Samsung’s best gets even better in the Galaxy S5 — we take it out for a spin
Behold, the Samsung Galaxy S5. The Korean manufacturer at Mobile World Congress unveiled the fifth iteration of its flagship Android smartphone. And as we’ve come to expect, this one’s better than every one that’s come before it.
Let’s start with the basic Galaxy S5 specs:
- 5.1-inch display. Android 4.4 KitKat.
- 16-megapixel rear camera.
- 2 gigabytes of RAM.
- Storage options of 16 or 32 gigabytes.
- MicroSD card storage.
- Waterproofing with a IP67 rating.
- 802.11 ac Wifi, with MIMIO (2x2).
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- USB 3.0.
- IR port.
- 2,800 mAh (removable) battery.
What else could you want in the Galaxy S5? And we haven’t even mentioned all the software customizations. We’ve gotten a brief look at the Galaxy S5 here in Barcelona. Come with us now as we walk you through the GS5, as only Android Central can.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 video hands-on
Samsung Galaxy S5 hardware
It's plenty apparent that Samsung's learning from user feedback
Samsung continues to improve on its hardware quality, and the Galaxy S5 shows. Moreover, it's plenty apparent that Samsung's learning from user feedback, and the Galaxy S5 is a reflection of that.
The phone is just a smidgen bigger than the Galaxy S4 — the Super AMOLED display has been upped to 5.1 inches as well. The bezels seem a little larger than we'd expect, but not grossly so. The standard 1080p resolution is at hand here — no "2K" displays yet — and it looks great. That's in part because the default backgrounds and images are designed to show off (as well they should) and also because the Galaxy S5 has an improved "Adaptive Display" that will work the color gamut depending the lighting situation. It doesn't just get brighter or dimmer — it changes the way the colors look.
The Galaxy S5 is unmistakably a Samsung phone — right down to the home button. But this time around it's swapped out the legacy menu button for a proper multitasking key, and it's about time that happened. (We've previously seen this on the company's "Pro" series tablets.)
The GS5's gorgeous soft-touch back is unlike any previous Samsung design
The rear of the phone deserves some serious attention. While we'd figured Samsung would continue with its faux-leather (complete with stitching trend), it's nary to be seen on this initial crop of Galaxy S5. Instead, we're treated to a textured soft-touch back — not unlike the 2012 Nexus 7 tablet from ASUS, actually. The Galaxy S5 will initially be offered in charcoal black, shimmery white, electric blue and copper gold — and the colors themselves are pretty stunning.
Ridged edges make up the sides of the phone. The volume and power buttons are in their usual places. The Galaxy S5 most certainly looks and feels like a Samsung product, as it should. But it's probably the best Samsung's come up with so far.
If we had to pick one thing to gripe about, it'd be the camera stack out back. It's not a huge bulge, but it's noticeable. There's also some additional bulk that has to come with the inclusion of waterproofing, and the plastic flap covering the charging port may become an annoyance for some. But that's us looking for nits to pick. The GS5's hardware looks and feels solid, more so than any Galaxy S phone for the past couple of years.
Samsung Galaxy S5 software
The industrial design is but the first way Samsung has improved things in the Galaxy S5. Software's the next. The Galaxy S5 is running Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box, and it's paired quite nicely with Samsung's custom user interface.
You read that right. Five years into the Galaxy S line, TouchWiz has come around. Maybe some of that is Google's doing — the white status bar fits right in. Launcher and menu icons have taken a turn for the flat.
Truly, this no longer is the clown-colored user interface we've for so long tried to hide.
This no longer is the clown-colored user interface we've for so long tried to hide.
That's not to say there's not a lot going on — because there is. Samsung has still crammed so many features into this phone. The quick settings, for instance, had 20 buttons when we took a look. There's a veritable armada of Samsung apps. (And plenty more you can download on your own.) And on the whole, they're a little sharper and less visually cluttered than earlier TouchWiz efforts, even if everything remains bright and vivid on the phone's SuperAMOLED panel.
And the ever-clever Samsung has put its Magazine UI where Google Now lives on the Nexus 5 — at the far left of the homescreen.
For enhanced security, the Galaxy S5 also supports biometric authentication through its finger scanner — up to three fingers can be stored, swipe you finger down from just above the home button to unlock the device or perform other security-related functions. One such feature shown to us used PayPal — the company has partnered with Samsung to use the GS5's biometric capabilities — to confirm a purchase with the user's fingerprint.
Another feature we're liking is Private Mode, which lets you keep pictures, music, documents, video and voice files behind a secondary password and away from prying eyes.
So, yeah. There's a whole lot going on in the Galaxy S5, but it's nicely done, and a bit more professional-looking than before.
Samsung Galaxy S5 camera
HDR mode now gives you a live preview of your HDR shot.
The Galaxy S5 packs a 16-megapixel rear camera with dual LED flash and a slew of shooting modes, but Samsung is focusing on a handful of new features. Selective focus lets you adjust depth of field after you've taken your shot — we've seen similar stuff from Sony and Nokia in recent months. And HDR mode now gives you a live preview of how your high-dynamic-range image is going to look. Samsung's also touting the speed of the GS5's autofocus as a key camera feature, saying it can focus in as little as 0.3 seconds depending on lighting — and side-by-side with the GS4, the difference in focus speed is pretty striking.
As for image quality, we'll have to reserve judgment until we've spend some more time with the device, but photos shot in our relatively small demo area looked great on the Galaxy S5's screen, and capture speeds were about as fast as any smartphone we've used.
The GS5's flash doubles as a heart rate sensor.
In addition, there's an interesting secondary function for the GS5's camera flash — it doubles as a heart rate sensor when used with the S Health app. Hold you finger over the flash and it'll glow red, allowing the phone to monitor your heart rate. And of course you can track all this stuff over time through S Health, which, as on the GS4, is designed to be your health and fitness hub on your phone.
The bottom line
A step forward for Samsung in a bunch of important areas.
Our main takeaway from our brief time with the Galaxy S5 so far is that Samsung is has been listening to customers and critics alike, and has finally gotten around to addressing many of our gripes with its build quality, software and UI. It's still a plastic phone, and a plastic phone running TouchWiz at that, but the GS5 represents a clear improvement for Samsung in a bunch of important areas. The new Samsung UI strikes us as something we might enjoy using, rather than software that's just there. And the soft-touch back feels infinitely nicer in the hand than the glossy, slimy plastic of old.
The most interesting development out of the GS5's announcement might be the arrival of waterproofing as a mainstream feature. Other Android manufacturers, notably Sony, have been doing this for a while, but a waterproof GS5 is a big commitment on Samsung's part
We'll be seeing a lot more of the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the months ahead, and our opinions are sure to evolve as we spend more time with the phone. For the moment, though, it's a promising start to 2014 for the world's biggest maker of Android phones.
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