Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Top-notch specs, less software bloat

  • Editors' rating
    8.8 Outstanding
  • $139.99


  • Good battery life
  • Software bloat has been reduced
  • Nice usability features


  • Plastic chassis
  • Fingerprint scanner is tricky to use
  • Average-quality sound from speaker

Samsung is the global leader in the smartphone market, with 31.2 percent in Q1 2014 according to analyst firm Strategy Analytics (down from 32.4% in Q1 2013). Although Samsung's 2013 flagship Galaxy S4 won multiple awards, it also received criticism for having too much software on-board, too many user interface tweaks and too much plastic in its construction. So how, if at all, has this year's model, the Galaxy S5, addressed these criticisms?


If Samsung is concerned about criticism of the Galaxy S4's build materials, there's no evidence in the S5: it's plastic all the way again -- even down to the silvered fake-metal banding around the handset's edges, which has a shaped rather than a flat finish. A plastic body clearly doesn't harm sales, and does help to keep the weight down, but it doesn't win Samsung many design plaudits.

The Galaxy S5 looks similar to 2013's S4, but has a slightly larger 5.1-inch screen, a fingerprint scanner built into the home button and a textured backplate. The new heart rate scanner is beneath the camera lens. Image: Samsung

The back of the handset has a pricked, indented design and a soft-touch finish. It ties in with the faux leather look-and-feel that's used on recent Samsung tablets such as the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 . It makes for a nicer feel in the hand than the slippery back of the Galaxy S4.

Beneath the screen is the familiar physical home button, which helps to identify this as a Samsung handset. For the first time, this button incorporates a fingerprint scanner, although this is not evident at first glance.

On its own, the Galaxy S5 looks fine. But sat next to its two main rivals, the HTC One (M8) and the Sony Xperia Z2 , the choice of premium-grade materials in the competing devices gives them a far more upmarket feel.

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The Galaxy S5 has an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, hence the cover over the Micro-USB 3.0 port on the bottom edge. Image: Samsung

The button arrangement is sensible, with the power button on the right side and volume on the left. The headset slot is on the top, along with an IR zapper, while the bottom edge houses a long MicroUSB 3.0 port (which also supports standard USB 2.0 cables).

Like Sony's Xperia Z2, the Galaxy S5 has waterproofing and dust resistance to IP67 standard ('6' signifies complete dust protection; '7' signifies the ability to withstand immersion in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes). Pop-up reminders to check the backplate and close the USB cover can be an irritation, but we found that securing the backplate all around after inserting a Micro-SIM or swapping a MicroSD card was fiddly, so the reminder is actually useful. Rather a mildly annoying reminder than a dead handset that's been dropped in the bath.

The screen measures 5.1 inches across the diagonal and delivers a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving an excellent pixel density of 432ppi. The Super AMOLED panel is superbly sharp and bright, with good viewing angles and rich colours. You can alter the colour saturation manually or allow the handset to select the best setting depending on what you're doing -- reading books or watching video, for example.

Because it can be difficult to reach right across the 5.1-inch screen with one hand, Samsung has implemented a One-Handed Operation mode. This is easily invoked by sweeping a thumb from the screen's edge to its centre and back again (you revert to the full-sized screen using the same gesture).

In one-handed operation mode, the display shrinks and moves to one side of the 5.1-inch screen for easier access. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

In one-handed mode, you get a smaller virtual display moved to one side of the physical screen (you choose which side, depending on whether you're right- or left-handed). It's a clever solution that provides quick access to a system that functions in every application. We used it a lot while standing on public transport, quickly flicking back to full-screen mode as required.

You can register up to three fingers to work with the fingerprint scanner on the home button. You use it by sweeping a finger downwards across it, starting at the bottom of the touchscreen, which also has a role to play here. After three failures you're left with the traditional option of entering a password -- and, of course, you can ignore the scanner and just take the password route as your first choice.

The heart rate monitor integrates with Samsung's S Health app. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Samsung has an eye on the wellness market, as we saw with the S Health app on the Samsung Galaxy S4. S Health is here again, and includes a pedometer and food logger. It also keeps a record of your heart rate via a sensor on the back of the handset, beneath the camera lens. Rest a finger on this sensor and it will provide an accurate measure in just a few seconds. It's no substitute for the kind of heart rate monitoring that's available during exercise, but could be useful. No other smartphone currently incorporates this feature natively.

Sound quality through the Galaxy S5's single speaker is not great -- in fact, compared to the superb audio quality from the HTC One (M8), it's verging on the embarrassing for Samsung.


Samsung's flagship handset naturally has a top-notch set of internal specifications. It runs a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC supported by 2GB of RAM and is blisteringly fast. There is 16GB of internal storage, of which we found 11.2GB available to the user out of the box.

The Galaxy S5 is GSM/3G (UMTS)/4G (LTE) handset with dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0. As noted above, the handset has a MicroUSB 3.0 port, which supports USB On The Go (OTG) and Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). Infrared and NFC are also supported, while there are sensors for gestures, fingerprints, heart rate, hall effect, accelerometer, geomagnetism, gyroscope, light intensity, barometer and proximity.

A 16-megapixel rear camera with flash complements a 2-megapixel front camera. The main rear camera supports 4K video capture (3,840-by-2,160 pixels) at 30 frames per second, while the secondary front camera will do full-HD video (1080p) at 30fps.

To help with downloading there's a feature called Download Booster that combines the LTE and wi-fi connections to accelerate large file downloads. How much this will benefit people in practice is debatable -- we tend to stick to wi-fi for large file downloads, for example, to avoid racking up data charges on the mobile broadband network.

We've already mentioned some of Samsung's many software additions to the Galaxy S5. Both the TouchWiz skin sitting on top of Android 4.4 (KitKat) and the extra apps are a key part of the Samsung brand. Criticised in the past for too much software bloat, we're pleased to note that Samsung does seem to have reined in its everthying-but-the-kitchen-sink tendency.

S Translator, for example, is gone. You can easily download Samsung apps from its own app store, and the absence of clutter out of the box is a welcome relief. Samsung has included some of its own-branded apps, though: S Health is joined by S Planner, S Voice and a good note-taking app called Memo.

The gesture- and motion-based features that many Samsung handset users like are still here. Smart Stay keeps the screen on while you're looking at it, for example, while Air View lets you preview content by hovering your finger over it; you can also call a contact displayed on-screen simply by bringing the phone to your ear, and there's plenty more gesture-based functionality. Multi Window -- the facility to view two apps on-screen at once -- is also retained, and works quite well on the relatively large 5.1-inch screen.

Samsung's new-look settings and notifications screens. Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Samsung has skinned and reorganised the settings area, making items easier to find using a neat design based around circular icons. This look is echoed in the extensive range of settings and services accessible via the notifications area.

If the Galaxy S5's feature set is overwhelming, you can use the simplified Easy Mode interface. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet UK

Despite the obvious attempt to trim back the software offering there's still a lot going on here. So for those who are easily overwhelmed, there's an Easy Mode that uses a simplified screen layout and larger font size. My Magazine, Samsung's news aggregator, occupies a home screen in standard mode, but isn't present in Easy Mode.

Anecdotally, we found the Galaxy S5's battery life to be good, with the 2,800mAh battery keeping us going for a day between charges. For the record, Samsung claims up to 12 hours of internet usage time on wi-fi (11h on 3G, 10h on LTE), 13h of video playback time, 21h of talk time and 67h of music playback time.


Samsung has done a good job with the Galaxy S5, which costs £579 (inc. VAT; £482.50 ex. VAT) on Samsung's UK website. The software bloat has been pared down and a few useful new features added, while the technical specifications are superb and battery life is good. Design purists may bemoan the plastic chassis, but the Galaxy S5 is still a worthy successor to last year's model.


Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert, Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, flight mode, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, pedometer, digital compass, barometer, gyro sensor, gesture, RGB sensor, heart rate
Additional Features TTY compatible, E-911 compliant, Speech-to-Text (speech recognition), Text-to-Speech (text recognition), multitasking, Samsung Approved for Enterprise (SAFE), S Beam, infrared remote control, Dual Camera function, Group Play function, Dual Recording, Multi Window, MIMO technology, Kids Mode, Private Mode, Ultra Power Saving Mode, Emergency Mode, Download booster, TTY compatible, Speech-to-Text (speech recognition), Text-to-Speech (text recognition), multitasking, Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), Samsung Approved for Enterprise (SAFE), Face tag, Tag buddy, infrared remote control, Samsung Smart Pause/Smart Scroll, Air View/Air Gesture, Dual Camera function, Group Play function, Multi Window, MIMO technology, Kids Mode, Private Mode, Ultra Power Saving Mode, Emergency Mode, Download booster
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
SAR Value 1.28 W/kg (body) / 0.85 W/kg (head), 1.47 W/kg (body) / 1.07 W/kg (head), 1.37 W/kg (body) / 1.2 W/kg (head), 1.48 W/kg (body) / 1.22 W/kg (head), 1.59 W/kg (body) / 1.23 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, voice recorder, heart rate sensor, navigation
Body Color Charcoal black
Technology CDMA2000 1X, CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS), WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Application Software Amazon Appstore, DropBox, Amazon Shopping, AT&T DriveMode, Adobe Flash Player 11, Amazon Kindle, Flipboard, City ID, Google Chrome, Amazon MP3, Microsoft Direct Push, Newsstand, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Gallery, Photos, S Health, Google Drive, Gear Manager, S Memo, S Voice, Memo, S Translator, Samsung KNOX, IMDb Movies & TV, ISIS Mobile Wallet, Samsung Widget Gallery, Samsung Link, Visual Voicemail, Polaris Office 5, Samsung WatchON, My Verizon Mobile, Sprint NBA Game Time, Slacker Radio, Samsung Smart Switch Mobile, Smart Remote, Wi-Fi Now
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components front-facing camera, FM radio, heart rate sensor, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900, CDMA2000 1X 800 / AWS /1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel, U.S. Cellular
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), Android 4.4 (KitKat)
User Interface Samsung TouchWiz
SIM Card Type micro SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Sensors accelerometer, RGB sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gesture, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor, pedometer
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features Adobe Flash support, Microsoft Excel support, Microsoft PowerPoint support, Microsoft Word support
Mobile Services Amazon Shopping, Amazon Appstore, DropBox, Adobe Flash Player 11, AT&T Address Book, Flipboard, AT&T DriveMode, City ID, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Gmail, AT&T Locker, AT&T Mobile TV, Google Chrome, Gallery, AT&T Navigator, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Play, Gear Manager, Google Play Books, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Google Search by Voice, Newsstand, NASCAR Mobile '13, Photos, Picasa, Memo, S Health, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, S Memo, MSN Hotmail, IMDb Movies & TV, Microsoft Direct Push, S Voice, Samsung ChatON, S Translator, ISIS Mobile Wallet, Polaris Office 5, Samsung KNOX, Samsung Widget Gallery, My Verizon Mobile, T-Mobile TV, Samsung Link, Video Call, Samsung WatchON, Visual Voicemail, YouTube, Sprint Direct Connect, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint NBA Game Time, Samsung Smart Switch Mobile, Slacker Radio, Sprint TV, Smart Remote, Sprint Zone, VZ Navigator, Tone Room Deluxe, Yahoo! Mail, Wi-Fi Now, myAT&T, Your Navigator Deluxe
Messaging Services Google Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3, SMTP
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Google+, Facebook, Twitter
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
4G LTE Band Band 13, Band 1, Band 12, Band 25, Band 17, Band 4, Band 26, Band 41, Band 2, Band 3, Band 5, Band 7, Band 8
Wireless Interface ANT+/ANT, Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Distribution Transport Protocol (AVDTP), Audio/Video Control Transport Protocol (AVCTP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Device ID Profile (DIP), HID Over GATT Profile (HOGP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Headset Profile (HSP), General Audio/Video Distribution Profile (GAVDP), Generic Object Exchange Profile (GOEP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Message Access Profile (MAP), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), OBject EXchange (OBEX), SIM Access Profile (SAP), Serial Port Profile (SPP), Service Discovery Application Profile (SDAP), Service Discovery Protocol (SDP)
Clock Speed 2.5 GHz
Type Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty quad-core
Technology Full HD Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Display Format Full HD
Pixel Density (ppi) 432
Diagonal Size 5.1 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.1 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Personal Information Management alarm clock, alarm clock with snooze, calculator, calendar, countdown timer, reminder, synchronization with PC, stopwatch
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features Audio Zooming function, Beauty face, Multi-shots, Buddy photo share, Best photo function, Geo-tagging, Burst mode, Slow motion video, BurstShot, CMOS sensor, Zero Shutter Lag, face detection, video recording, video stabilizer, panoramic pictures, picture stabilizer, self-timer, tap to focus
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, FLV, AVI, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, 3GP, M4V, WebM, MKV, VC-1, FLV, AVC, AVI, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, DivX, 3GP, H.264, H.263, M4V, WebM, MP43
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, ASF, Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MP3, FLAC, XMF, AAC +, OGG, eAAC+, MIDI, M4A, WAV, WMA, AAC, AMR, MP3, FLAC, XMF, OGG, MIDI, M4A, WAV, WMA, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MP3, FLAC, XMF, AAC +, OGG, eAAC+, MIDI, M4A, eAAC
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps, AT&T Navigator, VZ Navigator, Your Navigator Deluxe
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC - up to 128 GB
Technology Lithium ion
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1740 min
Active online usage (WCDMA): up to 11 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 12 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 13 hrs
Playback (video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (music): up to 77 hrs
Standby (WCDMA): up to 480 hrs
Standby (LTE): up to 480 hrs
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1740 min
Active online usage: up to 11 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 12 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 13 hrs
Playback (video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (music): up to 77 hrs
Standby: up to 480 hrs
Standby (LTE): up to 480 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
White Balance presets
Camera Light Source LED light
Video Recorder Resolutions 3840 x 2160, 1920 x 1080 (1080p)
Features Audio Zooming function, Beauty face, Multi-shots, Buddy photo share, Best photo function, Geo-tagging, Burst mode, Slow motion video, BurstShot, CMOS sensor, Zero Shutter Lag, face detection, video recording, video stabilizer, panoramic pictures, picture stabilizer, self-timer, tap to focus
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps, AT&T Navigator, VZ Navigator, Your Navigator Deluxe
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model S5
Packaged Quantity 1
Connector Type MHL (Micro-USB) - 21-pin Micro-USB 3.0 Type B
Headset jack - mini-phone 3.5 mm
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Sensors accelerometer, RGB sensor, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gesture, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, proximity sensor, pedometer
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features Download booster, Air View/Air Gesture, Dual Camera function, Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), Dual Recording, E-911 compliant, Emergency Mode, Group Play function, Kids Mode, Face tag, MIMO technology, HD Voice, Private Mode, Multi Window, S Beam, Samsung Approved for Enterprise (SAFE), Samsung Smart Pause/Smart Scroll, Smart Unlock, Speech-to-Text (speech recognition), TTY compatible, Samsung Link (AllShare Play), Text-to-Speech (text recognition), Tag buddy, Ultra Power Saving Mode, infrared remote control, multitasking, software updates FOTA (Firmware Over The Air)
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AMR, FLAC, ASF, M4A, MIDI, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, XMF, QCP, eAAC
Supported Digital Video Standards 3GP, ASF, AVI, AVC, FLV, M4V, DivX, MKV, H.263, MPEG-4, H.264, WMV, WebM, MP43, VC-1, TS
Installed Size 2 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 16 GB
Max Supported Size 128 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 16 megapixels

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Samsung Galaxy S5 - Charcoal Black

Part Number: SM-G900PZKASPR