Samsung Galaxy S5 Review
As the dominant leader of the Android platform, millions of customers around the world are eagerly awaiting their next Galaxy S upgrade, but a new model isn’t necessarily the solution that some customers may have been hoping for. One of the major advantages that Android users have over Apple iOS users, is that more than one company is offering improvements to the platform, and that means more competition for their hard-earned dollars.
New features like Samsung’s fingerprint scanner, a new UI for Samsung’s in-house applications and a better battery help the new S5 standout from previous models, but a better camera combined with new health-tracking features, help the S5 stand out among other Android devices.
The new S5 is more of an improved version of the S4, rather than a complete remodel of the Galaxy line. That does make a lot of sense, since Samsung’s previous versions have done so well in the market, there really isn’t any need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to designing the S5. Opting for more plastic than metallic components, and going the waterproof route when it comes to dazzling features, the S5 still blends in nicely when compared to previous Galaxy S models of the past.
With a phone the size of the S5 designers have a lot to consider, the phone needs to remain light and be remain sturdy when held with one hand. That’s where the plastic comes in. It’s an easy solution for manufacturers, and although the backing isn’t a eye-catching as other models, it is very easy to grip and does make for a waterproof phone. The dimensions of the phone sit at 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g in weight. It’s a giant phone, and although it is just a few millimeters bigger than the S4, if you prefer smaller, and narrower designs then you may want to give this one a test run first. If you love larger, bright displays and a sturdier grip, then this may be your new favorite device.
The waterproof additions on the S5 are really more for careful accidents, rather than an exploratory handheld that can suffer through your safari hikes. Once properly sealed with the rubber stoppers, the phone can be submerged into water, down to about 1 meter, and for only about 30 minutes. This is great for parents of small children, college kids or young teens, or anyone really that may be less-careful at times with their phones.
Not too many functional buttons have changed, Samsung’s previous designs allowed the phone to be used with one hand despite its size, so there really wasn’t anything that needed improving. The general power-button is still on the right, while the more frequently used volume rocker sits on the left. One big change is the micro-USB 3.0/MHL 2.0 port located on the bottom of the phone, hidden away under one of the waterproof shielding tabs. The standard 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the top-right, while the IR functions are located on the top-left. The phone also feature a microSD slot, capable of providing up to 128GB of extra storage for your media.
Customers can choose between a 16GB or 32GB version of the phone, depending on their storage needs outside of the microSD slot. The new changeable battery sports a capacity of 2,800mAh, a small but welcomed improvement from the previous S4 2,600mAh battery. Samsung is joining the fight against dying batteries with its own “Ultra Power Saving Mode.” In this state the phone will extend your battery life by shutting down non-essential features, turning your screen to black and white while keeping texts and calls active. It works extremely well, and you can pushout almost a another half-day to full-day out of the phone in this state. Until you start taking calls for a long length of time, or need the services that it shut off. It will have a tragic impact on the horror-movie cliche of ‘my battery is dying’ though, and Hollywood will have to adapt.
One of the big additions to the new S5 is the fingerprint sensor, and a heart rate monitor that can be found near the camera’s LED flash on the back of the device. One of the first new toys customers will play with after opening the box is the new Fingerprint Scanner. The system works the same as the iPhone’s, it’s even in the same spot, right on the home button.
After swiping any three fingers of choice (you can store up to three, though four would make more sense since that would allow two-fingers per hand) the phone knows your prints and you can continue. It works well, but if you are older and have been using smart-phones from the dawn of this industry, you probably just like to use passwords or pins. This was an annoyance for me, because I wasn’t able to just type in a four-digit pin, my new password had to be alphanumeric. It’s a small complaint, but considering how many times I had to get past security without using my thumb, it bothered me.
The fingerprint system is being used quite well on the S5 though. Companies like PayPal have already started integrating the S5 with their apps, allowing you to send money and verify your identity with the device’s fingerprint scanner. It’s a nice system but the phone just came out, if the scanner is easily hacked or bypassed, than keeping the function active will be a risk for that app, it’s just too soon to tell. As for how well the system works, that depends on what you are willing to do to use it. The phone is very large, I’ve mentioned that before, but while trying to unlock the phone while swiping my finger across the home-button (while holding it with one hand) it’s not easily done. In fact, I couldn’t do it even once. Perhaps people with longer fingers or a larger thumb will have better luck, for my testing, I had to hold the phone with one hand and swipe my finger with another, which was far more annoying than if I could just hit four buttons to unlock it. In the end I gave up on the scanner, but I do have small hands, and I ended up just going the traditional unlock route.
That aside, I did love the Heart Rate functions of the Galaxy S5. The phone uses light-sensors to take your pulse, and can quickly give you an accurate number in just a matter of seconds. Samsung has a lot of tools to measure your heart-rate now, so if you are already wearing a Gear Fit 2 or already have a third-party device, I doubt your phone will be your ‘go to’ testing platform. As for myself I don’t normally wear any tracking wearables, so carrying around the S5 on my walks around Manhattan, or having it handy at the gym was a nice bonus for me.
On paper the S5 includes a laundry list of features and speeds that customers have enjoyed in the past with a few upgrades. The phone is capable of handling LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps) if your network provides it in your area. The display is a gorgeous 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080), with a incredibly high pixel-density of 432 ppi. The upgrade over the S4 isn’t impressive on paper, but if you look at the two screens of the S4 and S5 you should be able to see the improvements in color-depth and overall clarity. Just like your television or your monitor, there are advanced display options that you can set to get the color-balance or contrast that you prefer. Adapt analyses on the phone can gauge the incoming lights and will automatically offer you the best colour range and saturation, and will adjust the sharpness of your display if needed.
Underneath the wonderful display and all of the new features, the phone is capable of WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac VHT80 but also allows a TE + WiFi simultaneous reception, again if your network allows it. Samsung integrated NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 in the phone, allowing it to work wirelessly with a broad range of third-party devices.
The rear camera is a 16MP system, while the front camera offers a 2.0MP (but in 1920 x 1080 resolution, the front also offers a wide-angle lens for all of your video-calls and selfies. The camera also supports HDR, the very fun to play with selective focus, and Samsung’s Virtual Tour shot. Although the camera might lack the power of the Lumina Series, it’s an incredibly consistent camera. Photos taken in low-light still were clear and well composed even in post-editing. Selective focus offers a nice touch to portraits and the UI of the camera is still one of the best in the industry I think.
If videos are more your ‘focus,’ than the S5 boasts UHD at 30fps, HDR video, moderate video stabilization and is compatible with H.263, H.264(AVC), MPEG4, VC-1, Sorenson Spark, MP43, WMV7, WMV8, and VP8 codecs.
On the software side there were quite a few improvements worth mentioning. The icons and standard UI changes of the S5 offer a much simpler, cleaner look, and if you enjoy minimalist flat-logos, then you should find it to be a nice upgrade. The TouchWiz software itself still hasn’t been streamlined. It seems that Samsung still hasn’t found a winning combination of UI interfaces, lists, menus and gestures, for the software. This version is more of a grabbag of older UI tools used by Touchwiz in the past, and although I didn’t really find it to be a crucial issue, it isn’t as intuitive as I would prefer.
The versatility offered by the Galaxy S5 and the Samsung Gear Fit is truly terrific, but of course you do need to own both. If you do then the heart-rate monitor, notifications, NFC and other features that is offered on the phone are fantastic, but you have to own both.
Since the S5 is an improvement over the S4 in almost every way, it’s hard not to encourage people that would like to buy it to do so. The only problem is that although there are terrific improvements, I feel that some wouldn’t consider the changes to be enough to warrant an upgrade at this time.
If you are a first-time shopper or have an existing two-year upgrade that you will be renewing, I definitely think that the Galaxy S5 should be on your list of options. If you are considering paying extra to jump ahead of the upgrade line, I would suggest going in and testing it out in-store, and make sure that UI upgrades, the brighter screen, and the network speed upgrades will work in your day-to-day life.
If you have an S4 without the full upgrade, than that is really the only time I would suggest waiting to pick up the phone. If you are looking into getting an Android phone, this one has a great list of unique features, a brilliant display and some terrific specs. If you are browsing and looking for great options, put this one your list, it’s one of the best Android phones out there.