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April 11, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S5 Review

The Galaxy S5 is the 5th-generation of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S line and, like the Apple iPhone, has gone thru many years of refinement. Check out our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 after the break.

Announced in Mobile World Congress in Barcelona back in February, the Galaxy S5 tried to incorporate features and functions to make itself the singular, most-compelling handset in Samsung’s line-up.

In this review, we gave more attention and focus on those new features to see if the improvements were apt or it was another round of gimmicky inclusions.

Design & Construction.

The design signature of the Galaxy S5 has minimally changed compared to the Galaxy S4 from last year. The size, form and shape are almost the same. In fact, looking at it for the first time will confuse you that the S5 is indeed still the S4.

The handset looked plain and simple with its two-tone color (our review unit is black with silver trimming) and all-glass front panel surrounded by a metallic silver frame.

The unit is thin and feels light on the hands, has a good grip and just right to hold with one hand.

The volume control is on the upper left side while the power button is on the right. The 3.5mm audio port is on top along with the noise-cancelling mic and the IR blaster. At the bottom end is the USB 3.0 charging port which is sealed by a flap cover.

At the back is the 16MP rear camera with the LED flash just below it. The back cover is removable and has a rubbery feel to it with dimpled markings, probably to add grip especially when the device is subjected to water.

The polycarbonate material used in the body of the Galaxy S5 remains part of the genetic make-up of the Galaxy line. At least the device maintains its light weight and allows for removable back cover despite the water and dust resistance.

The corners are less rounded compared to the Galaxy S4, but device is still taller than the latter making it look closer to the Note 3. The bottom corner of the front panel has 2 soft buttons, Back & Recent Apps, while the middle physical button is for Home which also serves as the finger print scanner.

We’re really torn about the Galaxy S5 in the design department — on one hand, it’s a nicely done and upgraded version of the Galaxy S4 Active; on the other hand, it looks like a ruggedized yet uglier version of the Galaxy S4 with all the best hardware tucked inside.

Display.

The S5 features a 5.1-inch display using their very own Super AMOLED technology. With a resolution of 1080×1920 pixels, that brings the pixel density to 432ppi.

Super AMOLED is a Samsung standard for their flagship devices and the one they used in the Galaxy S5 looked stunning. Images are crisp and clear, the colors are bright and rich with a deep dark contrast. We still noticed that little bit of greenish hue for white backgrounds or images though.

One thing that we notice though is that the screen-to-bezel ratio of the Galaxy S5 is lower than the Galaxy S4. The bezels on the sides are thicker and the top and bottom bezels are also taller or wider. We don’t have a definitive reason why but it could be due to the IP67 rating that they had to implement the changes.

AMOLEDs have problems with outdoor visibility due to their level of brightness but it looks like Samsung has improved their display in the Galaxy S5 as it is now able to stand along other IPS LCD displays in terms of outdoor visibility and brightness levels.

OS, Apps and UI.

The Galaxy S5 came with Kitkat right out of the box, an advantage they had since partnering with Google in the Nexus program many years back.

The new TouchWiz UI looks spiffy, with a flat vector design. Samsung did a lot of refinements with the custom UI, themes and icons. Samsung continued its efforts from the Galaxy S4 to bring additional software features to the Galaxy S5 which includes an improved S Health, S Voice and S Planner.

There were a few more bloatwares that got introduced — Galaxy Gifts, Galaxy Essentials, Samsung Apps. The Smart Remote is the native app controller as remote control for IR-based devices like TVs, air conditioners, DVD players, etc (the app is powered by Peel).

Camera and Multimedia.

Samsung has been doing good with their cameras since the Galaxy S2 and they’ve continued to improve it since then. The Galaxy S5 is no exception with its powerful 16MP sensor that can capture 4K videos at 30fps.

The sensor can focus on the subjects really fast, captures the fine details and take really good low-light images. Photos and videos look rich and vibrant as well as the videos.

Here are sample photos taken with the Galaxy S5:

Here’s a sample video clip in full HD:

The speaker grills at the back is loud but can be easily muffled when you hold the phone or place it on its back (it’s a speaker positioning issue). It’s a bit tinny at maximum volume and backs a bit of bass. The back cover vibrates a lot due to the very thin layer and the placement — that also adds to some distortion in the sound (especially with voices in TV shows or movies).

Fingerprint Scanner.

Samsung took a page from Apple’s handbook with the fingerprint sensor. Its main function is for security with logging into the device. To register your fingerprints, just run the Fingerprint Manager and swipe any finger several times so the sensor can capture the correct print pattern. You can register a maximum of 3 fingerprints.

However, we observed that you need to swipe your finger across the scanner in order for it to be recognized. Simply putting the finger on top of the scanner will not suffice, unlike the way Apple did it with the iPhone 5S.

Based on our simple but multiple scanning tests, we figure the accuracy to be around 70-80% of the time it matches the correct fingerprint. That’s still pretty good for a first attempt.

What makes it potentially better is the ability for 3rd-party apps to use the scanner for authentication using the Samsung Pass API. We still have to see this implemented though.

IP67 Water and Dust Resistance.

The IP67 rating of the Galaxy S5 was inherited from the Galaxy S4 Active. What Samsung did was incorporate that feature into the flagship just like how Sony popularized it in the Xperia Z line-up.

Since the back cover of the Galaxy S5 is removable, you will always get warnings on the screen whenever fit the cover back (just in case there’s still a gap).

The USB 3.0 charging port has a built-in cap to seal that entry from any water leakage. Here’s our previous video showing the device under water and with sand:

You will notice that the device is almost completely inoperable when submerged in water. A physical camera button would have at least helped in using the camera (update — the volume down also doubles as camera shutter but the positioning is not very ergonomic when taking pictures in landscape mode).

Performance & Benchmark.

Samsung has always focused on the performance of their hardware for a long time. This is especially true with the Galaxy S5. Using the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip, the handset is able to achieve record scores in benchmark tests.

The scores of the S5 in Quadrant are Antutu are among the highest, if not the highest, we’ve seen so far.

Quadrant Standard: 25,402
Antutu Benchmark: 36,212
Nenamark 2: 59.9fps
Vellamo: 1,626 (HTML5), 1,204 (Metal)

This provided Samsung a lot of leg room to add refinements or customization and still maintain smooth and fluid interface. The device can handle anything we throw at it — movie playback are smooth, games fire up really quick, no noticeable lag anywhere and an over-all fluid performance.

Call Quality, Connectivity and Battery Life.

The Galaxy S5 comes with all sorts of connectivity options one would ever need in a smartphone — LTE, dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IR Blaster. It also uses USB 3.0, like the Note 3, for faster charging and file transfers.

Call quality is really good, voice calls are crisp and clear while SMS messages are sent and received promptly without delays. The noise-cancelling microphone at the top end of the handset allows for better call reception.

We liked the Download Booster feature which combines connectivity over WiFi and 3G/LTE to improve download speeds of the device (this is similar to the Connectify application we featured here before).

In our standard battery bench, the Galaxy S5 was able to last about 9.5 hours on a single full charge while playing an HD movie in a loop with 50% brightness and 0% volume.

Conclusion.

The Galaxy S5 is definitely bigger, faster and meaner than any of its predecessors. Samsung has refined its custom UI to make look remotely different from Android and they’ve done it pretty well. The loads of features and functions are a mixed bag of both gimmicky and practical use.

It would look like Samsung took the unique features popularized by Apple and Sony, then added their own strength in the hardware department to come up with the Galaxy S5. It’s an attempt they’ve thoroughly succeeded.

With a suggested retail price of Php34,990, the Galaxy S5 is one of the most expensive flagship handset to be released in the Philippines.

This unit was provided to us by Globe Telecom and they’re offering the handset for free under Plan 2499 with the lower Plan 1799 having a cash-out of Php7,200. You can read more about the complete postpaid plans for the Galaxy S5 here. The lowest cost of acquisition is Plan 999 with Php700 a month amortization (Php1,699/month).

And, if you are a long-time Samsung fan, you may also want to check out the Globe Galaxy Forever Plans.

Samsung Galaxy S5 specs:
5.1-inch Super AMOLED display @ 1080×1920 pixels, 432ppi
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 8974-AC 2.5GHz quad-core processor
Adreno 330 Graphics
16GB internal memory
up to 128GB via microSD card
LTE 150Mbps
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
NFC
IP67 water & dust resistant
Fingerprint scanner
GPS with aGPS, GLONASS
16 megapixel camera with AF, LED flash
1080p @ 30, 60fps, 4K @ 30fps
2 megapixel front-facing camera @ 1080p
2,800mAh removable battery
Android 4.4.2 KitKat with TouchWiz UI

What we liked about it:
* Powerful hardware
* Impressive display quality
* Great camera quality & performance
* Fingerprint scanner
* Water and dust resistance
* Kitkat out of the box
* Long battery life

What we did not like:
* Quite expensive
* Same old, boring design


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