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Samsung Galaxy S5 Review: a new and better repeat


Review by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday May 06, 2014.

samsung galaxy s5 · at&t · android reviews · smartphone reviews · samsung news · android news · smartphone news · andrew kameka

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Samsung Galaxy S5 multitasking menu
Samsung Galaxy S5 multitasking menu

Software and Apps

No amount of coloring in the margins will make anyone's opinion on Touchwiz change. Samsung's modified version of Android is a polarizing set of software that elicits praise for its abundance of features and scorn for its abundance of apps that cannot be removed. The Galaxy S5 is no different because the Android 4.4 KitKat software has dozens of preloaded apps from carriers and Samsung that cannot be removed. My AT&T test unit includes 18 non-removable carrier apps. Samsung's software also duplicates some standard Android features, and that's before you download more add-ons from its own Samsung Apps store. Though S Voice still remains an incomplete alternative to Google Now, it has surrendered the long-press on the home button to Google Now, so there are some signs of putting the user's needs above those of the carrier.

Samsung Galaxy S5 contacts page
Samsung Galaxy S5 contacts page

One can see the S Voice and Now change as the perfect illustration of Samsung's software -- it's the same beast that it's always been, yet it doesn't attack you as often. The trend of flat iconography has found its way to Samsung's UI. However, don't think Samsung's completely turned over a new leaf. Browse through the long and confusing single-stream Settings page and you'll see it's still business as usual by putting more, more, and more into every aspect of the phone. Group Play remains an awkward waste of time because no one ever feels the need to pair their phone with others to play the same song, especially when the external speaker isn't the greatest out there. Compatibility issues and clunky pairing processes makes it tough to link Samsung phones to share video, photos, and documents. There's even a way to link multiple phones together and see what everyone is recording and edit those videos together with Group Camcorder. It's impractical and probably won't ever be used, but it's a novel approach and something you can't currently do natively on any other phone.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Gallery app
Samsung Galaxy S5 Gallery app

The Gallery app remains a great photo browser. Pinching to change thumbnail size or scroll speeds-up the search phase, and the app uses facial recognition to identify people who appear frequently in images. There will be several duplicates of the same person because the recognition is inconsistent, but if you ever feel the need to filter photos according to your child or spouse, it's nice having the option. Similar filters exist for location, scenery, pets, vehicles, and flowers.

A new Toolbox quick settings shortcut creates a floating box that links to common utility apps like Calculator and Voice recorder for faster access. Any Toolbox can be personalized, so you an add Calendar or Spotify to find those apps just as quickly. Though one could argue that Samsung's obsession with adding more often leads to problems, Toolbox is an example of how that obsession can be beneficial. Multi Window is still the best way to multitask on a large Android phone, Air View comes in handy when someone's hands are wet or dirty and not suited for touching the phone, and the Peel-powered Smart TV is a better remote than the one that comes with your cable box. All of these features are more than what Samsung needs, and all of them make the Galaxy S5 a better all-purpose device. The software is overbearing, but overdoing it leads to (mostly) doing things right.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera UI
Samsung Galaxy S5 camera UI

Camera

The front-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is 2-megapixels and nothing more than average. It took "selfies" that were noticeably blurry compared to what I've seen with the HTC One M8 and iPhone 5s. Samsung manages to redeem itself with a 16-megapixel rear camera that is damn good. The wild camera UI has been whittled down to fewer shooting modes, though it's still quite feature rich with manual settings and extras like voice controls and live filters. Users can expand their options by downloading additional filters and shooting modes from the Samsung Apps Store. Either way, it's easy to take great photos with the S5.

The Galaxy S5 lacks optical image stabilization, so it's not as clear or sharp as rivals in low light. There are some software stabilization options that help a great deal, but they slow down the camera and are not as good as other devices. Brighter situations routinely turn in strong photos with a solid balance of brightness and contrast. With an LED flash, excellent HDR photography, 4K video recording, and a snappier focus system, the Galaxy S5 is as good as most cameras on the market.

Communication & Data

I would love to tell you about the great innovations that Samsung has introduced to data services with the Galaxy S5. I would love to talk about the Download Booster feature that utilizes both LTE and Wi-Fi connections at the same time in order to reach download speeds faster than any other phone in the United States. Unfortunately, I cannot speak of that feature because AT&T and Verizon have hidden it from use. One would think AT&T would welcome a feature that offloads network traffic and lets users access their streaming videos and important documents sooner, but it's simply not to be.

Samsung Galaxy S5 IR LED
Samsung Galaxy S5 IR LED

What I can say about the communication and data services of the Galaxy S 5 is that T-Mobile and Sprint have decided not to stand in the way of progress, and it's possible that the larger networks are merely doing more testing before eventually supporting Download Booster. At the moment, AT&T's LTE network gets about 7 to 12 Mbps in my area. I'm also able to enjoy clear voice calls, though I'm disappointed in the volume of the rear speaker, primarily because I may have been spoiled by using the One M8 before getting the Galaxy S5. The S5 is a good communication device but it has the potential to be great if carriers remove its shackles.

Samsung Galaxy S5 2800 mAh battery
Samsung Galaxy S5 2800 mAh battery

Battery Life

A 2,800 mAh battery might give the impression that Samsung hasn't done much to improve battery life; that impression is wrong. Simply put, the Galaxy S5 battery is amazingly strong. In my first few days of use, I heavily worked the battery by recording video and photos in Philadelphia, using Google Maps to find my way around town, playing RunBot, and writing articles on my smartphone. I still got 12 hours of on-screen time, and I often got 24 to 36 hours of performance when I was more moderate in my usage.

Aside from having a well-tuned battery, the Samsung Galaxy S5 includes tools that prolong battery life even further. The standard Power Saving Mode disables background data and limits the performance of the Snapdragon 801 to consume less energy. When the battery reaches a critical state and no charger is in sight, users can then turn on Ultra Power Saver. The Ultra mode will turn the phone to black and white so the screen uses less power and moves into a safe mode that shuts down all apps and background data services. Phone calls and text messages still make it through, but all other activities cease. With 41 percent battery left, the phone can go 5 days without needing to be recharged.

Conclusion

When looking at the Galaxy S5 through the lens of the many Galaxy devices that came before it, this isn't an amazing phone. There's no sense of marvel in the hardware like someone feels with an HTC One M8, and there's no perceivable change to make someone say this is a dramatic departure from the Galaxy S 4. That's only the case if you look at the external of the device. Despite its physical similarities to other phones, the Galaxy S5 is internally a big improvement. Big.

Samsung Galaxy S5 perforated back
Samsung Galaxy S5 perforated back

People will look to the Galaxy S5 for a fresh take on an amazing smartphone and they will be misguided to do so. It would be wiser to focus on what the S5 offers -- tons of enhancements and fixes for most of the things that people complain about with their smartphones. The camera is noticeably clearer, the battery life is remarkably better, the screen is brighter and has better colors, and the body of the phone undoubtedly better. This is exactly what people wanted, and Samsung delivered on the core attributes of what makes a great phone. If you're looking for a phone to shake the smartphone paradigm, look elsewhere. If you want a phone that does the important things well and throws in a few bonuses a long the way, Samsung has made its best Android phone yet, and it's ready to meet those needs.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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