The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a well refined piece of hardware; it’s not a game-breaking, revolutionary device that blows the its predecessor or the competition out of the water, but Samsung has made a number of welcome improvements in key areas and sometimes that's just what we need in annual updates.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC at the heart of the device is the most powerful ARM chipset going around, clocking in at around twice as fast as the Galaxy S4’s Snapdragon 600. There’s no shortage of power in the S5, while energy efficiency has improved to give a respectable gain in battery life, thanks to display and SoC-side refinements.
Speaking of the display, we really have a winner on our hands here. Samsung still hasn’t managed to nail the color accuracy of their Super AMOLED panels, but the vibrancy, balance and overall quality of the S5’s display has really brought the technology back to a competitive level. Add in significant improvements to outdoor readability, plus a class-leading contrast ratio, and this is a display you’ll want to spend hours admiring.
Samsung has stood on the sidelines while rivals pursued low-light smartphone photography hardware, and it doesn’t seem to matter. The Galaxy S5’s camera provides fantastic results across most conditions, but in strong lighting results are truly phenomenal, complemented by a superb near-real-time HDR mode and 4K video recording.
Sure, the software image stabilizer can only go so far at improving photos taken in bad lighting – you’ll definitely get better results from your Nokia Lumia or HTC One at night – but I’d happily take the Galaxy S5’s 16 solid megapixels over HTC’s uninspiring 4-megapixel offering. Undoubtedly there’s still room for improvement through OIS, larger pixels, and better lenses, though I’m still quite content with what the S5 brings to the table today.
Samsung has finally received the message on horrible plastic exteriors, with the Galaxy S5 receiving a rear cover that actually looks and feels nice. The Galaxy S5 is an ergonomic, water resistant smartphone that fits well in the hand, though it still lacks the premium touch that blesses high-end competitors from Apple, HTC, Sony and others.
The two major additions to the Galaxy S5, the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor, aren’t what I’d describe as useful additions. The swipe-style fingerprint scanner is frustrating to use and tricky to master, making it a feature that should (and likely will) be ignored. I generally liked the health-centric focus of the handset, and praise should be given for its solid S Health application; however the heart rate monitor is limited and impractical, keeping it to nothing more than a cool gizmo.
TouchWiz has been overhauled for the better, removing a large collection of pointless gimmicks and general clutter in favour of a more concise, visually appealing Android skin. With that said though, it’s still quite ‘heavy’ and meshes poorly with stock Android elements, not to mention the atrocious settings screen that requires a serious clean-up.
At the end of the day, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a fine flagship smartphone that meets most criteria. Many refinements to the formula are great, others not so much, but the overall package is one that users should generally like and enjoy to use, current S4 owners included.
Pros: The AMOLED is back and it looks better than ever. Fast, efficient Snapdragon 801 powers through tasks without struggle. Great camera, especially in good lighting. Improvements to software and design.
Cons: Fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor aren’t well implemented. Settings screen is terrible. Lacks the polish of its high-end competitors.