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Reviewing Samsung’s New Flagship Phone, the Galaxy S5

Last updated: October 2, 2018.

New Flagship Phone, the Galaxy S5

The most popular Android smartphone, by far, is the Samsung Galaxy S4. This, however, can change soon with the arrival of the Galaxy S5. Samsung phones are well-known and well-liked by a lot of people despite the numerous complaints about its design and materials used. The Galaxy S5 is expected to continue Samsung’s good reputation of improvements in its flagship products. The Galaxy S5 has an improved screen, speed, camera, battery life, and software but there are still areas that are not so good, such as the bloated software suite, the difficult-to-navigate settings menu, and the creaky plastic. But despite these, the Galaxy S5 is still a notable mprovement over the Galaxy S4 – even more so than the S4 had been with the SIII. It’s a device that demands your attention, even if you’re a critique of Samsung.

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Build quality and design

The overall design of the Galaxy S5 is highly reminiscent of the Galaxy S4, except that the shape is more squared off like the Galaxy Note 3 and the home button is a bit more round. Also, the pattern on the bezel is now little circles instead of a diamond weave so that it matches the band-aid-ish texture of the rear cover. Aside from these, the plasti-chrome trim on the device’s profile has a pronounced banding, the speaker grille is more flush on the display, and the camera module is also squared off. The protrusion of the USB 3.0 type B port is more noticeable.

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The good points:

  • The plastic build is more grippable than a metal. It’s also comfortable to touch even when it’s cold.
  • Also a result of the plastic build: the phone is light to carry around
  • A debatable point is the seemingly band-aid texture of the rear cover. Others hate it, others like it. It’s counted as a good point because it prevents the device from being greasy and/or slimy, so the phone looks and feels clean even after a whole day’s use without an attempt to clean it.
  • It now has a multitasking button. There is (thankfully) no more menu button, so the hardware buttons now are multitask / home / back. It’s a joy to see.
  • The USB 3.0 type B port implemented from the Galaxy Note 3 allows a faster transfer of data, thanks to the type B connected included in the package. It also works fine with standard microUSB cables, though using the standard slightly lessens the speed. The minimal downside? There is a port cover.
  • Samsung retained the battery-SD card-SIM arrangement. The SIM and SD card holders are located underneath the battery. The Galaxy S5 still uses a microSIM.

 

The points to improve:

  • Samsung S5 is still a creaky, snappy plastic like its predecessors
  • There is a bigger space between the phone’s edge and the display glass making the S5 look older.

 

Display

The display is simply amazing. It’s the best screen among all smartphones. Even when used on a bright, sunny day with a lot of fingerprint smudges, the small black text is still readable against its white background, even on shallow angles. The Galaxy S5 has 700 nits of brightness in automatic mode when you are outdoors. Compared with the HTC One M8… well, there are no comparisons. The M8 quickly failed the test, because it’s barely readable in the same situation.

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Given, the battery life may drain easily when you are using this hyper-bright mode, but it’s a very impressive capability. No more need to shield the phone with your hand just to read what’s on the screen. Just note that the phone needs to be set in automatic mode for it to reach this hyper-bright capacity, because the maximum luminance of the Galaxy S5 is lower if the brightness is set manually.

 

Aside from the hyper-bright mode, the Galaxy S5 is also capable of being hyper-dim. Contrarily, this feature can be achieved by turning of the auto-brightness and manually setting the brightness to the lowest point. When using this mode, the display is not visible outdoor or in a brightly-lit room. It’s ideal for a pitch black room or setting.

 

Samsung should be more proud of its display innovations – it has effectively done away with the super-saturated, limited resolution, and poor brightness of its Super AMOLED display just a few years back.

 

Battery life

The battery life of Samsung Galaxy S5 is impressive – it has 2 hours of screen-on time in 3 days, and that’s with mobile data. It’s even better than the battery life of the HTC One M8. For heavy users, however, the screen-on time would still be limited.

 

The 2,800mAh packed into the Galaxy S5 is doing its job well, but it’s still 400mAh less than the Xperia Z2. For moderate users, the battery life of the S5 is suitable and can help you survive for 3 days with only a single charge, and with an extra 5% to spare by the end of the third day. Samsung notes that the 5% could be stretched to 12 hours if you use the ultra power saving mode. On another note, the battery can be swapped to another fully charged battery if you’re out – the benefits of a removable pack.

 

There is once incident, though, that many users have experienced: the Galaxy S5 did not go to sleep and 50% of the battery was discharged overnight. There is still no identified cause for this problem.

 

Storage and wireless

Most American carriers are offering only the 16gb model of the Galaxy S5, which is kind of a waste for the 32gb variant. The microSD card slot is also rather restricted in Android 4.4, and this slot should not be used by Samsung as a reason to continue on the limited internal storage, particularly because the 16gb model provides only 10gb of usable space for the user. Samsung needs to provide a more competitive pricing for its 32gb and 64gb models so that the American carriers would find it worthy to stock.

The wireless performance of the Galaxy S5 is excellent. The signal and data speed on LTE and WiFi are both strong, plus the device supports WiFi AC and it has 2 antennas for MIMO. This effectively enhances the wireless speed of the S5; something that the HTC One M8 does not have.

Audio and speaker quality

The good points:

  • Call quality is normal
  • Quality of sound from the headphone jack is great because the Galaxy S5 also has the Snapdragon 801 found in the Xperia Z2 and HTC One M8. The Hexagon DSP of Qualcomm is doing an excellent job in producing great sounds.

The points to improve:

  • Samsung has an aggressive noise suppression. It’s not particularly bad, but it’s different from usual.
  • Quality of the external speaker is slightly lower than the one found in the Galaxy S4. This could be an effect of the S5’s waterproofing because the speaker driver has a rubber gasket and water protection. This point is a bit of a bummer because the Galaxy S4’s external speaker is not that great, only louder than other smartphones such as LG.

Camera

The good points:

  • The camera produces good images in favourable lighting conditions, even better than all other smartphones in the market now. The 16mp resolution definitely helps such that the images can be cropped without suffering the image quality. It helps in preserving the detail (provided that the image is taken in good lighting condition). In other smartphones, cropping results to visible noise, which effectively ruins the photo.

Take a look at the photos below, which show the cropping capacities of the Galaxy S5 without ruining the details. The crop room plays an important role here, particularly for cameras with fixed lens.

 

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  • The new HDR mode of the Galaxy S5 lets you see how the HDR photo looks like in real time through the viewfinder. This feature is unique to the S5.
  • The advanced image processing in the HDR mode has also significantly improved. The HDR mode can also be used in taking videos.
  • The device is capable of recording up to 60fps videos at 1080p, 30fps at 2160p, and 120fps at 720p.
  • The selective focus feature produces full-sized photos without sacrificing the resolution
  • The remote viewfinder is a new feature of the camera app that can be used by turning on the NFC and choosing the item from the “additional options” menu. It is also possible to connect to another Galaxy device through WiFi direct.

 

The points to improve:

  • Image quality is not at all good when taken in low lighting conditions. Truth be told, the Galaxy S4 produces a better image quality in this condition than the S5. The two photos below show the quality difference between the two phones: the first one is taken with the Galaxy S4 and the second one is taken with the Galaxy S5.

 

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  • Slightly limiting selective focus feature. You can take a photo and choose how the focus will appear, but you cannot choose a focal point. Samsung lets you select between its pan, near, or far focus modes. It is a one tap solution but there is still a processing time when you take the photo. Plus it doesn’t work all the time – the focal point should be at least 1.5 feet away from the camera and the background should be 3 times away from the subject.
  • The selective focus feature is also not as customizable as Google’s solution, nor is it as fast as HTC’s solution. The resulting image are also huge, with at least 20mb each.

 

Fingerprint reader

The fingerprint reader of the Galaxy S5 can accommodate a lot of improvements. Setting up the fingerprint scanner is difficult. You have to swipe repeatedly just so the phone can finally get a good photo of your fingerprint. Also, the default period so that the fingerprint reader will activate is around 10 minutes.

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There should be no finger-moisture and the reader works only at one angle like the Touch ID of Apple. It works reliably if these conditions are met, but if you don’t pay attention at these details, unlocking your phone would be a tedious process. There is a lockout limit that will require you to enter your backup password, but by the time you’ve reached this point, you’d already be so frustrated with your phone. It also requires you to use both hands to unlock your phone – one to hold the device, and the other to press the home button and slide a finger. The Touch ID of Apple, meanwhile, allows for one-handed unlocking. You don’t even have to slide your finger; all you have to do is press then release the home button. But this sort of implementation is patented so Samsung cannot really do the same for the Galaxy S5.

 

The scanner is not used for advertisements of the Galaxy S5, so Samsung is most probably aware of its shortcomings. It’s rated as medium to high security for your lock screen options and it can also be used with PayPal. But it’s not working properly, so it would be a surprise for people to want to use it.

 

Heart rate monitor

 

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Unlike the fingerprint scanner, the heart rate monitor of the Galaxy S5 is actually unique and remarkably stands out. The sensor found at the back of the phone can detect how fast your heart beat is. It also works well – when compared with the results of a blood pressure monitor, the results displayed in the Galaxy S5 is almost always accurate.

 

It also works best at a certain angle (45 degrees off center) and with only moderate pressure. The readings of the S5’s heart rate monitor are also similar to the ones produced by the Gear Fit whenever its working (because it doesn’t always work). It’s a fun feature to have on your phone.

 

Waterproofing

In terms of waterproofing, the Galaxy S5 has gained the rating IP67, which means that it can be submerged to one meter of water for a maximum of 30 minutes. Some reviews show that it can be submerged to greater depths and at a longer duration, but the one promised by Samsung is already excellent. It is still advisable to keep it protected from hoses or shower as the pressure released from those things may be too much, and since water damage does not always show signs immediately, it’s best to avoid the pressurized jets as much as possible. Also note that being water resistant does not mean that it’s steam resistant. So avoid taking it in the shower, because the steam can come to places that even water can’t.

 

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The waterproofing feature of the Galaxy S5 largely depends on you. You have to make sure that the battery door and the USB port cover are tightly closed. Whenever the device boots up, it would always display a reminder for you to check the rear cover, so it should be fine.  A reminder for the USB port cover also appears when the charger is removed. These reminders are always there and cannot be disabled.

 

Waterproofing is an in-demand feature of smartphones nowadays, so it will most likely stay. Having a protection from water is a good thing for a phone to have, especially as people easily break their phones.

 

The IP67 also means that the Galaxy S5 is dustproof, but don’t go forcing it (such as dropping it into a bag of flour) just to test the feature.

 

Performance

The good points:

  • It is faster than the S4, which was the slowest among the flagship devices released in 2013. The remarkably better performance is enough reason to change your phone from S4 to S5. It’s not faster than the HTC One M8, in fact the M8 seems to load images more quickly than the S5 on WiFi. But the difference is so small that it’s almost negligible.

 

The points to improve:

  • The default setting of double-tapping the home button to show S Voice is not a favourable feature. The S Voice is not very usable. It causes delay in loading the home screen, so it’s easy to think that the phone is lagging. The good news is that this double tap feature can be disabled.
  • The My Magazine panel loads slowly. It’s better left disabled.
  • The Galaxy S5 experiences abnormal crashes.
  • There is a glitch in the capacitive button. For instance, the back button is sometimes repeatedly engaged for 4 to 5 times and in 1-2 seconds interval.

 

Launcher

 

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The “new” launcher of the Galaxy S5 does not seem to be very different from the past ones. But it is. Here are some of the changes:

  • Quick toggle widgets are circular and are now in a flat turquoise backdrop. This shows the change in the TouchWiz that was first seen in the Galaxy Tab Pro.
  • Simplified app drawer. There are no more tables for widgets, apps, and downloaded apps. Instead, there is only a three-dot menu found in the top-right corner of the screen so the app drawer looks much cleaner.
  • You can now hide apps in the app drawer.
  • There is no more alphabetical list view mode
  • Settings menu is now grid-based. This decision is questionable because there are 61 icons to choose from. The Quick Settings panel shows 49 icons, which is still a lot.

 

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  • The lock screen is similar to the Galaxy S4 and the Note 3, but it does not have the lock screen widgets anymore. The “Life companion” is also not a default in the S5.
  • No more multitasking interface that appears when you long press the home button because there is now a multitasking button. Long pressing the home button now displays Google Now.

 

The new TouchWiz is flatter, and has a lot of circles and color blocking. It looks more clean and feels more normal to use. Even with home screen editing, you just have to long press an empty space and it will automatically zoom out to a management interface that has icons for wallpaper, widgets, and home screens settings. The new TouchWiz is definitely better than the previous one, and it’s also faster. It also looks better than the Sense 6.

 

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Let’s discuss some of the other features and apps of the Galaxy S5:

 

  1. My Magazine

It’s similar to Blinkfeed, but it’s a more basic version and it performs worse. By default, My Magazine is part of the home screen UI, which doesn’t make sense because there are very few people who use this. There are 13 news categories to choose from and some social networks. Tapping a news article opens Flipboard, making My Magazine a Flipboard widget. The only difference is that it is less customizable, has no animation, and there are fewer social networks and news sources to choose from.

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  1. Camera app

The camera app is among the best in the smartphone market now, especially if you’re a photo lover. The busy display is fine because it allows you to adjust a lot of things. There are 3 customizable quick settings found in the app’s left toolbar. The two defaults are “selective focus” and “HDR”. There is a four-column grid when you click the settings icon so you can see all the settings easily.

The switch for the rear or front camera is permanently located in the left toolbar. At the right part are the buttons for video record, shutter, and mode. The modes are simplified in the Galaxy S5’s camera app. The burst shot features – best photo, drama shot, panning shot, best face, and eraser – are now combined in the “Shot and more” mode. Other modes are not in the camera app anymore as Samsung said that these are the rarely used modes, while others such as the dual camera, beauty face, virtual tour, and panorama are there to stay. The other modes such as surround shot, sports shot, animated photo, and sound and shot can be downloaded in the Samsung app store.

The virtual tour is an interesting new feature. When turned on, you have a centering dot so as to position the first photo, and you can turn left, right, or forward to take the next shot. The sequence can continue for as much as 30 snapshots before being stitched to make a 1080p video sequence in less than a minute. It’s a useful and excellent feature; it makes a visual overview much easier and organized than taking a lot of photos and placing it in one file. It’s like your phone’s street view.

 

  1. Gallery

The new Gallery now allows you to place all your Google+ web albums into one folder. You can also use a Time view to sort the web albums into dates. It was annoying in the Galaxy S4 because the web albums are all separated, so your Gallery becomes messy. The Gallery app is also faster in the S5 – it was among the slowest apps in the Galaxy S4, but it has noticeably improved now. The Gallery also has an object detection for scenery, document, flowers, and cars that works well. Plus it has a built-in editor with a new Enhance button that lets you adjust the contrast, brightness, and white balance.

 

  1. Ultra power saving mode

The power setting mode does the following:

  • Disables WiFi, LTE, Bluetooth, sync, animations, and haptic feedback
  • Throttles the processor and GPU
  • Makes the screen grayscale
  • Lowers the brightness
  • Reduces display timeout
  • Limits the launcher
  • Notifications are not synced

 

Only a few apps are usable, including Google+ and Twitter. Calls and text also come through, and the stock browser app is also still usable. According to Samsung, if you have 10% of battery life remaining, the ultra power saving mode can stretch this up to 24 hours of standby time.

 

  1. Quick connect

This feature converges the wireless communication and sharing to other devices in a single menu. Theoretically, it’s great, but in reality it’s not fully functional. Quick connect failed to detect the DLNA share of the computer even though it is using the same network and the phone was detected properly. It can also detect Roku 3 as a “potential mirroring device”, but nothing happens when you try to mirror a video or photo. Quick Connect can also detect the Bluetooth speaker and works fine. There’s also a problem connecting with the Galaxy S4 and the Gear Fit even though you have already turned on all of the sharing features and are using the same network.

 

AT&T chose not to include the Quick Connect bar in the notification area, so you can only find this feature as part of the notification bar toggles. It’s far below the list and there is no shortcut for the app or setting. In short, Quick Connect failed to become an aid to simplify procedures.

 

  1. Private mode

Private mode works like this: you turn it on, put the files in a private storage area, and turn off private mode. The files will be effectively hidden, and the only way to access them again is to turn on private mode again, then enter your security setting (either a pin, a patter, a password, or a fingerprint scan) before going to the private storage. This kind of security is requested by a lot of users, so it can come in handy.

 

Private mode can be used with file manager apps, the Gallery, and some other files. The problem with this feature is that it is not very user-friendly, so it might be difficult for a lot of people to use it and end up not using it at all. For the Gallery, you will have to choose an album’s grid view before long pressing the photos so that it will appear. It won’t work by just choosing a photo and opening the options because the “move to private” option won’t appear. Samsung definitely has some work to do with this feature.

 

What has changed with the Galaxy S5

Making a simple comparison of the A&T Galaxy S4 and the AT&T Galaxy S5, the other changes that Samsung has incorporated with your Galaxy S5 are the following:

  • The haptic feedback is not
  • a bit less powerful
  • There is no more adapt sound feature
  • No more smart scroll
  • Samsung Hub and Story Album are both gone
  • Also no more air gesture for quick glance. Samsung also changed “air gesture” to “air browse”
  • The “edit after screen capture” is removed
  • No more Dock and S View cover options
  • The display options does not include reading mode anymore
  • Samsung now allows you to choose your default music effect control panel, which is either SoundAlive (by Samsung) or MusicFX (Android’s standard)
  • It has an S Note app form the Galaxy Note series
  • The Note 3’s “floating toolbox” feature is present
  • Again similar to the Note 2 / 3, the Galaxy S5 has a one-handed operation mode
  • S Memo has been replaced by another note-taking app that is called “Memo”
  • Several stock apps have received makeovers – they have become flatter – including calendar, gallery, calculator, and phone, among others.
  • But the stock Downloads app is gone and is now managed through the “My Files” app
  • WatchON has been replaced by the Smart Remote app
  • Other apps are not installed by default anymore (such as S Translator and Group Play). Instead, they only show as updates when you use the Samsung App store. But they become system apps for some once you decide to install them.
  • There is now a toggle for “recommended apps” in the notification bar whenever you use your headphones
  • And there is also a toggle for increased ringer volume when you remove phone is in pocket.

 

The verdict

The Galaxy S5 is no doubt a desirable high-end and premium smartphone (that is, if you ignore the plastic back and the TouchWiz). Despite the several useless apps (that results in software bloat) and the build quality, there are a lot of things to love about it. It can easily replace the HTC One M8, particularly with its amazing display, its water resistant feature, great battery life, and the awesome camera.

 

But of course everything would depend on your personal preferences. The build quality and the software bloat may be a big turnoff for some, and Samsung did not change a lot in these things to convert the critiques. But if you take a look at the overall experience and not, as they say, judge the book by its cover, the Galaxy S5 has a lot of surprises in store for you. Samsung has surely improved a lot of things, especially in areas where its competitors are weak.

 

The bad points of the Galaxy S5, including the limited storage (only 10gb of space left to use for the 16gb model), the software bloat, the cheap plastic build, and the slow updates in its operating system can make you think about buying it. But the Galaxy S5 is definitely the best Android phone overall. Ignore the aesthetics and enjoy what the phone has to offer.

 

What do you have to say about the Galaxy S5?

 

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