Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Another solid Android smartphone that could have been better

Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Another solid Android smartphone that could have been better

Summary: Samsung recently released the Galaxy S5 across the world and it is destined to sell millions. There are a few new gimmicks you will try once and never use again, but also some great features that make it a phone to consider.

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  • T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S5 retail package

    A few weeks ago I took a look at the HTC One (M8) and was let down a bit by HTC (same camera, long and slippery device). I have now spent a couple weeks with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and again I am a bit let down by an Android manufacturer. The Galaxy S5 is a very good smartphone and millions will purchase one, but I wanted more from the device and will be sticking with my custom Moto X for now.

    I enjoyed most of the Galaxy Note 3, but didn't end up keeping one after finding I didn't use the S Pen enough to justify it. You will find similar experiences on the Galaxy S5 in a smaller form factor so I think the S5 will appeal to more people. However, like the Note 3, Samsung overwhelms the user with gimmicky features that are likely to be used a couple of times and then just end up being things that consume valuable real estate and resources on the phone. Samsung was closer to getting it right on the S5, but there is still more work to do in order to satisfy me.

    Hardware

    Samsung makes some fantastic displays and the 5.1-inch 1920x1080 Super AMOLED one on the S5 is impressive. Colors are vivid, blacks are dark, and it looks great in sunlight. The display alone almost convinced me to go pick up the S5 and I am sure it will attract many customers in wireless stores. The side bezels are rather thin and there isn't much space above and below the display.

    Samsung continues to use hardware buttons, including a center physical button, below the display, and I have to say I am a fan of this strategy. I know many like the buttons on the display, but I like having them easily accessible and always available just below the screen. The center hardware button also serves as the fingerprint scanner, but after a couple days of sheer frustration and a success rate of about 20 percent I gave up on using it. My iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner works 90 percent of the time, but the swiping motion just doesn't seem to work on Android smartphones like the S5 and HTC One Max.

    The volume button is on the left side with the traditional Samsung power button placement on the right. The headphone jack is up top with the USB 3.0 port at the bottom, covered by a watertight door. This charging port is the only door you have to keep closed to maintain the waterproof integrity of the phone and this feature is one aspect that appeals to me and my usage in rainy Washington State.

    The speaker is on the lower back and sounds fine. It can't compete with HTC's BoomSound stereo speakers or the loud iPhone 5S speaker, but it is fine for typical usage. There is a LED flash and the heart rate sensor below the 16-megapixel rear camera. The heart rate monitor worked about 75 percent of the time for me, but my wife and daughters could never get it to work after repeated trials. It's a fun thing to mess with, but definitely not an essential feature.

    The thin plastic back cover has a dimpled texture that I like much better than the glossy plastic they used on previous smartphones. When you take the cover off you will find the removable battery, microSD card slot, and microSIM card slot. I found it strange that they are not using a nanoSIM like most others today and had to use an adapter to use my own T-Mobile SIM card to test out the device. You can see the watertight seal on the back cover so make sure to full snap it into place as well.

    While the Galaxy S5 uses plastic and doesn't feel as premium as the HTC One (M8) or iPhone 5s, I don't mind that durable plastic is used for the back. I am not a fan of the shiny chrome-looking frame piece though and think it cheapens the feel of the S5. I like the weight of the S5 in my hand and think it is just about at the maximum acceptable size for a smartphone that I would personally consider.

    Software

    Android 4.4.2 is installed on the Galaxy S5, so the latest version of Android is installed, along with a pared-down version of Samsung TouchWiz. I primarily see the removal of redundant services, such as the addition of music and video stores that were unnecessary on previous models. I still find the notification area to be way too cluttered and have not yet found a way to get rid of the large S Finder or Quick connect buttons. Samsung default notifications take up nearly half of the display, which is a bit ridiculous.

    The settings area has been revamped, but I just counted 62 colorful icons for the settings. Granted, some are repeated because they have a new Quick Settings area, but there are still too many for the average consumer. The various colors on the icons also don't seem to have clear categorization.

    I like seeing multi-window support on such a device with a large display. There are a ton of ways to customize the device to your liking and the geek in me likes having this capability sometimes.

    There are some apps from Samsung that I find useless, such as ChatOn, Group Camcorder, Group Play, S Voice, S Translator, and Scrapbook. S Health is significantly improved, but since it is a Samsung only app I haven't yet found it to be essential. The Smart Remote is excellent and works well with my new Samsung Smart TV.

    The camera software is excellent and the camera takes great photos. I like the way you can tap and hold settings icons and drag them to the left side of the viewfinder screen for easy manipulation. The modes are easy to switch and there are some cool options available. The camera is one of my favorite aspects of the S5 and one area that easily beats the HTC One (M8).

    It's handy to press and hold the center hardware button to launch Google Now and the voice-activated Google Search widget works just fine. For some reason, the voice activation widgets doesn't work on the HTC One (M8).

    Usage and experiences

    I was able to go a full day of pretty heavy usage with the Galaxy S5 and thought about purchasing one many times. There are some aspects that bothered me though, such as the slow response of the My Magazine panel. I ended up turning off My Magazine as I find the full Flipboard experience to be better. There are animations on the S5 that also seem to present some occasional lag and I also noticed the camera was slow to focus and take photos at times.

    Phone calls sounded great and the T-Mobile WiFi Calling worked very well in my new home where the cellular signal is weak, but the WiFi signal is strong. I like the Samsung keyboard better than the HTC one, primarily due to the presence of a dedicated number row.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy S5, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros Cons
    Amazing, vivid Super AMOLED display Limited internal storage (about 9 GB available)
    Solid performing camera with functional software Cluttered notification area
    Dust and water resistant Overwhelming number of settings icons
    Removable battery and microSD card Useless fingerprint scanner
      Inconsistent performing heart rate monitor

    Pricing and availability

    The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available on all major US carriers. The subsidized price is $200 while the full price at T-Mobile is $660. Unfortunately, the 32GB model is not yet available and with the limited functionality of microSD cards in KitKat I won't buy a device without 32GB of internal storage.

    The competition

    The number one competitor at this time and the model you will see most often compared to the S5 is the HTC One (M8). They are both solid Android smartphones, but there are still some excellent choices from last year to consider. I like the smaller size and custom Motorola experiences in my Moto X and the Nexus 5 is tough to beat.

    We will soon likely see the LG G3 and that is one I am seriously considering. A new iPhone should be announced in June and the Sony Xperia Z2 may eventually come to the US.

    Specifications
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5 GHz processor
    2GB RAM
    16 internal storage options with microSD card slot
    5.1-inch 1920x1080 pixels resolution Super AMOLED display
    16-megapixel rear camera with 2-megapixel front-facing camera
    IP67 certificated dust and water resistance
    802.11 a/ac/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and ANT+
    2,800 mAh battery
    Dimensions of 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm and 145 grams

    Conclusion

    I almost visited my local T-Mobile store to pick up a Galaxy S5 because the display is fantastic and I personally enjoy messing around with devices and making new discoveries with them. However, I won't buy an Android device with such limited internal memory and the 32GB models are not yet available. I also still find the Motorola additions like Active Notifications, Motorola Connect, Moto Assist, touches controls, and more to be too compelling to give up. The Moto X is also half the cost of the S5, which is a major factor for me since I just moved homes.

    Samsung provides a solid update to the Galaxy line with the S5, but if you have an S4 there really isn't any reason to upgrade at the full price. If you have a SIII or a full subsidy available then you will likely be pleased with the S5. When the 32GB model appears I may just pick one up. I also want to see what LG and Motorola have in store so I may just sit out this round of the game and wait until the summer launch season takes place.

    If I had to make a choice between the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One (M8) then I would purchase the new HTC One (M8), despite the fact that the camera is not as good as the one on the S5. HTC has a better UI and the hardware feels like the high price you pay for such flagship smartphones.

    Contributor's rating: 7.5 out of 10

    Related coverage:

  • Opening up the retail package

    A few weeks ago I took a look at the HTC One (M8) and was let down a bit by HTC (same camera, long and slippery device). I have now spent a couple weeks with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and again I am a bit let down by an Android manufacturer. The Galaxy S5 is a very good smartphone and millions will purchase one, but I wanted more from the device and will be sticking with my custom Moto X for now.

    I enjoyed most of the Galaxy Note 3, but didn't end up keeping one after finding I didn't use the S Pen enough to justify it. You will find similar experiences on the Galaxy S5 in a smaller form factor so I think the S5 will appeal to more people. However, like the Note 3, Samsung overwhelms the user with gimmicky features that are likely to be used a couple of times and then just end up being things that consume valuable real estate and resources on the phone. Samsung was closer to getting it right on the S5, but there is still more work to do in order to satisfy me.

    Hardware

    Samsung makes some fantastic displays and the 5.1-inch 1920x1080 Super AMOLED one on the S5 is impressive. Colors are vivid, blacks are dark, and it looks great in sunlight. The display alone almost convinced me to go pick up the S5 and I am sure it will attract many customers in wireless stores. The side bezels are rather thin and there isn't much space above and below the display.

    Samsung continues to use hardware buttons, including a center physical button, below the display, and I have to say I am a fan of this strategy. I know many like the buttons on the display, but I like having them easily accessible and always available just below the screen. The center hardware button also serves as the fingerprint scanner, but after a couple days of sheer frustration and a success rate of about 20 percent I gave up on using it. My iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner works 90 percent of the time, but the swiping motion just doesn't seem to work on Android smartphones like the S5 and HTC One Max.

    The volume button is on the left side with the traditional Samsung power button placement on the right. The headphone jack is up top with the USB 3.0 port at the bottom, covered by a watertight door. This charging port is the only door you have to keep closed to maintain the waterproof integrity of the phone and this feature is one aspect that appeals to me and my usage in rainy Washington State.

    The speaker is on the lower back and sounds fine. It can't compete with HTC's BoomSound stereo speakers or the loud iPhone 5S speaker, but it is fine for typical usage. There is a LED flash and the heart rate sensor below the 16-megapixel rear camera. The heart rate monitor worked about 75 percent of the time for me, but my wife and daughters could never get it to work after repeated trials. It's a fun thing to mess with, but definitely not an essential feature.

    The thin plastic back cover has a dimpled texture that I like much better than the glossy plastic they used on previous smartphones. When you take the cover off you will find the removable battery, microSD card slot, and microSIM card slot. I found it strange that they are not using a nanoSIM like most others today and had to use an adapter to use my own T-Mobile SIM card to test out the device. You can see the watertight seal on the back cover so make sure to full snap it into place as well.

    While the Galaxy S5 uses plastic and doesn't feel as premium as the HTC One (M8) or iPhone 5s, I don't mind that durable plastic is used for the back. I am not a fan of the shiny chrome-looking frame piece though and think it cheapens the feel of the S5. I like the weight of the S5 in my hand and think it is just about at the maximum acceptable size for a smartphone that I would personally consider.

    Software

    Android 4.4.2 is installed on the Galaxy S5, so the latest version of Android is installed, along with a pared-down version of Samsung TouchWiz. I primarily see the removal of redundant services, such as the addition of music and video stores that were unnecessary on previous models. I still find the notification area to be way too cluttered and have not yet found a way to get rid of the large S Finder or Quick connect buttons. Samsung default notifications take up nearly half of the display, which is a bit ridiculous.

    The settings area has been revamped, but I just counted 62 colorful icons for the settings. Granted, some are repeated because they have a new Quick Settings area, but there are still too many for the average consumer. The various colors on the icons also don't seem to have clear categorization.

    I like seeing multi-window support on such a device with a large display. There are a ton of ways to customize the device to your liking and the geek in me likes having this capability sometimes.

    There are some apps from Samsung that I find useless, such as ChatOn, Group Camcorder, Group Play, S Voice, S Translator, and Scrapbook. S Health is significantly improved, but since it is a Samsung only app I haven't yet found it to be essential. The Smart Remote is excellent and works well with my new Samsung Smart TV.

    The camera software is excellent and the camera takes great photos. I like the way you can tap and hold settings icons and drag them to the left side of the viewfinder screen for easy manipulation. The modes are easy to switch and there are some cool options available. The camera is one of my favorite aspects of the S5 and one area that easily beats the HTC One (M8).

    It's handy to press and hold the center hardware button to launch Google Now and the voice-activated Google Search widget works just fine. For some reason, the voice activation widgets doesn't work on the HTC One (M8).

    Usage and experiences

    I was able to go a full day of pretty heavy usage with the Galaxy S5 and thought about purchasing one many times. There are some aspects that bothered me though, such as the slow response of the My Magazine panel. I ended up turning off My Magazine as I find the full Flipboard experience to be better. There are animations on the S5 that also seem to present some occasional lag and I also noticed the camera was slow to focus and take photos at times.

    Phone calls sounded great and the T-Mobile WiFi Calling worked very well in my new home where the cellular signal is weak, but the WiFi signal is strong. I like the Samsung keyboard better than the HTC one, primarily due to the presence of a dedicated number row.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy S5, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros Cons
    Amazing, vivid Super AMOLED display Limited internal storage (about 9 GB available)
    Solid performing camera with functional software Cluttered notification area
    Dust and water resistant Overwhelming number of settings icons
    Removable battery and microSD card Useless fingerprint scanner
      Inconsistent performing heart rate monitor

    Pricing and availability

    The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available on all major US carriers. The subsidized price is $200 while the full price at T-Mobile is $660. Unfortunately, the 32GB model is not yet available and with the limited functionality of microSD cards in KitKat I won't buy a device without 32GB of internal storage.

    The competition

    The number one competitor at this time and the model you will see most often compared to the S5 is the HTC One (M8). They are both solid Android smartphones, but there are still some excellent choices from last year to consider. I like the smaller size and custom Motorola experiences in my Moto X and the Nexus 5 is tough to beat.

    We will soon likely see the LG G3 and that is one I am seriously considering. A new iPhone should be announced in June and the Sony Xperia Z2 may eventually come to the US.

    Specifications
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5 GHz processor
    2GB RAM
    16 internal storage options with microSD card slot
    5.1-inch 1920x1080 pixels resolution Super AMOLED display
    16-megapixel rear camera with 2-megapixel front-facing camera
    IP67 certificated dust and water resistance
    802.11 a/ac/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and ANT+
    2,800 mAh battery
    Dimensions of 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm and 145 grams

    Conclusion

    I almost visited my local T-Mobile store to pick up a Galaxy S5 because the display is fantastic and I personally enjoy messing around with devices and making new discoveries with them. However, I won't buy an Android device with such limited internal memory and the 32GB models are not yet available. I also still find the Motorola additions like Active Notifications, Motorola Connect, Moto Assist, touches controls, and more to be too compelling to give up. The Moto X is also half the cost of the S5, which is a major factor for me since I just moved homes.

    Samsung provides a solid update to the Galaxy line with the S5, but if you have an S4 there really isn't any reason to upgrade at the full price. If you have a SIII or a full subsidy available then you will likely be pleased with the S5. When the 32GB model appears I may just pick one up. I also want to see what LG and Motorola have in store so I may just sit out this round of the game and wait until the summer launch season takes place.

    If I had to make a choice between the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One (M8) then I would purchase the new HTC One (M8), despite the fact that the camera is not as good as the one on the S5. HTC has a better UI and the hardware feels like the high price you pay for such flagship smartphones.

    Contributor's rating: 7.5 out of 10

    Related coverage:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Samsung, Smartphones

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Talkback

25 comments
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  • Availability of the 32gb Version of the Galaxy S5

    Thanks for a great review of the Galaxy S5. I too am waiting for the 32gb version. It is ridiculous that Samsung and/or the major carriers only are selling the 16gb S5. I don''t, for the life of me understand why. It is a real shame that the 32gb is not available now. Samsung should be ashamed to only be initially selling the 16gb version. I know that I can "offload" up to 128gb to a micro SD card. I realize that a lot of users won't need 32gb of memory. I, however feel as you do in that I won't even consider the S5 untill the 32gb version is available.
    Altoid666
    • I don't think a 32gb version is important

      They would over-charge for that 16gb difference. For the price of 16gb you could probably but a 64gb microSD card. For a little bit more you could upgrade to a 128gb SD card.
      A Gray
      • Card storage is not the same as internal storage

        Android has limitations on what you can put on the external storage card so mixing and matching the storage allocation is not a valid argument. For one thing, apps cannot be installed to external storage so you are severely limited by having just 9 GB available for apps on the S5.

        Samsung should have launched with both the 16 and 32 GB models if they wanted to have a lower cost 16 GB option. I feel bad for all those buying the 16 GB model now only to find they hit their capacity in a couple months when the 32 GB model is released.
        palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
        • Availability of the 32gb Samsung Galaxu S5....When???

          Well said...I tried to preclude people saying that one doesn't need 32gb of memory and that 16gb is enough. I find those comments not necessary. My thoughts are give everyone a choice. If one wants to buy a 16gb S5 so be it, if one wants to spend extra dollars for a 32gb S5 then let them go for it. So Samsung/Verizon/AT&T etc. when will we be able to get the (already announced, in February at the Mobile World Congress), the 32gb Galaxy S5?....Rock On!
          Altoid666
        • And your wrong ... They are the same

          You can certainly run apps from an sdcard. Not all but those are few. Learn how to format your card right.

          Perhaps you meant a less sophisticated user won't be able to mix but since your giving technical advice I assume you don't put yourself in that category.
          pigphish
        • Severely limited?

          If you like to install half the play store, perhaps.

          The stuff that really takes up memory is the videos, photos, music and docs ... all of which can be off loaded onto the cloud or an sd card.

          You might be right on one point though, that as phones get more memory and more features the app programmers get sloppy and produce unnecessary bloat.
          Pastabake
  • Seriously? A heart rate monitor?

    If you need one of these on your cell phone...seems like you would be better off checking yourself into a hospital...ASAP.
    IT_Fella
    • lmaooooo

      good one
      Tablazines
    • runners you dip

      There are many runners and others out there that don't want to have to carry multiple devices. Sure most of the buyers wont use the HRM but the same could be said for many feature on a mobile phone.

      I've used BT once and as far as I and many others are concerned it's a totally unnecessary addition.
      Pastabake
      • The HRM is an easy hack

        I designed one of these in college... you fire an LED into your finger, and measure changes due to capillary action via a photo transistor. They already had the LED, so they just added the photo transistor. A gimmick, sure, but not entirely useless. I always have my smartphone with me at the gym, and while I doubt I'd make a big deal of the feature when selecting a phone, if I had it, I'd use it.
        Hazydave
    • I Agree.

      IT_Fella,

      Your post on the heart rate monitor was funny. My laugh for the morning. Thanks. But
      I agree with your post, though. Anything to do with the internals of the body, one should go to the hospital or clinic for a real check up by a nurse or doctor.

      If the heart rate app has flaws that could send a false reading.
      penlite
    • tim

      That's a bit harsh. Only a few years ago we used our watches to get our heart rate.if you don't measure your heart rate then you won't care, if you do you'll like the feature. I have an s5 and the heart rate monitor is good. It's basically a software feature, so it doesn't add anything to the cost. Although the app will connect to some external monitors too.
      timrichardson
  • Heart rate monitor

    I can't believe they put in a heart rate monitor that doesn't seem to work 75% of the time. The app on the iPhone works 99% of the time. As for needing, or not needing one. I figure if my heart stops, I will notice, but I do like being able to verify that it is still ticking regularly now and then. At my age, every day it works if a bonus, being beyond the 'three score years and ten', I am clearly out of warranty.
    rphunter1242
    • Heart Rate Monitor

      These hardware is cool but there are already some heart rate monitor which is also supporting low end phone, such as What's My Heart Rate (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.vitrox.facion.gui), which also quite accuracy compared to pulse oximeter. It provides options to detect your heart beat by using your face ( if you scare of dirt your lens) and finger of course :)
      ZWLau
  • Would love an article

    that shows how (or if) you can uninstall, or at least stop them from loading, all the 'crapware' apps like heart rate monitor, finger print reader, etc. apps.

    I have no desire to talk to my device to attempt to get it to function, or way my hand over it, or blink my eyes to do something etc.

    So an article that shows everything that comes in this phone and how/if you can remove or disable it would be great. (I suppose some of this is dictated if the phone is from Verizon, etc., but that would be an even better article to read as I suspect that most folks are getting the S5 from the cell phone provider.)
    Hemo2
  • S5 Great phone

    Good review. I've had the S5 for a week and love it. As far as internal memory the phone comes with 16 gigs internal and expandable up to 128. Unless you download every app there is 16g is more than enough. Fingerprint scan works well. You just can't move or press hard which most people do. Overall this is an awesome phone. You can hide alll the preinstalled large apps.
    Megatron313
  • S5

    Personally I love the S5, I have the S5 with AT&T and have found that it's an excellent phone. I haven't had hardly any trouble with either the fingerprint scan or heart rate monitor. I purchased a 32g Micro Sd and have found that to be more than enough space for me. Some will not care about a lot of the features on here. I've had it a little more than a week and so far it's been amazing! ! But hey! I'm a girl. I don't really get into the techy side, I just like a phone that works well and does what I want it to do.
    Danajnkn82
  • S5 customer support

    The hardware is only part of the story and this may be a nice piece of hardware. However, the software situation is different and Samsung are particularly slow at implementing Android updates. Ask anyone who has an S3 or S3 Mini who obtained their phones within the last 18 months.
    plucksgutter
  • Good review

    I've had an S5 for about 2 weeks and am definitely liking it. I'm not quite sure why I'm having much more success with the fingerprint scanner than many reviewers and posters. I've had a swipe scanner attached to my desktop for several years so maybe I'm just used to that kind of scanning. I did see a good tip in another review. Do 2 registrations of the finger that you'd scan most of the time. Do one of them following the straight down swipe as shown by the onscreen guide. Then do another at the "default" angle that you'd swipe with if you did so without aligning your finger to the guide. I'd guess that for most people, this would be roughly 290 degrees if you scan your right finger or 250 degrees if you scan your left finger (with the guided straight scan being at 270 degrees). Of course, this can vary by person. Note that it may take a few tries when registering to find exactly where on the front button is the best place to scan - once I found it, the rest went smoothly. Since I've registered the "finger at an angle", I have about a 90% success rate, which pretty much matches my success rate with my desktop. Maybe it's not as slick as the scanner on the iPhone, but it sure beats typing in a PIN every time you need to unlock it.
    dbrebel
  • good review

    A good review. The s5 is my first galaxy. The fingerprint scanner works for me. The brilliant keyboard must be based on swiftkey, it anticipates next words and it will scan your gmail, twitter and facebook to build a personal dictionary. Also the phone has much lower audio delay than the m7 so key clicks are useful. . Touchwiz isn't as bad as I was expecting although slow until you turn off animations. There are some nice little things. It supports usb3 and high speed charging, and the Bluetooth module sports the ultra low power mode, more areas where it's superior to the m8. I had an m7, lovely phone but the metal picks up nicks easily. Mind you, I doubt the S5 chrome plastic will wear well. Nothing saves a dropped phone like a good case and this is why most people use them which renders the design question moot for the typical user.
    timrichardson