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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
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:

Editorial standards