The Samsung Galaxy S5 is here and will be available to buy in a few short weeks. But is it worth the upgrade for Galaxy S4 owners?
Here’s how the new Galaxy compares to the old one, including first-hand impressions and spec comparisons.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – DesignGalaxy S5 – Plastic rear, perforated semi matt metallic finish
Galaxy S4 – Plastic rear, high gloss finish with brushed metallic layer
Each S-series Galaxy phone has had a slightly different look, but the Galaxy S5 marks the first time Samsung has not used a glossy plastic finish for the phone. Instead, it’s a largely matt finish, with little indented “perforations”.
It’s a little less slippy than the Galaxy S4’s finish. That phone is much glossier and smoother, with look of plasticised brushed aluminium.
There’s no clear winner here. We’re not in love with either design.
Out of the S5's launch line-up, the black and pearly white versions of the Galaxy S5 are the most neutral. The blue is eye-catching but very bold, and the gold edition looks a bit tacky and cheap.
As a much older phone, the Galaxy S4 has picked up a few more colours over the last 12 months. White, black and blue are the most common, but Samsung has produced loads more too. Finding them available to buy in the UK is the tricky thing.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – DimensionsGalaxy S5 - 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
Galaxy S4 - 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm, 130g
We’re used to phones being thinner and lighter with each generation, but the Galaxy S5 is actually heavier and thicker than the Galaxy S4. It weighs 15g more and is 0.2mm thicker. Both these figures are so slight as to have no real effect on what the phone feels like.
Differences in the other dimensions are a bit more noticeable. The Galaxy S5 is about 5mm taller than the last model, and 2mm wider. It is all-round a bigger phone, and side-by-side it’s obvious.
However, in handling terms they’re similar. A 2mm change in width isn’t meaningless, but it is not enough to make the Galaxy S5 dramatically harder to use.
The width of a phone is something any phone buyer should pay attention to, though. This determines how easy it is to use one-handed. Both phones are so-so in this respect.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – ScreenGalaxy S5 – 5.1-inch 1080p Super AMOLED
Galaxy S4 – 5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED
Contrary to early rumours, the Galaxy S5 doesn’t have a 2K resolution screen. And it’s not much bigger than the S4’s.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 5.1-inch 1080p display, just 0.1 inches larger than the Galaxy S4’s screen. You wouldn’t notice the size difference unless someone told you about it.
Resolution is exactly the same too, as is the screen type. Both have 1080p Super AMOLED panels.
Some spec heads may be disappointed, but we’re happy with the approach Samsung has taken this time around. Rather than trying desperately to up specs, Samsung says it has worked on improving the phone’s colour gamut to give more lifelike images.
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 S4 – StorageGalaxy S5 -16GB, microSD
Galaxy S4 – 16GB microSD
One area of the Galaxy S series that has barely changed in its lifetime is storage. The phones have always had a 16GB option, and have always offered an SD card slot.
The danger of offering expandable memory is that the higher-storage options have never been that popular. Samsung is only producing 16GB and 32GB versions of the Galaxy S5, and while it made a higher-end 64GB version of the Galaxy S4, it was not widely distributed in the UK.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Connections and Extra Hardware FeaturesGalaxy 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.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – CameraGalaxy 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 has a higher-resolution main camera than its predecessor. It’s a 16-megapixel sensor where the S4 uses a 13-megapixel sensor. However, as we expect both cameras use 1/3.2-inch sensors (this is yet to be confirmed for the S5), the pixel size of the Galaxy S5 camera is actually smaller.
Samsung has not dramatically improved the picture quality of the camera, despite an increase in megapixel count. You’ll get more detailed photos in bright daylight, but hardware-wise, there’s nothing to suggest it’ll be any better in lower-light conditions.
The Galaxy S4 camera
The Galaxy S5 camera
The Galaxy S5 has made some serious improvements to the focusing system, though. Rather than using standard contrast detection AF, the phone has a hybrid system that uses a combination of contrast detection and phase detection. The latter uses a dedicated layer that sits over the sensor, and speeds up focusing significantly. Samsung claims focusing speed is down to 0.3 sec. Focusing on an iPhone 5S is generally between 0.5 seconds and one second.
However, what we’re yet to see is how the hybrid system copes with low-light conditions. With just about any half-decent phone camera focusing speed isn’t a big problem in daylight. It’s at night, or dusk, that phone cameras really start to fail.
Both phones have fairly standard LED flashes, so there’s no new illumination to help out either. We’ll be back with a full Galaxy S5 camera road test with the results soon.
On the video side, the Galaxy S4 has 4k capture where the Galaxy S4’s video currently tops out at 1080p.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – Power, CPU and RAMGalaxy S5 – Snapdragon 801 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB RAM
Galaxy S4 – Snapdragon 600 CPU, Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB RAM
The Galaxy S5 is roughly a generation and a half ahead of the Galaxy S4 in terms of processing power. The new phone uses the Snapdragon 801 processor (in the UK). That’s the successor to the Snapdragon 800, which is in turn the CPU that took over from the Snapdragon 600 used by the Galaxy S4.
Their numbers give you a rough idea of the performance increase on offer. The Galaxy S5 has a quad-core 2.5GHz processor, the Galaxy S4 a quad-core a 1.9GHz processor. Aside from pure clock speed, the cores’ architecture has been updated since the S4 launched.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs S4 – SoftwareGalaxy S5 – Android 4.4 with TouchWiz
Galaxy S4 – Android 4.4 with TouchWiz
Samsung gave its custom Android interface a bit of a visual overhaul with the Galaxy S5. The icons look a bit simpler, and the architecture of the interface as a whole has been simplified to make it a bit more coherent.
It’s a step in the right direction, and Samsung has not yet confirmed whether the Galaxy S4 will be upgraded to the new version of TouchWiz – the long-standing name for the custom Samsung interface.
The Galaxy S5 also benefits from some extra fitness features, fuelled by its additional hardware bits. Its S Health app can now measure your heart rate, and certain parts of the interface are quicker to use thanks to the fingerprint scanner.
However, there’s not a world of difference between these phones.
Which is the better phone?Samsung has done its best to make the Galaxy S5 categorically better than the Galaxy S4. And it is in some ways. However, too many mobile technologies have reached a plateau at this point for it to be considered an essential upgrade. The screen is more of a tweak, and while the processor is more powerful, performance these days hinges more on software optimisation than raw power.
Next, read our Galaxy S5 vs Xperia Z2 comparison