Home / Opinions / There are only two good reasons to buy the Galaxy S5, but they're really good ones

There are only two good reasons to buy the Galaxy S5, but they're really good ones

Andrew Williams

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Galaxy S5
Galaxy S5

Should You Buy the Galaxy S5?

The Galaxy S5 has finally been released. The fanfare will soon die down so we can all get on with our lives.

We’ve reviewed the phone and found it a largely successful update to the most popular Android series in the world. I’m sure it’ll sell by the bucketload.

But having already used all the top rivals, the HTC One M8 and Xperia Z2, I think there are only two reasons to buy the Galaxy S5 rather than another phone.

The issue is that lots of the phone elements aren’t that great. The interface could be better, and it impacts day-to-day performance noticeably. Its design is arguably worse than the phone it succeeds and the new hardware – the fingerprint scanner and heart rate sensor – are a bit fiddly to use.

So why did we give the phone such a good review? It’s all about two factors.

Reason #1 – The Screen

The Galaxy S5 is one of the most immediately impressive phone screens we’ve seen. This year Samsung has managed to fix everything that turned us off OLED-screen phones in the past to provide a display with all of the usual Super AMOLED benefits with none of the drawbacks.

What are these? OLED screens offer higher contrast and deeper blacks than any LCD.

You can see the difference in contrast between the One M8 and S5

Sit in bed with dimmed lighting watching an episode of Countryfile on your Galaxy S5 and it’ll look miles better that it would on an HTC One M8 or Sony Xperia Z2. The S5 also offers better viewing angles than the competition and is just as sharp.

The screen alone makes us forget a good many of the Galaxy S5’s interface problems, especially as Android lets you customise what the phone looks like quite a bit. Indeed, you can load the Google Experience Launcher onto the Galaxy S5 easily if you don't fancy TouchWiz.

Reason #2 – The Camera

The second great element of the Galaxy S5 is the camera. It’s the first phone released to use an ISOCELL sensor, and the first to use a hybrid focusing system.

We’ve put the Galaxy S5 up against the HTC One M8 and Xperia Z2, and the Samsung phone is indeed a whole lot faster at focusing than its Android rivals. We’re not convinced it’s really that much faster than the iPhone 5S at shooting photos, but getting anywhere near Apple-like photo speeds is impressive.

The Galaxy S5 camera is also very easy to use, primarily because the Auto mode is capable of coping with just about any conditions. A new picture stabilisation mode puts the camera into a sort of emergency mode when the lights go down low, taking multiple exposures to dramatically reduce noise in these sorts of shots.

Yes, it gets a bit slower in low lighting, but as long as you have a bit of patience the versatility of the camera is really quite excellent.

These are really the only ways in which the Galaxy S5 sticks out positively. And there are a bunch of ways it separates itself from the pack in negative ways. The speaker is quite mediocre, the design is not great and it seems to have put more effort in the wrong places than just about any other 2014 flagship.

However, you don’t get elements more important than the camera and screen in a phone. And as such, it is a true top Android phone.

What’s my point? If your contract is nearing its end or you’re out to buy a new SIM-free mobile, think about whether screen and camera quality are your highest priorities. Because if they’re not, this might not be the right phone for you. They are? Then get ready to board the Galaxy S5 bandwagon. You’ll have plenty of company.

Next, read our Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S comparison

Tim Sutton

April 12, 2014, 1:01 pm

The screen is nice, but it's not as nice to my eye as the one on my Lumia 1520, (subjective but I'd say it's pretty clear) and the camera on the S5 isn't as good as on the 1520.

I just don't really understand the reviews of the S5. Almost every review I've seen reads like a average to poor new model, but then ends up giving high marks; "awful software, cheap to the touch body, small speed upgrade, unnecessary hardware gimmicks. Er. 9/10!"

The only review I've seen that seems to break free of the Samsung spell is Ars, where the review makes exactly the same points as everyone else does, but follows through with a "meh, it's OK." rating.

GeraldP

April 12, 2014, 6:24 pm

The screen is nice, can't argue with that. Now all I have to do is sell my phone on UpgradeSwap and take the cash and buy the S5!

andyvan

April 13, 2014, 8:58 pm

Technically, Ars doesn't give scores at all. As you say, though, I always respect what it says, but I kind of liken what they do to film critiquing. It's not just a 'should I buy this thing or not' but a general appraisal of its merits from a wider perspective. It's a different kind of attitude.

For my part, what has interested me about the most recent Android phones is they're all flawed and brilliant in slightly different ways. M8 has some camera issues, albeit it's still very good overall, and the S5's design... well, it's a Samsung. A lot of frustration, to me, stems from the lack of progress we're seeing. Even though we say it every year (evolution, not revolution) I think people deep down kind of hope for more.

Tim Sutton

April 14, 2014, 3:36 pm

Fair point, I should have said "conclusion", not "rating".

Evolution and gradual progress is inevitable I think, as so many technology industry people - and this is an entirely valid point of view - view new and unfamiliar ways of doing things with distrust and fear.

Windows Phone is a good example of this. It was very different and struggled mightily to gain positive traction with reviewers used to Android and iOS. Meanwhile end user feedback from those customers who tried the system despite the lukewarm critical reception was extremely positive.

Windows Phone's growing popularity is almost entirely down to word of mouth and recommendation from person to person, while most technology review sites are still just calling for things to be done exactly the same in Windows Phone as they are in Android and iOS.

This has turned into a critical analysis analysis!

My point is, there is a lot of heavy, hard to divert momentum in technology reviewing. I think that the S5 is getting 9 and 10 out of 10 in reviews despite a litany of complaints and flaws, because in the technology reviewing communities collective minds the new Galaxy MUST be a good product... even when everything they say about it in their reviews shows they don't actually think it is.

andyvan

April 14, 2014, 3:58 pm

Funnily enough, we were discussing that whole momentum point this morning on account of the Xperia Z2. We were planning to publish our review today, but a few things came up we want to check out so we're delaying for a few days. We were looking at some of our rivals and quizzing how they'd arrived at the scores given some of their criticisms! Glass houses and all that...

Back on the point, though, it's totally a valid and one we're keenly aware of -- more so after this gen of phones. Our scoring and review processes are always under review, and it is something we're discussing at the moment.

In some respects, due to the way people buy them and the hype around them, phones are something of a special case. The way we think about them and judge them is fundamentally different to something like a TV, which you might buy once every three to five years.

The perpetual debate is always is "how much better" do they need to be? We gave x this, and y this and x is technically better than y, but is that enough and so on.

I envy Ars' lack of scores, frankly, but it's not a route we're likely to go down.

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