THE Samsung Galaxy S5 is official with a ton of new features and improvements. But does it live up to the hype?
After months of waiting and endless amounts of speculation, leaks and conjecture, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is finally official. Announced at MWC 2014, February 24, the handset is meant to represent everything Samsung stands for as we move through 2014 towards 2015.
The Galaxy S5 – along with the upcoming Note 4 – is the handset that’ll do battle with the HTC M8, the iPhone 6 and an unknown multitude of new Windows Phone handsets from Nokia during the next 10 months or so, which is no mean feat – even with a lead like Samsung’s.
Our initial impression of the Galaxy S5 can be described in one word: “Meh…” We – like a lot of other people – were expecting a “grand” redesign but what we saw when we walked into the testing booth was a handset that could barely be differentiated from last year’s Galaxy S4. I mean just look at the two handsets side-by-side.
That Galaxy S5 has a 5.1in Super AMOLED 1920 x 1080 pixel display and measures 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm with a weight of 145g, making it bigger, thicker and heavier than its predecessor.
The only “major” design change is the dimpled (still removable) back panel and the S5’s new colour options: Charcoal Black, Shimmery White, Electric Blue and Copper Gold - actually scratch that, only the gold colour is really new for Sammy.
In the hand the S5 feels very comfortable and we’re glad Samsung didn’t up the display size too much; 5.2 or 5.5in – as was rumoured – would have made the handset ungainly.
The dimpled backpanel does improve grip and there’s a feeling of solidity about the S5 that wasn’t present on its predecessor, although this all very much by the by – by itself it’s not going win Samsung any new fans.
Under the hood you’ll find Qualcomm’s amazing Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16/32GB of storage and SD-support up to 128GB. The battery cell has been updated to 2800mAh, is still removable, and offers around 20% more battery than the Galaxy S4. Solid updates to be sure, but nothing particularly game-changing.
I know, I know – it’s not ALL about design and changing the game. A lot of what makes a phone great – read: 99% – is the software and features present inside the handset, and it is here where Samsung is hoping to win over people.
The S5 features lots of sensors, a new 16MP camera and even a fingerprint scanner, which, unlike Apple’s TouchID, can be used for mobile payments (via PayPal) from launch.
The fingerprint scanner is simple to set up (just scan your finger eight times) and supports multiple digits, so you can do your index finger, middle finger and thumb for example. It worked well in practice, taking less than a second to register our finger and unlock the phone, although we won’t know more about performance in reality until we properly road test the Galaxy S5.
Aside from the fingerprint scanner, which has the potential to be very useful, a lot of the Galaxy S5’s “new features” do feel a bit superfluous.
Samsung is clearly betting big on health and wants people to use the Gear and the Gear Fit in conjunction with the S5’s new S-Health app and sensors to record and monitor their diets, exercise regime and heart rate. Which is great if you’re a fitness enthusiast – but completely useless if you’re not.
Galaxy S5 Heart Rate Monitor Demo
Not to worry, though. Aside from all this fitness guff there are some very new, very impressive features aboard the Galaxy S5; things you cannot get aboard the Galaxy S4.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor, the 16MP camera, support for 128GB SD cards and “Download Booster” – whereby LTE and Wi-Fi combine for superfast downloads – are solid, thoughtful additions that will make a difference when it comes to everyday use.
Ditto for the IP67 water and dust proofing, which now means – according to Samsung – you can use the Galaxy S5 in the shower. Many have questioned the Galaxy S5’s water and dust resistance, claiming it can survive splashes but not prolonged periods of submersion under water.
This isn’t the case, however, as tests have shown that the Galaxy S5 can, in fact, survive under at least three feet of water for around 30 minutes – just as its IP67 tag suggests.
The 16MP camera is very impressive however with loads of new features, uber fast auto-focus (0.3 seconds) and all those familiar and helpful Galaxy Camera App Settings.
Image quality is superb and new features like HDR Live (previewing HDR settings ahead of image capture) and Selective Focus (changing focus of image post-processing) will be very popular with users. It also shoots video in 4K.
The S5 runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat beneath Samsung’s all-encompassing TouchWiz UX. On the surface it’s very much business as usual: big widgets, lots of animation and plenty of emphasis on nature, for some reason.
TouchWiz is still something of a beast, however, and 16GB versions of the S5 will have less than 8GB available to the user. On a lighter note, the UX is fluid, snappy and free from stutter and hangs.
Ultra Power Saving Mode Demo
One cool feature the Galaxy S5 has over pretty much anything else on the market is its battery-conserving Ultra Power Saving mode. When the battery is critically low on juice, the S5’s display will revert to black and white, dropping all colours, in order to scrape out as much as possible from the remaining charge.
You can also customise what features you deem essential such as calls, SMS and Internet connection. How long can the S5 survive in this mode before dying? Unclear. But it’s a nifty feature all the same.
Samsung’s strategy with the Galaxy S5 is an odd one. Key updates and improvements have been introduced: things like the 16MP camera, new processor, 128GB SD support, fingerprint scanner and added software features like “download booster” and Ultra Power Saving mode are truly great additions to an already very solid handset.
All of this good stuff is likely to go by the wayside, however, as punters, critics and, perhaps, the end consumer will focus on the overall look and feel of the handset, which, if we’re honest, isn’t all that different from 2013’s offering.
There is a lot to like here – performance, imaging and battery are all a lot better – but many of the new (“USP”) features of the S5, notably the health and sensor aspects of the device, just seem too niche to really get the blood pumping at launch.
In time the Galaxy S5 will undoubtedly come into its own as those who do adopt the phone discover the innate value of being able to re-focus their photographs, how neat it is to have 128GB of card storage, that it's useful to be able to turbo-charge downloads.
In terms of actual features Samsung has in many ways made good on its promise to avoid gimmickry, meaning the Galaxy S5 is a wonderful contrast to the Galaxy S4 - nowhere is this more evident than the camera.
But as much as people might wax lyrical about not judging a book by its cover, overall impressions count for much and the Galaxy S5 is missing the mark by a wide margin here. Several comments from press and public on the web allude to how the Galaxy S5 is really more of a "Galaxy S4S" or "Galaxy S4+" in the same vein as Apple's iPhone 5-to-iPhone 5S evolution.
That kind of progression certainly hasn't done Apple any harm, but at least it can hide behind its existing update pattern which users are used to. Samsung fans expected much more.
It’s looking like the Samsung Galaxy S5 will go on sale in the UK on April 11. SIM-free, the handset is likely to retail for around £550 to £600. And this may only net you a 16GB version, too; Samsung has yet to confirm which storage versions will be hitting the UK.