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Samsung Galaxy S5

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: all major and some regional carriers
Manufacturer: Samsung
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What's Hot: Stunning display, removable battery, microSD card slot, fingerprint scanner that works well, very good camera with 4K video recording.

What's Not: Still plastic, TouchWiz is improved but still walks all over Android.

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Reviewed April 17, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of those phones that hardly needs an introduction. Like the iPhone and HTC One series, it's a flagship smartphone that gets plenty of attention... and sales. Samsung sells hundreds of millions of Galaxy phones each year, and the Galaxy S5 will be available on all major and many smaller carriers around the globe. Also like most recent smartphones, the fifth generation Galaxy S offers small improvements and a few new features rather than revolutionary change.

Samsung Galaxy S5

The Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat with Samsung's TouchWiz software and UI. It's a little less Hello Kitty looking but still swipes a heavy hand over Android. To Samsung's credit, the phone doesn't bog down under TouchWiz's weight, and no doubt the 2.5GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU with higher clocked Adreno 330 graphics and 2 gigs of DDR3 RAM helps. The phone has 16 gigs of storage and a microSD card slot. We'd really like to see 32 gigs to compete with the HTC One M8, especially since there are just under 11 gigs of available storage out of the box. As a consolation, Samsung continues to modify Android to allow apps to be moved to microSD cards. The GS5 has the usual wireless radios: dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS as well as an IR blaster to control home theatre gear using Samsung's WatchOn app.

Design and Ergonomics

Samsung went with a faux leather plastic back, not unlike their recent higher end Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and the new Pro tablets. This time it's a stippled leather look, with a pleasing soft touch feel on the black version. It's available in white and black, with electric blue and gold possibly coming later. The gold is more of a suntan golden brown, and some folks have compared that model's back to a Band-Aid. Is there any metal in this design? Nah. Does it look cheap? Not at all, in fact I actually like the look of the new back. Will it make you have a Rolex moment like the iPhone 5s and HTC One M8? Not so much.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Though the 5.1" phone is actually a hair bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S4, it still feels great in hand thanks to a slim 8.1mm design and intelligent curves. Samsung might not aim for aspirational beauty, but they do target ergonomics; and in that respect this is the best Galaxy S yet. The display bezels, though still very slim, are slightly wider and I rarely accidentally activated something on screen when my fingers (admittedly long fingers) wrapped around the edge of the screen as I did with the Galaxy S4. The phone's corners don't jab and poke at my palm as they do on the pure rectangular Sony Xperia Z1S, so it feels smaller and more manageable. The S5 isn't as cold or slippery as the HTC One M8 and obviously it gets you lots more screen real estate than the 4" iPhone 5s. Samsung held their ground and kept the mechanical, clicky home button and capacitive back and multitasking buttons rather than moving to on-screen buttons that Google prefers. On-screen buttons use up screen space and when they auto-hide it's like playing Where's Waldo to find them. Note that the back button on prior Samsung Android phones has been replaced here with the multitasking button, as per Google's dictum for KitKat OS 4.4 and going forward. The Galaxy S5's design is unabashedly practical, and that's a good thing.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Above and below: the Sony Xperia Z1S, HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s.

Samsung Galaxy S5

Wow, it's refreshingly retro and utilitarian: a removable back cover that grants access to the battery. You'll also find stacked card slots for the micro SIM (lower) and microSD card (upper). You'll have to remove the battery to swap SIM cards but you won't need to do so for the microSD card slot. The phone has a micro USB 3.0 port on the bottom, just like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and recent Samsung Pro tablets like the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. You can use micro USB 2.0 cables with the phone too since the port is backward compatible.

Fun in the Bathtub and Dust Storms Too

OK, dust storms are never fun, and neither is getting beach sand in your beloved phone's nether regions. Happily, the Galaxy S5 is both water resistant and dust resistant, so the beach is no longer your phone's deadly enemy. Keep in mind that salt is corrosive, beer is gummy and fresh tap water is the preferred medium if you want to dunk your phone for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter. That's not to say a drop in the Atlantic will instantly hose your phone, but you should hose off the salt water with fresh clear water as soon as possible. To resist these perils the phone's back cover has a rubber gasket, so you'll need to make sure it's completely snapped on. The phone will remind you to check the back cover each time you boot it up, and just like the water resistant Sony Xperia Z1, it will nag you if you leave the USB cover open. Unlike the Galaxy S4 Active, the back cover isn't as hard to get on.

 

 

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Fingerprint Scanner and Pulse Monitor

These are the two big, new features on the S5. Samsung dialed back on software additions and decided to try a few hardware tricks. The fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s has been well received and I personally find it both practical and useful. It's easier and quicker than typing in a password to unlock your phone, and that means you're more likely to use it. The same is true of the Samsung's Synaptics fingerprint scanner that, like the iPhone 5s, is embedded in the home button. It's easy and reliable, though it's designed for two-handed use where one hand holds the phone while the other swipes a finger. You can try to train it to recognize your thumb dragged sideways across the sensor but it will notice what you're doing and tell you to swipe your finger downward rather than sideways. Recognition is good when used as directed and you can use it to unlock the phone, log into your Samsung account and with PayPal.

But it's not perfect, or even as secure as the iPhone 5s, though Samsung could easily create firmware improvements to deal with a few key issues. Keep in mind that sophisticated crooks could make a model of your finger if they lift your fingerprint, but unless you're Donald Trump, I don't think that's terribly likely to happen given the skills and patience required. Many fingerprint scanners are vulnerable to this sort of skilled attack, so we won't single out Samsung here. What Samsung must do is offer an option to lock the phone from further fingerprint swipe attempts after 3 or 5 failed swipes. Like the iPhone, it should then require you to enter the backup password created when you first enrolled your fingerprints. Needless to say, the fingerprint lockout should remain on even if the phone is rebooted. Right now, if you flunk 5 attempts it asks for the password, but putting the phone to sleep or rebooting it lets you swipe some more.

The heart rate monitor is embedded next to the rear camera flash and it works in conjunction with Samsung's S Health app that also acts as a pedometer and nutrition tracker. Cold fingers don't work well and you've got to position your finger to completely cover the scanner, but it does work. We tested repeatedly and it gave consistent and fairly accurate results (in our in-depth video review I demo using it while cycling). Is this a feature the world didn't realize it needed? Not so much.

Display

Specs nerds get their knickers in a twist with every new Super AMOLED equipped Samsung phone. Yes, it uses "diamond" sub-pixels and there are fewer sub-pixels compared to IPS and LCD displays. Can you tell without a microscope? No. This is a sharp, high pixel density (432 PPI) 5.1" display with Samsung's usual extremely deep blacks and better than life vivid colors. As ever, you can choose from a few color profiles or opt for the default dynamic profile that will subtly change color balance and saturation depending on what's displayed at a given moment. The full HD 1920 x 1080 screen is simply stunning, though pro photographers and other color purists might still find it a bit over-saturated. Most folks will love it, and it makes my Xperia Z1s and HTC One M8 look a little dull. Viewing angles are extremely wide, and brightness, once Super AMOLED's Achilles' heel, is improved. It can reach 500 nits with auto-brightness enabled if you're standing outdoors in sunlight. It's actually quite readable in sunlight, which wasn't true of the Galaxy S4. Unfortunately, Samsung's auto-brightness is still too dim indoors, and if you disable it, you'll be scrambling to adjust brightness manually when you wander outside on a sunny day.

Calling and Data

Samsung makes excellent voice phones and call quality on our T-Mobile and AT&T review units was excellent. Incoming and outgoing voice have good volume and sound full and clear. For carriers that support WiFi calling like T-Mobile and Sprint, you may get even better call quality over WiFi. The phone played nicely with a variety of Bluetooth headsets, my BMW built-in Bluetooth and stereo Bluetooth speakers.

This is an LTE 4G phone with fallback to 3G and (gasp) EDGE. Samsung flaunted their new Download Booster that combines WiFi and 4G for even faster downloads. Sadly, for those who have an incredible need for data speeds, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have disabled this feature, but our T-Mobile phone retains it. I personally don't have a great need for this feature, but it could come in handy at Starbucks where WiFi is particularly slow. When you first set up the phone it will ask you if you want to enable this feature, and you can later turn it on/off in settings. Be mindful that you may blow through your data allotment much more quickly if you turn this feature on. I suspect that's why three of the big four US carriers disabled it--imagine the customer service calls from irate customers who used up their data plan allowance in a week.

Performance and Horsepower

Like the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 uses Qualcomm's latest, greatest quad core mobile CPU, the Snapdragon 801, clocked at 2.5GHz. The 801 reminds us of Intel Haswell on laptops: it offers very little CPU performance improvements, decent graphics improvements and noticeably better battery life. This is a very fast 32 bit mobile CPU that currently sits at the top of benchmarks. Despite Samsung's heavy software overlay, we experienced no lag and the phone is responsive even when playing 4K video and demanding 3D games like Real Racing 3. The Snapdragon 801 brings support for faster DDR3 rather than DDR2 RAM, and that gives the Adreno 330 graphics chip a lift in benchmarks. The GS5 has 16 gigs of internal storage with approximately 11 gigs free for your use.

Benchmarks

  Quadrant 3DMark Ice Storm AnTuTu Sunspider JavaScript Test (lower is better)
Samsung Galaxy S5 23,643 18,329 35,357 398
LG G3 24,385 18,708 36,525 425
HTC One M8 24,527 20,896 (unlimited) 36,087 776
Sony Xperia Z1S 21589 16,135 (unlimited) 35,008 837
Nexus 5 8808 17,828 (unlimited) 27,017 718
Moto G 8485 2778 (extreme) 17,396 1311
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 22,006 15,092 (unlimited) 35,823 587
LG G2 19,762 9803 (extreme) 32,990 823
Samsung Galaxy S4 12,276 11,601 (unlimited) 24,776 826
HTC One M7 12,252 11,324 (extreme) 24,589 1155
Sony Xperia Z 7916 6353  (extreme) 20,403 1306
Moto X 8357 6800 (extreme) 21,377 1097
LG Optimus G Pro 11,994 N/A 18,561 867
Samsung Galaxy Note II 6001 N/A 14,056 1052
Samsung Galaxy S III 5102 N/A 7011 1825

Geekbench 3: 974 single core, 2954 multi-core

Camera

Camera resolution creeps up yearly, and though pixel count doesn't tell the whole story, in general you can count on better quality images and videos with each generation. The Galaxy S5 is no exception, and Samsung makes good cameras, so it's only natural that their tech would trickle down to smartphones. The 16 megapixel rear camera has the usual amenities, including a backside illuminated sensor, HDR, panorama and fast/slow motion video recording. The ISOCELL camera uses both traditional contrast detection autofocus and phase detection autofocus (a combo usually only found on higher end DSLRs). Samsung claims this results in very fast focus times, and the camera indeed focuses quickly. Photo detail and exposure are improved over the Galaxy S4, though the difference isn't night and day; in part because the S4 has a very good camera too. Those who shoot video will appreciate the 4K resolution recording mode that captures very high resolution video that looks sharper than 1080p video even when viewed on a less than 4K monitor or TV. The drawback of 4K recording is that it reveals the camera's shortcomings, like serious blockiness when you pan the camera. We also wish the camera had optical image stabilization for less jitters when recording video while moving (the software-based stabilization isn't nearly as effective). So how are photo and video quality? Excellent and only the Nokia Lumia models with PureView 20MP and 41MP cameras clearly best it.

The front 2MP camera's quality is quite good, even if the resolution hasn't increased from last year's model. It can capture 1080p video and delivers clear video chat footage. It can't compete with the HTC One M8's 5MP front camera, but it's above average and you won't look like a blotchy mess.

Battery Life

Finally, improvements in battery life! That's been a sore point for smartphones as their displays get larger and CPUs get faster. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a removable 2800 mAh Lithium Ion battery. We always love Samsung's engineers for finding a way to keep the phone slim while providing a replaceable battery. That's a large capacity battery for a 5" class phone and that translates into long battery life. The Snapdragon 801 is a fast but very power-frugal CPU and it too contributes to the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8's (both run on the 801) solid battery life. We averaged 1.5 days on a charge with moderate use that included social networking, email, web browsing, 45 minutes of Netflix and calls. Our battery monitor reported 8 hours of actual screen on time, which is impressive by today's standards.

Conclusion

Samsung, like Apple, is a juggernaut and by reputation, repeat buyers and feature list alone we all know that Samsung will sell many million GS5 phones. Though you could call it an incremental upgrade, it does bring a few new features--for example the fingerprint scanner, that are genuinely useful and the camera is noticeably better than the already sharp Galaxy S4. This is the best looking Galaxy S yet, even if Samsung eschews what they consider to be expensive and heavy metal bodies in favor of slim designs and removable batteries. In fact, I completely understand that design choice and I'm glad there are phones for both camps on the market. Beyond that, the phone is nice enough looking and we like the feel of the faux leather stippled back on the black model. Performance is top notch but we'd still like to see Samsung pare down the "everything plus the kitchen sink" panoply of software features for something a little more streamlined and simple. The display is one of the best you'll find on a smartphone in terms of color vibrancy, sharpness and resolution--no doubt many folks will be sold once they see the display in store. It may not be revolutionary, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 is still one of the top Android smartphones money can buy.

Websites: www.samsung.com, wireless.att.com, www.sprint.com. www.t-mobile.com, www.verizonwireless.com

Price: May vary by carrier, average price is $199 with 2 year contract and $650 without contract

Related:

HTC One (M8) Review

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active Review

Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport Review

LG G3 vs. Samsung Galaxy S5 Comparison

HTC One M8 vs. Samsung Galaxy S5 Comparison Smackdown

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs. iPhone 5s Comparison Smackdown

LG G3 Review

Sony Xperia Z1S Review

iPhone 5s Review

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review

Nokia Lumia Icon Review

Nokia Lumia 1020 Review

 

Samsung Galaxy S5

 

Samsung Galaxy S5

 

Samsung Galaxy S5

 

Samsung Galaxy S5

 

Samsung Galaxy S5

Directly above: the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

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Specs:

Display: 5.1" Super AMOLED HD display with Gorilla Glass 3. Resolution: 1920 x 1080. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor.

Battery: 2800 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Supports latest version of Qualcomm quick charging.

Performance: 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core CPU. 2 gigs DDR3 RAM. 16 gigs internal storage with ~11 gigs available.

Size: 5.59" x 2.85" x 0.31" inches. Weight: 5.1 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band world phone with EDGE 2G, 3G and 4G LTE for AT&T and T-Mobile. CDMA dual band digital with EV-DO Rev. A 3G and 4G LTE for Sprint and Verizon.

Camera: 2MP front camera and 16MP rear camera with LED flash, BSI, HDR mode, 4K video recording. Supports simultaneous use of front and back camera.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking and GPS: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and NFC.

Software: Android OS 4.4 KitKat with Samsung TouchWiz UI and software.

Expansion: 1 SDXC microSD card slot under back cover.

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