Samsung Galaxy S5
The Samsung Galaxy S5, the latest and greatest flagship phone from the South Korean electronics giant, is finally here, and it takes the place of last year’s tip-top Galaxy S4. It faces plenty of stiff competition though, from the likes of HTC’s brand new One (M8), the upcoming Sony Xperia Z2, and of course, Apple’s own iPhone 5s, but with revamped software smarts, a waterproof chassis and a fingerprint scanner to call its own, Samsung’s looking at taking the top prize with the S5 - can it claim the throne though? Though the phone is only out today, we nabbed one earlier this week to give it a full review ahead of schedule. Let’s find out.
If we say the Samsung Galaxy S5 provides little in the way of surprise, that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment...we think. This is the light heavyweight phone you’d expect. It rings up at just 145g on the scales, but still feels sturdy, with a design that’s very familiar by this point - so you’ll know by now if you love or hate that silver trim and plastic feel. Even if it’s not especially handsome or innovative, at least you can get at the battery to replace it, or throw in a micro SD card to give yourself an extra 128GB of storage on the cheap. Despite this accessibility, it’s also capable of surviving immersion in water, so don’t worry about running it under the tap, if er, that’s what you’re into.
Samsung’s stance however is clearly that the frame isn’t what matters - it’s the display that acts as a window into your virtual life. And what a display it is. The full HD, 5.1-inch AMOLED panel is super sharp with vivid colours and wide viewing angles. Some say that Samsung’s screens are over-saturated, but unless you’re someone who worries over colour temperature, rest assured it’s still one of the very best you can find.
Tech fans will find plenty to delight them with the S5’s specs meanwhile: it’s powered by a blazing-fast 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor - the same CPU behind the HTC One (M8) and the Xperia Z2 - that’s capable of chomping through the most demanding apps and games, while there’s a hearty 2GB of RAM at hand to power through your multitasking sessions. Rest assured, the S5 is not short of horsepower - and you’ll be pleased with how fast it blasts through everything you throw at it.
On the dimple-shaped rear of the phone, you’ll find the S5’s beefy 16-Megapixel camera which is extremely fast to focus (just 0.3 seconds!) and gets it right more often than not. Picture quality is tip-top, and can rival many of its peers - though it lacks the take-anywhere reliability of the Nokia Lumia 1020, it certainly bests the HTC One M8. Its real time HDR mode lets you see the final photo before you even hit the shutter button, a feat that many rival phones can’t manage - but the S5’s shooter does suffer in low-light, even with its improved flash. We found photos shot in dim conditions to be grainy, and lacking in quality - which means you should stick to shooting in the light with the S5. On the video front though, you’re able to make the most of the sensor’s megapixel count, as you can shoot in full 4K resolution - but be warned, it will eat up your phone’s storage, and you won’t be able to view the full quality on the phone itself, or even most TVs or monitors.
As for the software itself? It’s Android 4.4 and it absolutely flies - which means you can choose from millions of apps and games to try, and tweak it to your heart’s content. Android’s a five star smartphone platform, make no mistake. Samsung’s extra “embellishments” however go in the column below...
Samsung’s not afraid to cram in all manner of different features into its phones, and while we’ve seen that in the past with shedloads of software smarts that are questionable in their practicality (EyeTracking, anyone?), the South Korean phone maker is extending its Swiss Army Knife of features to the hardware too. To compete with Apple’s Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, Samsung has introduced its own fingerprint scanner into the home button, which works similarly to the HTC One Max’s - you have you actually swipe your finger downwards on the sensor. We found that the standard way Samsung suggests to set up your scanner makes for a tedious way to get into your phone, and we had many failed attempts to unlock it - which as we’ve said before, makes it pointless. If it doesn’t work 100% of the time, you might as well use it 0% of the time when a pin code or gesture is still swift and fairly secure.
While it seems Sony has the market on waterproof phones on tap, Samsung has also introduced dust and water resistant powers to the Galaxy S5, making it able to take a dunk in a metre of water for half an hour - but it just seems tacked on to us. We appreciate that the S5 will be able to survive a drop in the toilet bowl, but while Sony’s phones look built from the ground-up to survive a splash, Samsung’s addition looks like a last minute addition to the somewhat drab design we’ve seen for the past few Galaxy iterations. Add to that, the cover over the micro USB charging door is fiddly and arguably pointless if you’re not the sort to drop your phone in a puddle on a whim.
Again, Samsung has decided to continue its plastic crusade with its latest handset, and while it’s supposed to be its flagship device, the phone feels a tad short of premium - it’s a very similar, almost practically the same, plastic design with unsightly chromed edges, and it just gives the impression of cheap and tacky. Thankfully, Samsung has ditched the smooth plastic back for something a lot more substantial to hold onto, but instead of the faux-leather design that’s been seen on the Galaxy Note 3 and the recent Galaxy S4 Black edition, you’ll find a dimpled back that’s very reminiscent of a plaster. Not the best connotations, that.
At 5.1-inches, the Galaxy S5 is also nearing on phablet territory, and it actually measures up rather closely to Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 3 - it’s certainly pocketable though, although if you have small hands, you probably won’t be able to use the S5 with one hand.
TouchWiz, Samsung’s own take on the Android experience meanwhile, looks slightly better than before, and has received a new lick of paint, but it’s somehow become more convoluted in the process - the settings app is a prime example of that. There’s a whopping 61 icons to pick and choose from to adjust the S5’s settings, and by default, they’re arranged into rows of three in nine categories, and while you can pick a listed view instead, it’s still a lengthy process to find the right setting you want to adjust, or even spot it amidst all the colours. Thankfully, Samsung has included a search option for its settings, but we’d rather just see a much better designed menu. Also disappointing is just how much Samsung’s new UI looks like Apple’s iOS 7 - the very same flat design and circular icons abound. In fact, the notification trays looks astonishingly similar. Let’s have something more original next time please, Samsung, we’ve seen this before.