Review by Sunetra Chakravati,2/25/2014 3:28:41 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Gorgeous HD screen is best on the market.
Fingerprint scanner works flawlessly.
Excellent camera with huge range of features.
Impressive battery life, and battery saving mode.
Design feels dated with little change in two years.
Rear cover and fake chrome bezel will not appear to everyone.
Heart rate monitor seems to have little use.
By Alistair Charlton, Devices Editor
'Evolution not revolution’ is becoming a tired cliche in the world of smartphone reviewing, and yet until someone rewrites the rule book, we’re forced to wheel it out again for the Samsung Galaxy S5. But let’s not get off to a bad start here, Samsung’s Galaxy S range is fast becoming the Porsche 911 of the smartphones, believing that small, gradual updates are better than taking an annual trip back to the drawing board.
Samsung isn’t alone, of course. Apple, Sony and HTC are all playing the same game, but where the iPhone is six months out of sync with the rest of the market and HTC lacks the financial clout to add more than some (admittedly very attractive) polish to create its new One (M8), Samsung launched the S5 facing questions with the budget to answer them.
A spec sheet that boasts a 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a fingerprint reader, a FULL HD screen, 16-megapixel camera and even a heart rate monitor says all it needs to about the power and broad range of features on offer here. On paper at least, Samsung is going head-to-head with the best Apple, Sony and HTC have at their disposal. But will that be enough? Has Samsung played it safe, and will that gamble pay off? And, more crucially than ever, how much does design matter when buying a smartphone?
Let’s find out.
Apple, HTC and Sony have spoiled us rotten in recent months with hardware that is as much beauty as it is brains. The HTC One (M8) might not have the best camera (you’ll have to knock on Nokia’s door for that), but its premium design earned it a full five stars from Mobile Choice; it blends performance, design and a sense of high quality in a way the S5 struggles to match.
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We wouldn’t dare discount the Samsung at this early stage, but it’s difficult to not feel a pang of disappointment when picking up the S5 for the first time. At 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm and 145g, it’s thin and light, but the chrome-covered plastic bezel and Elastoplast-style back don’t exude quality in quite the same way. When you’re spending between £500 and £600 for a handset off-contract, a sense of quality should be high on most peoples’ lists.
To its credit, the Galaxy S5 will be a sure-fire hit among most Samsung fans. They bought the Galaxy S3 and S4 because they liked them, and there’s no reason why they won’t (and indeed, why they shouldn’t) buy an S5 as well. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss - only we wish he’d bought a new suit.
Away from aesthetics, the S5 delivers everything you’d expect from a flagship smartphone, and more besides. You’ll find the power button on the left and volume rocker on the right just as before, along with a waterproof headphone jack up top, next to an infrared blaster for controlling your television. While Samsung has made the S5’s headphone jack water and dust resistant, the same magic couldn’t be worked on the micro USB and HDMI ports, which reside behind a plastic flap. This unfortunate byproduct of waterproofing isn’t unique to the S5, as the Sony Xperia Z2 suffers the same fate. Not the end of the world - and boy will you be thankful when your S5 falls into a puddle - but digging your nail in and yanking the flap open every time you charge is tiresome.
Samsung’s promise of a “glam” and “fashionable” design rings true with the gold and blue versions of the S5, their metallic finishes glimmering when caught in the right light. They won’t appeal to everyone, but they help differentiate the Samsung from its monotone rivals - even the golden versions of the HTC One and iPhone 5s look subdued in comparison.
For those looking for subtlety from their S5, Samsung’s black and white versions are toned down, with Mobile Choice's ‘shimmery white’ review sample almost matte in appearance, save for the chrome edge. Saying that, a chrome ring around the rear camera and heart rate monitor add an air of quality sadly missing elsewhere.
Only slightly larger than the Galaxy S4, and visually almost identical, the S5’s most prominent hardware changes are a heart rate monitor below the rear camera and a fingerprint scanner embedded into the Home button. Working in unison with S-Health, the heart rate monitor takes a reading from the tip of your index finger - and as such is conveniently placed. The gadget works quickly and I can only assume it is accurate, but where checking your heart rate with Samsung’s Gear 2 smartwatch makes perfect sense, I’m struggling to see the case for this on a phone.
Read More - HTC One (M8) Review
On a much more positive note, the S5’s fingerprint scanner works flawlessly. Up to three prints can be saved to the phone - either three of your own or a mix of yours and those of your significant other - and a vertical swipe across the Home button is all you need to unlock the phone. For people with small hands - such as me - it’s sometimes a struggle to swipe across the sensor at the right angle when using the phone with one hand, but this is only a small complaint.
Where it’s all too easy to see the PIN of a fellow commuter on the train to work, a fingerprint can’t be copied with such ease - even better is Samsung’s more relaxed attitude to developers using the scanner with their own apps. The first to implement the feature is Paypal, allowing users to confirm payments with nothing more than their fingerprint. As someone who is forever paying back friends for drinks and utility bills, I can’t wait to see more mobile, password-free payment options in the future.
The Galaxy S5 has a hugely impressive display. Measuring 5.1 inches and offering a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080, the screen is utterly gorgeous, aided by super slim bezels, superb viewing angles, and with an incredibly shallow depth between the glass front panel and the display itself. It really feels like you’re dipping your finger into the screen and pushing the pixels around - it’s here that the HTC One (M8) finally loses out, albeit marginally. Quite simply, this is the best smartphone display I’ve ever seen.
In the past Samsung has been criticised for loading its smartphones to breaking point with software gimmicks. The Galaxy S4’s Touchwiz user interface was packed with gestures and photography features which impressed in the phone shop, but were soon long forgotten by users valuing simplicity over complexity.
Happily, the S4 looks to have been a tipping point and for the S5 Samsung has gone back to basics. There’s still Air View, where the screen can be interacted with by hovering your finger over it, and a number of gestures encouraging you to wave at your phone to navigate its menus, but thankfully these are mostly turned off by default and are less invasive than before.
Samsung has given the previously long and complex Settings list a breath of fresh air with a set of new icons arranged in a simple grid by default. Where the S4’s settings were confusing to many and even intimidating to some, the S5’s are friendlier. Elsewhere, the pull-down notification and settings drawer has been given a similarly simplistic treatment. Otherwise it’s business as usual and I reckon most buyers will feel right at home the moment they boot up their S5 for the first time. Familiar yet fresh, Samsung has righted lots of wrongs here.
Powered by a 2.5GHz, quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, the Galaxy S5’s spec sheet's bark is backed up by a serious bite. Save for the Gallery app, which was occasionally and inexplicably sluggish to open, this phone absolutely flies. Apps open quickly and intensive games like Real Racing 3 are buttery smooth.
The Samsung is of course compatible with all of the UK’s 4G networks, and my S5 provided by Three performed excellently in central and south-west London.
Battery life is getting the attention it deserves from smartphone manufacturers this year, and Samsung is no exception. For when saving battery life is critical - we’ve all forgotten our charger on a weekend away - the S5’s Ultra Power Saving mode can save you.
When launched, the mode limits the display to produce only black and white, prevents you from using anything but key apps like the phone and text messaging, shuts down Bluetooth, and keeps a watchful eye on when it fires up the processor’s four cores.
The result is incredible. As I write this, my S5 has 42% charge left and is estimated to last 5.2 days when left on standby. Samsung claims 24 hours of life can be squeezed from the battery’s final 10%.
The Galaxy S5’s camera has received a minor boost in its pixel count over the S4, up from 13-megapixels to 16, but there’s much more to it than that. The S5’s camera app has no fewer than 24 settings to tinker with. There’s the usual stuff like face detection, image stablisation (software not hardware, we hasten to add), plus adjustments to the ISO, metering, flash, timer, exposure and white balance.
But there are a few notable goodies here. Live HDR lets you see what your High Dynamic Range photos will look like before you take them, and Selective Focus adds a blurred ‘bokeh’ style background to photos, giving them a shallow depth of field similar to photos produced by the HTC One (M8)’s depth sensor. To our eyes, this feature works as well as it does on the One, although the results cannot be altered afterwards, as they can with the One.
There are five further shooting modes to choose from, with ‘Virtual tour’ the most interesting. Instructing you to move forward, left and right while taking photos, the phone creates a Google StreetView-style image to navigate around. You could potentially shoot a room or an entire house to produce a digital tour.
Samsung claims the S5 can focus, adjust exposure and be ready to take a photo in just 0.3 seconds, and in practice we’d stand by this figure - the camera is very fast at focusing and shoots the moment you tap the on-screen icon. The lack of a dedicated shutter button is a shame, as it can be difficult to tap to focus when holding the phone in one hand.
As for the results themselves, the Galaxy S5 takes excellent photographs. Sharp, bright, with vivid (yet natural) colours and well exposed, they will look as good printed as they will on your Facebook profile. It may not have the muscle to compete with Nokia’s brilliant Lumia PureView lenses, but for the majority of users the S5 will impress.
As with the Sony Xperia Z2, the Samsung can shoot Ultra HD 4K video at a resolution of 3840 x 2160, and while this sounds mighty impressive, I think it will be a couple of years before we really see the benefits of this. Ultra HD televisions and computer screens are still priced beyond the reach of most consumers, who are more likely to have upgraded their phone at least once before buying their first 4K TV.
A technological tour de force, the Galaxy S5 is Samsung's best smartphone to date.Despite the negative points raised, I firmly believe this is Samsung's best ever handset. Just as Porsche’s 911 and Volkswagen's Golf get better with every generation, yet never stray from the decades-old original, the Galaxy S5 has been honed and refined.
If you’re a Samsung fan, the S5 is undoubtedly the phone for you - but remember there are worthy alternatives.