Since launching the first Galaxy S smartphone back in 2010, Samsung are now on their 5th iteration of the brand. Apart from the first two editions, the Galaxy S smartphone has been more of an evolution from its predecessor rather than an outright overhaul or major shakeup. This theme has continued with the Galaxy S5, which, although includes quite a number of new features, remains a mere update of the Galaxy S4. Despite this, the range continues to grow in sales year on year, already having surpassed the sale of 10 million units within a month of launching.
The New Samsung Galaxy S Flagship
The major difference over previous releases of the Galaxy S brand is Samsung’s ‘promise’ that it is striving to deliver smartphones that consumers want by actually listening to their feedback. This statement may seem strange to many, as it is something that we would expect to be standard practice in any consumer-facing industry. Be that as it may, the market has seen quite change in what features should become standard on any flagship product, with more and more being thrown into the pot as sales numbers decrease over previous years. Samsung isn’t immune to this market change, and have adapted the Galaxy S5 with enough trinkets to keep us busy for the next year, or at least until the rumours start pouring in as to what to expect on the Galaxy S6 in 2015. Yes, it will happen. We take a peek at just a few of these changes and features of Samsung’s flagship…there are honestly way too many to describe in detail without readers losing interest before we hit the half way mark.
Build and Design
It appears that Samsung has, unofficially, taken its design philosophy straight from the books of the team over at Porsche. There’s just enough change that when viewed on its own doesn’t come across as different, and any difference that can be spotted requires a side by side comparison. The Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 depict theme in that the range is moving back to its squared corners of the Galaxy S2, opposed to the more rounded Galaxy S3 and original Galaxy S. The most notable difference come in the form of a plastic covering for the USB port (for waterproofing) and the dimpled battery cover designed to look like leather. More in the lines of dimpled plastic. You’re not fooling anyone here Samsung. A quick browse around the internet and you’re faced with inundated amounts of comments directed toward this “band-aid” (plaster) looking rear cover.
While it may appear mere design change to include the dimples on the rear cover, it does actually serve a greater purpose. With the Galaxy S5’s water and dust proof capabilities, with IP67 certification, the soft plastic and dimples increase the grip of holding the smartphone while submerged in water for up to 90 minutes. There are now close to 20 different clips for the rear cover to seal it off from any liquid that may have worked its way beneath the cover. As with the Sony Xperia Z range, the audio jack remains unsealed, as it is insulated from the inside. All buttons remain in place over the S4, with the main menu button doubling up as a fingerprint scanner. The one change in this regard is the left capacitive button, changed from the old ‘settings’ or ‘option’ button to a ‘task switch’ button. Overall, the design is not overly inspiring, while at the same time, it isn’t off-putting either. Samsung smartphone owners shouldn’t find much issues with the slightly updated design.
The previous edition of the Galaxy S, the S4, included what many thought was too big a screen. At 5”, it is understandable why some are inclined to think this, but with the growing trend in producing larger screened flagships, it’s no surprise, then, that the Galaxy S5 would include a slightly larger display. This time around, the Galaxy S5 sports a 5.1” Full HD Super AMOLED display, with 1080x1920px resolution at 432ppi pixel density. It may appear from specs alone that the display is merely a larger version of that found on the S4, but in fact, there are quite a number of improvements. Even without a side by side comparison you will notice a difference in terms of brightness and vibrancy in colours, which is auto-adjusted by the auto-brightness feature that seems to have been updated in its own right. Colours can also be tuned with a selection of five coulour modes: Cinema, Dynamic, Adapt, Standard, and Professional Photo. Although it isn’t always a necessity on a smartphone, the viewing angles are quite impressive on the S5, being able to still make out actual colours and text from over 80 degree angles. So even with the slightly reduced pixel density due to the increased size, the display on the Galaxy S5 is impressive.
Fingerprint Scanner and Hear Rate Monitor
Apple released their iPhone 5s with a fingerprint scanner, a topic of contention amongst security buffs. Contrary to popular belief, Apple were not the first to punt the fingerprint scanner on their device, Motorola being the last to do so, some years back, on the Atrix 4G. [Let’s hope we don’t see yet another Apple lawsuit.] Samsung now has also included a fingerprint scanner on the S5, in the form of a capacitive home button. The feature uses Synaptics’ Natural ID technology by means of a micro sensor beneath the home button, which creates a map of your fingerprint. Furthermore, the user’s fingerprint is encrypted before being stored on the device to prevent any security risks you may fear. While the security aspect seems to be covered, it still has to be functional. Unfortunately, the success rate of reading your print is around 50-60%. This means that you often find yourself re-swiping a second or third time before unlocking the phone. While it may be slightly below the standard of your laptop’s fingerprint scanner, compared to the iPhone 5s, it’s much the same result. Since the Atrix 4G was launched some 3 years back, there hasn’t been many, if any OEM that included a fingerprint scanner for screen unlock. It may be an improvement over that of the Atrix 4G, but it’s still to be proved as a reliable tech to have on your smartphone.
Not one to let the likes of Apple, or other OEMs for that matter, upstage them by introducing new gimmicks, Samsung has gone one further by including a dedicated heart rate monitor on the rear, just below the primary camera. This new feature falls in line with Samsung’s drive for all things health related by means of the S Health app introduced some time back. To monitor your heart rate, simply open the S Health app and select the feature, position your hand over the sensor (being careful not to smudge the actual camera lens), stay calm and don’t speak. Seems straight forward enough, and it is. Samsung has also thrown in a pedometer for good measure, reducing the amount of gadgets you may need to get a full measurement of your health stats. At the end of the day though, while these features may be useful and do provide some good information, it isn’t 100% accurate. The pedometer requires movement of a certain extent to pick up any measurements, while the heart rate monitor produces an average rate slightly lower than your more advances tech. In short, these are merely suggested measurements as opposed to something you stake your life on, for which we would suggest something more dedicated to performing these functions.
Just a word of mention that Samsung includes a baby monitoring app with the Galaxy S5, which can be used along with the Galaxy Gear to alert you whenever your baby wakes in the middle of the night or is in some distress of some sort. Again, this won’t replace actual baby monitors geared to handle such situations.
Performance and Battery Life
With any tech created, more isn’t always ‘more.’ Throwing in faster processors and larger RAM doesn’t always result in improved performances. Thankfully for Samsung, the Galaxy S5 benefits a great deal from the increase in power, as well as the more optimised Android 4.4 KitKat OS. The company again introduced two models to the market, the Snapdragon-based LTE model, and it’s own Octo-core, Exynos variant. We had a chance to review the Exynos variant, which is an Exynos 5 Octa-core, a Quad-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A15 and a Quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A7. In addition it sports a Mali-T628 MP6 GPU, 2GB RAM, and 16/32GB internal storage. There’s no doubting that quite a lot of this extra power over the S4 is used to drive the bloat-heavy TouchWiz UI, and all the additional features. Many of these features can be handy, nifty, and useful in parts, but not quite so for every day usage. Turning almost all of these features off not only improves loading and transitions, it also increases battery life at the same time. The updated notifications menu also assists in the ability to seamlessly switch modes on and off without too much fuss in searching for them.
Speaking of improved battery life, Samsung has included a 2800mAh Li-Ion battery, a 200mAh improvement over the S4. Running all the included features, along with some usage (including a few calls and casual gaming) results in a battery life that just about makes it through a full day. Running only the most essential of features boosts battery life by at least an hour per day, which you can easily use for some additional game time [for all those addicted Candy Crushers out there!]. The projected talk time is 16 hours, and music play at 46 hours when used continuously. Being a heavy gamer, even on mobile, I just about make it through the day, including a few calls and emailing throughout the day. Excluding gaming in totality can easily result in a battery life expanding into a second and even third day.
The camera has become an integral part of the smartphone experience, even more so than raw power and battery life. The need for people to stay connected and share moments of their everyday life has increased somewhat over the past few years, and having a good camera to capture each of these moments is essential. While Samsung has always included some decent cameras on their flagship smartphones, there’s no denying the likes of Nokia and Sony have caught up and surpassed anything Samsung has to offer in terms of imagery. The Galaxy S5 sports 16MP rear camera, and 2MP front facing camera. In addition, the camera app has been updated with a blend of clever software updates to make capturing that perfect moment clearly first time. The newly added ISOCELL technology means that users can capture sharper images, even in low light environments, producing quite vibrant and true colours. One of the biggest improvements is the S5’s ability to capture better images at night. There are far less frequent blurry and grainy snaps after dark, without the need to even make any additional changes within the camera app itself. Just point and shoot, and it will automatically detect the environment. The camera app does have some more advanced options for the more professional of photographers, but it doesn’t really match anything we’ve seen with the Nokia range of PureView tech. While there isn’t really a need to tinker with the settings much, a more user-friendly setup would have been ideal, something that Nokia, again, have managed to sort out with its Pro Cam app.
One of the most useful modes included with the camera app is the “Shot & More” option. This grants users the ability to take a series of photos in one go, and then have a number of post-processing tools to add afterward. Editing tools within this mode include Best Photo, Best Face, Drama Shot, Eraser and Panning Shot. These allow you to remove photobombers, choose the best face for a pose during the series of snap, and add drama to your shot by conjoining an action sequence. The most improved feature is HDR, which now allows you to actually view what your image would like before taking the photo. Previously, and on many other smartphones, the HDR feature appears as per normal, and only applies editing once the image has been taken, which is also when users can see what their images look like. It makes a big difference to have real-time HDR, which can be resource intensive, but with all the internal upgrades, you wouldn’t have expected anything less. There are quite a lot of other gimmicks and trickery to play around with in terms of the camera and the app, just too many to go into detail right here.
TouchWiz UI is one of those inclusions you love, learn to love, or just outright hate to use. One thing that can be said, even if you still hate it, is that there has been much improvement over the years when it comes to the UI. The overall smooth and buttery vanilla Android experience may still be hampered a little, the options made available can always be useful, and turned off if not. Google made the request to OEMs using its Android OS to align more with the vanilla build, and Samsung have taken some steps to achieving this. The left capacitive menu button for one is something that Samsung has rid the S5 of, replacing it with a more generic Android task switcher. The UI has also changed in terms of its look, with a softer feel, and plenty of circular icons and buttons, even changing the system font in the process.
With the change in menu button, all Samsung apps also had to be updated to accommodate the change. So if you’ve previously used any of the vanilla Android builds from the Nexus and Xperia ranges, then it shouldn’t be unfamiliar. Instead of using the dedicated menu button on the device, the menu buttons will be found on the app itself. I have noticed one or two Play Store apps not having made the change from the default Samsung layouts, which, at times, results in difficulty changing settings or exiting apps. Another inclusion is the integrated My Magazine experience. Instead of running the app from the menu or shortcut, it forms part of the screen (sort of) when sliding to the left of the homescreen. It may appear that sliding to the right shows the My Magazine as part of the TouchWiz launcher, when it fact it more along the lines of having the app always running, and sliding to the left merely switches to the app. In any case, the app resembles Flipboard to a large extent.
Many of the traditional Samsung Smart features are still available, including Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, Smart Rotation, and the likes. As always, you also get your share of bloatware that cannot be uninstalled, unless you gain root access. While there aren’t many new S apps to speak of (perhaps just Group Camcorder), all of these apps have been updated to include some additional features to enhance your Galaxy experience.
The flagship comes at a premium cost of R10,299, which won’t suit everyone’s pocket, even on some of the postpaid deals available around. With such a high price point, Samsung has added in a few premium app subscriptions, as well as the well-received ADH Premium Warrantee. The ADH allows consumers
- Two screen or liquid damage repairs within the two-year warrantee period. One of each, or two of one. (i.e. one liquid and one screen replacement counts as two)
- ADH Premium includes collection and delivery of your device when being repaired.
- A loan unit will be made available for your convenience during the repair period.
- Smart Value: guaranteed buyback from Samsung at 25% of market price within first 12 months.
While ADH cover doesn’t add to the appeal to getting one, it at least protects your premium product from damages, giving you peace of mind.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has quite a lot to offer. More so than could be covered in a single review. If you’re all about gadgetry with some gimmicks thrown in as a side order, then this device will definitely please you. Mind you, there are still some areas of improvement, most specifically with all the new features added, but these can easily be overlooked if you allow for some loss of accuracy. The Exynos version does not offer the same power GPU as on the Qualcomm variant, but is almost as powerful in terms of raw processing. That said, Qualcomm are soon to release their Snapdragon update (already announced), and an even more powerful 64-bit chipset by year end. Already there are rumours suggesting the Galaxy S6 would include this 64-bit CPU, but you’ll be more than satisfied with the S5 until that time comes. At the end of the day, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a brilliant device, which, at present, can only be outshone by a very limited amount of smartphones (perhaps only 2). A definite recommendation for your next purchase.
You can find the full specifications here.