|Samsung Galaxy S5 Introduction and Specifications|
|The Android smartphone wars are heating up here in Q2 with Samsung, HTC and soon LG releasing flagship devices targeted at luring in enthusiasts and mainstream consumers who might be looking to upgrade to the latest technologies and screen sizes. We just gave you a detailed evaluation of HTC's One (M8) for 2014 and today we're here to bring you our view of Samsung's new Galaxy S5 Android superphone.
At Samsung's Unpacked event in February, we got some early hands-on time with the Galaxy S5 and what impressed us then is what impresses us now, now that we've had a few weeks to live and work with the device in house. The first thing that stands out is its beautiful 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display. Then you're treated to the snappy, fluid responsiveness of its beefy Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor. But, as we've come to find out with HTC's One (M8), there's a lot more to a smartphone than just a pretty screen and a screaming-fast mobile processor under the hood. It's a damn good start though.
In practical use, the definition of a "superphone" would be a well-balanced combination of high quality industrial design, functionality and a feature set that's backed-up with top-end horsepower and solid battery life. It's not easy to hit all those targets in one device and not make at least a couple of compromises somewhere along the way.
So does the Samsung Galaxy S5 live up to the build-up? Better still, is it merely just equal to the sum of its parts or are we talking true Android greatness here? Let's have a look.
Just quickly scan of the Galaxy S5's spec list and you're treated to a veritable laundry list of the latest technologies. First, Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 with Adreno 330 graphics is the processor on board the GS5 and it in and of itself is a sizable upgrade over the Snapdragon 600 found in the previous generation Galaxy S4. However, the list goes on from there, and the upgrades are substantial almost on every front. The highlights are a larger 5.1-inch full HD Super AMOLED display, (which is probably my favorite enhancement on board the GS5), a new higher resolution 16MP camera (capable of shooting 4K UHD video), the latest 802.11ac MIMO WiFi technology, USB 3, and a larger 2800mAh battery.
Cap all of those upgrades off with IP67 dust and water resistance (IP stands for "Ingress Protection" - there you learned something), similar to what was built into the Galaxy S4 Active and Samsung clearly has given consumers a lot to look forward to in the Galaxy S5. Let's investigate the GS5's hardware design cues, build quality and software complement next...
|Mechanical Design and Build Quality|
Samsung Galaxy S5 HardwareDigging into the mechanicals, straight away we're going to point out that we're not all that fond of Samsung's insistence on sticking with the chromed, plastic trim edge that's strapped around the GS5. Though it does do a nice job of giving the phone a bit more grip on the edge of the device, frankly it looks kind of cheesy and detracts slightly from the overall feel and build quality of the GS5. It's not a huge issue by any measure in our opinion and the GS5 still feels and looks great; it's just the spot where we wish this phone was a bit more refined.
The back casing of Galaxy S5 is a totally different design aesthetic now ,with what Samsung calls their "Modern Glam Perforated Patten." Frankly, it has sort of a "pleather" feel to it but we like it. The surface really grabs nicely in the hand, resists scuffs and looks great in our opinion. Certain colors in the finish might not be your cup of tea but the charcoal black unit we tested looks sharp, as does white and blue. We're not sure about the copper color but we'd have to see if first-hand to comment.
And of course there's the Galaxy S5's new 16MP camera with LED flash and the heart rate monitor, situated on top of the back of the device with a small bump out for the camera optics. This new camera does a fantastic job with stills and also shoots UHD video at 3840X2160 resolution. The heart rate monitor is kind of nifty too and it functions quite accurately with Samsung's S Health app as we'll show you shortly.
Volume rocker, power button and I/O placement on the device are all in our preferred locations, unlike what we had to tolerate with the HTC One M8's top power button positioning. However, the GS5's speaker port located on the back of the device easily gets muffled in your hand and the audio quality, unlike the HTC One M8, is uninspiring. Now that we've heard how good a smartphone speaker system can actually sound with the One M8, we're spoiled. In this area, the GS5 doesn't compare. Is it a big deal? Not in our opinion. It's just one of the trade-offs with Samsung's new flagship. You get proper power button placement and a shorter device with a bit more screen real estate on the GS5. The One M8's power button placement and taller profile take a lot of getting use to but the sound coming from its speaker system is impressive and actually something you might enjoy. That said, most folks don't expect their smartphone to offer great sound fidelity and are ready to rock out with a set of ear buds, so we'll chalk this one up to a very minor let down for the GS5, in our humble opinion.
Another, you either love it or hate it sort of design choice the Samsung team made, is the Galaxy S5's protected microUSB port. This tethered cover is required to keep the GS5 water and dust resistant and preserve its IP67 resistance compliance rating. Personally, I don't mind it. For others, this could be a minor to major annoyance. Interestingly, Samsung has a semi-standard synch and charge port here. Standard microUSB cables do work just fine for charging and synching the GS5 but if you utilize the included USB 3 microUSB cable with its extended port connector, you'll get full USB 3 throughput over the connection. Nice, and it could come in handy for transferring those 4K video files the GS5 is capable of shooting.
And Samsung is still one of the few smartphone manufacturers that offers a user serviceable battery. In this case, just peel off the back cover of the device and you get access to the Galaxy S5's larger 2800mAh battery and the phone's dual tray microSIM and microSD card slots.
|Software And Apps|
Samsung Galaxy S5 Software
Samsung has taken Android 4.4.2 KitKat and skinned their TouchWiz interface over it for both a lightly-customized look and enhanced functionality. App icons are bold and the pallet Samsung chose is colorful. For us, it's straight forward, offers good contrast and works. Frankly, though we like the light footprint of stock Android KitKat, there are areas where things are almost too subdued, flat and lacking contrast such that certain settings and controls don't stand out well enough. With TouchWiz, though some Android purists might knock it, to us it's bold and intuitive with occasionally less fumbling and drill-down required.
And these added controls and functionality are first apparent when you pull down the advanced settings panel from the top. There are a ton of options here, frankly, probably too many. However, when you want to flip on or off a feature, it sure is handy, with one swipe down and a button push away.
Samsung's My Magazine app is readily available with a right swipe from the left side of the home screen. It's essentially an integration of Flipboard pulling in news and web content from various sources with the ability to add your social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube.
The Samsung S Health app is designed to be both a personal trainer of sorts and biometric monitoring system, along with "Fitbit-like" functionality to track activity and health metrics during the course of a day.
S Health works with phone's gyro to offer pedometer functionality and you can track both steps and calories burned along with tracking your calorie intake for the day. You also get the ability to program workout routines with the Galaxy S5 minding conditioning goals you set, urging you to achieve them. And finally there's the Heart Rate monitor integration with S Health that allows you to take your pulse at any time, just by placing your finger over the back sensor of the GS5. It's accurate and works quite well but you'll have to decide for your self whether the functionality is valuable or just novelty.
And finally, the other stand-out feature of the Galaxy S5 is its fingerprint scanner that is actually built into the lower part of the screen, just above the Home button. Essentially, with a few swipes of your finger, you train the device and then give it a backup password, should you want to disable the feature in the future. From there, to unlock the GS5, just swiped down on the small target screen area. For us it worked pretty well, though we’ve heard of a few complaints if you’re rushing to get in to the device. Sometimes you just need to swipe more slowly or in a more precise downward motion, for the scanner to work. In practice, we didn’t feel it was much of a hindrance at all and the feature is a convenient, additional security measure at your disposal.
|Web Browsing, General CPU Performance|
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is in the top quadrant of these two tests. In the Browsermark test, the field is grouped closely, with only a few percentage points separating the top 5 performers. With respect to web browsing and general web application processing, you will not find the Galaxy S5 lacking in any way whatsoever.
|CPU, System, User Experience Benchmarks|
|AnTuTu’s latest benchmark returns a number of scores—too many to graph so we’re including a look at all the numbers in a table. This test measures subsystem performance in various areas like Database IO, Storage IO, CPU (Int. and Float), GPU (3D), and RAM (speed).
AnTuTu benchmark – click to enlarge
The MobileXPRT benchmark runs through a variety of tests to evaluate the responsiveness of a device along with its ability to handle many everyday workloads.
Mobile XPRT Benchmark Tests - Click to enlarge
The Samsung Galaxy S5 shows itself to be a very strong performer, taking second place spot overall in both AnTuTu and Web XPRT, just edging out the HTC One (M8). It only falls short of NVIDIA SHEILD performance, which, to be fair, is an actively cooled (with a fan) gaming hand-held device that has much more thermal headroom to clock its SoC higher.
|Graphics and Gaming Performance|
|GFXBench has been one of our standard graphics performance benchmarks for a while. Recently, the company updated its software to version 3.0. With this new version, the old tests are no longer available to run for comparison. Still, we were able to round up a handful of phones to give you a feel for how the Galaxy S5 stacks up.
Here the Samsung Galaxy S5 falls in just behind the HTC One (M8) which is a little surprising since both devices are powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC. The variations are quite small, however and likely within this test's window of variability in scoring.
We've come to place a lot of stock in how Futuremark's latest mobile 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Ice Storm. The test scores device performance in a number of areas, from pure polygon and shader processing to physics calculations. Futuremark is also very good about policing benchmark results in their database, looking for manufacturers trying to gain an edge by "optimizing" for the benchmark and changing the overall workload.
Here, the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) are neck-and-neck again with only a 2 - 5% variation in scoring, the edge again going to the One (M8). Perhaps it's a different low-level Adreno 330 driver revision that the GS5 is currently employing that results in the device coming in a few ticks behind HTC's latest flagship. Regardless, the variations again are negligible and this is the sort of thing Samsung can affect pretty easily with a future over the air firmware update.
|Camera And Battery Life Performance|
We haven't spent a lot of time discussing the Galaxy S5's camera application and its resulting performance yet, so we'll dig in a bit here. In short, Samsung's new camera app for the GS5 is solid, with some standard controls and settings, along with interesting shooting and image augmentation features.
There's a decent array of shot control settings here, some of which we haven't seen in a smartphone camera app today, like metering modes, for example. Though we did find ourselves missing a few settings as well, like shutter speed for example. You do get some basic white balance control with a few settings to choose from, however. In addition to standard colorization affects, you also get Panorama mode, Shot and More (a burst shot mode that let's you choose from Best Photo, Best Face, Drama Shot etc.) and a Virtual Tour mode which is actually kind of cool. The feature's naming is pretty self-explanatory but this mode allows you to take multiple shots of wherever you are and the GS5 will assemble a video compilation of the photos you took with panning and fade transitions that give the affect of being on a virtual tour.
In addition, there's also a Selective Focus mode on the GS5 and, sort of like the HTC One (M8), it composes shots with multiple focal points and then allows you to tap on foreground and background areas of the scene to choose from those focal points. The autograph Red Sox baseball shot above is an example of a Selective Focus shot from the GS5, with the baseball sharp and the background out of focus for a reasonable, though some may feel half-hearted attempt at a depth of field effect. In practice, the HTC One M8's Duo Camera feature with selective focus does a better job and Samsung's software implementation doesn't quite measure up. Both implementations of the effect leave a lot to be desired, however, if you're spoiled by what you can do with a quality DSLR camera lens. We have to be realistic though, it still is a smartphone camera we're talking about here, so at least it's a step in the right direction for this type of feature.
Non-HDR (Left) - HDR (Right)
All told, still shots looked excellent from the GS5, whether indoors in low light or under bright conditions. Colors are balanced and vibrant and with the GS5's 16MP sensor pulling in lots of light, the HDR setting turned on and Auto mode selected. We should note that the GS5's lightning-fast auto-focus is also excellent. Often times it can be an advantage in getting that spur of the moment shot that you have to react quickly to; as with fleet-footed Jack Russells that exist in almost a perpetual motion state.
The Galaxy S5's video camera performance is pretty fantastic as well, with good image stabilization capabilities and an impressive UHD video mode that records at 3840X2160 resolution (not quite 4K). It does amass file size quickly within the GS5's on board storage but it's impressive none the less. Here's a quick taste...
The battery within the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a removable and user-accessible 2800mAh cell that's a 200mAh boost over the previous generation Galaxy S4. In addition, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor and associated battery saver software, allows the chip to power down significantly when idle and absolutely sip power. In fact, we've had the GS5 sit on a test bench for days while still powered up, but with very little battery consumption. It's pretty impressive actually.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Ultra Power Saving Mode
Further, the Galaxy S5 has not only traditional power saving modes that will prolong battery life but also a new Ultra Power-Saving mode that does something rather innovative. The Ultra Power Saving mode of the Galaxy S5 actually dims the display to a very low 2 nits of brightness and sets the screen to grey scale. You then only get access to a few basic functions at a time, including messaging, phone, calculator, memo, voice recording, Google+, the Chrome web browser and emergency alerts.
Ultra Power Saving mode also gives you an estimation of how long the phone will last in this mode and as you can see, with 70 percent battery life, we're able to go almost 9 days. On business trips and other times where you forget the charger back home, this can be pretty huge. Samsung really was thinking outside the box with this feature and it's pretty great.
In standard use, which involved hours of e-mail checking, occasional web browsing, a few social apps, a few phone conversations, and a couple of camera shots, we managed to get through an entire day 12 - 14 with over 35 percent remaining battery life on average. And again, sitting in standby and idle, that battery life is easily maintained until the next day.
Still, we decided to beat on the GS5 here in our worst case AnTuTu Battery Test benchmark. This test taxes the CPU at 100 percent, with the screen set to 50% brightness and WiFi on, until the power is down to a minimal level before shutdown.
As you can see, the Galaxy S5 does beat out the GS4 and HTC One M8 in this test, though the top-end superphones here are grouped tightly. Regardless, it's safe to say that, if you're working the GS5 hard, it'll hang about as tough or tougher than any 5-inch smartphone on the market currently.
|Performance Summary And Conclusion|
Performance Analysis:Samsung's new Galaxy S5 rips through benchmarks, besting many of the top smartphones on the market today. It competes with the HTC One M8 and the two are on par performance-wise since they're based on the same Snapdragon 801 SoC processor complex. Performance with the Samsung Galaxy S5 is, as expected, exceptional. Battery life is also fantastic as well, especially with the GS5's Ultra Power Saving mode as your ace in the hole, should a charger not be handy. But other, important areas of performance are strong with the Galaxy S5 as well, like the GS5's exceptionally responsive camera and it's ability to capture great stills and super high res video.
In fact, in all the primary areas that matter, the Samsung Galaxy S5 excels. Its 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display is actually our favorite smartphone display to date. We like it a touch better than the HTC One M8 and the Google Nexus 5, with its wider viewing angles, slightly more saturated, vibrant color reproduction and exceptional brightness. Though personal preference for some, we also like the fact that you get to make use of all that screen real estate with the Home, Back and Menu buttons all located on the bezel of the device. From there, it's the additional features that Samsung built into the GS5 that really stand out.
The GS5's Ultra Power Saving mode is, without question, a big plus that virtually all users can appreciate and utilize. S Health and the phone's heart rate monitor are perhaps a little gimmicky, though it's kind of a fun and interesting feature to have. The fitness tracker aspect of S Health is something folks might get into a bit at the gym or on a run as well. The GS5's fingerprint scanner puts Samsung on equal footing with the iPhone 5S in terms of security features. Though perhaps again, this feature might be less than interesting for some, it does work fairly well at this point and gives you the ability to secure the device beyond conventional pattern or passcode methods that can be more easily hacked.
In addition, the Galaxy S5's camera electronics really deliver both quality stills and exception UHD video recording that actually push the boundaries of what traditionally has been expected from smartphone cameras. Though the settings and control side of Samsung's camera app can seem limited in spots, in auto mode, where most people shoot from, the camera captures very high quality images and video.
And finally, all of these features are protected with IP67 rated dust and liquid resistance a la Samsung's previous generation Galaxy S4 Active, only Samsung delivered this feature in a much thinner, sleeker package than the GS4 A.
About the only shortcoming we found with the Galaxy S5, is its metallic, painted plastic trim ring around the edge of the device. It's not a huge drawback for us by any means but if Samsung took time to re-engineer their casing, the Galaxy S5 would have been darn near perfect in our opinion.
We've occasionally passed out Editor's Choice awards here when there are multiple devices in a category that we feel are worthy. In the case of Samsung's Galaxy S5, it goes without question on the team, that this device deserves this level of praise, as does HTC's One (M8). Some people will find themselves drawn to the One's fantastic exterior design quality, while others will lean towards the GS5's beautiful S-AMOLED display and unique, powerful feature set. Either way you really can't go wrong but the Samsung Galaxy S5, at $149 - $199 on contract with virtually all the majors carriers, should definitely be on your Android superphone short list. It's a powerhouse device in every meaningful, noteworthy way.