Samsung Galaxy S5: Evolution, not revolution, but still packs a powerful punch (review)

Samsung Galaxy S5: Evolution, not revolution, but still packs a powerful punch (review)

Summary: For Samsung's latest flagship smartphone, it's more about what's beneath the surface than its outer design. But there are a few innovations we haven't seen in a Galaxy device before, notably a fingerprint scanner, a heart-rate sensor, and a beefier 16-megapixel camera.

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TOPICS: Samsung, Smartphones
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(Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive)

NEW YORK — What might be normally reserved for an iPhone launch, the hype surrounding Samsung's next-generation smartphone has been almost unbearable for Galaxy fans.

On Monday, we finally saw the long-awaited device in person — almost a year since its nearest predecessor was first launched.

The Galaxy S5, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, was also up-for-grabs at an event in New York City. Landing with a slightly larger 5.1-inch high-definition 1080p display, a powerful Snapdragon 800 2.5GHz quad-core processor, and a beefier 16-megapixel camera, it is as you might expect a smidge heavier than the Galaxy S4. But that's expected considering it's packing a great deal more punch than the previous model.

Design

The device itself lands in much the same physical design shell as its predecessor, the Galaxy S4, so those hoping for a more mature metal backing may be disappointed. With its plastic backing and the same rounded corners, it feels a little too similar to the Galaxy S4 than it probably should do. 

There is a subtle change to the back of the handset, featuring a discreet rubberized, indented dotted case that makes it certainly feel interesting to hold. It makes it easier to hold than the HTC One or the iPhone 5s (without a case), but it's a feeling that will probably take some getting used to — at least for new users.

As with previous versions, you can remove the case and replace it, which is handy because the material feels as though it could be marked or scratched over long use. Samsung will provide four color cases: black, blue, white, and bronze.

It doesn't feel as though it's particularly new or exciting, but reading the specification sheet will make any seasoned Galaxy user giddy to their core.

Flagship features

The two top-line new features will no doubt help the Korean electronics giant keep the pace in the tight race it currently stands in with its competitors — Apple.

The smartphone's flagship features don't exactly come hand-in-hand but match and one-up Apple's current rumored effort with a focus on health. Landing with a fingerprint scanner integrated in the home button, à la iPhone 5s, it also features a heart-rate sensor seamlessly and surreptitiously next to the rear camera's flash — a feature never seen before in a modern smartphone. 

Fingerprint scanner

Apple may have been the first to dish out a fingerprint scanner for its iPhone, but it certainly wouldn't be the last. Samsung's included the fingerprint scanner not least to further woo its growing enterprise user base.

It not only unlocks the phone, but can also be used to make mobile payments — something Apple has come close to with its App Store integration, but not much further. In partnership with PayPal, Galaxy S5 users can authorize mobile payments with a touch of an enrolled finger.

Heart-rate sensor

It's so small and unnoticeable, you would be forgiven for not giving it a second thought. Next to the flash is a heart-rate sensor that can — prepare yourself for a hearty dose of real-life sci-fi — see the blood pumping through your finger. 

It works when you gently push your finger over the flash on the rear of the handset. This ties in with the smartphone's pre-installed health apps, such as the S Health, which includes a fitness tracker and pedometer.

The inclusion of a heart-rate sensor will probably have Samsung's arch-rival Apple engineers kicking themselves for not adding the technology sooner. Rumors point to a "Healthbook" feature in Apple's next iPhone and iOS software, as the race to bridge the gap between wearable tech and smartphones over conscientious health nuts reaches a peak.

In-built software helps connect the smartphone to Samsung's recently announced Tizen-powered Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches.

Battery, storage, data transfers

In true Samsung style, the Galaxy S5 has a removable case and 2,800mAh battery, allowing you to swap out and in a new battery if you're running down on charge. That's probably not as likely as you might think with this model, thanks to its new in-built power saving mode that is said to increase battery life by near-double when the device is low on charge. 

All in all, Samsung says it will squeeze out 21 hours of talk time, and more than two weeks on standby on a single full charge.

The Galaxy S5 also lands with a USB 3.0 on the underside of the device allowing for significantly faster data transfer and sync speeds. That's certainly helpful if you're expanding your storage beyond the 16GB and 32GB options to have an extra 64GB from a plugged-in micro-SD card.

Software

Other than that, the most notable change of all is the software. Running the latest version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat, while the interface hasn't changed significantly it builds the wider Samsung ecosystem within, enticing users to expand their gadget line-up with technology they didn't even realize they wanted.

For the business and enterprise user, the Galaxy S5 lands with the latest version of Knox, which installs a virtual barrier between personal and work data.

The Galaxy S5 will land in the wider public's hands in early April, but there's no pricing details for the time being. Keep your eyes open for more news in the coming days and weeks.

Topics: Samsung, Smartphones

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80 comments
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  • So,

    It's a worthwhile update over the S3, like the S4 was a worthwhile update over the S2.

    Playing to the 2 year upgrade cycle?
    Boothy_p
    • Yep - every second gen

      Yep - I only went s2 to s3 because the s2 was playing up. I would have waited otherwise. The s3 was actually a big change though - unlike the s3 to s4.
      John in Brisbane
  • Why buy a Samsung device

    knowing that it will never receive upgrades in a decent time frame? How long has KitKat now been released and it is still available on most Samsung devices in most countries.

    If Samsung wants to do something useful, then it should get its act together on upgrades to devices.
    1,2,3
    • how often do you get updates for the software in your car?

      These talks about upgrades just do not make sense. My Galaxy SII works great and does what it is supposed to do. Why would I want to upgrade it? I compared it with the upgraded version of Android on my wife's phone (Jelly Bean i believe) and I do not see anything really different that would worth the time I would spend upgrading it.
      pupkin_z
      • What?

        My phone is not big enough to use a a car.

        I expect my phone to get upgrades and to get those within a reasonable timeframe. That is is how it was advertised and so I have every reason for the expectation! If you don't want the upgrades, then don't get them when they come. The rest of us want them!
        1,2,3
        • Well

          You should buy a product for what it does now, not what it might do in the future.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • As I said in my earlier post

            Samsung made it clear in the advertising that my device would receive KitKat. That is why I bought that specific device. Samsung is the one that set customer expectations.
            1,2,3
          • Bug updates?

            Are we not to expect bug updates in the future either? What if I bought a phone that doesn't perform as advertised, should I not expect a software fix sometime in the future? Or should I just be satisfied with what it does halfheartedly, now.

            That is the nature of today's technology, nothing is ever fully completed before it is shipped out the door. Actually it has always been this way. Bill Gates believed it was more important getting software out the door than wasting time completing. You can always push out updates. Google is famous for pushing beta software out to consumers for years to get user feedback. Shipping is actually the beggining of the development process, not the end game. It is then natural for users to expect future updates to unfinished products. We are afterall beta testers to companies like Google.
            dave95.
          • The Gates Travesty

            " Bill Gates believed it was more important getting software out the door than wasting time completing. "


            So true! Bill Gates made a royal mess of the computer industry.
            rf0
          • LMAO

            Justifying android's fragmentation by saying be happy with what it does now and who cares about the future? Wow. I now have seen everything from Fandroids!!
            rpsin
          • upgrades can be bad

            I got a Google Nexus 4 because it would always be upgraded. The first two upgrades were fine but KitKat doesn't work well on the phone - still wish I had 4.3.

            Also Google has an annoying habit of changing useful apps like maps/navigate. I don't need it often but when I do - I find Google has completely redesigned the app so I have to relearn it - usually when I am in a rush to get to an airport. Maps also will crash until the phone is rebooted the first use after an update. I wish they left it alone.

            I learned my lesson about upgrades - and now unless something is really not working prefer to just keep the old system on the phone.
            marque2
          • Upgrades or new Adnroid (OS) versions?

            Upgrades to phone f/w and to the OS it was built for are a MUST, but let's not confuse this need with a capability to keep upgrading to the latest bloated version of Android OS of the future, for which this particular h/w may anyway not be suited for!
            prishi@...
          • Nexus and GPE is the go

            I'll be looking mainly at nexus and GPE devices next time for that reason. Android really should be built so that the OS can be upgraded at any time from Google HQ, irrespective of what the OEMs have done with it. I don't give a hoot about all the fragmentation talk aside from that point but it's a serious design flaw until it's fixed.
            John in Brisbane
        • Why?

          What do OS updates do for you? Sometimes those updates can break existing features on the phone or make them work very inefficiently. I'd rather have the option not to get new OS updates.
          123techie123
        • Blame your carrier

          For not offering upgrades to your phone.
          big red one
      • Cars constantly evolve, as do phones

        My car isn't even that old - but it can't do things that most of today's cars can do.
        My car doesn't have bluetooth integration built in - that's a pain point in todays world, and it absolutely SUCKS that I can't just "software update" my car to get it!

        Some of the cars out today can park themselves, have distronic cruise control, can even use that sensor to stop your car to avoid an impending collision.
        It sucks that I can't just "software update" my car to get those features too!

        And I'd like tire pressure monitors that nearly every car has today too, and LED lights on my car as well. Heated seats are available on nearly everything now, as are remote starters - popular in the northeast here.
        Sometimes you just have to upgrade your hardware as well.

        Analogies all exist in the phone world.

        For a frequent business traveler like myself, with corporate mandated (and Outlook-account-enforced lock security) many of these new features are very desirable.
        If all you do is make calls and text people, maybe you don't even need a smartphone.
        Most people exist somewhere in between.

        In order to pass judgement, you need to know where YOU exist on the spectrum.
        It sounds to me as though you aren't at all aware of where that is.
        geolemon
        • Upgrade your car?

          Bad example of car! If your car is fairly new and you bought it barebones, and are now looking for s/w to upgrade to the options, then, even if you could do that with a car, mobile phones are simply not sold that way!
          prishi@...
      • Car software security vs phone software security

        Unless your car has a 3G/4G connection or connects to WiFi, chances are that you'll never see firmware updates for your car because it really doesn't need those firmware updates. On the other hand, you leave a major (and easily exploitable) bug unpatched at the kernel level in Android and, suddenly, you have millions of zombie phones around the world, slurping data.

        The biggest problem with Android, however, isn't the manufacturers or Google; it's the carriers. Since carriers must approve new versions of Android firmware/software, that software can be hung up in the approval process for ages.
        Champ_Kind
      • @pupkin_z

        How often do you upgrade your browser? :)
        spicycheeks
    • Look before you leap!

      I totally approve Samsung's approach to upgrades. My S3 has auto-upgraded twice in the 14 months since I bought it. I like an OS upgrade to be well proven and bug free before I install it (or have it installed) on any of my devices. To be among the first to have a new OS may boost the egos of those who like to have the very latest software, but I prefer caution before making what may be an upgrade that cannot be undone.
      JohnOfStony