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Galaxy S5, a solid improvement | REVIEW

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Galaxy S5, a solid improvement | REVIEW

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THE SHORT REVIEW

THE LONG REVIEW

PROs : Samsung’s Galaxy S5 excels at everything that matters — Android 4.4 KitKat OS; a bright, beautiful display; blistering quad-core processor; and an excellent camera experience. In addition, Samsung’s efforts to streamline its own custom interface and reduce pre-installed bloatware pay off.

CONs : The Galaxy S5 is a only small upgrade over the Galaxy S4. The fingerprint scanner can be confusing to use, and the heart-rate monitor is a niche feature at best. In some regions, the Galaxy S5 costs significantly more than rival top-rated handsets.

The Galaxy S5 absolutely is a premium, fast phone that I would buy and use every day. Its improvements over the Galaxy S4 are small, but they add up to a smoother experience. The phone’s high-quality camera won’t let you down, there are plenty of features to keep you occupied, and the display is bright and beautiful. And even though it is plastic, the water-resistant seals are an extra perk if you often head to the pool, hot tub, or beach.

If those things matter to you, or if you’ve always been a Galaxy phone fan, then by all means grab the Galaxy S5. And of course, if you’ve ordered a Gear Fit, Gear 2, or Gear 2 Neo, or you already own the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it’s a no-brainer; it’s one of the select Samsung phones that will work with these wearables.

I would, however, skip the Galaxy S5 if you like metal covering your smartphone, if you don’t need every feature under the sun, or if you prefer a cleaner version of Android. Also move along if you’re on a budget — in some regions, the Galaxy S5 costs significantly more than other premium handsets.

Subtly improved and smartly refined, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a superior superphone that hits every mark but the sharpest design.

Here’s why the Samsung Galaxy S5 should grab your attention: it looks good, it performs very well, and it has everything you need to become a fixture in nearly every aspect of your life. But, like a candidate running for reelection, the GS5 gets where it is today based on experience and wisdom, not on flashy features or massive innovation.

With the exception of a few nonessential hardware and software additions — like the fingerprint scanner and novel heart-rate monitor — and a few design tweaks, you’re pretty much looking at the same phone Samsung released in 2013. The S5 is more of a Galaxy S4 Plus than it is a slam-the-brakes, next-generation device; it makes everything just a little smoother and faster.

However, it isn’t the only phone worth your time. The gorgeous, all-metal HTC One M8 has a more sophisticated design, better speakers, and greater internal storage for about the same price (32GB versus 16GB). The LG G3 also has an ultra-sharp 1,440p display and comparably robust specs. In addition, Apple finally yielded to its big screen competitors and beefed up its new iPhone 6 (and even larger iPhone 6 Plus) with a 4.7- and 5.5-inch display, and plenty of powerful hardware. Should you buy the GS5?

 

Design

When it designed the Galaxy S5, Samsung didn’t stray too far for inspiration. Indeed, from the front, you can barely tell the Galaxy S4 and S5 apart. The S5’s rounded rectangle is stamped from the same steep-sided, silvery-trimmed mold as the S4’s, but with an ever-so-slightly more capsule-shaped central home button.

The back panel motif is different. Tiny dimples cover a rear cover that’s blessedly matte instead of coated in reflective gloop. In addition to cutting down glare, the more subdued surface masks accumulated fingerprints. The Galaxy S5 comes in black and creamy white shades, but Samsung has also shown it off in enticing copper and bright blue. Not every market or carrier will sell each color, but at least Samsung has decided to expand its palette to some livelier hues.

galaxy s5At the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels like it always has: like plastic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if Samsung is at all striving for loftier ambitions, it hasn’t reached the heights of HTC’s luxe brushed aluminum or even Sony’s sleek style.

External controls are where you expect them on a Samsung phone: power is on the right, the headset jack is up top, next to the IR blaster that’s made its triumphant return to control your TV with Samsung’s matching app. On the back, the new heart rate monitor cleverly integrates with the camera’s LED flash.

What is a little different is the USB housing on the bottom of the phone. Like the Galaxy Note 3, the S5 now features the elongated USB 3.0 port, which is backward-compatible with standard micro-USB cables. In other words, you can still charge the phone with legacy USB cables, but it’ll really juice up quickly with the compound USB 3.0 cable Samsung supplies.

A cover that clips securely into place is one indication that the S5 has met IP67 standard for water- and dust-resistance. A rubberized gasket behind the back cover is another clue. Feedback about the waterproof Galaxy S4 Active prompted Samsung to send the Galaxy S5 down its waterproof path, which means that it can take a bath for up to 30 minutes at about 3 feet down.

The GS5 is only a fraction larger than the Galaxy S4: it measures 5.59 inches tall by 2.85 inches wide by 0.32-inch deep, or 142mm by 72.5mm by 8.1mm; and it weighs 5.1 ounces, or 145 grams


 Display

This new phone, too, has a 5.1-inch 1080p HD AMOLED display that’s 0.1-inch bigger than the Galaxy S4’s. That means that the screen’s pixel density is just a breath looser, though you’ll never notice the difference. Images are still extremely crisp and colorful, with high contrast and hard edges. HD photos and videos look especially lush.

Samsung does boasts about a new display panel and accompanying technology that help the phone adapt its display more accurately to different lighting scenarios. This is one of those small improvements that few will notice so long as it’s working.

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If performance clinches the deal for you, the Galaxy S5 is one mean speed demon. Its 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor is at the top of its game, which reflects in both real-world and diagnostic tests. Apps opened without much delay, and content loaded quickly. After using the Galaxy S5 for a week, the S4 definitely felt a tick slower.

Navigation felt smooth and fast, thanks to the consistently strong  upload and download LTE speeds.

FCC tests measured a digital SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram.

The Galaxy S5 has 16GB internal storage, though it’s also on sale for 32GB; both variations have 2GB RAM and expansion slots that take up to 128GB in external storage.


 Software

The GS5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat, with Samsung’s latest proprietary TouchWiz interface extending the OS with extra abilities. What’s different is mostly subtle, like a Google services folder loaded onto the home screen, and an onscreen menu button in nearly every window, like the app tray, for instance.

gs5interface.png

Pull down the notifications tray and you’ll notice two new quick-access buttons for S Finder, which operates like universal search, and Quick Connect, which helps you share content with other devices. Swipe right from the Home screen and you’ll see the customizable My Magazine newsfeed.

The S5’s Settings menu is one area that’s clearly received a visual overhaul with this new TouchWiz. You get a black backdrop, circular icons, and a choice of layouts.

Ultra power-saving mode is for those of you who forget your charger when you leave for a weekend trip. A quick press of a button turns off most connections and transforms your phone from technicolor to grayscale. Limiting color, apps, and activities boosts your phone’s run time immensely; we’re talking days, depending on how much charge you have left. Samsung says that with 10 percent battery left, you’ll be able to make it another 24 hours before charging

samsung-galaxy-s5-6917-008.jpg

Another new software tidbit, download booster, joins together your Wi-Fi and carrier data connections to give you faster download speeds. Since it works behind the scenes, this is another one of those features that most people won’t actively notice, so long as it’s doing its job.

One that you will see, and which Samsung hopes you incorporate into your daily routine, in the updated S Health app and widgets, to try to draw fitness-interest folks of all levels. A pedometer and exercise scorecard meets a built-in nutrition monitor and all-new heart-rate tracker . The new S Health is nice for casual observers, but it needs more rigorous on-screen stats if it wants to compete with sophisticated apps like Endomondo, which also tracks you on a map in real-time and makes elevation rates and pacing numbers easier to find. In S Health, you have to dig through a log for the finer details.


Battery

That said, the phone’s 2,800mAh ticker took my pummeling in stride. Its reserves predictably dropped the more videos I streamed — a lot — but didn’t drain much overnight when I left it, unplugged, as my alarm. It’s always tough to tell battery-life needs when you’re intensely testing a new phone, which requires constant use, even during times you may ordinarily lay your phone down. In our video runtime test, the Galaxy S5 clocked an impressive 15 hours, 18 minutes of video playback before shutting down.


 Camera

Already on the forefront of smartphone camera tech, Samsung has bumped up the S5’s camera megapixel count from 13 to 16. Images taken on automatic mode are characteristically colorful and clear, especially those taken in ample natural light. Samsung’s new, co-processing power and Isocell sensor together make the camera quicker, low light images clearer, and some of the neat tricks you’ll read about possible. Low light has been a weak point for Samsung in the past, and the Galaxy S5 seems to have indeed improved photos taken without a flash in dim environments.

Video captured in the phone’s default 1080p HD resolution is equally beautiful and smooth. However, if you duck into the settings, you can also turn on UHD video, or ultra-HD, which is also known as 4K video.


 

Call quality

For the most part, audio was extremely clear, without background haze or interruptions. Voices sounded natural, and loud enough when I increased the volume. As with other Samsung phones, the Galaxy S5 has a digital sound-booster, but this routinely introduces aural imperfections, like buzzing and scratchiness, so I wouldn’t recommend it.


Pricing

It’s available in black, white, blue, and gold (though some colors are specific to some carriers) with a 16GB capacity. Off-contract, the phone costs $660 to $700 in the US.

AT&T: Starting at $200 (with a two-year contract). Buy the Galaxy S5 from AT&T

Sprint: Starting at $200 (with a two-year contract). Buy the Galaxy S5 from Sprint

T-Mobile: $0 down plus $27.50 per month with service for two years. After two years, your bill drops by $27.50.. Buy the Galaxy S5 from T-Mobile

Verizon: Starting at $200 (with a two-year contract). Buy the Galaxy S5 from Verizon

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