After spending several days using the new Samsung Galaxy S5, I’m generally impressed but not overjoyed. It’s a solid phone and an incremental improvement over last year’s Galaxy S4 but it’s not a game changer.
Still, there are some features worth mentioning. Although I haven’t yet dunked mine in water, I like the fact that it’s water resistant. Recode’s Walt Mossberg’s loaner unit did survive after he dunked his in a bowl of water for 15 minutes. Samsung claims that it can be submerged in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes.
Speaking of loaners, I borrowed a Galaxy S5 from AT&T and have been using it throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Following in the footsteps of the iPhone 5s, Samsung added a finger print reader to its home button. Some reviewers have complained that it doesn’t work well but — so far — mine works most of the time. You have to spend a few minutes training it to recognize up to 3 of your fingers but once that was done, I’ve experienced only a few times when I couldn’t unlock my phone with my finger. If it does fail, you can always punch in a PIN code or a password.
Samsung apparently wants us all to get into better shape and it’s promoting the S5 and its optional Gear 2 smartwatch and Gear Fit fitness band as fitness tools. The Gear 2 and Gear Fit are companion products to this and other Galaxy phones (sorry users of other Android and Apple phones) but there are some fitness features built directly into the S5.
One innovative feature is the built-in heart-rate meter. Samsung enables you to place a finger over the flash unit to measure your heart-rate. It works when you’re sitting still so it’s a good way to measure your resting heart rate but you’re warned to “try to keep still and quiet,” which means you can’t use it while exercising, which is the main reason you would use a such a monitor. As a result, I’m giving this feature a D- and am still using my $50 LifeTrak watch (reviewed here) to check my pulse when exercising. Like the Lifetrak, the Galaxy S5 also works well as a pedometer but there are plenty of 3rd party apps that turn most smartphones into pedometers. The bundled S Health app can also be used to track your food intake and track your weight, but there are plenty of third party apps (like Lose It!) that do that well.
Design, specs and form-factor
The design is nothing to get excited about. It looks fine and, at 5.59 by 2.85 by .31 inches, it fits nicely into my jean pockets, but it’s downright boring compared to the new HTC One (my review is here). The rear cover has a nice matte finish that is unlikely to slip from your hand. The USB/charger port has a metal cover which is annoying to open and close each time but essential for the phone’s water resistance. My phone is white but it also comes in black. The 5.1 inch super AMOLED screen (slightly larger than the Galaxy S4) display at 1920 x 1080 pixels and looks good under a wide range of lighting conditions. It weighs 5.11 ounces
It has a faster 2.5 Ghz Quad-Core processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GM of ROM. You can use an optional microSD card for up to 128 GB of storage.
Samsung claims a quick auto focus of 0.3 seconds. I didn’t time it but it is fast, which is a welcome feature.
I’m pretty impressed with its 16 megapixel rear facing camera. Like a lot of other phones it has a HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature that merges mutliple shots together to improve image quality. Unlike its predecessors you can preview this feature in real-time to get a better sense of what the image would like like with HDR turned on. It doesn’t always improve the image so it’s a good idea to test it out.
Another nice feature is called “Beauty face” that is kind of Samsung’s version of air-brushed photos.
This video from Gotta Be Mobile does a pretty good job showcasing the Galaxy S5′s camera features.
Software and user-interface
The S5 comes with Google’s lastest Android 4.1 “KitKat” operating system along with Samsung’s “TouchWiz” proprietary interface. Personally I prefer Google’s simpler standard interface but after a few minutes (and using other Samsung phones) I have gotten used to the way Samsung does things. I must admit that I do like the way Samsung displays the setting menu in a grid view with little graphics
As per other software, Samsung has loaded the phone with plenty of apps that you’ll probably never use but it feels a bit less “bloaty” than previous Galaxy phones and — with its faster CPU — certainly more peppy.
Should you buy one?
If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, the Galaxy S5 should be on your short list along with the new HTC One and, of course, the iPhone 5s. But I wouldn’t rush to trade in your old phone just because Samsung has something new. Yes, it may be “the next big thing,” as Samsung phrases it in its ads, but it’s not that big a deal.