manufacturers rely on periodic cosmetic refreshes and price cuts to
keep customers interested as new completion enters the market. You might
see a new grille, or some minor change to the moulded plastic bits. A
few accessories that used to be optional extras might come preinstalled,
and the upholstery might be a little more premium. Other than that,
it's essentially the same model.
Smartphone manufacturers, on the
other hand, have forced themselves into a yearly refresh cycle. Whether
or not there's anything new to offer, they must launch a new model. It's
beginning to feel a little forced, especially since top-end smartphones
already have more power than most people know what to do with.
when Samsung unveiled the new Galaxy S5 at this year's Mobile World
Congress, the world let out a collective yawn. Sure, it has a few new
features and some nifty accessories, but is it really that different
from last year's model? As it turns out, the answer to that question
isn't a simple yes or no. Read on to find out why.
Look and Feel
pretty easy to spot a Samsung phone these days. The company hasn't
deviated from its formula for a long time now, and at least from the
front, the S5 looks like every other currently available Samsung phone.
It has a silver border around the edges, sunken white faceplate with a
textured pattern (simple dots this time), silver-ringed physical Home
button flanked by soft buttons for Recents and Back, and earpiece and
visible sensors on top.
The Galaxy S5's look isn't all repetitive
though - the chrome ring around the edges has two little ridges, while
the back is an all-new satiny plastic with a grid of dots for texture.
That's right, Samsung has finally deviated from the fake
leather-and-stitching look that until just now had threatened to spread
through the company's entire product line. We're happy to report that in
person, the rear panel looks nothing like a band-aid - as suggested by
The power button is on the right edge, as expected,
with the volume rocker opposite. There's a 3.5mm headset socket and IR
emitter on the top, along with an additional mic for noise cancellation.
The only things on the bottom are a tiny mic and the rather large
Micro-USB 3.0 port, protected by a rubber-ringed flap. Although the
Galaxy S5 is capable of USB 3.0 transfer speeds, Samsung provides only a
regular USB 2.0 cable in the box. This isn't a huge problem, but since
the port is oversized, recessed, and covered, you need to look carefully
to line up the USB connectors each time you want to plug this phone in.
of the Galaxy S5's two headlining hardware features is very evident.
The heart rate sensor sits in the same housing as the camera's flash,
right below the lens on the rear panel. If you didn't know what to look
for, you wouldn't know it's there. The fingerprint reader is integrated
into the Home button and is completely invisible - there is absolutely
no sign that something has changed, compared to the S4, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
really visible change is the move to a water resistant enclosure, which
necessitates a flap over the USB port. If you pop off the rear cover,
you'll also note a rubber ring surrounding the battery and card slots.
In addition to a ring of tiny clasps around the edges, the S5's rear
cover also has clasps in the middle to ensure the rubber forms a seal
around the sensitive components.
One less noticeable change is
that Samsung has finally ditched the Android Menu button, replacing it
with a Recents button for multitasking. This makes a lot of sense, since
all options are now available on screen and you don't have to dig for
them. Long-pressing the Home button now pulls up Google Now, but Samsung
still treats the Recents button as a Menu button sometimes.
Long-pressing it when a home screen is visible still brings up options
for customising it, which makes no sense.
The S5 is
slightly wider and taller than the Galaxy S4, and also less curvy and organic,
which feels like a step backwards. Some people will find it just a bit
too large for comfort, but at least the weight is manageable since it's
As far as its hardware design goes,
the Galaxy S5 is not exciting at all, so we're interested in seeing how
the software side fares. Samsung has spent a lot of time on its OS
customisations, but there are still good and bad sides to its approach.
The Galaxy S4 was widely criticised for its excesses, and so this time,
Samsung has toned it down quite a bit. Even though there's still a lot
to see, it's better organised and lots of things are tucked away.
Surprisingly, the TouchWiz skin doesn't feel all that intrusive now.
example, the notification shade has only a few shortcuts visible by
default, but tap a button in the corner (or pull down with two fingers
instead of one) and you'll see no fewer than 21 shortcut and quick
toggle buttons for things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Power Saving Mode (and
the separate Ultra Power Saving Mode), NFC, Smart Stay, Screen Rotation,
and Private Mode.
The home screens are thankfully quite simple,
though you can have up to seven of them. Samsung has restricted itself
to five small widgets and four icons. The Flipboard-style My Magazine
view lives to the left of the first home screen, and as usual you can
customise it to show news and social updates from your preferred
Amongst TouchWiz's little tricks are the Toolbox, a
little floating panel that can stay on top of all apps and unroll to
show quick shortcuts to up to five apps, and Multi Window, which lets
you run two apps simultaneously. Quick Connect is somewhat like Apple's
AirDrop, in that it lets you share content with other devices, except
that it works with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Smart Stay and Smart Pause track
your eye movements in order to keep the screen active as long as you're
reading something, and pause a video when you look away.
power saving mode, which blocks background data connections and reduces
performance. There's also Ultra Power Saving mode, which transforms the
S5 into a barely-functional feature phone. All graphics and effects are
turned off, and the screen itself switches to greyscale. The regular
lock screen, home screens and menus disappear, replaced by a single
monochrome screen with a very prominent pair of icons showing the
battery percentage and standby time remaining. You can only make and
receive calls and text messages, type notes and record audio. Data is
enabled only when you use the browser, Google+ or Samsung's own ChatON
messenger. No other apps are available, and you can only access a few
basic settings. Even the screen timeout becomes more aggressive.
test device promised over a week of standby time with a 65 percent
charge in Ultra Power Saving Mode, which is very impressive. This could
be a lifesaver on long journeys, or when you realise you won't have
access to a charger for a long time.
The Galaxy Gifts scheme
offers buyers of this phone several hundred dollars' worth of freebies,
such as subscriptions to Bloomberg Businessweek and the Wall Street
Journal, upgraded cloud storage from Box and Bitcasa, and premium
versions of RunKeeper, Evernote and LinkedIn.
There's a Private
Mode which lets you hide specific photos, videos, audio recordings,
music tracks and files within their respective apps. When you turn it
on, you'll be asked to swipe your finger or type your passcode again,
and when you turn it off, selected content will disappear from within
apps. You can't hide apps themselves, or content within third-party
Kids' Mode is a way to let young children play specific
games on your phone while all other apps are locked down and safe from
accidental (or non-accidental) taps.
Blocking Mode is somewhat
like a "Do Not Disturb" feature. You can choose to have all
notifications disabled, including all calls or alternatively, only calls
from numbers not already in your address book. It can be activated
between set times each day, or even all the time.
always tweaked the Android Settings app, but now it looks completely
new. By default, you see a grid of brightly coloured circular icons
rather than the usual list. Thankfully you can switch back to the list
or choose a tabbed view, because there are no fewer than 61 icons in the
grid! The first 12 are "quick settings" for often-used functions, and
are duplicated in their respective categories below. That's still a
bewildering number of places to look for simple options, and it's highly
likely that a lot of features will go undiscovered and unused because
they're buried in here.
Also, in fine Samsung tradition, there are
apps which duplicate nearly every default Google app. There's the stock
Android browser as well as Chrome; Gallery and Photos; Hangouts and
ChatON, Play Music and Music; Email and Gmail; and even Samsung Apps
alongside Google Play. Even worse, there are two voice assistants. A
long-press on the Home button brings up Google now, but a quick
double-tap brings up S-Voice. You can't delete most preloaded apps, but
you can at least hide them from the app menu.
We've heard rumours
that Samsung is planning to ditch Android and is thus beginning to
familiarise users with its own apps and aesthetic. Whether or not this
eventually comes to pass, we wish the company would choose one path or
another, since this approach wastes space and makes life difficult for
new users. Nearly every action requires you to choose an app to work
There isn't really much to say about
the Galaxy S5's hardware, except that it's all slightly better than the
Galaxy S4's. The screen is mostly the same, at 1080x1920 pixels, but now
has a wider range of brightness settings for different conditions.
processor is an Exynos 5420, with four ARM Cortex A15 cores running at
up to 1.9GHz alongside four A7 cores running at up to 1.3GHz. Unlike
earlier octa-core implementations which could use either or the two
quad-core clusters at a time, any or all of the Exynos 5420's eight
cores can run at the same time, and the phone's software and hardware
are designed to recognise and address all of them individually.
LTE versions of the S5 will come with Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
processors rather than the Exynos. It isn't clear exactly how the
variants will differ in performance, and if we're getting shortchanged until we get our hands on both variants, but some reports have suggested the Exynos variant beats the Snapdragon at least in synthetic benchmarks.
There's 2GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage. You can add
a microSD card - Samsung's own documentation varies between 64GB and
128GB as the highest capacity supported. Everything else is equally
top-of-the-line: Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, USB 3.0, and a 2,800mAh
The camera can take 16-megapixel stills and 2160p 4K
video. Samsung touts a number of camera improvements, such as quick
hybrid autofocus (contrast and phase detection).
Heart rate and fingerprint sensors
two headlining features deserve their own discussion. Both seem
reactionary: one a response to a feature Apple has already launched; the
other a pre-emptive move.
However, only one is actually useful.
The fingerprint sensor is
beautifully hidden in the Home button. The S5 doesn't prompt you to set
it up, so unless you dig into the Settings app, you really wouldn't have
any way of knowing it's even there. You can enrol up to three
fingerprints, which is too few for our liking, and unlock the phone by
pressing the Home button and swiping down.
one-touch implementation, you have to swipe across the button. A clever
overlay on the screen shows you where you should place your fingertip so
the entire digit can be scanned when you swipe. In casual usage, the
sensor was accurate enough, with zero false positives and almost no
failed detections. The fingerprint sensor can also be used to enter
Private Mode, and Samsung has already opened it up to third parties
Maybe Apple's caution over allowing others to
use fingerprint authentication is a good thing, since it has already
been demonstrated that Samsung's sensor can be fooled by the same moulds
that tripped up Apple's. It's unlikely that anyone would go to such
lengths to steal a single fingerprint, but if your data is extremely
sensitive, you'll want to give the S5's fingerprint sensor a miss.
the other hand, the heart rate sensor is a complete oddity. You're
meant to hold your index finger over the sensor, which isn't difficult
thanks to the slightly raised camera above it, while the S-Health app
reads your heart rate. The first problem with this is that it hardly
ever worked - we were often frustrated by the S5's point blank refusal
to register a reading even after jabbing the sensor and shifting our
finger around several times. The few times that we did get a reading,
results seemed to vary beyond wildly.
The second issue is that
it's highly disruptive to enter the app, select the heart rate module,
and then wait for the sensor to register a reading. It hardly seems
necessary to monitor heart rate in the first place, but maybe we'd do it
if the process was seamless. As it is, we can't even be certain that
the reading is accurate, so we're much less likely to ever bother with
this feature again.
This factor also applies to most of the
S-Health app's other features, which include diet tracking and
monitoring physical activity. We're sure they work better with Samsung's
Gear series of wearable accessories, and we'll have a detailed review
of that experience soon.
Samsung knows that a
fantastic camera is totally necessary for to high-end smartphone, and
the S5 does not disappoint. The app's interface is remarkably clean, but
of course Samsung had to go and stick 24 settings icons in a menu. You
can pin up to three of these to the main screen - by default only HDR
and Selective Focus are pinned, and you have to dig into the menu even
to turn the flash on or off.
(Click to see full size)
Photos taken with the Galaxy S5 are
truly impressive. The level of detail and clarity is amazing, especially
in close-up shots. When viewed at full size on a big screen, photos do
seem a bit overprocessed, with a lot of compression going on.
Thankfully, the 16-megapixel resolution is enough to mask that effect
when photos are scaled down.
The S5 performs impressively in
nearly all light conditions. 4K video is stunningly clear, though you
should be prepared for enormous file sizes. HDR works well, but
surprisingly, the non-HDR versions of photo aren't saved. The selective
focus trick, which is an artificial depth of field effect, doesn't
always work - even when you can see a neat composition on screen, you'll
often get an error message after pressing the shutter release.
(Click to see full size)
Samsung Galaxy S5 is a flagship phone, and as such, there's no lack of
performance. The CPU benchmark scores were particularly impressive, with
37,114 in AnTuTu and 23,275 overall in Quadrant. Graphics scores
brought down the average a little; we saw 26.8fps in GFXbench, and 6,693
points in 3DMark's Ice Storm Extreme run-through.
the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, powered by a Snapdragon 800, gave us
slightly lower CPU-bound scores but considerably higher graphics scores,
most likely because it has to do less work to fill up a 720p screen.
quality was pretty good, and we had nothing to complain about in that
department. In our video playback test, the battery lasted a very
impressive 707 minutes, which is just shy of 12 hours. The Galaxy S5
also managed to play pretty much every audio and video clip we threw at
it without a hitch.
Samsung's Galaxy S5 might be the
best evidence yet that smartphone development has plateaued (Also see: Peak Smartphone Theory). The entire
industry has arranged itself around a yearly upgrade cycle, but at this
point, there just isn't any compelling reason for most manufacturers to
release a new flagship phone.
The Galaxy S4 is now available at a
street price of appromixately Rs. 29,000, and is still a fantastically
serviceable premium device. What you get with the S5 is waterproofing, a
better camera, 4K video recording, the fingerprint sensor, and somewhat
improved compatibility with new accessories such as the Gear Fit.
heart rate monitor is nearly useless without a Gear accessory, which
could cost up to Rs. 17,000 more. The combined price is something to
think about if you're weighing the Galaxy S5 against the S4 in terms of
It's also worth keeping in mind that HTC has just launched its One (M8), and Sony's
Xperia Z2 isn't too far off either. Those devices, plus of course the
iPhone 5S, all compete with the Galaxy S5 at the new benchmark range of
Rs. 50,000 - 55,000.
Unfortunately for Samsung, while the Galaxy S5 is a
fantastic phone, all these factors mean there's nothing compelling us
to run out and buy it, or recommend that anyone else does so. If you're determined to buy a top-end phone for the sake of having a top-end phone, you'll probably end up choosing the S5. If not, you could actually save quite a bit of money by stepping down a notch.
Samsung Galaxy S5 in pictures