The Galaxy S5 (or S 5, if you ask Samsung) is the company’s latest flagship phone and sure to be a swift seller. The phone is, in its own way, beautifully designed and the materials, while clearly plastic, are durable and should maintain a luster over time. Is this an iPhone replacement? No, but it is a replacement for the S4 that should please shoppers already predisposed to Samsung and Android.
- 5.1-inch, 1920×1080, 432 ppi display
- 16/32GB storage, 128GB expandable via microSD
- 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, LTE
- 16MP rear camera, 2MP front facing camera
- Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor
- 2GB RAM
- Fingerprint reader, optical heart rate monitor
- MSRP: $199.99 on 2-year agreement, $650 off-contract
- Product info page
- Heart rate monitor is genuinely handy, especially for aging population
- Latest TouchWiz UI is best-designed yet
- Still feels like a plastic phone
- More misses than hits with fingerprint scanner
[twocolumns] [/twocolumns] Samsung’s GS5 display is definitely a sight to behold, but it’s very hard to impress in the display world these days – or too easy. In terms of display quality related to pixel density and the crispness of text and graphics, I haven’t been able to discern a difference since Apple introduced its Retina display on the iPhone 4. The Galaxy S5′s screen size is impressive, however, and makes for a great way to watch mobile video thanks to full HD resolution and a 5.1-inch diagonal surface area, all in a phone that manages to still not feel overly large for a pocket,Is it the best screen in the smartphone business? Very possibly. Is it a huge improvement over the GS4′s screen? For most users, no, and in fact, it actually has less pixel density than its predecessor. If screen quality is a key decision point for those considering an upgrade from last year’s model, then keep that wallet closed; the GS4 still has an excellent screen, and the GS5 hasn’t made any strides in that regard to merit an expensive upgrade. Plus, as with seemingly every Android device, auto-brightness still has major issues getting things right. Apple seems to be alone in divining the secret sauce for properly dimming and brightening your display based on ambient conditions.
The battery on the Galaxy S5 is removable, so that’s already a big advantage over some of the competition. It bumps up capacity over the GS4′s power house by 200mAh, which puts the total at 2,800mAh. In practice, it improved things over the GS4 and gave a full day of use under normal to high circumstances, but the HTC One M8 still outperformed it overall. The GS5 doesn’t offer any quantum leaps in battery tech, in the end, but if you like having the option to swap, it’s there with the GS5, and not with the One.
[twocolumns][/twocolumns] Samsung has refined TouchWiz, and the My Magazine feature on the Galaxy S5 is a nice way to get your social and news fix in one place, reminiscent of the BlinkFeed feature on HTC’s Sense UI. The built-in Samsung apps all get updates this round, but the best new features on the device are, surprisingly, the ones that sort of seemed glommed on unnecessarily.
The heart rate monitor Samsung included on the device uses pulse oximetry to detect a person’s heart rate through their finger tip. The concept is surprisingly simple, and my veterinarian brother says they’ve been using the tech to find your pet’s heart rate for years; essentially, it shines a light through the capillaries in your finger tip, taking snapshots of the size of the blood vessels within in rapid succession, to detect how engorged they are and then translating that into a number representing beats per minute. It’s a highly accurate measurement method, and indeed in testing it returned results that made sense given my relative level of activity, caffeination, time of day and more.
The fingerprint sensor is also interesting. It works decently well, but has a higher failure rate than Apple’s Touch ID sensor, at least when used natural with a one hand grip, swiping the thumb down from the screen over the sensor pad. This makes it suboptimal for use with unlocking the device, but used as a specific security tool for unlocking sensitive data within apps, or for authorizing payments, both of which are possible since Samsung makes the hardware feature available to third-party devs, it becomes a lot more interesting.
That said, both of these features are unlikely to make a splash in your daily life. The heart rate monitor is a handy shortcut for aging users who need to keep tabs on their cardiovascular health fairly regularly and change their behavior accordingly, but for the most part, it’s little more than a neat trick to pull out at parties and then quietly forget about.
Of the software features included on the Galaxy S5, the best is probably Milk Music, which is for U.S.-customers only and offers streaming radio, ad- and subscription-free. The service works great as a replacement for terrestrial radio thanks to its auto-start, dial-based discovery interface that required minimal user input to get to the music, and it has an impressive library of tracks thanks to Samsung’s use of Slacker Radio to power the service. Milk Music is available to any recent Galaxy device, however, so it isn’t necessarily a reason to buy.
[twocolumns] [/twocolumns] The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 benefits from the company’s alter-ego as a camera maker, and works very well in optimal conditions, with fast autofocus and high res 16MP captures. But it still doesn’t fare all that well in low-light situations, the bane of all mobile cameras, and some of the features new to the GS5, while impressive from a tech standpoint, leave a lot to be desired.
Specifically, the focus selection option on Samsung’s phone is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it produces great final results, letting you create portraits with background blur that look like they were taken with much more expensive cameras with fancy interchangeable, wide aperture lenses. On the other hand, they take a long time to capture, which makes getting candids with them near impossible, and taking portraits an exercise in
“wait, no don’t move yet, it’s still processing.”