter if it’s on a phone or a plastic bottle. Metal on the other hand has a more natural cold feel to it. The things is, what makes metal feel more naturally cold can also allow it to more easily conduct heat, causing it to have a warmer feel in the long run. Think about the person that uses their phone heavily for things like constant on screen time or high quality games. During those particular instances, no matter what the phone is made out of it will indeed start to get warmer. There is no escaping that fact. So while plastic may feel warmer in the hand at first, if you use your device enough even metal or glass back phones will start to feel warm too.
Samsung’s decisions to stick with plastic continues on the path of warmth and coldness, stating that the smartphone is no longer a cold slab of technology. Smartphones are fashions statements. Those are the words of Jeeyeun Wang, who heads up the user experience team as the principal designer. You may not think of smartphones as fashion statements, but many people do, and in other regions outside of the U.S. having a flashy looking smartphone can speak volumes about your status. Even here inside the U.S. people use their smartphone to display their social standing, an element of life that is commonly linked to fashion. Having a fashionable phone is really no different than having fashionable clothes. It says, hey look at me, and usually people do just that. There’s nothing wrong with being fashionable however, and if fashion is your thing then you should embrace it. Samsung has, and they have attempted to grasp onto this idea when designing the Galaxy S5.
Samsung’s design team wasn’t just focused on bringing the user a warmer feeling and more fashionable device though, they were laser focused on also providing the user a more back to the basics experience, with a vision to bring better working features, a cleaner design to the software, the UI, and a more reliable overall experience to things like the camera, the browser and the sharing aspects. The design and the back to the basics idealism isn’t just limited to the way the phone looks and feels, it’s an entire experience that as Wang puts it, “you feel throughout”. What I take that to mean is that you can feel a talented team of designers worked hard to not only give the phone a more “humanistic” or natural appeal, but to also give the software and interactive parts of the phone a more seamless and accessible approach. It shows, as they have even taken steps to try and make the phone more appealing to a more inexperienced crowd of users with things like easy mode. To you and me, who might be nightly flashers of the hottest ROM and have no qualms digging through the shady depths of our devices technical nooks and crannies, something like easy mode is just an extra feature we might never use. Not everyone is like this though, and with the growth and popularity of Samsung’s devices, more and more people have begged for an easier user experience thus leading the team to make strides towards a more approachable device for the non-heavy and less savvy user.
As stated by Wang, “Up until the launch of the Galaxy S2, we used to focus on technical users, but after that, our audience became much broader.” It all makes sense that the team had decided to finally take a good hard look at this group of people who want a simplistic design feel to the software, but that didn’t mean that Samsung had to let go of some of the core stuff that hardcore power users had loved about Samsung’s devices for years. Wang continues by saying that “Even if we hide complicated functions, our hardcore users will find them.” This statement suggests that Samsung is not letting go of it’s technical user roots, just that they simply wanted to elevate the experience for those who aren’t so technical. In the end, Samsung wasn’t setting out to provide something that was extravagantly elegant looking, but an entire experience that could be felt through the phones physical design, the software, the UI, and the overall reliability of certain core features. Taking this all into account, the design of everything really starts to make more sense when you think about the way the design team described things. The choice of plastic gives things a softer, warmer and more comfortable feel in the hand with better grip, yet still has a fashionable design,(yet not to some) which leads to the look and feel of the software and UI elements that look pleasing to the eye, yet are accessible and easy for those who want a more approachable phone that has meaningful and reliable core features, instead of gimmicks. Some of those gimmicky features are still there, but they’re not heavily advertised, and they aren’t in your face. You could even say they’re recessed a little bit. Making the Galaxy S5 more laid back perhaps in terms of an overwhelming number of features. Thus, the claim of meaningful innovation.