Matt Warman: 'Samsung Galaxy S5 is almost brilliant'
Published 08/04/2014 | 07:57
The Galaxy S5 is a great Android phone – but it’s in a crowded market.
Samsung dominates the smartphone market – people increasingly even talk about their ‘Galaxy’ in the same way they talk about their iPhone – and the pressure to maintain that position is immense. Although Samsung’s power is built in large part on mass sales of mid-range devices, its flagship is the phone that gets all the attention.
The launch of its latest, the new S5, comes just 11 months after the S4, and that in large part explains why there is not that much that is new. The S4 was an excellent device and the S5 comes with the expectation that it will be better. But in reality meaningful innovation takes longer than that.
Nonetheless, the S5 remains an excellent device too – the 16MP camera, for example, comes with an autofocus that is so fast you barely notice it happening. The days of missing the picture are almost over. High dynamic range makes the pictures look consistently excellent, too. It’s now dustproof and water-resistant, the battery is slightly bigger and you can combine 4G with WiFi for ultrafast downloads. Samsung has explicitly tried to simplify what was previously a laundry list of little used features, focusing on the camera, usability and durability.
As far as the phone goes, however, that is about the best of it – although all questions of design are subjective, I prefer the plastic look of the S4 to that of the S5, with its ridged silver edge and Elastoplast-style perforated back. The S5 also comes with a fingerprint sensor, which doesn’t work as well as the iPhone version and can only cope with three fingers. If you want to use your thumb sideways, with the phone held in one hand, you have to train the device to recognise your finger sideways even though the tutorial suggests you do it top to bottom. Overall, the ‘high-security’ fingerprint remains somewhere between a gimmick and a frustration at first use; but persevering with it makes it a useful feature that even lets you pay with PayPal. These are the first, tentative steps towards a system where it is easy to make payments and to go shopping with a phone. Only Samsung is currently making them.
The S5 also comes with an ultra power saving mode, for when you’re so desperate to eek out a little more battery life you want your smartphone to act like a dumb phone.
It’s 15g heavier than its predecessor, but that’s not a significant difference when almost all phones are now so light. The screen is the same size, and other dimensions are broadly similar. It is not a great leap forward, and if anything it looks and feels bigger in the hand thanks to that chrome rim and slightly tighter corner angles.
So the S5 is a largely incremental improvement. But if anything it suffers from the scale of its ambition – that fingerprint sensor isn’t quite ready for primetime, and flashy animations on openings folders are slightly slow. The camera’s supposed ability to refocus pictures after they’ve been taken is temperamental, and far surpassed by LG and HTC. All these features would be great if they worked better.
Beyond those smart features, the S5 seeks to be a gateway device to a whole new category of products, the Gear smartwatch and the Gear Fit smart fitness band. The market for those products, for now, is small, and the need for a new phone to kickstart them is doubtful. Worse still, Samsung makes great play that in fact those devices are compatible with 17 Samsung devices in total. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, anyway, but Samsung deserves credit for trying to create a whole new technology platform
So how best to measure the S5? It is more expensive than the Nexus 5, Google’s in-house phone that is made by LG and offers none of Samsung’s bells and whistles. That leaves it without the S Health 3.0 fitness tracking, but it leaves the Nexus 5 with an untouched Google interface at roughly half the price. Compare it to the HTC One’s new M8 version and the S5 has a camera that is better in some conditions and worse in others, while the design of the One feels rather more premium. The iPhone is in its own category, but certainly the Android software remains more flexible.
Design a matter of taste
Water-resistance means annoying flap covers charging point
Battery life not greatly improved
Not a radical advance on previous models
New features and design
I’ve used the S5 as my main phone over five days, with both the Gear smartwatch and the Gear Fit fitness band. As a standard smartphone it’s impressive, and even the design grew on me. It’s not streets ahead of the Nexus 5 or the HTC One, and it is unlikely to drag too many iPhone users to the Android fold. As a camera it’s good, but Nokia and others do even better.
But solely because it allows me to use the intriguing Gear or Gear Fit, it’s probably the single most exciting device on the market today. Samsung is pushing the smartphone to new levels while HTC and Apple are refining existing versions – many consumers could, however, be forgiven for thinking that it is not, however, easy to distinguish which is the best on the market. In large part, that’s because almost all the differences are now down to a matter of taste.
Video UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization, Video Codec : H.263, H.264(AVC), MPEG4, VC-1, Sorenson Spark, MP43, WMV7, WMV8, VP8, Video Format: MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM
Audio Audio Codec : MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/ AAC+/ eAAC+, WMA, Vorbis, FLAC, Audio Format: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA
Camera Features HDR (Rich tone), Selective Focus, Virtual Tour Shot, Shot&More
Additional Features IP67 Dust and water Resistant, Ultra Power Saving Mode, Download Booster, S Health 3.0
Connectivity WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2x2), Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+, USB 3.0, NFC, IR Remote
Sensor Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart rate sensor
Memory RAM: 2GB, Internal Memory: 16/32GB, microSD slot upto 128GB
Dimension 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
Battery 2800mAh, Standby time: 390 hrs / Talk time: 21 hrs