Samsung Galaxy S5 Review: A Phone to Power '(Your) Life'

April 16, 2014 by

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Click for details

At a Glance

Look and Feel
Nice and light, the Galaxy S5 has a perforated polycarbonate back panel. Feels grippy and durable.

Defining Features
Fingerprint scanner for easy logins, an improved camera and what’s this? A heart rate sensor.

Core Functionality
User friendly design, excellent battery life and a fantastic camera.

Recommended For
Android fans, photographers, multimedia junkies, business users.

Editor’s Rating
****1/2 (out of 5 stars)


The Latest in the Popular Galaxy Line of Phones

Expectations are high for the new Galaxy S5. Early reports indicate Samsung shipped 1.3 times as many S5s for its April 11 launch as it did S4s when it launched a year ago.

The S4 became the fastest selling smartphone in Samsung's history, shipping 20 million units worldwide in its first two months on the market.

The S5 made its debut in February at Mobile World Congress 2014 and was met by mixed reviews. Some called it an impressive follow-up to the S4; others felt its new features and improvements were underwhelming.

From a user standpoint, however, what matters most is how well the S5 performs in everyday life – or as Samsung puts it, how it powers "(Your) Life.”

Using It

Look and Feel
The Galaxy S5 is remarkably lightweight. The perforated polycarbonate back panel (which Samsung calls "Modern Glam”) introduces a new texture to the Galaxy line – I felt it made it easier to grip and hold the phone, versus a smooth finish. The S5 (5.1-inch display) is essentially the same size as the S4 (5-inch display) and features the same full HD resolution.
 Samsung Galaxy S5 - Click for details

Defining Features

Improved Camera Features
Let’s be clear here: The Samsung Galaxy S5 camera is excellent. It’s one of the best smartphone cameras available. But so was the S4’s camera. This is sort of where the difference between a previous model and the new one can be "underwhelming” – for high-end smartphones, the cameras are getting to be so good, I feel like there’s only so many improvements manufacturers can make within the year between two models.

Anyway, the camera features Samsung is touting on the S5 are: HDR (Rich tone), fast auto focus, and selective focus.

Finger Scanner
Samsung copied Apple on this one. But instead of scanning your finger on a circular home button sensor (as on the iPhone 5s), the Galaxy S5 home button is oval-shaped. My co-worker recently switched from an iPhone 5s to the S5 and says the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s was superior, as it allowed you to scan different angles of your finger – not just one.

Samsung also partnered with PayPal on the feature, so users can authorize payments using the finger scanner. This feature, however, is offered in select countries only (Canada not included).

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Click for details

Heart Rate Sensor
Samsung has been making a play for the fitness wearables market for some time now, with its Galaxy Gear and the new Gear Fit smartwatches. It also introduced a heart rate sensor on the back of the Galaxy S5, right below the camera lens. Just hold your finger on the sensor for a few seconds and it generates a heart rate reading for you.

Simple, right? Not really. I didn’t feel the heart rate sensor was very good. During testing, it required a number of attempts to get a reading, which was frustrating because the whole point of reading your heart rate is getting it immediately, during or after exercise (before it goes back down), for example.

Core Functionality

As I mentioned earlier, there wasn’t a lot the S5 could improve upon considering how good the S4 camera was.

That said, I tested the S5’s new camera features and was thoroughly impressed. The photos were crisp, the colours were vivid – the auto focus and selective focus features worked well. As for HDR, I wasn’t blown away by that feature because iPhones have offered that for years now. Chalk that one up as underwhelming for me.

Performance and Battery Life
Overall, the S5 performed brilliantly in testing, with the only real hiccup being poor performance from the heart rate sensor. I was also impressed with the phone’s battery life: The available power seemed high throughout our 2-hour testing period and we should note, Samsung has introduced an "Ultra Power Saving Mode” on the S5, which turns your screen to black and white and shuts down all unnecessary features to save power.

My co-worker noted, however, that its processor did not feel as fast as that of her previous iPhone 5s, particularly when consulting the same wedding planning app she used often, or an online shopping site she regularly visited. Images and information seemed to take longer to load, she said. She also noted the discrepancy wasn’t due to signal because she was on the same carrier’s LTE on both devices when using the app and site in question.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Click for details

Another performance item worth noting is the "Download Booster” feature. Samsung offers the new feature, which allows the user to access both Wi-Fi and LTE connections simultaneously in order to download large files faster. Interestingly, of the Big Four U.S. carriers, only T-Mobile is offering it: Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all removed it from the S5 phones they’re selling.

OS and Available Apps
The S5 ships with Android 4.4.2 KitKat and gives you access to the entire Android app and content (Google Play) ecosystem. The S5 user interface is extremely user friendly and easy to navigate around. One thing that some users complain about with Galaxy phones (compared to phones from other Android manufacturers) is they contain too much "bloatware” – Samsung-specific apps and features that are more gimmicky than absolutely necessary.

The bloatware thing wasn’t an issue for me and I think it really just depends on the user. A nice thing about Android is there’s so much room for customization. You can hide and highlight features and apps as you please and really make the experience your own, bloatware or not.

Recommended for

This phone is Samsung’s flagship device and will likely follow the S4’s footsteps as the most popular high-end Android phone on the market (unless the HTC One [M8] has something to say about that).

There’s something for everyone with the S5: photographers, business users and multimedia junkies alike.

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Click for details

The Bottom Line

The Galaxy S5 puts the best of Samsung’s design and engineering in the palm of your hand. Its camera, user experience, battery life and added features are great. My only reservations would be the performance of both the fingerprint scanner and the processor in anecdotal comparisons to the iPhone 5s. The heart rate sensor was disappointing, but oh well. It’s just a gimmick anyway.

Compare Cellular Editor's Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Posted in: Google/Android, Product Reviews, Samsung