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Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4: Should you upgrade?

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Galaxy S5 vs S4: Is it Worth the Upgrade?

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is flying the flagship flag for Samsung’s in 2014. There is little doubt that it will be on of the best-selling Android phones this year but does it deserve the hype? More importantly should you upgrade to the Galaxy S5 from the S4?

We’ve spent ages using both phones and figuring out their strengths and foibles so we can compare how good they are in terms of design, cameras, performance and software. At the end you will have a good idea as to whether you should buy the Samsung Galaxy S5 or S4.

Watch our Galaxy S5 video review:


Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Design

Galaxy S5 – 8.1mm thick, 145g, 72.5mm wide
Galaxy S4 – 7.9mm thick, 130g, 70mm wide

The Galaxy S5 comes with a brand new design that is quite different from the S4 and other Galaxy phones before it. It is based on the same sort of experiments with plastic that resulted in the Galaxy Note 3’s leather-effect back, and is what leads to the 'perforated’ back style.

The plastic feels quite different to previous Galaxy S models. The soft touch finish is kinder on the fingers than the slightly tacky glossy plastic of the Galaxy S4. The S5 is an improvement, at least on feel, when compared to the S4.

The Galaxy S5 is a bit heavier, wider and thicker than the S4, though, 15g heavier to be precise. However, Samsung’s phones are pretty light across the board and you shouldn't be peturbed by the extra weight.

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The Galaxy S4 is a lot glossier than the S5

What is more apparent than the the difference in weight is the change in size. The S5 is about 2mm wider than the S4, almost a centimetre taller and 0.2mm thicker. Without putting them side-by-side you might not notice the difference, but the Galaxy S4 is actually significantly more compact and its sides lack the ridging effect used by the S5. The S4 is easier and more comfortable to hold one handed than the S5.

Both phones let you take off the back cover, for easy access to the battery. Very few top-end phones offer this these days aside from the LG G3.

Galaxy S5 vs S4

The Galaxy S5 does have one clear hardware advantage. It offers water resistance, with IP67 certification. The USB port on the bottom and the battery cover are both rubber-sealed to avoid letting water or dust in, much like other weather resistant phones.

You can dunk the S5 in water and as long as the seals are in place, it’ll be fine. Drop the Galaxy S4 in water and you risk killing it. 

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The rubber border on the inside of the case is what provides water resistance

But that doesn’t really explain why the Galaxy S5 is so much bigger than the S4 when it has only a marginally larger screen. It’s also down to the extra sensors plugged into the phone.

The Galaxy S5 has a fingerprint scanner and a new a heart rate sensor, both of which command a bit of space under the hood. We don’t think they’re particularly worthwhile extras, though.

The fingerprint scanner is quite fiddly, much more so than the TouchID sensor of the iPhone 5S. Its main issue is that it requires you to swipe across the sensor, rather than just putting a finger over it.

While it is positioned in a sensible location – under the central select button – too often it doesn’t register your fingerprint, booting you out to a traditional passcode after a few tries. The Galaxy S4 doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, just a normal select button.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8
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The S4 and S5's buttons may look similar but the S5's has a fingerprint scanner

The Galaxy S5’s heart rate sensor isn’t worth bragging about too much either. It sits below the camera lens on the back, and is used within the S Health app. It works, but it’s not very convenient to use while exercising and – here’s the real kicker – you can get the same sort of read-outs using the S4’s camera and LED flash and a third-party heart rate app.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy Note 3

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Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Colours

Galaxy S5 – Blue, gold, white, black
Galaxy S4 – Black (silver), black, white, blue, purple, red

There are four colours in the Galaxy S5 launch line-up. As well as the fairly conventional black and white, you can get the phone in bright blue and gold shades.

Gold is the most contentious of the lot, generally seen as a bit of a design mis-fire. The vividness of the blue also makes it a bit of an opinion-polariser.

Now that it has been our for a year, there are loads of colours in the Galaxy S4 range. But not all of them are readily available in the UK.

The models you have a decent chance of finding here are the original silvery Mist Black (seen here), normal black, white, blue and red. There’s also a purply shade doing the rounds. Samsung announced a bunch of more pastel-tinged shades last year, but these don’t seem to be widely distributed.

Galaxy S5 2

Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Screen

Galaxy S5 – 1080p Super AMOLED, 5.1 inches
Galaxy S4 – 1080p Super AMOLED, 5 inches

Initially we thought the Galaxy S5’s screen might prove a bit of a disappointment. It’s just 0.1 inches larger than the S4 display at 5.1 inches, and it’s the same resolution – 1080p.

However, it is a big leap forward in terms of basic image quality thanks to a reworking of the Super AMOLED tech at its core and the extra effort put into calibrating the screen’s colours and contrast.

The Galaxy S5 now has an exceptional screen, probably the best in its class. The Galaxy S4 display is good, but its colours aren’t as natural-looking as those of its successor.

Both phones give you a good deal of control over the tone of the display, with adaptive, Dynamic, Standard, Photo and Cinema modes. The last two generally give you the best colour accuracy – if the lowest colour saturation.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S

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With OLED-type screens, the colour gamut is often far too wide for the way software is designed for phones. And this leads to colours that look unnaturally vivid. This may sound good on paper to some of you, but it can lead to images that are quite hard to look at because they are so oversaturated, and it ruins skin tones in particular.

The Galaxy S4 colour response is fairly good, but the Galaxy S5’s is better.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 – Storage

Galaxy S5 – 16/32GB, microSD up to 128GB
Galaxy S4 – 16/32GB, microSD up to 128GB

The Galaxy S5 and S4 are pretty much the same in terms of storage. 16GB is the most common amount of memory you’ll find in the UK, but there are 32GB versions as well. Samsung made a 64GB edition of the Galaxy S4, but a lack of demand meant it never got a full release here.

Although the Galaxy S4 only launched with official support for 64GB microSD cards – not the new 128GB type – as they are based on the same microSD xc system neither should have trouble working with the new 128GB card.

Galaxy S5 5

Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 – Specs and Performance

Galaxy S5 – Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz, 2GB RAM
Galaxy S4 – Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.9GHz, 2GB RAM

The Galaxy S5 hasn’t destroyed every phone out there in terms of sheer performance as its Snapdragon 801 CPU is just a bit faster than the Snapdragon 800 processors used by some devices in 2013. However, it is a lot more powerful than the Snapdragon 600 used by the Galaxy S4.

That CPU is a generation behind the Snapdragon 800. For most people, there won’t be a life-changing difference in use, but the benchmarks show the real story.

In Geekbench 3, the Galaxy S4 scores around 2,240 points, the Galaxy S5 2,908 points. This test is a fairly good indication of how powerful a CPU is.

The GPU gets a similar upgrade. The Galaxy S5 gets an upgrade from the Adreno 320 to the 330 – and a juiced-up version of the GPU at that, running at 578MHz.

The true use of this extra power is future-proofing. You can expect the Galaxy S5 to be able to play top-end games for slightly longer than the Galaxy S4. And much as graphically intensive Android games are massively outweighed by casual, free-to-play ones, there are still a few graphical corkers released every now and then. Galaxy S5 1

Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Connections and Extra Hardware Features

Galaxy S5 – microUSB 3.0, IR transmitter, heart rate sensor, fingerprint scanner, IP67
Galaxy S4 – microUSB, IR transmitter

That this ‘extra hardware’ section of this comparison is the one packed with the most differences tells you a lot about what the Galaxy S5 is like. Where the Galaxy S4 was accused of having loads of bells and whistles, most of them were software-based. This time around, there’s a lot more hardware.

Here are core things you get in a Galaxy S5, but miss in the S4.

  • Fingerprint scanner – beneath the central select button of the S5 is a fingerprint scanner. Unlike the iPhone 5S’s Touch ID sensor, you have to swipe a finger over it, rather than simply holding it there. However, it can be used to authorise payments as well as unlock the phone. And Samsung has opened up the API for other developers to use.

  • Heart rate sensor – Just below the camera on the back is a heart rate sensor. This fires red light into your finger, and then a separate sensor can discern the pumping of your heart. It’s not hugely different to the app-based sensors you can get for iPhones and Androids, but this one is a bit faster. We’re not too bothered about this new feature.

  • IP67 certification – The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a phone that’s resistant to the elements. It uses a rubber seal for its USB port and the removable backplate. What it gets you is dustproofing and the ability to submerge the phone in shallow water without it dying. It’s handy, but Samsung still doesn’t recommend you deliberately get the phone wet.

  • USB 3.0 port – The Galaxy S5 is among just a few phones that use the microUSB 3.0 connector rather than the normal microUSB type. It’s a larger socket, although you can still plug a normal-style microUSB into it. There are two main benefits – faster data transfer and the faster charging when used with a USB 3.0 port on a computer.

SEE ALSO: Galaxy S5 Fingerprint Scanner vs iPhone 5S Touch ID

Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Camera

Galaxy S5 – 16-megapixel, 1/3.2inch (TBC), LED flash, hybrid AF system
Galaxy S4 – 13-megapixel, 1/3.2inch, LED flash, contrast detect AF system

The Galaxy S5 features a very different camera to the Galaxy S4, much as it may sound similar in some respects. The Galaxy S4 uses a 13-megapixel Sony sensor, the Galaxy S5 a Samsung ISOCELL sensor of 16-megapixel resolution.

As well as being of higher resolution than the Galaxy S4’s sensor, the S5’s is also a different shape. The Galaxy S4 has a normal 4:3 aspect sensor, the Galaxy S5 a 16:9 one. This means when you shoot widescreen (i.e. normal) photos with the Galaxy S4, you’re actually cropping in to the sensor and shooting at 9.6-megapixel resolution, not the full 13MP resolution. Galaxy S5 vs S4 20

However, in our tests below we’ve used widescreen shots in Auto mode as it’s what virtually what everyone shooting with an S4 uses (plus the former wouldn’t actually affect detail levels in our specific tests).

On the video side, the Galaxy S5 has 4K capture where the Galaxy S4’s video currently tops out at 1080p. However, you can't use special modes like HDR when shooting in 4K.

Let’s see how the cameras compare.

Galaxy S5 vs S4 8Galaxy S5 vs S4 9Galaxy S5 vs S4 10
The Galaxy S5 image is a little bit sharper, but in good lighting the results are actually quite similar

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The Galaxy S5 uses slightly less severe image sharpening, but look close and you can see that the new phone actually resolves slightly more detail.

Galaxy S5 vs S4 4Galaxy S5 vs S4 3

Galaxy S5 vs S4 2

The Galaxy S5 Auto mode is much better at coping with low-light conditions.

Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4 – Speakers

Galaxy S5 – single output on rear
Galaxy S4 – single output on rear

One of our key disappointments with the Galaxy S5 is that the speaker is not much of an improvement over the Galaxy S4 one. They both have speakers that output from a single, small grille on the back.

Top volume is fairly good in both, but sound quality is fairly poor. These are fairly tinny, nasal-sounding speakers. If you want a phone with speakers worth listening to (casually, at any rate), check out the HTC One M8.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Software

Galaxy S5 – Android 4.4 with TouchWiz
Galaxy S4 – Android 4.4 with TouchWiz

These phones both run Android 4.4 However, how they are in-use relies much more on the custom user interface Samsung has jammed on top.

The Galaxy S5 features a new version of the Samsung TouchWiz interface, and it is a significant visual improvement in some respects. A lot of the fustier-looking elements have been replaced by pages of colourful circles. It looks better, much as it may be pretty similar to operate.

Here’s a look at how the software differs: Galaxy S5 vs S4 14

Galaxy S5 vs S4 12


Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Battery Life

Galaxy S5 – 2,800mAh, 10.78Wh
Galaxy S4 – 2,600mAh, 9.88Wh

The Galaxy S5 has a significantly larger battery than the Galaxy S4’s. It’s 200mAh more capacious, and its Wh value shows that it does indeed provide more juice.

In use, the Galaxy S5’s stamina is also improved by all the hardware optimisations the Snapdragon 801 has that the Snapdragon 600 CPU of the Galaxy S4 lacks. In our tests, it lasts for a few more hours of video playback – 14 to the Galaxy S4’s 11. That’s an impressive bump-up.

The Galaxy S also offers an additional battery-saving mode. The Galaxy S4 has a standard power saver that throttles the CPU a bit and cuts back on screen brightness, but the Galaxy S5 also introduces a new extreme power-saving mode that makes the screen black and white and only gives you access to a handful of pre-selected apps. This massively cuts-down how much power the battery uses when the phone’s on standby. You can make the last 10 per cent or so of your battery last a full day if you really try. Galaxy S5 vs S4 18

Next, read everything there is to know about the Samsung Galaxy S6

Which is the better phone the Galaxy S5 or S4?

The Galaxy S5 betters the Galaxy S4 in a number of respects. It has a much better screen, and the look of the software has been improved. Elsewhere, though, the Galaxy S5 isn’t much better, and some of its new features don’t work too well.

We prefer the dimensions of the S4, and the fingerprint/heart rate sensor combo is a dud. As such, Galaxy S4 owners shouldn’t be rushing to upgrade right now. Still, for some of you the new and improved screen might be enough of a draw.

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