Review: Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone (video)

3 May 2014

Apps screen on the Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung claims the Galaxy S5 was developed to focus on what matters most to consumers and, if what matters most to you is a great camera, fitness tracking and a powerful battery, the South Korean mobile-maker might just have got it right.

Looks better than it feels

When you think of a 5.1-inch display, you’re probably not thinking of something that fits neatly into one hand, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 manages to do just that without feeling unwieldy. Despite all the components packed into this device, it manages to maintain a slim 8.1mm figure and doesn’t feel chunky in your hand.

It does, however, feel cheaper than it should. The perforated-look rear backing is pleasing to the eye, but not to the touch. The white version in particular is a little too reminiscent of the Styrofoam packaging you get from the butchers, and this could be due to the flimsy nature of the plastic used.

For users more accustomed to premium materials in their premium smartphones (see the iPhone 5s and the HTC One M8), this could be a huge deterrent.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

The rear of the white Galaxy S5 reminds me that I need to pick up some sausages

On the plus side, the removeable plastic backing on the Galaxy S5 means easy access to the removeable battery and other components, so repairs are easier and less costly should something happen to your precious smartphone.

There’s also a rubber seal keeping water away from the inner components. This and a protected multi-purpose jack give the S5 its IP67-certified water and dust resistance.

Users should note, however, that ‘water-resistant’ in no way equates to ‘waterproof’, and, while the S5 will easily survive an Irish downpour, it’s not advisable to bring it surfing. In fact, even though it can resist leakage at depths of up to 1m for up to 30 minutes, underwater photography might not work out with a capacitive touchscreen that struggles to recognise a wet finger.

Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Look at her, hypnotised by that glorious 5.1-inch display

For many users, all other aspects of the S5’s design will pale in comparison to the dazzling 5.1-inch 1,080 x 1,920 resolution Super AMOLED display. Even at 50pc brightness, the S5 display leaves its competitors in the dark.

Operation and performance

Of course, the S5 is capable of speedy 4G data connectivity and its Wi-Fi speed is nothing short of satisfactory. Samsung has even supplied a Download Booster feature that makes use of both connections at once for faster download times, but you’d want to keep a close eye on your data package if using it.

The S5 runs on a 2.5GHz quad-core processor but, despite all this power, there is some lag, particularly when using the camera. Battery power, on the other hand, is top notch. I didn’t even have to scour through settings seeking out power-suckers to get myself through a whole day of extensive use straight out of the box. At the end of that first day, I still had 25pc battery power to spare.

Another stroke of convenience from the Samsung pack is that you won’t need to swap to a teeny nano-SIM as the S5 sticks with the micro-SIM format.

The S5 comes in 32GB and 64GB variants, and there’s also micro-SD support for another 128GB. Samsung has also made a concerted effort to cut down on bloatware installed on its new flagship, and, on the 16GB model, you have 11.3GB free to use on start-up – far more generous than the S4.

Siliconrepublic Review | Samsung Galaxy S5 

Samsung Galaxy S5 specifications

  • 142mm x 72.5mm x 8.1mm, 145g
  • 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display, 1,080 x 1,920 resolution (432ppi)
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android 4.4.2 with Samsung TouchWiz UI
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset with 2.5GHz Krait 400 quad-core CPU and Adreno 330 GPU
  • 16GB or 32GB storage, expandable up to 128GB via micro-SD
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2,800mAh battery
  • 16MP rear camera with LED flash, shoots 1080p video at 60fps
  • 2MP front-facing camera, shoots 1080p video at 30fps
  • IP67-certified dust and water-resistant
  • 4G/LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, Infrared
  • Proximity sensor, heart-rate sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer

One welcome improvement on the S5 is typing input. Samsung has improved its autocorrect so that words which have been automatically changed are underlined in the text, making it easy to do a quick scan before you press send and prevent glaring (and sometimes hilarious and embarrassing) errors.

Numbers are readily available on the spacious native keyboard, but it doesn’t allow much room for punctuation marks. That said, I think I can concede that one for the benefit of being able to type swiftly and accurately.

In terms of the overall user interface, I just wish Samsung had put some more effort into upgrading the appearance of native apps such as messaging, email and the calendar. While the new settings menu is bright and modern, these commonly used apps still look bland and dated.

A real low point for the S5: the speakers. It could be that flimsy plastic backing, but listening to audio this way causes the entire phone to vibrate and feel like it’s about to explode. On top of that, the quality is typically thin, though call quality through the earpiece is just fine. 

Camera has its ups and downs

The 16MP rear camera takes nice shots even in low light with no flash – the toughest test for a smartphone camera. Where the S5’s shooter really shows off is when it comes to macro shots. Close-ups of small objects and fine details are crystal clear – again, even in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review

Testing the S5’s fast autofocus, it quickly caught the details in this toy car

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review

Even in low light, the S5 manages to capture a variety of colours, textures and minute stitches

If you’ve been paying attention to Samsung’s marketing of the S5, you’ll be expecting autofocus that works in a flash. While it is fast to focus, it’s not as speedy as Samsung lauds it to be and, worst of all, processing images post-capture really slows down the whole experience. If you switch on features like HDR, Selective Focus or image stabilisation, you will be left waiting between shots.

Moreover, neither of these features really blew me away. HDR will brighten darkened subjects in a backlit environment, but the processing can’t handle fine details and Selective Focus is extremely hit and miss.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review

My reluctant volunteer Colm Gorey is lost in the backlit image on the left and, while the image on the right – shot with HDR switched on – balances out the lighting, the lack of detail is still apparent

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review

Selective Focus has been used on the right-hand image, but large sections of the ceiling and the area to the left of Colm have not been softened, making the effect inconsistent

Some photo features that do work well are the Beauty filter, which genuinely does even out skintone and minimise blemishes (for all your stunning selfie needs), and Virtual Tour guides you through the creation of just that.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera review

On the left, a regular selfie; on the right, a Beauty mode selfie


A virtual tour of Silicon Republic’s office using the S5

The niche nature of Virtual Tour makes it a surprising inclusion out of the box as, generally on the S5, Samsung has tried to keep the add-ons to a minimum, allowing users to download extra camera capabilities at their discretion instead of pre-loading the device with filters and features some people may never use.

In operation, the S5’s native camera app keeps the battery-level indicator on-screen, which is a useful reminder. Less of a convenience is the inability to switch on and off the shutter sound on phones sold from different operators in different regions. If this is the case for your S5, you will have to mute the entire device to silence that artificial click.

Additional features: My Magazine and more

Swiping right on the home screen of the Galaxy S5 brings up a new feature: My Magazine. This stream of content is powered by Flipboard and can be curated by the user according to their interests.

The flow and presentation of content in My Magazine is very similar to HTC’s BlinkFeed but, unlike BlinkFeed, when I click on a link, I’m not brought directly to that story; instead I land on a Flipboard preview – but I’ve already seen the preview in the feed.

The experience would be much more seamless if this step was removed and I was taken directly to the full, readable content. As it is, it’s jarring.

Other new features for the S5 include a home key with built-in fingerprint scanner for added privacy, and a Kids Mode – both of which we explored in greater detail in our ‘first look’ video.

There’s also an updated version of S Health that both looks and works really well, making great use of the device’s sensors to track your exercise and even your daily footsteps using the pedometer.

S5-owners can also avail of an extra 50GB of storage on Dropbox, plus six months’ free access to Deezer’s Premium+ service.

Verdict: a fab phone, but not without its flaws

While I’ve never been that bothered by Samsung’s plastic-backed smartphones, rivals in the market are producing greater-looking devices and Samsung’s cheaper design approach is starting to wear as thin as its flimsy cover. At times, I could even feel the device overheating through the plastic, which was concerning.

While the S5 could be styled a little better – both inside and out – it’s undeniably a hard-working smartphone for those that covet a stunning screen, a fantastic camera, enduring battery power and fitness tracking galore. Additionally, Kids Mode and Privacy Mode might be just what some users need from their device.

All told, if you’re more substance than style, the Galaxy S5 has a lot to offer.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available in black, white, blue and gold on all major networks via Carphone Warehouse, starting at €610 on pre-pay or from free on bill-pay.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.