Samsung Galaxy S5 review: Surpassing Apple iPhone 5s with brilliant performance, stunning camera

Price

51,500

Tech2 Rating

8.5

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Can the S5 rekindle the magic of its predecessors?
21
By Roydon Cerejo /  28 Apr 2014 , 17:45:55

Samsung has had a great start to 2014. First the Galaxy Note 3 Neo and now their flagship – the Galaxy S5. Samsung’s new poster boy has already received tremendous response in the short time that it launched. It already outsold Apple’s iPhone 5s in the US on the launch weekend. This is quite an achievement given how the US has been Apple’s proving ground for the longest time. Not only that, the S5 alone now accounts for nearly one percent of all Android phones around the globe.

So what’s so special about the S5? Why is a plastic phone priced like the iPhone 5s such a huge hit?

Design and Build

The Samsung Galaxy S5 hasn’t changed much in terms of design from its predecessor. It’s a little broader around the edges and the bezel is not as thins as the S4, perhaps due to the waterproofing. In fact it looks a lot like Samsung’s Note 3 Neo from the front. Their love affair with polycarbonate and faux-chrome continues with the new flagship as well. The S5 looks ‘blingy’ but not in a very pleasing way. If you kept this alongside Samsung’s budget offerings, it would be hard to tell it apart from the lot.

Good build but not to sure about the looks
Good build but not so sure about the looks

Having said that, the S5 is built well and there isn’t any flex or creaking plastic even when you apply pressure. The side bezel damages easily however but luckily, does a good job of absorbing the shock and protecting the display.

USB 3.0 for good measure
USB 3.0 for good measure

We have the usual assortment of ports all around, including the IR blaster on the top and a flap-covered USB 3.0 port at the bottom.

The waterproof seal around the back
The waterproof seal around the back

The rear cover is removable and instead of the faux-leather finish, we have water-repellent texture instead. The new surface is very easy to maintain as it doesn’t attract fingerprints or grime at all. In addition, you also get much better grip which is a nice upgrade from the S4.

The brand new 16MP ISOCELL camera
The brand new 16MP ISOCELL camera

On the top, we have Samsung’s in-house developed 16MP ISOCELL camera. We already had a taste of it during out shootout with the Gionee Elife E7’s 16MP BSI 2 sensor and were quite impressed with the results. More on that later though. Below, is the LED flash accompanied by the heart rate monitor.

Then fingerprint scanner works well most of the time
Then fingerprint scanner works well most of the time

The S5 also gets a finger print scanner in the front which can be used for unlocking your phone and other logins.

The heartrate monitor doings its thing
The heartrate monitor doing its thing

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S5 looks good (not so much in white though) and is built well. The most notable additions are the 16MP camera and the IP67 certification. The plastic body is going to be a hot topic subject among everyone but if you think about it, Samsung didn’t really have a choice. If they chose metal, like the HTC One M8, then waterproofing it was impossible. They could have gone with glass like Sony did with the Z2 but then there’s the fear of it shattering if you drop it. I guess polycarbonate was the best compromise among all the materials available.

Features

While not much has changed on the surface, there’s a whole lot going on under the hood. TouchWiz gets a much needed overhaul and looks more grown up. Samsung has gone with a flattened theme for the icon set and menus, which we thought was really nice. You have to brace yourself when going into settings however as there’s an overwhelming amount of options. This can be sorted by list view or grid view, neither of which makes it any easier to find what you’re looking for.

A fresh new look
A fresh new look

There are certain changes to the layout as well. Samsung’s ‘My Magazine’ app, now pulls out from the side instead of the bottom. There’s a new gesture as well which lets switches the entire OS in windowed mode. This can be resized so making it easier to use with one hand. The new ‘Toolbox’ feature lets access frequently used apps no matter which app you’re in. You can now choose to let videos open automatically in Multi Window mode. The trouble here is that there’s no easy way to switch to full screen directly through this method.

Some new tricks for the S5
Some new tricks for the S5

Samsung has also added Private Mode, which lets you hide any file on your phone. This is a very handy addition which lets you keep your personal files private from nosy friends. You can view your private files through the File Manager. The rest of the features that debuted with the S4 also make an appearance here, such as the auto-pausing and auto-scrolling features.

Private mode is a handy addition
Private mode is a handy addition

The S5 also gets its first ever fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor built-in. The former can be set up to recognise three fingers, which could be yours or even your family members. After having registered both my thumbs successfully, I noticed that the phone had no trouble recognising my right thumb but the left was a hit or miss situation. You also need to swipe your finger just right, else it won’t work.

Now there's really no excuse to not exercise
Now there’s really no excuse to not exercise

The heart rate monitor works in conjunction with the S Health app and is useful if you’re paranoid about staying healthy. It works well and you can do a lot more with the app like track your diet, check how many calories you’ve burnt, etc.

If wouldn’t be a Samsung phone without the occasional crashes and sadly, the S5 is no stranger to this. Despite being on KitKat 4.4.2, the S5 will lag intermittently and at times crawl to a halt, forcing you to restart the phone. We noticed this couple of times when listening to music. The song would just pause itself and OS would simply stop responding.

Water and dust? No problem at all
Water and dust? No problem at all

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is also dust and water resistant thanks to the IP67 certification. This means you can take the S5 for swim up to 1m without any issues. The coating on the display and the back gives the phone a duckback surface which allows the water to form beads and roll right off.

Stellar performance in benchmarks
Stellar performance in benchmarks

The Indian version of the Galaxy S5 (SM-G900H) is powered by the Exynos 5 Octa 5422 SoC. This consists of the four Cortex-A7 CPUs running at 1.3GHz and four Cortex-A15 CPUs running at 1.9GHz. Thanks to the new heterogeneous multi-processing like we saw on the Note 3 Neo, all four cores can be active at the same time. This lets the S5 distribute the work load across all cores so they never have to run at very high frequencies when gaming or even shooting 4K. This in turn also reduces the amount of heat generated which explains why the S5 only gets a bit warm even during the most strenuous of activities.

The S5 could have really done with 3GB of RAM considering the amount of services running
The S5 could have really done with 3GB of RAM

If we have a bone to pick, it would be the amount of RAM used. We don’t understand why Samsung wouldn’t use 3GB of RAM when last year’s Note 3 had it. 2GB is simply too little when you have a bloated skin like TouchWiz running. At any given point, there’s just 500MB of RAM that’s free for apps to use. The rest is being used by Samsung and Google services. This could explain the intermittent crashes and slow downs.

The 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display is nothing short of stunning. Images and text are sharp and vivid and the S5 also exhibits very good sunlight legibility.

Media

Media playback is excellent as always. The new skin for the music player is slick and minimalistic. Samsung has also added some fun animations when you flick through the album art of your tracks. You get the usual suite of sound enhancements like SoundAlive, Adapt Sound and Smart Volume. The music player also display’s a full screen album art on the lock screen, which is pretty cool.

Music playback is very good as always
Music playback is very good as always

The video player can now playback 4K content as well in addition to the wide array of codecs. The ‘Devices’ tab allows you to easily stream video from your home network as well, right within the app. The S5 has a tight knit integration with Dropbox so you can pick and choose which Dropbox videos or pictures show up in the player or the gallery.

4K video support FTW!
4K video support FTW!

Speaking of the gallery, the new redesigned app is really good. Apart from sorting your pictures by album and time, you can also filter it to show you images of people, scenery, documents, food, pets, vehicles or flowers. Samsung automatically sorts all your pictures in the right category, without you needing to tag anything. This works surprisingly well and is quite accurate almost all the time.

Connectivity

The S5 has all the latest connectivity features one would expect from the flagship. There’s quad-band 3G and 2G to begin with, followed by dual-band Wi-Fi ‘ac’, Bluetooth v4.0, MHL, NFC, infra red sensor, GLONASS and USB 3.0 with host support. Call quality is superb and the loud speaker is audible as well, even though it’s just mono. The Smart Remote app lets you control most of your home equipment through the IR port.

The S5 supports USB OTG
The S5 supports USB OTG

Camera

The 16MP ISOCELL camera easily steals the show and it is what defines the S5. We’ve talked a bit about Samsung’s new sensor in our camera comparison with the Gionee Elife E7. Basically, the sensor uses physical barriers around individual pixels to prevent crosstalk. This allows each pixel to absorb more light and avoid interference with neighbouring pixels which in turn leads to more accurate colours and contrast, not to mention deeper blacks.

the new camera UI is pretty slick
The new camera UI is pretty slick

The new interface looks neater and we have some new additions to some familiar features. For starters there’s the new live HDR mode and selective focus, both of which work extremely well. You also get 4K video recording, slow motion video and my favourite, smooth motion. The latter captures 1080p video at 60fps which is quite stunning to say the least.

Lo-light shots are pretty good
Low-light shots are pretty good
The selective focus mode offers some stunning macros
The selective focus mode offers some stunning macros
Burst mode is pretty darn good too
Burst mode is pretty darn good too
Another stunning macro at 100% crop
Another stunning macro at 100% crop
The new HDR mode can do wonders
The new HDR mode can do wonders

Battery Life

The 2800mAh battery does a good job of providing all-day battery life. You can squeeze out a little more by switching to ‘Power saver’ mode. This turns the S5’s display into a monochrome one. However, if you wish to prolong the stand by time even further, there’s something called ‘Ultra power saver’ mode. This kills most of the background services with just the basic features like cellular network and 3G data. You can selectively add apps that you wish to use in this mode like WhatsApp for instance. You even get a very basic UI in this mode with no app drawer or animations to waste what little battery you have left.

Battery life is pretty good and can be enhanced further with the power saver modes
Battery life is pretty good and can be enhanced further with the power saver modes

Verdict and Price in India

There’s a good reason why the Samsung Galaxy S5 is so popular. Underneath the high price and plastic body lies a very good smartphone that has come a long way from the initial days of the Galaxy S. Compared to its predecessor, the S5 is an evolutionary upgrade just like the HTC One M8 or the Sony Xperia Z2 are to their counterparts.

While many will be put off with yet another plastic phone from Samsung, we don’t think they had much of a choice given the new features that are present. It’s certainly not a premium looking phone but I guess that’s the compromise Samsung has had to make. I do think they could have done a better job with polycarbonate though. Just look at what HTC did with the One X or Nokia with the Lumia 1520.

There's a lot to like in the S5 but the price makes you want to cry
There’s a lot to like in the S5 but the price makes you want to cry

Spending Rs 51,500 on a smartphone is just insane but if you must, then the S5 is definitely a better pick than the Apple iPhone 5s as far as features and performance is concerned. HTC’s One M8 will soon go on sale from May 7 onwards and that’s going to be slightly cheaper than the S5. They are both equally powerful in terms of hardware features and the M8 certainly has a clear edge when it comes to design and sound. However, the camera still lags behind the S5, not to mention you’ll have to forfeit the IP67 stamp and other fitness features.

Compared to the Galaxy S4, the S5 is highly overpriced and if you have budget constraints, we recommend you pick up the S4 eyes closed as it offers immense value for the price it’s currently retailing at.

If you’re having a tough time deciding between the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S5, we’ll recommend the S5 for its brilliant camera and amphibious abilities.


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