Samsung Galaxy S5 first take: Can it trump the new HTC One?

Samsung Galaxy S5 first take: Can it trump the new HTC One?

Summary: The Samsung Galaxy S5 appears in US carrier stores tomorrow and I've been spending the last couple of days with the AT&T model. It's a nice evolution in the Galaxy line, but the new HTC One is offering stiff competition.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 first take: Can it trump the new HTC One?
(Image: AT&T)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) both appear in stores at the four major US wireless carriers tomorrow. When I visit T-Mobile tomorrow, it's likely I will be walking out with just One.

I plan to do a full review after I get a couple of weeks with the device, but in the meantime I recommend you check out the review on CNET.

Samsung sells millions of Galaxy smartphones and they are great devices to consider purchasing. The Galaxy S5 is the next evolution in the line and has some nice improvements that have me seriously considering it.

I especially like the water resistant design, functional center hardware button, camera performance, available widgets, and slightly less intrusive UI update.

However, I'm not a fan of the plastic design, cartoonish app icons, slight lag in responsiveness compared to the One (M8), and long extensive new settings area.

Let's take a closer look at the Galaxy S5.

Initial hardware thoughts

I received the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S5 to check out for a couple of weeks and it arrived in the typical tan box I have seen Galaxy devices ship in the last few releases. I opened up the box to find a charcoal black device. I really like the new soft touch and pleather back. The Bandaid comparisons are a bit exagerated.

The weight feels good for a device with a 5.1-inch display. I'm not a fan of the silver plastic frame and think this is definitely one area where Samsung could add some metal and significantly improve the quality feel of the device.

The Super AMOLED display looks great. Samsung knows how to make displays pop and the S5 is no exception there.

Personally, I like having the hardware button at the bottom, since it gives me a quick way to always get back to a home screen panel to start at or easily launch Google Now with a press and hold. The hardware button also serves as a fingerprint scanner, but I have not yet had time to fully test it out.

The Galaxy S5 is water resistant with the bottom USB charging door closed and it is pretty easy to open and close. I would love to see Samsung include Qi charging; you will be able to buy optional back covers with this capability, which would then make the device more easily waterproof. You can actually see the water sealing gasket under the back cover when you take it off.

You can pop off the back cover to access the microSIM card (I expected nanoSIM like all the other flagships), microSD card, and removable battery. I know many folks like removable batteries, but even though I buy them for my devices I rarely ever use them (I rarely keep my devices longer than a year) so it is not a bonus for me personally.

On the back you will find the 16 megapixel camera centered near the top. Taking a few quick photos, I noticed that the S5 definitely has better detail than the HTC One (M8). Below the camera is the single flash and the heart rate sensor. The heart rate sensor is fun to use because I like to see where my heart rate is at from time-to-time, but it isn't essential.

Initial software thoughts

It is clear that Samsung toned down their TouchWiz UI a bit, but there is still plenty provided on the Galaxy S5. The quick settings appear at the top of the notification area, and you can quickly customize what controls appear here. I personally do not like their new vertical scrolling settings area that seems to go on and on forever — whether you are in list, tab or grid view. There are a ton of settings and all the various icon colors are a bit overwhelming. HTC goes with a much simpler list that I prefer to access and use.

You will find settings for your connections, the device, various controls, general settings, and applications. As with the Galaxy Note 3, there is a lot you can do with a Galaxy device and many people will likely enjoy all of the customization options available.

Samsung has their "My Magazine" home screen panel; when you swipe left to right, you end up on that screen, similar to HTC's BlinkFeed. However, it is a bit slow (I found it like this on the Note 3, too) and much less customizable than BlinkFeed. HTC has seriously updated BlinkFeed with Sense 6 and it is very useful and able to be turned off if you don't want to use it.

I like some of the widgets available on the S5, including the voice-supported Google search widget, email widget, and S Health widget. Speaking of email, I was very happy to see the S5 fix the Exchange issues I had with the Note 3. I can use the S5 for work access to all my local folders.

US carriers continue to load up Android devices with lots of their own apps and services, and there are plenty here on the S5. AT&T Mobile Locate, AT&T Navigator, AT&T FamilyMap, Caller Name ID, DriveMode, Mobile Hotspot, Mobile TV, myAT&T, and Usage Manager all are included. A couple are useful, and you can always hide them from the app launcher if you wish.

Which will I buy? The Galaxy S5 or HTC One (M8)

Since I never use the S Pen, if I was going to purchase a Galaxy smartphone then it would definitely be the S5. That said, I am planning to pick up the HTC One (M8) on T-Mobile instead of the S5.

The Galaxy S5 has a better camera for capturing details and a voice activated Google search widget, but those are about the only advantages over the new HTC One (M8) for my usage. The HTC One (M8) has the best design of any smartphone available today, rocking front stereo speakers, microSD card for storage, default 32GB RAM, enjoyable camera software and Highlight Video support, excellent Sense 6 user interface, and super fast performance.

This week I ranked the top 10 smartphones currently available in 2014 with the HTC One (M8) in the second spot and Galaxy S5 in third. After a couple more days with both I am even more convinced I put them in the right order.

I will be spending a couple more weeks with the S5 so if you have anything specific you want me to check out, please let me know in the comments or via Twitter.

Related coverage:

Topics: Mobility, Android, HTC, Samsung, Smartphones

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44 comments
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  • HTC is done

    It's all about marketing and Apple and Samsung outspend everyone else.

    HTC is in worse shape than Blackberry - all they have is hardware sales.

    The harsh truth is there really isn't money to be made from smartphones. Apple gets a high margin due to the carrier contracts they executed. Samsung sells enough volume to cover. Let's not forget all the other products each company sells.

    Unless you can push services / ecosystem or cross into other playforms, the days of being a smartphone OEM are over.
    MobileAdmin
    • Not So Fast....

      Marketing alone isn't the reason Apple and Samsung are dominating. Sure, it plays a part but the devices they are selling are most definitely striking a chord with consumers. Most iPhone and Galaxy sales are repeat customers. And I'd bet that even among the new customers a great deal weren't swayed by marketing alone. People always want to ding Samsung for its plastic phones while ignoring the fact that they are well made plastic phones. I own a Galaxy S II, SIII, Note 2, Note 3, as well as an HTC M7, and an M8. The plastic Galaxy phones are just as well made as the Ones. Sure, the aluminum feels sturdier but the build quality, not material, seems about even.
      cj100570@...
      • Well yes and no

        Both are popular no doubt and in the US - many people are followers. They use what everyone else uses. They have no concept what makes one device better than the other. A big part of Apple's user base are teen - college girls. Girls do not like to be left out of the "cool" circle so they all conform. The fact you can accessorize the iPhone with a case only brings this out more. I'd say Apple has 90% of that user base from my trips to the mall and my own circle of friends and their kids.

        The "power users" are where you see some variety as they understand what makes a smartphone and things like multi-tasking etc. This user base is maybe 10-15% of the overall market.

        The rest of the market just buy based on "what their kids recommend", is free on contract or they saw a mentioned Ad. Smartphones are like microwaves now - they all do the same core stuff.

        Agree on the plastic comment. It's snobbish and retarded as I have both a Note III and iPhone 5S and I find the build quality the same with a node to the Note III. Every single once of my iPhones have had damage (and I'm careful). What fun is a device your paranoid is going to break from the slightest drop?

        I had a HTC One and it was too heavy. I don't need a metal smartphone. Just one that is well built and functions.
        MobileAdmin
        • and you saw this report where???

          "A big part of Apple's user base are teen - college girls. Girls do not like to be left out of the "cool" circle so they all conform. "

          People will say anything to support their point of view won't they?
          Tablazines
          • Re: People will say anything to support their point of view

            I was thinking the same thing as I read MobileAdmin's comment but to be fair, he has been a Blackberry fan for a long time and ever other smartphone simply doesn't measure up to his phone of choice.
            kenosha77a
          • At least I use them all...

            I don't need any official report to know the bulk of iOS users are in the 13-18 and 18-30 segment of the market. Just walk around any campus, high school, mall and it's all you see. Now yes this could be due to the US is one of Apple's leading markets.

            I use all the platforms and yes Blackberry meets my needs. I need a device that can handle a large volume of email and I value corporate functionality over consumer services. I don't watch movies or play games on my smartphone. The current lineup:

            Blackberry Q10 - daily driver
            Samsung Note III - best Android device
            iPhone 5S
            Nokia 928

            Outside of using some Apps (which now run on Blackberry 10) I am not as productive on the other platforms. Some of the other platforms don't even provide the same level of Exchange functionality.

            I'm not running around saying Blackberry is the best as for the bulk of people it will not meet their needs.

            Back to the topic on hand - HTC cannot win the Android war. It's over. Unless people decide to move away from Samsung the others are going to get scraps. At least LG or others have other verticals.
            MobileAdmin
          • Since Apple has over 50 percent of the Smartphone market in the US

            I would think that a cursory review of persons cited for your demographic age groups would support your observations. However, so would other age group demographics in the US.

            IMO, MobileAdmin, I think the smartphone distribution is based more on personal income levels than anything else. This past week, I read an online article showing a picture of New York City and the surrounding New Jersey areas. That picture was color coded showing iPhone owners in "red" and Android smartphone owners in Blue. Basically, all of New York City (and especially, Manhattan, NYC) was painted in red while Newark, NJ was painted in Blue.

            Again, in my view, consumers with more disposable income tend to choose iPhones while the rest tend to choose cheaper Android models - irregardless of age brackets.
            kenosha77a
          • I agree completely!

            This one of the best analisys that I´ve read here.

            Cellphones are absolutely related with the social status and family income. The loud speakers will try to bash this orientation but as kenosha77a said, this is a trend.

            IMO this trend will consolidate in the way that Android marketing will colapse and remain only 2 or 3 big players.
            mxgms
          • I've been saying somethiing similar for a while, kenosha77a

            Many of the pundits here point to the market share of particular phone OS's as a metric of how well, or how sought after that particular OS is.

            I've maintained that much of Android's large market share can be attributed to the low end or free phones, smartphones that are "affordable" to those without $200 of easily disposable income, but also most of the prepaid smartphones $49 or less are Android based.

            So I agree that what phones are bought by who is related with both the social status, and family income.
            William.Farrel
          • Interesting rational ...

            So you are saying all users that have disposable income will pick an IPhone over an Android device? Hmmm ..
            All of my friends (including myself) have lots of disposable income, but we all chose Android over the locked down iPhone. Why, because we have a choice, NOT because we have more than enough money to buy an iPhone product!
            Just because you have more than enough money to buy something, does not mean that you will ...
            Now, if you are talking about buying something for the status that it represents, then YES that might have something to do with it ... but I can get a 4s for $0.00 on a 2yr plan so the cost of owning an iPhone (being an older version, but still an iPhone running iOS7) does not keep it out of users hands with little to no disposable income.
            And I am sure that 1,000's of Manhattan'its own Android or BB phones, and most financial institutions are still locked down to BB enterprise phones do to security needs that Apple cannot compete with ...
            Yes, iPhones are expensive toys, but you do not have to be a millionaire to own one... just an iSheep idiot.
            CND-Dude
          • Apple doesn't sell smartphones

            They only sell iPhones, which are featurephones. Very smart. But featurephones. Thus, I say they have 0% of the smartphone market.
            x I'm tc
          • "bulk of iOS users"

            "bulk of iOS users are in the 13-18 and 18-30 segment of the market. Just walk around any campus, high school, mall and it's all you see"
            Maybe That's because the "bulk" of the users there are 13-18 and 18-30.
            I might be wrong though...
            Transporter25
          • teen girls? really?

            I'm an "anti-walled garden concept" guy but I for 1 believe that's not true. Teen girls may have iPhone in their "cool list" but I don't think they are the biggest user base iPhone has. A lot of business professionals prefer iPhone as well due to the perception that the iPhone never lags nor hangs which I personally think it's delusional but still I won't deny the iPhone is the most well-received phone (I don't think it's smart at all) of all times.
            T3CHN0M4NC3R
          • Teenagers

            Last I heard, teenagers (girls or otherwise) thought the iPhone was uncool because their parents have them. I guess that'll teach me to believe everything I read on the internet.
            DJL64
        • wow

          There are alot of people around who cannot think for themselves. But iPhones aren't cool, their demographic is typically now people 30-50. Not kids. Kids have the cool new devices from other companies that have all the cool new features they can show their friends. Also Samsung phones feel cheap, iPhones feel Fragile, and HTC's feel solid. Heavy? Its barely heavy by any means..
          I know plenty of college girls who have Androids..... but I do agree that most of the userbase of iPhones are women in the first place. And iPhones also cannot be accessorized more than any other phone..
          Jimster480
          • Sorry

            Didn't see your post before replying to T3CHN0M4NC3R
            DJL64
    • There has been decent marking for the M8

      I know people are talking about it all over the place. HTC Still has a place and I hope to see them go far into the future. They have the best devices on the market today, and they have always made solid devices that don't disappoint.
      Jimster480
  • I've read other online impressions about the S5's display in sunlight

    Apparently, this Super AMOLED display looks great except outdoors in bright sunlight where some state it is near impossible to view information on it.

    If anyone has first hand info on this aspect about the S5 display, I'd appreciate confirmation or a dissenting opinion.
    kenosha77a
    • "... the best performing smartphone display that we have ever tested."

      Those are the words of displaymate siste:
      http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_S5_ShootOut_1.htm

      While sometimes OLED displays are not the brightest ones, it seems S5 has the best display of any smartphone made so far in almost every aspect. It's interesting to note that it's better than S4 display, bigger, with better resolutions and the energy required is significantly smaller - well done.

      Sometimes tests and real life are a bit different but it is also said that "it’s the brightest mobile display that we have ever tested".

      I'm not the biggest fan of Samsung devices, but they are not just a plastic piece of crap for sure.
      AleMartin
    • S4

      I don't have the S5, but I do have the S4. Not the brightest display I've had on a phone, but no worse than other phones that I've had when using it in sunlight.
      DJL64