“I will wait for Samsung Galaxy S5 to come out and then decide which flagship to pick this year”
Like it or not, that is the effect, success of Samsung in the past few years has had on the average Joe who may not be the most tech savvy person on the planet. However, when Samsung announced the Galaxy S5 at MWC in Barcelona, the device was met with more jeers than cheers. The reason? Cause Samsung did not take to the innovation desk enough and stuck to the tried and tested design lingo from the Galaxy SIII days. The big announcement of the new Galaxy device did not even merit a standalone event and was one of the several announcements made at MWC, and that gives you an idea that maybe Samsung really did not have much to show.
Despite an air of discontentment, there is little hiding away from the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S5 is truly flagship material, at least from the top of charts internals of the phone. Look closely and you will see the focus shifting from features for the features sake which claimed to be your life companion, to a more polished, glamor stuck approach with subtlety that screams for attention.
With the likes of HTC One (M8) and Sony Xperia Z2 offering premium feel, thanks to expensive construction and materials, to the customers looking for the latest flagship and the thick black shadow of the iPhone 5s looming large, does the Samsung Galaxy S5 merit a place alongside the big boys on the celebrity rack, or will finally 2014 will be the year when Samsung realises the need to go back to the drawing board? Let’s find out in the full review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 here:
Availability, Box and Contents
The Samsung Galaxy S5 was launched for Rs 51,500 in India in the second week of April. We are barely two weeks from the launch of the device and the phone is already selling for about Rs 47,000 in most of the offline stores. Even some of the bigger E-Com portals have the Samsung Galaxy S5 down to Rs 48,599. This caused such an uproar, that Samsung had to release a statement denying that it has already slashed the price of the device and that it remains at Rs 51,500. However, if you look closely, you will find some very attractive offers for the device including a 20% Cashback on CitiBank from select retail stores like Croma.
The white variant of the device is easily available in the market and you will not have to struggle one bit looking for it, if you intend to pick it. The other colours, including the gold, blue and black versions are scarce though and we could not find the gold version anywhere in the retail stores in the first two weeks. The box of the device is made of cardboard with wood like pattern on it. It is a standard box that we have seen with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note III or Note III Neo, which Samsung claims is 100% recyclable. The box contents include the removable 2800 mAh battery, a 2.0 Micro USB cable, despite the device sporting a 3.0 Micro USB port, a power brick rated at 2.0 Amps, an in ear headphones with built in microphone , some warranty and quick start documents and a set of replaceable ear tips. Here is our unboxing video of the device:
Call Quality and 3G performance
The call quality on the Samsung Galaxy S5 was not the most impressive in our usage of the device as our primary smartphone for the past 12 days. The caller from the other side always felt the voice was a bit muffled and muted. The same call on our regular Sony Xperia Z1 sounded loud, clear and with little background disturbance. Not saying the call quality is bad on the S5, far from it, but in comparison to some of the other devices out there, it certainly was not the sharpest unlike the S4 for example, which makes fantastic calls.
The reception on the device was decent and the phone stuck to the network even at places where our Xperia Z1 tended to blank us out. Unlike the Note III Neo that we reviewed here, there was no signal boosting on the Galaxy S5. The readings were pretty accurate as we got the exact same value of reception both for Wi-Fi and 3G/2G network on the device as on the Xperia Z1. The 3G speeds ranged between 2.0 MB down to 4.5 depending upon the region we were in. Due to lack of 3G in Delhi region on Idea we tested the device on 2G too and there was never an issue we faced. The phone also has a feature where it tells you when you make a call or receive one when you last spoke to the same contact. This is a pretty neat little add on!
Unlike the Snapdragon 801 version of the Galaxy S5, our Exynos 5422 version did not have the Download Booster feature which basically allows for multiple input and multiple output of data, essentially meaning you can use LTE+Wi-Fi connections simultaneously giving you terrific downs. However, since the 5422 variant does not support LTE, we understand this feature was disabled on the device, which is a bummer given we were really interested in combining the 10 MBPS line with our 3G connection at home.
Hardware, Design and Build Quality
You would be excused for mistaking the identity of a Samsung Galaxy S5 in the crowd of several Galaxy smartphones especially the S3 and S4. The phone at least from the front does little to differentiate itself from its predecessors and carries over the plastic build quality that Samsung has been abashed of. The perforated or dimpled back of the device does provide some much needed relief from the glossiness of the device as well as adds to the assured feeling in the hands. Unlike several of the devices out there, the S5 is not a finger print magnet, at least the white variant, and looks fairly clean despite heavy usage. While we dig the solid feel of the S5, we do miss the extra heft of a metal or a glass especially seeing the device is one of the most expensive phones in the market. However, lack of metal and glass in the chassis means the device only weighs 145 grams and is feather light as compared to some of the other so called premium handsets.
From the outside, things are redundant especially if you have used a high end Galaxy smartphone before and you can catch the phone in our complete photo gallery here. The front of the device has a larger 5.1 inch screen as compared to its predecessor, and brings a fingerprint sensor to the customary home button which is flanked by two capacitive buttons corresponding to the Multitasking window and back action. The top right of the front has a 2 MP camera as well as ambient and proximity sensor alongside the silver predominant speaker grille.
The left side of the device features the Volume rocker and the right flank has the power button, both of which have sufficient feedback. The bottom of the device has the main microphone and a micro USB 3.0 slot hidden behind a door to keep the phone waterproof. The top of the device has a 3.5 mm headset jack and an IR blaster. The back of the device features the 16 MP Camera with Heart Rate Monitor and LED Flash just above the Samsung branding. There is a mono speaker grille at the lower bottom side of the device which totally muffles the audio output when the phone is placed with display up on a soft surface like a bed.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is an IP 67 device meaning it is both water and dust resistant. Samsung claims the device can survive in about 1 meter of water for about 30 minutes with the USB port door shut. We tried the phone deep inside a bucket of water and while the phone was obviously not functional, it survived the water and a quick wipe meant it was back up and running without a glitch. Speaker performance did suffer a bit though until all the water was dried off. We must add though, that the door on the Micro USB port was a real pain to open, especially as we have really short nails, while the back on the S5 definitely felt a lot more reassuring when we had to peel it off unlike the Note III Neo.
As good a display as you will find
The display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is easily the best we have seen on a smartphone so far. We alluded to the point in our initial impressions of the device here and that view has definitely not changed as we have grown to love the display on the smartphone. The 5.1 inch Super AMOLED HD panel on the S5 is super rich producing terrific colours. The blacks are extremely dark while whites are milky. Colours like blue, red and orange are super saturated but that is something we have come to expect from an AMOLED panel now. The viewing angles of the device are great and even at obscene angles like 160 degrees the colours hold true without any fading. The corners of the display too have no de-colouration and colours stay absolutely true.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 display is capable of going down to about 2 nits, with brightness scale all the way down and up to 700 nits in bright sunlight, making text extremely legible in all sorts of conditions. Obviously we were not able to cross verify this claim due to lack of a colorimeter, but our experience with the device would validate the claim. We never had an issue reading on the device as Auto brightness worked like a charm.
The panel on the Galaxy S5 packs 432 PPI on the 5.1 inch display making multimedia viewing a pure pleasure. The text on the device was crisp clear and there was no check board pattern or yellow hues on the white web pages of the device. The touchscreen, needless to say is extremely responsive on the device and we had no problems registering multiple touch inputs.
Software (read Touchwiz) is still a major hinderance here
Touchwiz has come a long way in this one year between the Galaxy S4 and S5, however, it remains the weak link in the solidly built team of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Samsung has done plenty of optimizations, and inclusion of KitKat 4.4 helps, from the S4 on the S5, in fact we were pretty surprised the the device came with only Samsung and Google apps out of the box with no third party bloat. While Touchwiz is a lot smoother, it remains the same colourful and cartoonish experience that just irks you. Take the Settings drawer for instance, Samsung has changed the square icons here for a more rounded ones.
There are a total of 61 such rounded icons in settings, yes we actually sat and counted it, which is just way too much. The Settings menu in a way is never ending and confuses the bejesus out of you. You have the option of moving to a tab layout but that does not make things any easier.
The Quick Settings menu in the notification bar accessed by clicking the box like icon, when you pull the bar down, is a junkyard. Pretty much every single setting you need on the device is right here except a shortcut to go directly to the main settings. You can edit this quick settings menu and take some of the controls that you will never use out to reduce the clutter.
There is a magazine section in the new Touchwiz version which can be accessed by swiping towards the right from the first home screen. The magazine section is essentially a collaboration of feeds of various genres from Flipboard. You can add in your favourite social networks too, but it just feels too cluttered on a smallish S5 display as compared to the Note Pro 12.2 display where we dug the feature.
The keyboard on the device is a typical Samsung one with numeric keys on top of the QWERTY keypad. It was not the best typing experience and the keyboard has a lot of empty space between keys that could have been used, we went back to using swiftkey in a jiffy!
Although we did have features like Smart Stay and Smart Pause activated, they were just as useful as on the other Galaxy devices, meaning they pretty much never worked. Air view was a useful add on, and we liked how it was implemented in Gallery as it lets you quickly preview the images in a folder by just hovering your finger on top. Once again though, this worked only at handful of places such as Phone dialer to preview your speed dial contacts, default video player for video preview and S-Planner for quick preview of your to do’s. Multi Window feature worked well on the device once you have it enabled in the settings. Few applications support the feature as of now, but you can easily chat on Hangouts while watching Youtube Videos on the pretty screen of the Galaxy S5.
We had a huge gripe with the lock screen on the Galaxy S5. We had disabled the fingerprint sensor after using it for five minutes and had gone back to using the good old pattern lock. However, when the device is locked, the elements on the lock screen are absolutely non functional. You cannot even fire the camera up directly from the lock screen unless you enter the pattern making quick photography a no go. Notifications such as weather and steps that show up cannot be interacted with either, as nothing happens when you click on them, making the lock screen pretty much useless when locked.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has included a multi tasking capacitive key unlike the Menu key on the previous Galaxy S flagships. You can quickly access all your apps that are open by clicking this. In the window itself, you have the option of closing all the apps as well as opening the Window showing the status of Active Applications. With all the apps closed, the phone was using 1.34 GB of RAM out of 1.82 GB available which was disappointing. To obviously mask this, the device has some very aggressive RAM management and quickly shuts the apps in the memory if you have not used it for more than 10 to 15 minutes, meaning you have to wait for the application to fire up from the scratch even if it is alive in the multi tasking window.
You get a total of 11.57 GB of storage space in the internal memory of the 16 GB unit as 4.43 GB is taken up by the system files. The S5 does have a slot for Micro SD expansion.
The Galaxy S5 runs Android 4.4.2, the latest and greatest from the Android world, and thanks to the low memory intensive nature of KitKat, Touchwiz feels faster than any other Galaxy device except maybe the Note III. Having said that, the software still feels poorly optimised and lacks consistency across, best demonstrated by the circular icons in settings menu and regular square icons across app drawer and desktop.
The Toolbox feature which basically is a Chathead type icon that stays on your desktop allowing you to quickly launch applications was really useful as you could edit and add five apps to it and launch them without having to go into the app drawer. Privacy mode that allows you to hide apps, pictures too is a very neat feature, one that we used extensively, epecially when showing the device out to friends and family. So, basically, not all is bad in the software land.
The new hardware peripherals are nothing short of being gimmicky
Samsung followed the footsteps of iPhone 5s by including a finger print sensor on the Home Button of the device. However, the sensor does not work remotely as well as it does on the iPhone 5s. We wrote a long list of reasons why you will not find the sensor intuitive enough either here. To cut the long story short though, you are required to swipe your finger at a set speed and a set angle for the sensor to recognise your print. This speed is exceedingly slow than a normal swipe and the angle is pretty much perpendicular to the Home Button which is completely un-natural if you hold the device in one hand. The entire process of unlocking is painfully slow and just not worth the time. Samsung is looking to collaborate with some of the apps such as PayPal to make the security feature a bit more useful especially to help with one touch payments and that is something that certainly interests us more than the way it unlocks the device currently.
The Heart Beat monitor at the back too is extremely erratic. Sitting in the exact same position it gave us a Heart Beat reading of anywhere between 81 to 125, literally scaring us. While Samsung does make it very clear that the feature is not for medical purposes, we did expect some sort of consistency even if not accuracy. We compared it to some of the applications on Android Play such as Heart Rate and the dedicated sensor definitely did not warrant its inclusion as the app definitely did a better job that this. The entire process of calculating the heart rate is not a problem as it was quick enough, but what is the use when you simply cannot rely on the reading.
The Galaxy S5 also comes with S-Health that basically tracks your movements and advices you like a coach. The app calculates your movements, only when you press the start button, and not at all times. You can set your workout goals and have an audio guide there with you if you desire some company. The app also gives you a progress chart in terms of how far were you from your goal of burning Calories or steps taken. We computed the results captured by S-Health of the number of steps taken versus our Nike Fuelband and there was a massive difference between the two despite exactly the same settings. While the S5 told us we walked 202 steps, the Nike Fuelband which is extremely accurate recorded only 174 steps. It also worth noting, that the Fuelband counts the steps irrespective of you telling it to, unlike the S5 where you need to dictate to the device and hence losing out on data if you forget to turn the session on.
Performance of the device
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is no doubt a super fast device. The Indian variant comes with an Exynos 5422 Octa Core SoC and 2 GB of RAM unlike the global variant which comes with Snapdragon 801 SoC. The device performed as expected, very well in the several benchmark tests that we conducted here. Like we concluded in the test, it would be super interesting to compare the results of the Snapdragon 801 performances vs the Exynos device and find out which one is faster.
However, the real life performances were not as impressive as that projected by the benchmarks on the Exynos device. The device did get pretty hot especially on the sides of the back when we played memory intensive games. Open three memory hogging games at the same time, and you start seeing a lag especially when switching apps, which was butter smooth when phone was booted. Even small things like opening the magazine section gets delayed by a second when you have memory intensive apps on. We touched upon this earlier, but instead of freezing the apps at its current stage, the S5 starts to quit them for better memory management, meaning you virtually have to start right from the scratch even if the app is in the multitasking window.
While video playback and game playback was pleasant, the phone did drop a few frames as we quickly switched between aggressive gaming, twitter and a chat on hangouts. There were some random freezes too while unlocking the device. Scrolling on the device was smooth across and remained so until you really hammered the phone with quick actions consistently. Overall, the performance of the device was really good, without ever being top of the charts stuff that we felt while using the HTC M8 for a while.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with a 16 MP Isocell sensor that is different from the BSI 2 CMOS sensors that are most commonly used today. The sensor is developed in house by Samsung and mainly results in ultra fast focussing as well as muting of lot of digital noise. The Isocell sensor, as the name suggests forms a barrier between the neighbouring pixels, allowing no crosstalk resulting in more absorption of light. The aperture of the camera unit here is f/2.2 and focal length of 31 mm.
However, in real life, the camera is not a swashbuckling beast we expected it to be. We compared it to the camera of the iPhone 5s here and despite being really good, it came second to the big daddy. The colour reproduction was brilliant on the camera, in fact a bit of extra post processing added to the liveliness of the images, but the phone really struggled for details in low light conditions. Although, the Isocell sensor worked its magic when muting the noise and faster focus speeds, it never really produced images that were drop dead stunning.
The 1080 P video quality on the device was fine too and audio was especially good. The default camera app, as usual is extremely intuitive from Samsung and brings you the ability to pin unto three features on the view finder. You can turn picture stabilisation on, and have several effects such as Beauty Mode, Panorama, Dual Camera, Shot and More plus an HTC M8 like Selective Focus which just did not work for us. You can capture a picture in 16 MP, all the way down to 6 MP using the device depending on the number of pixels you love. Overall, the camera of the phone while definitely being an improvement over any other Galaxy device still lags a bit behind the likes of iPhone 5s, Xperia Z1 and obviously the Nokia Lumia 1020.
We are extremely impressed with the battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S5, just as we had mentioned in our initial impressions of the device. The standby times on the device were really good and the device dropped about 2% battery overnight with Wi-Fi turned down in about 10 hours.
Samsung has also offered two Power saving modes for the device namely Power Saving Mode and Ultra Power Saving Mode. While Power Saving mode just turns the background data down and lowers the clock speeds of the device, the ultra power saving mode is where real action happens.
This mode changes your S5 to basically a feature phone enabling only the basic features such as calling and texting and turning rest of it all down, including the display to a greyscale. All connectivities are turned off and you are left with a device that can go up to 24 hours with 10% battery. This is really a useful feature when you are traveling and just want your battery to last those last few miles before your phone can meet a power source.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a beast without beauty. While some ergonomic changes such as more rounded edges and a reworked back have worked in the favour of the device in differentiating it design wise from its predecessors, it clearly is not enough. The waterproof and dustproof nature of the phone makes it a companion for all terrains and weather conditions and may well be a deal breaker if you live in a place where rains pour often.
Just like any Samsung flagship, the performances of the S5 were electrifying with few glitches that may well be ignored if you did not have the eye of a tiger for details. For most average consumers, the device will do just about everything you throw at it and then some more. However, if you are a person who likes things that are polished and perfect, there will be minor things that will annoy you here. All being said and done, you obviously must go out there and try the device to form your own opinions about the phone and we assure for at least 80% of the crowd, the phone will be perfectly suitable. For the other 20%, there are sufficient options in the market to choose from.