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Featured Review: Samsung Galaxy S5

April 27, 2014 - Written By Tony Simons

It’s that time of year again and Samsung’s latest flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S5, is now on retail shelves around the globe. As a previous owner of the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4, it was only a matter of time (and not much of that) before I got my hands on this year’s rendition. I was working on launch day, but was lucky enough to have off the following day, so I waltzed into my local T-Mobile shop, traded in my Galaxy Note 3, and JUMP-ed to the Galaxy S5. I’ve had a couple of days to play with it now — I’ve even rooted the device, thanks to well-known Android modder, Chainfire, who has already released root methods for nearly all of the major carrier variants of the device — so now it’s time to share with you my thoughts.

Specs

Before we go any further, let’s get specs out of the way, shall we? The Galaxy S5 features a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED 1920×1080, 432 ppi display. It is powered by Qualcomm’s Quad-Core Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor, with 2GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage that can be expanded to 128GB by way of a microSD card slot. There is a 16-megapixel camera and a 2-megapixel front facing camera for capturing crisp, clear and beautiful images, and there’s also a fingerprint reader and a heart rate monitor, which I’ll go over in more detail a bit later in my review. On top of everything else, the Galaxy S5 is “waterproof”, but there’s a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind before dunking your phone in a pint of beer to test that feature out for yourself.

The Galaxy S5 has an IP67 rating from the International Electrotechnoical Commission. The The first two letters (IP) stands for Ingress Protection. The first number (6) signifies that the Galaxy S5 is completely sealed from solids such as dust and dirt. The second number signifies that the Galaxy S5 can survive for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter of water. Dropping the Galaxy S5 in water deeper than a meter could cause the Galaxy S5′s water seals to fail due to the increased pressure.

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Design

The Samsung Galaxy S5, while certainly not revolutionary in terms of design, is an elegant device with a premium build. Those familiar with the look and feel of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 will be right at home here, although the feel of the Galaxy S5 has improved vastly over its predecessors. The S5 is very reminiscent of the Galaxy S2; it has a design that is proportional in both width and length, with a flat, rectangular shape and rounded corners.

There’s no faux leather back like we saw on the Note 3, nor does the phone feel as plastic as the previous offerings from the Galaxy S lineup. The back of the device has a rubber-ish coating and that infamous dotted texture that so many folks made sure to poke fun at when the device was first unveiled. I like it, personally. It gives an extra grip to the phone and feels really nice to the touch. It also looks attractive, in my opinion, but to each their own. Some people are going to love it, while others are sure to turn their noses up at it. The S5 also features a thicker bezel than previous S models, which Samsung claims will reduce the chances of your screen cracking in the unfortunate event that it takes a face-first dive on the concrete. It also has an IR blaster for using your phone as a remote control, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the usual power and volume buttons on the right and left side of the device respectively.

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Display

The display is surely the Galaxy S5’s bread and butter. With 5.1-inches of screen real estate and the device’s brilliant Super AMOLED display everything looks a bit more crisp and a bit more clear than in previous Galaxy phones, including the Galaxy Note 3. Text is extremely sharp and almost pops out at you while reading, colors are rich and deep, and the display is nice and bright. Another great thing about the display is that it shines brightly in the sun, so you can easily see your screen while you’re out and about. And unlike the Nexus 5, there’s absolutely no light bleed with the Galaxy S5’s display.

Of course, it’s not a 4k display, but who really needs a 4k display on a smartphone anyway, right? Maybe next year. This year’s offering is nothing to scoff at. In fact, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and call this the most visually pleasing display I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. And that’s saying a lot. This surely isn’t my first rodeo.

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Performance & Benchmark Scores

The quad-core beast, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor chip, along with 2GB of RAM make for an excellent user experience. Apps open very quickly, and there’s more than enough memory and power on board to make the Galaxy S5 the snappiest smartphone I’ve ever used. Gaming is excellent, even with the most graphic-intense mobile games available on the Google Play Store. The device’s responsiveness is also top-notch, making the entire user experience particularly pleasing. There is absolutely no lag when running multiple apps, and the transition when switching between apps is smooth as butter.

Benchmark scores are a bit of a taboo here in the Android community; some people live by them, while others contend their meaningfulness. I don’t care much about them myself, as long as my phone doesn’t feel laggy or unresponsive, I’m good to go. That being said, the Galaxy S5 boasts benchmark scores that are certainly impressive to look at, even if for nothing more than bragging rights. Take a look at the scores from the tests I ran on both Antutu Benchmark and Quadrant Standard below.

As you can see, the Galaxy S5 scored the highest rating available in the Antutu Benchmark test, even edging out the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra with a 36,029. For the Quadrant Standard test, the S5 scored a 25,097. Why Quadrant compares the results to those of older devices is beyond me, but the S5 blows away last year’s HTC One X (as expected), so you can still get the idea. Through and through, this phone is a monster packed with plenty of power.

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Camera & Gallery

The camera is the most essential part of the phone for me. As a parent, I need quick access to a good camera at all times, as I never know when I’m going to miss an opportunity to catch that special moment with one of my kids — and the last thing I want is for the photo of that moment to come out looking crappy. Luckily, Samsung delivered with the Galaxy S5’s 16-megapixel shooter. It consistently takes crisp, clear and vivid images. And even though it struggles in low light settings at times, it still does a pretty decent job at handling those images as well, thanks to the phone’s software processing.

Three new effects make their way into the Galaxy S5’s camera app in the form of Fast Auto Focus, which helps you capture important movements and actions in focus, Realtime HDR, which lets you apply an HDR effect to your photos before you take them, and Selective Focus, which lets you focus on an object as the subject of your photo while blurring out other images in the background. Realtime HDR is pretty spot-on, but Selective Focus is very finicky about finding the subject and returned an error for me more often than not. I did manage to get a pretty sweet shot of a refreshing beverage I guzzled down while out snapping sample pictures for the review. Check it out below:

The S5’s camera is also capable of shooting 4k videos, which is an excellent feature even though the phone’s display isn’t 4k and 4k TV’s aren’t exactly in everyone’s homes just yet given the steep price tag that comes along with them. At any rate, the videos the Galaxy S5 shoots are stellar, to say the very least. Feast your eyes on the sample video above for the full effect.

There are effects galore in the camera settings, and there’s even more you can download from the Samsung App Store, like Surround Shot and Sport Mode. Users migrating from the Galaxy Note 3 will already be familiar with the Photosphere-like Surround Shot mode, which allows you to take 360-degree photographs that the viewer can “scroll” while viewing. There’s also a ton of effects and filters to keep creative minds busy and make it possible to create stunning artwork out of a smartphone camera photo. Things sure have come a long way, haven’t they?

If there’s one thing that is certain, there’s a lot going on in Samsung’s newest camera app — perhaps a bit too much for the everyday user but in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you end up with a Galaxy S5 in your possession, I suggest you take some time digging through the settings menus and getting acquainted with everything contained within. The camera app itself is worthy of a full length review, but to sum things up in just a few short words, it’s obvious Samsung put a lot of time and effort into both the imaging hardware and software. And I’m more than okay with that. Have a look at some of my snaps in the gallery below.

The Gallery app has also been improved upon since last year’s offering. This time around, Samsung has added a bunch of new filters for image search results. These filters allow you to search for pictures of people, scenery, documents, food, pets, or vehicles, and they’re actually pretty accurate in the results that are returned. There’s also built-in WiFi support for connecting to shared devices, such as your PC for viewing photos stored in remote locations.

This time around, Samsung included a new “Studio” feature (accessible from within the menu in the Gallery app) that lets users get creative with their photos and videos. The “Photo Studio” features a number of image editing tools, similar to those you’ll find on Google+, like Auto Enhance, Adjustment, Tone, Effect, Portrait and Decoration. There’s a “Collage Studio” section, for creating single pictures that contain multiple images. There’s also a “Shot & more” section, a “Video Clip Studio” section, and a “Video Trimmer” section for even more opportunity to churn out awesome photos and videos.

Software and OS

 

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Moving right along, it’s time to take a look at the latest version of everybody’s favorite Android skin to hate, TouchWiz. I’m actually digging most of what Samsung has done with the latest version of its homescreen application and OS skin scheme. Aside from a few minor annoyances, like the atrocious turquoise squares Samsung decided to use as a background tile for the Recent Apps screen, the latest version of TouchWiz looks a lot smoother than past iterations.

Based on the latest and greatest, Android 4.4 KitKat, the new TouchWiz launcher does a great job of abiding by Google’s appearance outlines. The launcher utilizes immersive mode, meaning you get a full screen experience on your homescreen with a transparent status bar on top. The pre-installed Google Search widget on the homescreen allows users to take advantage of the highly sought-after “Ok, Google” functionality in Google Now.

The lockscreen brings fullscreen music art, customizable widgets, and the camera shortcut that we saw in the KitKat update for the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S4. Controls for apps like Netflix, Plex, and Samsung’s built-in Smart Remote app also show up on the lockscreen, making for the ultimate couch potato experience.

Unfortunately, there are going to be a lot of folks out there who say there’s too much going on within the Settings menu — and they’re right — but that gave me a good reason to really dig in and get to know my new phone. There’s a ton of new tweaks and reorganization in the latest TouchWiz, and my best advice for the new S5 owner is to become familiar with the menus and settings. It’ll save you a ton of time and headaches in the end.

Features

Fingerprint Scanner

Samsung likes to pack bells and whistles into its flagship devices, and there’s no exception with the Galaxy S5. With security becoming an increasingly important factor in today’s world, it’s no surprise that Samsung’s engineers opted to include a fingerprint scanner in the device’s physical home button this time around. To set it up, head into your settings menu and click the Fingerprint Scanner icon. The settings menu is pretty straightforward, and allows you to register up to three fingerprints that can be used to unlock your device.

Unlike Apple’s technology that requires users to press and hold their finger on the scanner to identify a print, you have to swipe your finger, which makes the identification a bit more tedious than I’d like. The good thing about fingerprint security is, unless you’re unlucky enough to come across someone with the technical know-how, this will act as an extra security measure that should at least keep snooping spouses or siblings at bay. Also, it made me unlock my phone less while driving because it wasn’t as easy to unlock; obviously a good thing because we need to keep our eyes on the road while driving.

During your initial setup, you are asked to provide an alternative password, just in case you find yourself in a situation where the scanner can’t read your fingerprints. Your alternate password should be alphanumeric and at least four characters in length. You’ll also have to swipe your finger on the pad 8 times to allow the scanner to identify and register your fingerprint.

Once you’ve registered at least one fingerprint, you can now use the scanner to unlock your device and enter passwords (as more developers adopt the functionality into their applications). PayPal — the first third-party company to embrace the technology — allows users to authorize payments using the fingerprint scanner, a feature exclusive to the Galaxy S5 at the moment. Unfortunately, the fingerprint scanner security has already been compromised thanks to researchers from Germany’s Security Research Labs (SRLabs), who discovered flaws in the implementation of fingerprint authentication in the Galaxy S5 that expose users’ devices, data, and even bank account to thieves and other attackers.

Heart Rate Monitor

Not only does Samsung want to keep you smart, but it also wants to keep you healthy with the Galaxy S5’s built-in heart rate monitor. This nifty extra, along with the updated S Health app, makes the device ideal for the health nut, or even those just trying to take small steps (all pun intended) to improve their overall well being. In addition to tracking heart rate, S Health also allows users to set workout goals and keep track of their steps taken with the device’s built-in pedometer. These features are available out of the box, and you can also download other apps like S Health Sleep, Workout Trainer, RunKeeper, and Lark Activity Tracker from the Samsung App Store.

The heart rate sensor is located on the back of the phone, just next to the LED flash. To use it, just fire up S Health and click the Heart Rate icon, then place your index finger over the sensor. The measurement will start automatically upon doing so. Also, you’ll want to try to keep quiet and still when scanning, otherwise the app will not be able to give you a reading. All-in-all the sensor seems to work pretty well, but I’m no medical professional, so I can’t comment on the device’s accuracy. Samsung itself says that Heart Rate Monitor readings are intended for informational purposes only, as the Galaxy S5 is not a medical or therapeutic device. That said, it’s still a pretty cool feature to toy around with.

Download Booster

The S5 also features Download Booster technology, which lets you use LTE and WiFi simultaneously to download files larger than 30MB at a much faster rate. Unfortunately, I can’t comment too much about this feature, as it REQUIRES LTE service to work — I only have HSPA+ in my area, which is incompatible, so no taco for me. Sad face. Anyhoo, for those interested, you can see a video of the download booster in action below, courtesy of Samsung Mobile UK.

Battery Life

Rounding out my review, I saved the most important factor for last; battery life. Fancy processors and brilliant displays are nice and all, but what good are they without battery life to back them up? Coming from the Galaxy Note 3, I had high expectations for the Galaxy S5 after hearing about Samsung’s partnering with Lucidlogix, a company that specializes in battery saving technologies including WebXtend, NavXtend and GameXtend.

GameXtend offers up to 50% more battery life during game play, with WebXtend and NavXtend each promising up to 25% more battery life for web browsing and GPS/navigation apps, respectively. These technologies intelligently determine the requirements of each type of app, whether it’s a game, browser or GPS app, and optimize power consumption. In addition to extending battery life, Ludid’s battery life software solutions should also reduce the amount of heat the device produces.

The Galaxy S5 also features a new Ultra Power Saving mode, which Samsung claims will provide you with 24 hours of battery life on only a 10% charge. This is achieved by putting the device into Grayscale Display Mode, restricting application usage to a limited number of apps defined by the user, turning off connectivity features like WiFi and Bluetooth, and turning off mobile data when the screen turned off. With a full charge, turning on Ultra Power Saving tells me that my phone will stay powered on for 12.5 days. Pretty amazing, right? The downfall here is, you lose access to a lot of apps, and you also lose functionality from apps that require mobile data running in the background (i.e. apps that use notifications).

It’s important to note that I haven’t ran any scientific tests on my phone to determine battery life. I’m an everyday, average user just like most of you reading this, so I can only speak on results from everyday use. That said, I do use my phone a bit more than the average user. Fortunately, the Galaxy S5 gives me a consistent 5-6 hours of screen on time, with plenty of standby time to make it to a charger if need be. This is more than enough for me to make it through my day, so I’m pretty pleased there. Obviously, it all depends on how much you use your device and what types of things you’re doing with it. A day out snapping pics and videos will still drain your battery at a much quicker rate than a day of web browsing, emailing, texting and calling.

The Good

  • Amazing camera with tons of settings to toy with
  • Water resistant (proof would have been nice, but resistant is a start)
  • Fingerprint scanner and Heart Rate Monitor are nice features
  • Brilliant display
  • Overall form factor is much improved from previous Galaxy S models

The Bad

  • Device still feels just a little bit too plastic-y for my liking
  • Fingerprint scanner is finicky and its security has already been compromised
  • No other mentionables (after a week and a half of owning the device)

To sum it up in 100 words or less…

The Galaxy S5 is certainly an upgrade from previous Galaxy S models, but it’s not necessarily a revolutionary device. It packs more than enough computing power and plenty of odds and ins that will keep most users happy, myself included, but if you’re looking for something completely mind-blowing, you might want to hold off a bit for something else. However, if you’re used to the Samsung ecosystem, or you’re a first-timer looking to jump into the game with a premium Android device, you can’t go wrong here.

I hope you enjoyed my review of the Galaxy S5. If you feel I’ve missed anything, or have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment in the thread below. Ciao!