Why did Samsung play it safe with the Galaxy S5's processor?

Of all the phone manufacturers out there, Samsung seems to have a particular talent for creating an anticlimax. Our first thought when holding the Galaxy S5 was that we'd been through all this before a year ago, with the equally underwhelming launch of the GS4. Our disappointment jibed with the reactions of other bloggers around us at Mobile World Congress and with many readers' comments on our hands-on article. Folks seemed to forget about the phone after five minutes and switch their attention to Samsung's new smartwatches, especially the delectable Gear Fit.

First impressions aren't everything, however. A phone's charm can take a while to sink in, and you only have to look at the Galaxy S3 for proof of that. (I reviewed that handset many moons ago, and must admit that I never expected it to do as well as it did.) As add-ons go, the swipe-based fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor may not be astounding now that we've had the HTC One Max and fitness gadgets like the Withings Pulse, but they might prove their utility in time. Even if they don't, the GS5 has other redeeming features, such as its 1080p AMOLED display, phase-detection autofocus and basic water resistance, and it comes at just the right time to win over GS3 owners whose contracts are coming to an end.

But the anticlimax is there nonetheless, and it most likely stems from a suspicion that Samsung's vast scale and manufacturing strength isn't being fully exploited. Like Apple, but unlike most other phone makers, Samsung has control over many different technologies that go into a smartphone, including the memory, display and -- most importantly -- the processor. It showed us glimpses of this cross-discipline expertise with the global versions of the Galaxy S2 and S3, whose in-house Exynos processors brought extra speed and graphics just when Android needed it, and it did something similar with the big-screened, stylus-equipped Galaxy Note series. But the GS5, like the GS4, seems much less distinctive, and so perhaps what we should be asking is this: Why isn't Samsung able to muster its in-house resources to create something truly different? And that, at least, is a question we can begin to answer.