Review Price £499.99
Samsung Galaxy S5 Review: Hands-on
Samsung Galaxy S5: All hail the new king?The Samsung Galaxy S5 has been officially announced, and there's now just a month until the phone is released.. It could well end up being the most popular phone of the year, with few serious rivals bar the iPhone 6.
We've spent some time with the phone ahead of our full review to see what it's all about. Read on for our in-depth impressions, or watch the video demo below:
Samsung Galaxy S5 video:
Samsung has confirmed to us that the Galaxy S5 will have a 1/2.6-inch camera sensor, which is significantly larger than that of either the Galaxy S4 of iPhone 5S. It's great news for the phone's potential as a top mobile camera.
Update: March 2013
For reference, the iPhone 5S has a 1/3-inch sensor, the Galaxy S4 a 1/3.2-inch sensor. The larger a sensor, the more likely a camera is to offer good low-light performance.
Samsung Galaxy S5 – Price and Release DateThe Samsung Galaxy S5 is already available to pre-order. Retailers started offering the phone shortly after it was announced on 24 February, at MWC 2014.
You’ll have to pay around £550 to get the phone SIM-free, leaving you free to get a lower-end contract or go fully pre-pay. The Galaxy S5 was rumoured to be cheaper than the Galaxy S4, but it turns out they’re fairly similar – it’s still a top-end, expensive phone.
Update 7 March 2014: A price has now been leaked suggesting that the Galaxy S5 price will be around £579
The Galaxy S5 goes on sale on April 11 in most of Samsung’s major territories, including the US and UK.
For more information, read our where can I buy the Galaxy S5 feature
Samsung Galaxy S5 – DesignThe look of the Samsung Galaxy S5 has been much-discussed. Some thought Samsung would make a metal phone, but the new model is still good old plastic.
It's more conspicuously plastic than the Galaxy S4 too. There's no fake metal finish on the back this time - just silvery plastic sides - and the back has a texture of little dimples to give it a bit of extra grip, and a different look from the previous Galaxy S phones. Samsung calls it "modern and refreshing", and it comes in four shades – blue, gold, white and black. Don't buy the gold version, it looks horrible. Here are all the launch colours next to each other:
SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S4
The design is no great departure, though. The shape is similar, the weight is similar and it's just a little thicker at 8.1mm thick. It is a bit longer too, which is likely down to all the extra tech Samsung has crammed in. Unlike some of this year's top phones, the soft keys and clicky select button remain, which won't have helped.
Here are the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 side by side:
Galaxy S5 on the right, S4 on the left
The central select button houses one of the Galaxy S5's most intriguing features - a fingerprint sensor. It's in a similar position to the iPhone 5S's Touch ID sensor, but the tech it uses is a little different.
Where the Touch ID sensor simply requires you to place a finger on it, the Galaxy S5's button sensor needs a swipe. It feels a little more awkward, but the front positioning is much better than the rear sensor of the HTC One Max. As well as unlocking the phone, the fingerprint sensor can be used to authenticate online transactions, like PayPal. A little scary? Yes. Handy? Absolutely.
We've had quite mixed experiences with the Glaxy S5's fingerprint sensor to date. Several members of the team gave it a go, with differing results - some found it worked perfectly, others that it was a bit glitchier. It's likely that the sensor needs a good, clean and consistent swipe to work properly.
The fingerprint sensor is just one of a number of hardware features you might not appreciate from simply looking at the phone. Water resistance and dust-proofing is the other biggie. The Galaxy S5's plastic back and the USB port on the bottom are rubber sealed, letting you dunk the phone in water for a short amount of time without risking breaking the thing.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is certified to the IP67 standard, meaning it can be submerged in water and is completely dust-proof. As ever with mobile phone water-resistance, this relies on the seals being in place. And Samsung does not recommend submerging it.
The one sealed port is the USB port on the bottom, and its flap is much larger than you might expect. It's a USB 3.0 port, not the usual microUSB type. It offers faster data transfer, and faster charging when used with a computer's USB 3.0 socket. However, it's also a good deal bigger than normal microUSB. You can use regular microUSB cables in the socket, though, so there's no real convenience issue. It just looks a bit weird.
Check out how much larger the Galaxy S5's USB 3.0 port is (on the right) than the S4's
This is not the first time we've seen a microUSB 3.0 socket on a Samsung mobile device, either. It is also used in the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. No other major manufacturers have cottoned on to this, though – we imagine it's because they think few people would care. They may have a point.
There's one more standout hardware addition on the Galaxy S5, and it's the least 'everyday' of the lot. The rear of the phone has a heart rate sensor, which can monitor your heart rate when you place a finger on the back of the phone.
It's only really of use within the pre-installed fitness app at the moment, though, and it's nowhere near as convenient as the sensor on a smartwatch like the Samsung Gear 2. I can't imagine many runners trotting around with their fingers glued to the phone's back.
The heart rate sensor lives next to the LED flash, in the little group of odd-looking techy bits and bobs below the camera.
The heart rate sensor fires a red LED that lights up your finger
None of the Galaxy S5's extra hardware features are mobile phone essentials – the water-resistance, the fingerprint sensor and the heart rate monitor aren't strictly necessary. But if you don't care about any of them, you're missing out on the phone's most noticeable upgrades.
Samsung Galaxy S5 - Other Hardware FeaturesAs is common in high-end Samsung phones, the Galaxy S5 has a few extra hardware features that are easy to miss. There's an IR blaster, which will let you replace your home entertainment remote controls using the phone. You 'teach' the phone the commands from your various remotes, one by one. It takes a bit of effort, but is worth it in the long run.
Some of the other sensors on-board are slightly less useful. As well as the indispensible compass, gyroscope and accelerometer, the Galaxy S5 has a barometer and a Hall sensor. Both of these featured in the Galaxy S4.
The barometer is used simply to relay the conditions you're currently in, and the Hall sensor is what makes the Galaxy S5's clever flip covers possible. Samsung's official flip covers use little windows that give you selective bits of information when the case is closed - the Hall sensor is what tells the phone that the cover is in place.
This obsession with packing in every feature possible is a huge bonus when assessing the Galaxy S5 as a media player. Not only does it offer expandable memory, codec support is excellent too. As well as the usual audio and video formats, the Galaxy S5 will play FLAC and Vorbis audio files, and with native MKV support it should handle most videos downloaded from the web. Of course, to be a good video player, it needs a good screen...
Samsung Galaxy S5 – ScreenThe screen of the Galaxy S5 is not dramatically different to that of the Galaxy S4. It's a shade bigger – a grand 0.1 inches – but the screen type and resolution are the same. It's a 1080p Super AMOLED screen.
As with just about every OLED-type screen, contrast and black level are excellent. Samsung says it has dramatically increased how dim the screen can go too. It's the first time we've seen a company boast about such a thing, but it will come in handy if you like to watch a spot of iPlayer before bed, or check your emails at all hours of the day.
Side-by-side with the Galaxy S4, maximum brightness of the Galaxy S5 seemed a smidge higher but this is something we'll look into in more detail when we get the phone in to review. Samsung also claims it has significantly improved the screen's colour gamut, which should result in a further lessening of the over-saturation commonly associated with OLED screens.
I expect the phone continues to use the PenTile subpixel style seen in the Galaxy S4 and other Galaxy-series devices. This reduces sharpness a little, but on a phone as pixel-packed as this it wouldn't make much difference in terms of actual perception. To my eyes, the screen looked pretty great. We'll be examining the screen in much greater detail soon.
Samsung Galaxy S5 – SoftwareLike every standard Galaxy S-series phone, the Galaxy S5 uses custom Samsung interface laid on top of Android. However, Samsung has given its interface a revamp “inspired by the prism effect of diamonds”. What this amounts to is a reworking of the phone's icons, and a minor streamlining of the phone's look.
The icons are a bit simpler, and a bit cleaner. The interface still isn't the prettiest around, but it's a solid improvement. Samsung's interface is starting to look less cluttered, less busy. I think the Google Experience interface of the Nexus 5 tops it on the clean and clear front – and iOS 7 is a bit better than both. But Samsung is moving in the right direction.
However, like the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition, interface navigation is complicated by the Magazine feature. This offers another series of home screens, but ones packed with tiles of updates from social networks and your favourite websites rather than shortcuts and widgets. It's this sort of extra that means the Galaxy S5 probably isn't for people who are completely new to smartphones.
As usual with a Samsung phone, the Galaxy S5 is loaded with a few extra apps too. Key ones include S Health 3.0 – which we've already mentioned – and Knox (missing on our demo model, but apparently it'll come included). This is a security suite. But it's more concerned with connecting to company networks, not keeping your most secret secrets safe from members of your family.
Kids Mode is a new addition that is family-oriented. It offers a special area in the phone that's kid-friendly and you can choose what goes into it. Here's a snapshot of Kid Mode -
A Snapdragon 801 CPU will not offer jaw-dropping performance increases over Snapdragon 800 phones of last year like the LG G2. It simply offers a few tweaks and speed increases over that processor.
It's clocked at 2.45GHz, up from 2.26GHz. And the speed of the LPDDR3 RAM has been increased from 800MHz to 933MHz. The GPU is based on the same Adreno 330 core, but its speed goes from 450MHz in the Snapdragon 800 to 578 MHz in the Galaxy S5's Snapdragon 801.
It's a largely piecemeal upgrade because Qualcomm's 'true next gen' CPU the Snapdragon 805 won't be available until later in the year. However, as the Galaxy S4 uses the older, slower Snapadragon 600 CPU, it is a significant upgrade within the walls of the Samsung Galaxy series.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 offers several camera tech improvements over the Galaxy S4. It has a higher-resolution 16-megapixel sensor, some new modes and a reworked HDR function. The camera sensor itself is also significantly larger than the last Galaxy phone's. It's a 1/2.6-inch sensor, which is closer to the sensor size of a compact camera than a mobile phone.
Samsung Galaxy S5 – Camera
However, the most technologically interesting improvement is one that is in danger of being overlooked –the autofocus. Most phones use a basic contrast detect focusing system. This uses high-contrast areas in an image to judge when a photo is in focus, but is pretty ropey when you try to focus on an area of block colour. And it's generally not that fast.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 doesn't use simple contrast detect autofocus, though. It has a hybrid system that uses a mix of contrast detection and phase detection. The latter is what is used by SLRs, and some compact system cameras. Phase detection enables the phone to reach its 0.3-second focusing times – although this naturally doesn't apply in tricky lighting conditions. However, in good lighting focusing speeds are seriously impressive.
We're not 100 per cent sure the Galaxy S5 will be quite as fast as the iPhone 5S all-round. But I'm impressed, and it's good to see Samsung pack some genuine photographic features into its new camera, not just flashy software modes. This is the good stuff.
The lens is decent too. It's an f/2.2 lens with a 31mm focal length (35mm standard equivalent) – that's the same f-stop rating as the Galaxy S4.
We haven't had a chance to take the Galaxy S5 camera for a proper test drive, but we did take a few shots during the launch. Like the Galaxy S4, sharpness is excellent, with the help of a bit of processing. At pixel level you can see the effects of software jiggery-pokery going on, and the limited abilities of the small mobile sensor. But we're confident in saying this is one of the very best phone cameras around.
It's a dull picture, but the image is fairly lively and sharp
These are 1:1 pixel crops from the above photo
To go with the super-fast autofocus, the Galaxy S5 has a redesigned HDR mode, with a new emphasis on speed. From what Samsung said, it appears that the HDR may create its shot from a single exposure rather than multiple ones – making it even more software-based, but easier and quicker.
There's now also a live preview that lets you see the effect of the shot before you take it – being made from a single exposure makes this possible, where it would have to be a 'guesstimation' if it was made from multiple exposures.
Samsung has pared-back the camera app a bit too. Rather than inundating you with modes, the Galaxy S5 offers a few and lets you download additional ones. Samsung is finally getting wise to the idea that sometimes less is more – if only in select areas.
An extra mode that's new is selective focus, and this one is built-in. This lets you defocus the foreground or background, artificially creating a shallow depth of field effect. It works to an extent, but seems to work by simply using a software algorithm to separate near and far objects, rather than something cleverer.
Here are some pics of the camera app in action -
As you can see from these interface shots, the Galaxy S5 camera offers software-based video stabilisation and - not shown - 4K video capture. This is now almost standard in top-end Android phones, but is a neat extra.
Like previous S-series phones, you get pretty easy access to the Samsung Galaxy S5's battery. The back pops off, and the battery is there for the taking. It's a 2,800mAh battery, up from 2,600mAh in the Galaxy S4.
Samsung Galaxy S5 – Battery Life
Samsung claims the phone will last for 12 hours of looped video, where the Galaxy S4 lasts for up to 11 hours. It's not a game-changing improvement.
What is likely to be more of a bonus in day-to-day life is the new Ultra Power Saving Mode. This is an intensive low-power most that cuts out almost all phone functions but the basics like calls and texts. Samsung says it'll last for up to a day with just 10 per cent of battery left – if only in standby.
Wireless connections are not the most interesting elements of a phone, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a few bits worth mentioning – don't switch off just yet.
Samsung Galaxy S5 – Connectivity
This is a 4G phone, naturally, has Wi-Fi ac support and a MIMO antenna array for better signal. It can also download from Wi-Fi and the 4G connection at the same time, for super-fast downloading.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a phone that looks and feels like another top-end S-series mobile. It offers loads of new features, and some much-needed improvements to the Samsung interface. However, we're not sure that all that many people will care about all of its new bits.
Next, read our Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S comparison