Samsung announced its latest-generation Galaxy S5 flagship at Mobile World Congress at the end of February, and announced that sales would start on April 11. We’ve had some time to get our hands on the Galaxy S5, and, for those who have already enjoyed previous iterations of Samsung’s Galaxy S line, the Galaxy S5 is sure to please. Galaxy S3 users who were “wowed” by the company’s first smartphone that started the Samsung Revolution will deem the GS5 to be even more revolutionary than the GS3.
Just to get the specs out the way, the Galaxy S5 comes with a 5.1-inch, Super AMOLED display with full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution, features a quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM, 16/32GB of internal memory storage, a 16-megapixel camera with fast autofocus and 2-megapixel front camera for selfies, an IP67 water and dust resistance rating, as well as a home button-embedded fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor, and runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
As with every review, we’ll focus on the good as well as the bad/need improvement areas. We’ll start with the familiar, and then progress from there.
Galaxy S5: The familiar
If you’ve owned previous versions of Samsung’s Galaxy line (GS3, GS4), then the Galaxy S5 will feel like familiar territory (or déjà vu) to you. Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz UI still greets you when you turn on the screen, including the famous weather widget that contains the date, time, and even the city you set. The weather widget has to be the one area on TouchWiz that I’ve come to dislike over time, however. Having seen the HTC One M8 up-close, I think HTC’s nailed the weather widget experience somewhat better. I’d like to have more of an in-built weather setup on my main desktop screen, but I understand that there are many others in Android who like a moveable weather widget that they can get out of the way in order to enjoy more of a customizable experience.
I also like the Amazon Kindle app setup that allows you to see your books and enter into the Amazon Kindle experience at any time – although I do think this takes up an entire page of the Android desktop and could be minimized to an app to provide more customizable space for the Galaxy S5 user. Other than these small issues, I’ve always enjoyed TouchWiz as always. It’s a bit more familiar experience to me than HTC’s Sense UI – which some have deemed more elegant than TouchWiz. Perhaps it’s a matter of what you adjust to over time.
Drop-Down Notification Window and Toggles
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 still features the notification window where you can adjust your phone settings and toggles. The brightness setting is still one of my favorites in the notification window, and this is something that I think should be implemented in all Android smartphones.
Toggles remain the same, for the most part. There are a few additions to the toggles, such as Toolbox and Private Mode. Toolbox allows you to save a few settings together that appear as a small, moveable box on your main desktop screen. These are settings that you may want to keep handy without looking for them in your main collection of apps. Private Mode, of course, is the incognito mode that has become an important part of Android. Google placed an incognito mode into its Nexus 5 experience via Chrome, and Samsung decided to implement this from its web browser into the toggle experience this year.
The toggles, however, are less in the usual square grid layout as they were on the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, and are now more circular in nature. It’s been said that Samsung’s brought something of its Tizen OS into the Samsung Android experience this year, and, from the Tizen photos I’ve seen, I think that’s an accurate statement to make.
The toggles have a different shape, but Samsung has also changed its settings layout. In previous Samsung iterations, you could access your settings by tapping the “pages” capacitive touch button at the bottom left of the display (to the left of the home button) or the wheel icon at the top right of the drop-down window. Samsung has now replaced the “pages” button with a multitasking button that lets you quickly close all webpages that are running in the background, but you can still access your settings with the drop-down window. With the GS4 and Note 3, you could hold the home button to see the webpages running in the background, but the company’s done away with this to match a more contemporary look and experience.
You still get a microSD card slot for expandable storage and a removable battery in the Galaxy S5, so those of you who prize these features will rejoice over them once more. These features have become Samsung trademarks, and they’re part of why millions love the company’s smartphones so much.
What differentiates the Galaxy S5 from the Galaxy S4?
So, the same UI and settings; “we get it,” you may say. So now, you’re wanting to know what’s different about the Galaxy S5 from last year’s Galaxy S4. Well, there are a number of differences. I’ll list the noticeable ones here for your convenience, then we’ll get into them below:
- Water and Dust Resistance
- Home button is now used as a fingerprint scanner
- “Galaxy Essentials” now offer optional downloads instead of unnecessary software additions
- Improved camera
- Built-in heart rate monitor
- Transformed Power Saving Mode and New Ultra Power Saving Mode
Water and Dust Resistance
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is water and dust resistance with an IP67 rating, meaning that you can take your device for a swim in about 3.3 feet (1 meter) of water for up to 30 minutes. Demonstrations tests have borne out that you can even wash your Galaxy S5 in the washer for 50 minutes (or give the GS5 a one-hour swim), but you do these things at your own risk.
The Galaxy S4 didn’t have water and dust resistance at all and is still prone to drops and spills that will damage the device permanently. The Galaxy S4 Active had the same IP67 rating as does the Galaxy S5, but it didn’t have the 13-megapixel camera that the original GS4 had. In fact, you’ve the Galaxy S4 Active sales to thank for the water and dust resistance rating on the Galaxy S5. It turns out that consumers really do prefer to have water and dust protection in the event that something happens to their device.
It’s also the case that Samsung is committing to replace your Galaxy S5 should the water and dust resistance not work effectively. There is one drawback to the water resistance factor, though: you’ve got to keep the built-in flap over your Galaxy S5 USB port in order to protect the device from permanent damage. I don’t see this as a drawback, but some may see this as another way to cover up the phone instead of letting it go “all natural.”
Along the lines of the phone’s water and dust resistance, let me say a word about the back cover: it is far sturdier than it’s been given credit for. Unlike previous versions, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 back cover doesn’t feel flimsy as though you could snap the back plate into pieces. Rather, it’s a more premium feel than it’s ever had and certainly assures me as to the back cover protection of my device.
Sony’s Xperia Z2 is the only device on the market right now whose water and dust resistance outpace the Galaxy S5. If you’re in a market where the Xperia Z2 is inaccessible (particularly the American market), the Galaxy S5 is as good as you’ll get in this department.
“E.T. Scan Home”: Home button doubles as a fingerprint scanner and internet access key
E.T. wanted to phone home when the movie E.T. (named after the extra-terrestrial character) entered the market back many years ago, but E.T. would be able to scan his way back to the home page on Samsung’s Galaxy S5 if he were on the movie screen today. Yes, the home button can now be used as a fingerprint scanner. Samsung allows you to use three different fingers by which to set up the fingerprint scanner. Fingerprint scanners are an excellent means of security for those who’d rather not worry with remembering a password or username, or anything of the sort.
When it comes to the fingerprint scanner, however, you must remember one thing: it doesn’t work like Apple’s Touch ID. That’s not a bad thing, seeing that Apple’s implementation isn’t really a “scanner” as much as it is a “touch register” for fingerprints. That’s why, in Apple’s Touch ID, you touch the home button and are granted access. For many, it just “works” – but it’s not a scanner. Samsung has provided a genuine fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5, and it works as you would expect a fingerprint scanner to work. You’ve to remember to slide your finger from the bottom of the display down past the home button in order to have your fingerprint registered. It will take some time to get used to, but the Galaxy S5’s fingerprint software is there to help: it often tells you to scan your finger faster or slower so that the software can register your fingerprint accurately and grant you access past your lock screen.
And, there’s another neat feature with it: in case you’re struggling with the fingerprint scanner and need to access your device, you can simply enter your Google username and password to gain entrance. I must caution you, however: please be sure you’ve your mobile data on when trying to gain entrance via Google: even when I used the right username and password, Google wouldn’t grant access until my Wi-Fi or LTE data was active.
If I read things correctly, Samsung looks to improve the ease with its fingerprint scanner; as for me, however, I’ve had few problems with it. The initial adjustment I had with the fingerprint scanner isn’t enough to make me say that it’s annoying and awful. Samsung’s own unique contribution is special enough that I don’t have to rate the S5 fingerprint feature awful because some may believe the iPhone 5s Touch ID setup to be easier.
Heart Rate Monitor
If you’re into fitness and loved Samsung’s S-Health, it’s back – with an all-new heart rate monitor that’s built on the back of the device (right below the camera). The heart rate monitor is there to watch over your heartbeat when you’re working out or finishing up (either one). One drawback to the heart rate monitor (or perhaps, I should say, a suggestion) is that there’s nothing but the widget to activate it. In the future, I think Samsung should build in an activation launcher with the heart rate monitor so that, when you tap it, the heart rate monitor appears on your smartphone display without the need to touch a widget.
One difficulty I’ve had with the heart rate monitor concerns the fingertip slot on the back cover that you place your finger in to process your heart rate. In my tests with the Galaxy S5 for over a month now, I’ve noticed that either 1) my fingers are too chubby for the heart rate monitor or 2) the monitor is too small. I would suggest that there are quite a few chubby-fingered individuals who don’t want to struggle with the monitor failing to read their fingerprint each time they use it. The heart rate monitor is a nice touch (and I certainly like the red light that appears each time you use it), but I don’t like placing my chubby fingers into a slot that’s smaller than my fingertips. My suggestion to Samsung here concerns enlarging the fingertip slot some so that, no matter your finger size, you can place your finger in the correct position to have your heart rate read in a matter of seconds.
The heart rate monitor software on-screen experience could use a little improvement, too. I like the way that the monitor app maintains a record of all of my previous scans so that I can see whether my heart rate falls within the normal range or outside of it, but you can’t know how far along the heart rate monitor has progressed in reading your heart rate. There’s no progression bar, no “50% read” status update, or anything. This means that, if you’ve got chubby fingers like me and you place your finger on the monitor, the only indication that the monitor’s having trouble reading your device is that the green circle turns “orange” and a square window pops up on the screen (telling you to try again). I’d like to see Samsung implement a heart rate monitor that tells me my fingerprint scan is “25% complete,” for example, and provides updates on exactly what the monitor’s doing, how many steps left before the reading is complete, and so on. The monitor’s easy to use now for most individuals, but I’d like to know whether or not it’s reading my heart rate or can’t read it before I see the pop-up window.
Galaxy S5 brings an improved camera
The Galaxy S5 takes gorgeous pictures, as I experienced immediately after taking some shots. Early shots show an impressive camera, which wasn’t too surprising.
The Galaxy S5 performs well outdoors and even beats my 8-month-old Galaxy Note 3 in some photos.
The top photo is that of the Galaxy Note 3, while the bottom photo belongs to the Galaxy S5. As you can see from these two outdoor photos, Samsung’s 13-megapixel camera doesn’t have the zoom quality of the 16MP camera, seeing that the 16-megapixel camera leaves room for more up-close photos than its 13MP older brother. One thing that can be said about higher megapixel count is that it allows for an improved zoom quality over cameras with a lower megapixel count.
The same can be said with regard to other outdoor photos as well. Take a look at these two photos of the grass on the green. The Galaxy S5’s grass looks somewhat greener than that of the Note 3’s.
With the grass in the two photos, the Galaxy S5’s grass does look greener, but the pavement is also more reflective of the sun that was present at the time the photo was taken. The grass does look somewhat washed out in the Note 3 photo, with it appearing to be a lighter green than the grass’s actual appearance. Again, the zoom quality of the Galaxy S5 is noticeable, considering that the light pole in the photo does look closer to you than does the light pole in the Note 3 photo. Zoom quality does put you in the moment, and it seems that the Nokia Lumia 1020’s 41MP zoom quality is every bit legit – if these photos are any indication of what a 41MP camera could do.
Indoors, however, the Galaxy S5 took two different shades of pink at the bottom of the Disney Princess Tent (near the door), as seen in the following two photos:
But the Galaxy S5, as wonderful a photo-taking device as it is, does come with some drawbacks. For one, certain synthetic blues don’t come out quite right in color reproduction, as is the case with some light pinks and even dark colors (violet, for example).
The Galaxy S5 camera performed well when taking snapshots of an orange kid basketball goal and a Boston Celtics’ toy ball, but struggled when trying to portray a pair of yellow sunglasses and a dark violet toy stove. The yellow sunglasses came out more like mustard yellow instead, and the dark violet toy stove turned hot pink in the Galaxy S5 photos. Blues came out darker in photos than they were in appearance, but the Galaxy S5 did accurately portray one baby blue toy coffee mug that I shot inside a small child’s bedroom.
Galaxy S5 battery and battery software
The Galaxy S5 contains a 2,800mAh battery, a small improvement over the 2,600mAh battery of the Galaxy S4. At the same time, however, you’ll still find that it provides excellent battery life with the device. In my tests with the Galaxy S5, I’ve been able to get as high as 42 hours of battery life on a single charge – and the battery didn’t use any of Samsung’s power saving modes. With regular testing, I’ve found that my battery life comes to around 15-20 hours with regular use (sans power-saving modes). I’ve also had times when my own Galaxy S5 battery has produced 42 hours of battery life.
Even with already-excellent battery life, Samsung’s managed to provide an improved Power Saving Mode in the Galaxy S5 experience. I’ve been using Power Saving Mode recently, and still have 51% battery life with 2 days, 6 hours, and 31 minutes (or nearly 55 hours) on my current battery charge.
If Power Saving Mode is this excellent, imagine what Ultra Power Saving Mode does! Samsung said that the Galaxy S5’s Ultra Power Saving Mode could get as much as 24 hours with only 10% battery life, but the results of using the Ultra Power mode are nothing short of impressive. In my usage with the Ultra Power Saving Mode, I found that my phone often gets 5.5-6 days of battery life.
Samsung says that, with your battery fully charged, you can get 11-12 days of battery life with Ultra Power Saving Mode; with that said, however, you’ll have to do a number of things: keep the brightness low, refrain from using 4G LTE data or data of any kind, and resist the urge to post that “on the road” photo to Facebook that you’re dying to publish. My results from above are based on moderate usage with the Galaxy S5; as always, I’m bound by my love of tech to tell you that usage will vary – but those who use their devices on a far more conservative scale will likely have better results than what you’ve seen here. These results are meant to help consumers who wonder if these types of labels (“ultra power saving mode,” for example) are just gimmicks or the real deal. Samsung’s is, without a doubt, the real deal. The Galaxy S5 is able to provide not only battery life comparable to its “Beast of the East” Galaxy Note 3, but can surpass it. How many phones do you think provide 5.5 days of battery life with regular usage?
All in all, battery life won’t be a problem with the Galaxy S5. I wish that every device provided the kind of battery life the Galaxy S5 does. You can’t go wrong with Samsung when you’re on-the-go and notice that you’ve gone 2 days but still have 60% battery life remaining. It’s a marvelous thing.
Samsung’s Galaxy S series has always been thought of as a life companion, but the company’s latest iteration makes the Galaxy S5 still a life companion, only better than before.
One thing that most consumers will notice in the Galaxy S5 experience is that Samsung has toned down its software ambitions a bit, creating a “Galaxy Essentials” widget that allows you to access other Galaxy apps (such as the Galaxy Note application) if you decide to purchase a stylus with your Galaxy S5. Some people have remarked that Samsung’s decision to tone down its software additions is a marvelous thing, but I disagree. I think that Samsung’s decision to do so isn’t so much to help customers (although many are grateful), but is a direct result of the company’s situation with Android OS owner Google.
Google and Samsung struck a deal sometime around the end of Mobile World Congress (MWC) back in February, and we still don’t know the details of the agreement. From the looks of how Android is shaping up, however, there are some things we can conclude. First, Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform explains why Samsung decided to remove its Gear smartwatches and place them on its own Tizen platform. It’s likely the case that Google has started requiring its platform smartwatches to all operate the same – without Samsung’s beloved software additions that make the company stand out from the pack. Google wants its own software to shine on the Android Wear platform, so there’s little room for Samsung’s software to compete in this space.
The Galaxy S5, unfortunately, also falls under this new pact between the two companies. In other words, the Galaxy S5 will run Android without all of the company’s software additions that have come under heavy criticism in days past. Sadly, this means that many new customers to the Galaxy experience will only get a trace of what Samsung’s software creations have been like in the past. Google may see the software reduction as a benefit, but I mourn this new chapter in the Google-Samsung saga.
As a now four-time owner of Samsung smartphones, Google’s restrictions on Samsung are placing the company, and me, as a customer, in a hard place. Samsung’s Galaxy S3 was the first Android smartphone I fell in love with, and the Galaxy S5 may be the last Android smartphone I love. I think that Samsung innovated this year in areas that matter most to customers, but some of us love Samsung’s software additions – despite the number of individuals that deem Air View and Air Gesture as nothing more than “gimmicks.” Not all Samsung smartphone owners think these features are worthless and useless; a growing number of Samsung owners disagree with Google’s new commands and think that Google’s choking Samsung’s innovation in the process.
The good news in all of this is that, as you can see from above, the Galaxy S5 does mimic Tizen in its look already. What this means for me and other Galaxy customers is that, in the future, if Samsung’s Galaxy S6 looks identical to the Nexus 5 or LG G3, we can always pack up and leave Android for the calming waters of Tizen. I am a heavy user of Gmail, Google Keep, and Google Now, but I’d be happy with Tizen and Samsung’s software additions. When I fell in love with Android, I fell in love with Samsung – and I can leave Android for Tizen at any time. I’m starting to think that 2015 will be the year I buy my first Tizen device.
Don’t let this detract from your impression of the Galaxy S5, however. There’re many of you that are happy with the GS5 as it is. I am content with it, but I think that I’d much prefer more software innovation than I do a brighter screen resolution or even wider display, for that matter. Software is what has set Samsung apart, and it’s a sad day indeed when Google starts restricting it in order to “compete” with Apple and iOS.
The problem, however, isn’t with Android, but with Google and Samsung. Samsung has been a threat to Google and continues to be, and this is as good a year as ever for the company to break away and do its own thing. To me, Tizen is a welcome addition. Android has flourished because of Samsung’s work, but, if Samsung becomes an unwelcome guest, Samsung can move to Tizen and take a good majority of Google’s Android base with it. If it comes down to choosing between Samsung and Android, then you already know where my heart lies.