Launched during Mobile World Congress earlier this year, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the long awaited successor to Samsung’s previous flagship smartphone the Samsung Galaxy S4. Currently the globe’s most successful Android handset vendor, Samsung found their new elite offering was received with a relative shrug of the shoulders from the world’s hardcore tech media. What we ended up with after weeks of rumor and speculation, was more of an incremental upgrade than an aggressive statement of leadership. The specs had been both upped and updated, but the overall design, look and feel of the device replicated what we had with the previous generation. Now that we have had time to use the device and perhaps learn to appreciate it in a more nuanced and familiar way, could we then rediscover that same geeky affection we once had in abundance for Samsung smartphones? Today it is time to find out. Here’s the Mobile Geeks full and detailed review of the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Video Review
If reading is not your thing, or your like moving pictures with your words, catch this awesomely detailed video review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 from our buddy Roland:
The specifications sheet of the Galaxy S5 is pretty much what we would now refer to as standard flagship hardware, which is an oxymoron of a kind because there should be nothing ‘Standard’ about ‘Flagship’. It should be exceptional, and beyond the realm of standard devices – can we saw that of the Galaxy S5? To be fair in March of this year, the specification list read with a little more wow factor, simply because we have since seen several other competing devices of a very similar ilk packing similar high-end components. Also I think the initial negative reaction also arose because many of us were hoping that things like storage size and system memory would finally be beefed up and resolved. The spec sheet you are about to see will tell you were not. But before we get carried away, let’s have a look at the Samsung Galaxy S5 specifications in detail.
Samsung Galaxy S5: Specifications
• 5.1″ Super AMOLED Touchscreen Display
• Full HD (1920 x 1080) 432 ppi w/Corning Gorilla Glass 3
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)
• Quad-core (2.5GHz) Krait 400
• Adreno 330 (@578GHz)
• 2GB DDR3L RAM
• 16/32 GB Internal Storage
• microSD up to 128GB
• 16MP Rear Camera w/LED Flash (1/2.6” sensor size)
• 2MP Front Camera / 1080p video
• Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
• NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE / ANT+ / USB 3.0
• 142mm x 72.5mm x 8.1 mm
• 145 grams (inc. battery)
• 2,800 mAh Battery
• Android 4.4.2 KitKat
The idea of standard flagship hardware is certainly true of the devices’ processor platform, the Snapdragon 801 from silicon giant Qualcomm. The 801 has proved to be the strongest performer around according to our testing (more on that in our performance section) and its no surprise to see it adorn a slew of flagships handsets in 2014 including rival designs from Sony, HTC, LG, OPPO, Xiaomi and OnePlus.
The Snapdragon 801 builds on the success of its predecessor the Snapdragon 800, which arguably claimed last years’ flagship device contest with design wins that included the Sony Xperia Z1, Nexus 5, LG G2, Nokia Lumia 1520 and also certain versions of the Galaxy S4. 2GB of RAM is certainly sufficient for 90% of users in 90% of situations (regardless of a slightly deflated feeling in the media that we were not getting 3GB…geeks will be geeks). I have to admit my disappointment, if not actual rage, at the paltry 16GB storage version, the only configuration currently available in most regions. The price of Flash memory is such that I find it hard to understand this design decision in 2014.
Before we get to details about the devices’ overall design ethos and look and feel in detail, it is clear at a glance that the Galaxy S5 retains the same Samsung aesthetics that we have seen since the Galaxy S3. This time around the display is slightly larger at 5.1″ compared to the 5″ we saw on the Galaxy S4 and the 4.8″ display on the Galaxy S3 – continuing a general trend in the industry of flagship smartphones getting gradually larger with each generation.
The chassis also retains Samsung’s penchant for using an all plastic design that is coming under increasing scrutiny with the rise of solid body alternatives like the HTC One and the glass and aluminum construction of the Sony Xperia Z2 – we will return to this issue in more depth later.
In terms of cameras and sensors the Galaxy S5 has more than any other previous Samsung smartphone with an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, gesture sensor and fingerprint scanner, all being accompanied by a 16MP camera on the rear and a 2MP on the front. And did I mention the heart rate monitor?
Connectivity needs will obviously depend on what region, but have no fear, the majority of Samsung Galaxy S5 models will equipped with both GSM/EDGE, quad-band HSPA+ and LTE Cat 4. Interestingly the Galaxy S5 also offers Download Booster, a network aggregation feature which allows your 4G to supplement the WiFi signal. Not all protocols are supported, but this is something that will be useful when downloading larger apps or games for example.
Here we have a table comparing key specifications with the previous two Samsung Galaxy flagship devices:
Samsung Galaxy Series Comparison Table
|Samsung Galaxy S3||Samsung Galaxy S4||Samsung Galaxy S5|
|Display||4.8" 720p Super AMOLED|
Corning Gorilla Glass 2
|5.0" 1080p Super AMOLED Corning Gorilla Glass 3||5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED Corning Gorilla Glass3|
|Processor||Exynos 4412 Quad-Core 1.4GHz||Exynos 5 Octa 5410 1.6GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5 GHz|
|Storage||16GB / 32GB / 64GB||16GB / 32GB / 64GB||16GB / 32GB|
|microSD||Up to 64GB||Up to 64GB||Up to 128GB|
|Cameras||8MP & 1.9MP||13MP & 2MP||16MP & 2MP|
|USB Port||USB 2.0||USB 2.0||USB 3.0|
|Weight||133 grams||130 grams||145 grams|
|OS||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (4.0.4 Ice Cream at launch)||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean||Android 4.4 KitKat|
Overall the specifications paint a vivid picture where every factor and feature on the Samsung Galaxy S4 has been bested. Everything is either bigger, better or faster than the previous generation, plus, there are lots and lots of new features for us to explore. Let’s get down to the details:
Design and Build Quality
Samsung have stuck to their guns with the Galaxy S5 and continued to use a plastic rear cover and chassis design. With increasing pressure to deliver a really good, solid in hand feel that can compete with HTC, Apple and Sony, does the Galaxy S5 deliver? I am going to say that in all honesty it does not. The device feels, for want of a better word, ‘plasticy’. It is light enough compared to the heavier HTC One M8 and it is more rounded than the Xperia Z2, but any direct comparison with these handsets will leave you feeling disappointed.
On its current generation of smartphones, tablets and laptops, Samsung has begun implementing a more uniform finish that spans several device categories. I initially thought the finish was faux leather but have since been informed that this finish is in fact a dimpled perforated pattern that just happens to look like faux leather from a distance. In fairness, the finish does resist slipperiness and fingerprints really well, and may well suite adults of the business persuasion who prefer a rugged, no nonsense classic leathery look.
If we really want to assess pure build quality, then I would argue that making the Samsung Galaxy S5 water and dust proof, is a pretty huge testament. While the Sony Xperia Z1 and Z2 are IP57 certified, the Galaxy S5 apparently goes one further achieving IP67 certification. This indicates that the S5 is more dust proof than the Z2, something that is quite difficult to assess in the real world.
IP67 certification means it can be immersed in up to one meter of water for a max 30 minutes, just don’t forget to seal up the plastic flaps that cover the USB port and audio jack. Suffice it to say that despite a distinct possibility of one-upmanship with the IP numbers, our water-resistance testing is shows the Galaxy S5 performs well – in fish tanks, beer glasses and even washing machines!
The Samsung Galaxy S5 might not feel as solid as its current competition, but the impression we have is that it is indeed a very solid and well made device. The plastic look and feel may divide opinion, but in mechanical terms at least, the Galaxy S5 is durable and technically sound.
The slightly larger 5.1″ Super AMOLED display is the same resolution as its predecessor, and being larger means that the pixels-per-inch count is lower at 432 ppi vs. 441 ppi. Does affect the viewing experience? Not in our humble opinion. Side by side with the Galaxy S4, the S5 actually impresses more, the screen looks brighter and more vivid and the viewing angles are also phenomenal. This may well be Samsung’s best ever display, which is no small compliment because they have really excelled in the past. Colors are crisp and vivid, edges and fine and sharply defined. It is safe to say that end users will be impressed.
Cameras and Sensors
As well as display technology, Samsung also has a decent reputation in manufacturing good quality cameras, and are more than capable of developing their own exclusive camera technology. Towards the back end of this year, Samsung introduced ISOCELL, a new technology for CMOS image sensors that promised better light sensitivity and color fidelity in poor lighting conditions. The Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone to take advantage of the new ISOCELL tech, implemented on the 16MP rear camera.
So how effective is the new sensor technology? In our opinion it is actually one of the best cameras we have ever used. How much is directly due to the new ISOCELL technology is less easy to ascertain, but the 16MP rear sensor performs very well indeed, even in fairly low-light conditions with less graininess and blurriness overall. Some writers will disagree with us on this matter, but we genuinely feel that Samsung has the advantage here, with the HTC One M8 sensor array failing to deliver in more difficult situations where we found the Galaxy S5 seemed to thrive.
The Galaxy S5’s 16MP camera also has one of the fastest auto-focuses we’ve ever come across. The stats bare this out with a 0.3 second auto-focus time that should let you catch any scene with instant touch of a button. The device also features an effect called Selective Focus which allows you to take shots with either far focus (making images in the foreground clearer), near focus (bring clarity to the near objects) and pan focus – which will focus far and near but not the stuff in between.
In truth, we initially found that the Selective Focus function did not work quite as well as advertised, but when you learn that the company recommends the shot be taken between 10 and 50 cm from the subject, you can understand why we were a little confused at first. You have to make sure the subject,or nearest object is within a 10-150cm range. Once you are aware of this, it works reasonably well. Overall however we found Selective Focus to be the comparatively speaking poor relation of the HTC one M8 and its additional rear depth sensor and UFocus feature.
The Galaxy S5 also has one of the broadest selection of photography modes you will ever come across. The default is Auto Mode which uses standard auto focus and flash settings, but you also have Beauty face which smooths out skin tones, Panorama mode for panoramic shots, a Virtual tour mode which makes a composite video and geographical route of a selected set of photos (guided tour of your new home?), plus Shot & More which replaces Burst Mode and give you lots of options with your burst shots. It doesn’t end there. You also have Dual Camera Mode which instantly adds your selfie to a shot, Animated Photo which animates a series of photos, Sound & Shot adds a short audio clip to a photo, Sports Shot helps shoot fast moving objects while Surround Shot takes a 360 degree surround photos.
The Samsung UI is pretty impressive. It’s uncluttered and easy to use with options for picture size, burst shooting, stabilization, face detection, ISO level, metering-modes, tap-to-take, selective focus and more arranged on an easy to access grid. This is all in keeping with the new TouchWiz UI which, as we’ll get to later, is looking as good as ever.
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is also implemented but this time around you can preview the shot first to actually see if the feature is helping. As with competing solutions including the Sony Xperia Z2 and the G Pro 2, the Galaxy S5 also offers 4K video recording; video modes include VGA (640 x 480), HD (1280 x720), Full HD (1920 x 1080) and UHD (3840 x 2160).
We have already done some pretty in-depth comparisons of the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia X2 and the HTC One M8:
As our thorough testing has revealed, the Samsung Galaxy S5’s single integrated speaker design is nothing close to what you are getting with HTC’s BoomSound speaker technology. Head to head, it sounds tinny and not overly loud – but we are willing to be fairly forgiving because the S5 sounds like pretty much every other smartphone – bar the HTC One.
The playback with headphones was great however, and the software provided is giving you lots of options for modifying the way music will sound. However ‘Tube Amp’ mode and some other effects features may feel a little gimmicky. You might use them once sporting a wry smile.
You could argue that the Samsung Galaxy S5 is behind the both Sony Xperia Z2 and the HTC One M8, because it lacks a killer feature in this department; the Z2 has native noise cancelling headphone support, while the HTC has the best speakers ever seen on a smartphone. It is more of a case of meh… What do you got? Nothing too special.
Catch our in depth review of the speaker systems of both the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2 and the HTC One M8:
In terms of raw computational performance, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is without doubt an absolute beast. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 is the best performing mobile processor available and now adorns the boards of all high-end smartphones including both its main rivals; the Sony Xperia Z2 and the HTC One M8.
The Snapdragon 801 is quad-core system-on-chip that combines four Krait 400 cores with dynamic clocks that peak at 2.5GHz, plus an Adreno 330 graphics processor. Compared to the previous Snapdragon 800, on the 801 we see that the CPU and graphics processor clocks have been boosted, along with overall memory bandwidth. The result is arguably the fasted SoC on the block.
In our benchmarks we find that flagships touting the Snapdragon 801 from HTC, Sony and Samsung are very, very close. Although it is difficult to really heed too much from synthetic benchmarks, we are certain that the Galaxy S5 is as fast any other handset you can currently buy.
Here are some benchmark numbers comparing three Snapdragon 801 smartphones, the Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia z2 and HTC One M8.
Top 5" Smartphone Benchmark Comparison
|Sony Xperia Z2||Samsung Galaxy S5||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||11.7fps||11.5fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||26.9fps||27.1fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||18753||18373||20594|
|Sunspider (lower is better)||762.4||665.2||669.6|
If you want a slick and smooth UI experience, Android 4.4.2 KitKat feels awesome on the Galaxy S5. Scrolling from screen to screen is truly ‘butter smooth’ with app switching likewise a treat.
You can learn more with our head to head performance comparison article and video below:
We also did a more in depth look at gaming performance on the Galaxy S5, and were overall, very impressed. The Adreno GPU performs admirably on some of the most demanding titles. Take a look at our full video review here:
First a rant. Samsung’s TouchWiz UI has at times evoked the ire of many a technology reviewer. Many of us who prefer the less app filled and more simplistic environment of vanilla Google Android, or Cyanogenmod have been mortified by Samsung’s take on the OS. This time around we again find that the 16GB internal storage version is crammed, literally filled to the brim, with Samsung’s own app and service offerings. I find it annoying and will say no more on the matter… Except to say that they really have yet to learn that most users are happy to stay well away from the Samsung App eco-system. Thanks, but no thanks.
Now here comes the good. In my opinion the Samsung KitKat experience is generally one of the best looking and most vibrant ever. The general design ethos is in line with Google and Microsoft 8’s flat approach and it does feel modern and attractive to the eye. The layout is clean and simple and this time the navigation and menu shortcuts are less glitzy and more consistent looking than ever.
But of course, there is also a plethora of customization options available so you can change themes, wallpapers and fonts to your hearts’ content. One small gripe would the ‘My Magazine’ app which is applied by default. It is similar in BlinkFeed in both its purpose and redundancy. Again Samsung is guilty of being too eager to push its apps your way. Am I being harsh?
The 2,800mAh battery of the Samsung Galaxy S5 beats its predecessor by 200mAh and as far as we can tell that extra polymer is doing a good job in giving you an all day mobile experience, as would tend to expect from a flagship device in 2014.
The real talking point for us is the new ‘Ultra Power Saving Mode’, a feature which kills all but essential services on the device in an effort to maximize remaining battery life. It takes around 10 seconds to kick in, but eventually allows the dynamic cores of the Qualcomm processor to down clock to a mere energy sipping level, while also making the AMOLED Full HD display forgo its thirst for brightness – all in an effort to make even a percentage of battery life stretch to the max.
We have seen plenty of other power saving modes going back as far as the very first smartphones, but Samsung’s Ultra Power Saving mode is the most ruthless we have ever come across. A charge of 30-40-% translates into 4 to 5 days! A winning feature.
While the fingerprint scanner was considered a top level feature at launch during MWC this year, I always felt its elevated status to be a consequence of the devices’ lack of a real killer feature. We have seen it before on laptops and smartphones from Apple and HTC, and although we live in a more security aware world than ever, I still feel that the technology is still a little primitive, or at least in this case it is. The actual sensor seems less accurate and reliable than that used by Apple.
On the Galaxy S5 it does work, but only when you do it properly. That is the best way I can describe it. As Roland explains in the video above, you need to swipe with some degree of accuracy. Digest this. When swiping fails due to wet hands, simple clumsiness or intoxication, the device will tire of your ineptness and ask you to enter a four letter code. If you can explain to me how all this pantomime is more secure than simply having a four letter code, then I owe you pint.
Heart-rate Monitor plus S Health
I realize that having features that other high-end flagship products have, is important. Boxes don’t get checked by themselves, and we in the media do so love to create lists and compare products feature by feature. The need for stuff, and stuff that has stuff is a demon that lurks inside every geek, myself included, however, I have to confess – I have no need for a heart-rate monitor.
There, I have said it. I think having a pedometer and apps that can tell you lazy or otherwise you been, is great thing. I have friends who tell me that a pedometer fitness app combined with a calorie counting app can really make a difference in a battle with weight loss.
The Samsung S Health app can offer you all that and more, but it still doesn’t really explain why I need a heart-rate monitor. It seems to be an effort to differentiate that is destined to be quickly forgotten.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 retails for around $700 which puts it pretty high up the 5 inch smartphone food chain. However, it faces the same competition that now faces all top tier brands as the high-end smartphone space quickly expands with a flood of potential rivals arriving on the scene in recent months.
China is rising, with several brands gearing up for global expansion; Xiaomi and OnePlus represent the early pioneers, more will follow, making the high-end 5 inch smartphone space more competitive than ever before. With OnePlus in particular paving the way for a new game where carriers have less influence over which brands sees decent volumes. The OnePlus One smartphone would appear to match the Galaxy S5 in most respects, and is selling for almost half the premium the Galaxy S5 demands. The rules of the game have changed. How will Samsung react if put under pressure?
Needless to say, it will be interesting to watch Samsung’s pricing in the next few months.
There is no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the best smartphones on the market. The hardware is some of the best we have ever had the honor of using, the software is slick and very modern looking with more features than you could name in a day-long marketing seminar. Fans of previous S3 and S4 devices will really enjoy the Galaxy S5, of that we have no doubt. Having said all that, there is an another altogether darker edge to these closing thoughts.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 in my mind, is the climax of a vision the company had about two years ago. The Galaxy S3 set the design team off in a direction that has been honed and refined with each successive generation. The Galaxy S5 has more features than any other previous model, it is more powerful than any other and it’s also the largest – but it remains faithful to the core design philosophy laid down in early 2012.
Since that time, rival brands have also forged their own unique design paths, and I will again use same two examples that I have throughout. Sony have created a real contender with their flagship Xperia series, using aluminum and glass to create a handset that feels solid and classy in equal measure. The HTC One and One M8 have proved the Taiwanese manufacturer to be untouchable when it comes creating a good in-hand feel, with a bullet-like solid body aluminum chassis design.
Both examples put the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the shade. Samsung believes in plastic that feels like plastic, looks like plastic and most likely costs the same as plastic. I am certain that Samsung will see great success from the Galaxy S5, but I’m not sure how long the Galaxy brand will remain the creme-de-la-creme of the flagship smartphone segment. Unless they adopt a new direction in terms of general design and construction, they will occupy a low tier, at least in the minds of us Mobile Geeks.