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Samsung Galaxy S5: Android 4.4 Software, TouchWiz Interface

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

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Samsung Galaxy S5: Android 4.4 and TouchWiz

The Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat and a new version of the TouchWiz interface. It sees Samsung struggle with two conflicted priorities.

Samsung knows that the trend is currently towards simpler, more visually intuitive interfaces, but ever since the Galaxy S series began, one of its selling points has been that its phones pack-in more features than the competition. The new version of TouchWiz is a result of these clashing approaches.

On the side of simplicity, fewer apps and features come pre-installed. Things like S Translator and WatchOn are no longer jammed in. Instead, you grab them – if you want – for free from the Samsung apps portal. The phone's apps menu is dominated by Google's app suite, rather than conspicuously Samsung-branded apps.

Galaxy S5 photo 13

Samsung still supplies a few of its own utilies such as a barebones note-taker, the S Planner Calendar and a Samsung browser. But to call these bloat would just be unkind. They're real essentials.

There's just a handful of apps some might find extraneous this time. Here's what you get:

ChatON

Mini line

A long-standing Samsung chat app. It works just like WhatsApp and also lets you have video chats.

You can chat with single friends or a group within a chat, and as it works over your Wi-Fi or mobile internet rather than SMS, there's no additional cost involved.

S Health

Mini line

S HealthSamsung needed to pre-install this one to justify the incorporation of a heart rate sensor. It's a fitness-tracking app, and one we've seen before in other Samsung phones. It offers a pedometer and proper exercise tracking for walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists, including GPS tracking and mapping.

It does smack a little of Samsung trying to do a little too much itself, though. For example, we imagine many people will want to do little more than see how many steps they take a day. The HTC One M8's Fitbit app does this in a much clearer, more matter-of-fact way than Samsung, which has over-produced the S Health app with it use of heavy visuals. But, hey, it is free.

S Voice

Mini line

This is Samsung's Siri equivalent, and lets you do things like open apps, call people and make calendar events. However, it's not quite on-par with Google Now or the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 Cortana in terms of how advanced it is. And its voice synthesis isn't top-notch either.

Google Now comes pre-installed on the phone, and we'd recommend using that as your digital assistant rather than S Voice. Given how much focus Samsung has given S Voice in the past, though, we're not surprised it lingers on.

Smart Remote

Mini line

Galaxy S5 photoCo-opting some of the features found in the Galaxy S4's WatchOn app, Smart Remote lets you set reminders about TV shows you like, and lets the Galaxy S5 act as a universal remote.

As with any universal remote, setting the thing up can be a bit of a pain, but it does work. We tried it with a Pioneer TV and Onkyo receiver and were up and running within a few minutes (later-discovered mis-mappings not considered.)Mini line

The Galaxy S5 now has fewer pre-installed apps than the HTC One M8.

As well as cutting down on the number of pre-installed apps, several elements of TouchWiz have been redesigned. The apps and widgets headers of the apps menu in the Galaxy S4 have gone. Like the Nexus 5, all you'll find on the apps menu are apps. And you can bung the ones you don't want to use in folders, or 'hide' them completely.

It's not hard to make the Galaxy S5's apps menu look very clean.

Your basic home screens are much the same as they were in the Galaxy S4, but now there's also a My Magazine screen accessed by flicking left-to-right from your left-most home screen. My Magazine is a full-screen customised front-end for news popular app Flipboard.

The way it works is you choose a bunch of categories that span new topics and social networks, and each of these gets one entry on your My Magazine home screen. You might see a tech story, an arts/cultre story and a recent Tweet. Tap on these and you'll get more topics, which can can flick through sequentially. Galaxy S5 photo 32

It's probably the best-looking part of the Samsung Galaxy S5 interface (not least because Samsung didn't really make it), but the way it works isn't 100 per cent perfect for its position right at the front of the phone. A home screen updater like this should be happy with 10 seconds of your time, but My Magazine wants five minutes, at least.

That's not to say it's not good, but it is not for everyone. We imagine the latest HTC BlinkFeed – which is a much more quick-fire home screen feed – will be used by a wider audience.

Aside from My Magazine, which feels like a module plugged-into TouchWiz, Samsung has tried to give the Galaxy S5 interface more visual coherence than before. The new thematic glue is colourful circles.

These circles make up the toggles in the drop-down notifications bar and the dozens of options in the Settings menu. Various elements do look better this time around, but true style still eludes Samsung.

Galaxy S5 photo 31

This is still not a particularly good-looking UI without tweaks and, despite Samsung's best efforts, it continues to lack a little visual cohesion. It's not a huge issue unless you really care about the software aesthetics of your phone. But now that the Galaxy S series alone has sold more than 200 million phones, it feels like it deserves a ground-up redesign rather than just another facelift in a long series of semi-successful cosmetic procedures.

To check that this wasn't a result of having used too many version of TouchWiz over the years, we tried out the Nexus 5 Google Experience UI on the Galaxy S5 (we'll be back with how to do this soon in our upcoming tips and tricks article) and found that it does indeed have a more characteristic, confident look. And that interface is basically newborn (if based on the 'standard' Android UI).

Galaxy S5 photo 14

The one other common criticism of TouchWiz is that it is a major performance drain. And this is something we've experienced first-hand recently in Samsung's Tab tablets like the Note Pro 12.2.

TouchWiz still lacks the immediacy of vanilla Android or just about any Windows Phone, but we didn't experience any serious slow-down. At its worst, TouchWiz can cause glitchy movements when just flicking through app menu screens, but there's nothing so obvious here. TouchWiz is still a little slow at times, though. In our testing it was occasional – the most common issue being the contents of menus taking a fraction of a second to actually show up.

We experienced just one cash during testing, which happened when editing an image in the photo gallery. But that's not bad going – to any cocky iPhone owners out there, your apps do crash, you're just not told about it.

Samsung Galaxy S5: Multi Window, Air View

As well as a few extra apps, TouchWiz provides a few Samsung-specific ways to interface with the Galaxy S5. It is not all new, but plenty worth mentioning regardless.

Multi Window is Samsung's classic multi-tasking mode. You hold down on the back soft key to bring up the Multi Window bar, from which you can drag two apps to run on-screen at once.

It works pretty well, and lets you do things like take notes while reading the web, chat on WhatsApp while reading emails or open two browsers at once. It is not an invasive feature either – with the Multi Window bar hidden you can pretend it's not part of the Galaxy S5 at all.

Galaxy S5 photo 30

This is what Multi Window looks like running the Gallery and Gmail app together

Air View returns, having made its debut in the Galaxy S4. The feature lets you bring up previews of certain info by hovering a finger over the screen. As standard it's switched off, as it has the potential to be quite invasive and annoying. But it lets you preview pictures in the gallery, preview events in the S Planner calendar app and preview frames in videos when fast forwarding in the Samsung video player app. It can also be used as a kind of predictive system when typing out phone numbers.

Air View

Hover over an image with Air View engaged to see this preview window

There are lots of other minor features like these, including a Private Mode to hide certain videos, photos and other files from the eyes of others. As ever, there is an awful lot of features to find in the S5 if you scratch at the phone's surface. Next, we'll look a little deeper into the technical aspects of the hardware that powers the Samsung Galaxy S5.

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barondebxl

April 8, 2014, 7:36 am

Its a keeper.

Guest

April 8, 2014, 8:50 am

According to PA, loudspeaker of S5 is louder than HTC One(M8) hmm...

andyvan

April 8, 2014, 8:56 am

Louder doesn't necessarily mean better. You've also got to consider location and actual quality. S5 loses on both points.

Guest

April 8, 2014, 10:04 am

Location of speakers, your review of One(M8) stated that "As your thumbs move directly over the drivers, your digits' movements do (slightly) alter the tonality of the sound" Indeed I found this noticeably annoying whilst playing a game and etc.

It seems like the location has cons and pros, don't you think? Of course you are entitled your opinion, but I'm just saying people don't think the location of speaker as an outright winning factor.

andyvan

April 8, 2014, 10:27 am

I'm a different Andy (Yes, I appreciate the confusion), and yes you have a point. We still think the HTC's are better overall, though.

mus1c

April 8, 2014, 2:20 pm

Im a big fan of Samsung products but why oh why would they have a protruding camera lens which detracts from the look/ feel.

RonRoyce

April 8, 2014, 6:35 pm

I won't be buying it for one reason. It's a Samsung.

Senad

April 8, 2014, 7:52 pm

Water resistant :)

looks really Nice :)

iFrank

April 8, 2014, 10:26 pm

I was able to hold one in a Voda shop today.
So like the Note 3 I recently did a deal on but more pocketable.
I wish I'd waited. Sighs.

PS, some sites claim it uses a nano sim?

godafoss

April 9, 2014, 6:29 am

And the reason I won't buy it: Knox!

Tim Sutton

April 11, 2014, 10:53 am

I held one of these yesterday.

It actually looks worse than the S4.Those bezels are HUGE.

It feels nasty and cheap.

The interface design is awful. You've got Touchwiz, Tizen and Android all looking and handling differently and all fighting for space on one handset. There are FOUR texting apps and THREE music players. The settings page is SIX SCREENS long. It's insanely cluttered and impossible to enjoy.

I can't see how anyone would look at this handset and choose it over even an S4. Physically the S4 is the better looking of the two (they're both ugly) and the S4s software isn't quite so schizophrenic.

I'm.. how is this a 9/10 handset guys? How? It's actually less good than the phone it's replacing.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 3:58 pm

Totally agree, This is a piece of overpriced plastic!

And how did they decide the price is £499, I can only see offers for £569?

Andrew_TR

April 11, 2014, 4:28 pm

I have some of the same criticisms. I think the HTC One M8 is a much 'nicer' phone, and I rate the Sense software more highly than TouchWiz.

However, the excellent screen quality and very good camera quality won us round.

The display in particular is a lot better this time around. It surprised me quite how good it is in various conditions - I've always been an LCD rather than OLED fan in phones (plasma in TVs, natch). But the S5 has won be around.

The camera too is a big improvement in certain conditions. I've heard some criticisms of the new 'faux stabilisation' feature. However, the way it is effectively built into the Auto mode means it'll result in better pictures for a whole load of people.

For me, though, the screen is the biggest winner here. And SOME of the S5's bad bits can be patched away with customisations either supplied directly by Samsung or Android.

AEdouard

April 11, 2014, 5:29 pm

The comment about the display being so much better than the one in the M8 is a bit strange, as Samsung's displays still have obvious issues : lower brightness than LCD and fuzziness due to the pentile arrangement. It really is a matter of preference. I sense a bit of ''fanboyism'' here. Shouldn't happen in a professional review.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 6:09 pm

I can smell a flop from Samsung's top model this time. Why Samsung decided they can have the highest priced flagship phone while they are making it out of plastic? In the UK it is £569 SIM free, which is more than the Sony Z2 £549, the HTC One M8 £529 and the iPhone 5S £549!
It's not surprising they announced a drop in profits.

toboev

April 11, 2014, 10:57 pm

What is wrong with 'plastic'? What better material is there? Robust. Light weight. Impact absorbing. RF-transparent. Engineers to fine tolerances. I can't readily think of another material which fits the purpose so well. Quality is fitness for purpose, not bling.

toboev

April 11, 2014, 11:00 pm

Sheesh - they missed that in the review, it's a Samsung?

toboev

April 11, 2014, 11:07 pm

"Samsung's displays still have obvious issues.."
So why even bother reading a review - you already know that all Samsung displays are the same hence this one is necessarily the same as its predecessors.

Everlast

April 11, 2014, 11:55 pm

Plastic is unpleasant to the touch, gets static charge, lacks reasuring weight, flexes, creaks, poor aesthetics.
I agree it has many great uses, but not in a TOP OF THE LINE product. Don't forget you are buying the most expensive smart phone out there and what you get a rubish bin plastic shell.

An Droid

April 12, 2014, 2:19 am

I actually have a S5, so my comments are based on interaction with the phone and not hearsay.
The good:
- a really amazing screen, and rated the best by everyone who has tested it. It really IS that good
- a huge improvement in the camera
- scaled down TW (works and looks better)
- dimpled soft touch back cover is a pleasure to hold
- ultra power saving mode (I travel a lot, and often used to run out of juice after a long day of normal use)
- heart rate monitor and S-Health (I had a 3rd party HR monitor on my S3 as I do exercise regularly)
- it's water resistant
- lightning fast download (10% faster than S3 over same wi-fi

The bad:
- the square shape (I preferred the more curvy shape of my S3
- the chrome look plastic surround ( satin fining on S3 was classier)

toboev

April 12, 2014, 8:16 am

Why do you feel the need to up-vote all your own comments?

Tim Sutton

April 12, 2014, 1:16 pm

I really like the M8 (except for the name) too.

I went in to have a look at the S5 because my work will have a look at it for employees and had my Lumia 1520 with me, and the difference between the two in terms of quality is, to my eyes, enormous.

The Lumia feels and looks like £500 worth of electronics, the S5 doesn't. And then you try and actually use the S5 and its WEIRD mish mash of three OS's and the gap just gets wider.

It really seems odd to me to give such high marks to a handset that is, as delivered by Samsung, mediocre both to look at and to use.

Everlast

April 12, 2014, 6:18 pm

Because the designers at Disqus decided posters should have this option and I am using it - as designed.

ttitr

April 13, 2014, 7:09 pm

i have a galaxy phone and i'm telling you apple is way better than his piece of crap i have right now

Chris

April 13, 2014, 7:49 pm

For the life of me, I just cannot understand why people hate on the samsung products because they are not some aluminum unibody design. Polycarbonate is rather durable, resistant to scratches and reduces the overall weight of the phone. The texturing of the polycarbonate is the only thing I have issue with (See S4).... smooth PC is a fingerprint magnet.

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