Should I upgrade from the Galaxy S5 to the Note 5?
Each time a new phone comes out, there's bound to be some amount of draw to upgrading your phone to the latest and greatest. In the world of Samsung phones that happens twice a year with the latest Galaxy S and Galaxy Note, meaning every six months you'll question whether the phone in your pocket is still worth keeping.
Right now the hottest phone is the Galaxy Note 5. And if you still have a trusty Galaxy S5 that means you've resisted the call of the Note 4 and Galaxy S6 already — so does that mean it's finally time to upgrade with a Note 5? We're here to answer that question.
We're here to help you make that decision.
Read now: Should I upgrade from the Galaxy S5 to the Note 5?
Lose the plastic, bump the specs
The Galaxy S5 looks quite clearly from a previous generation of Samsung design when you set it alongside a Note 5. The shiny plastic edges and thinner home button haven't been used since the Galaxy S5 was released, and it's hard to argue that the newer design on show with the Note 5 isn't a better one overall.
The Galaxy S5 has an advantage in sheer grip thanks to its softer back and smaller size, but the glass and metal on the Note 5 are much nicer overall — both in looks and feel. Both phones have the same basic shape, but it's all about the details here in what makes the Note 5 the leader in the hardware department. Naturally there's no more removable battery and storage on the Note 5, so there isn't much to talk about — you either feel you need it, or in the past 18 months with your GS5 you've decided you don't.
At the same time, there's a predictable improvement in specs when looking at phones released 18 months apart. Samsung's latest octa-core Exynos processor in the Note 5 is extremely quick, and the RAM has doubled from 2 to 4GB. The Galaxy S5's screen looks just fine on its own, but the older AMOLED display at 1080p just doesn't stand up to the brilliant newer AMOLED at QHD resolution on the newer phone. The fingerprint scanner, which was introduced first on the Galaxy S5, has improved dramatically to a one-touch variant on the Note 5 as well.
Of course a big loss here is waterproofing, which was a big deal for the Galaxy S5 but hasn't appeared in any of Samsung's top-end phones since then. Of course it had a trade-off of a very annoying flap covering the USB port, as well as minimal extra thickness in the back for water-tight gaskets, but having complete waterproofing without any extra case is definitely a plus. For whatever reason Samsung hasn't deemed it to be important on the same level as Sony and Motorola.
Aside from waterproofing and the removable battery and storage, the Note 5 has a lot going for it in the hardware department. It looks and feels nicer, has a better display, a faster fingerprint sensor, and upgraded internals all around.
Similar software, with a few new features
For as much as the hardware improved between these two phones, the software hasn't changed all that much. Assuming your Galaxy S5 has the latest update to Lollipop you're not far off from what's pre-loaded on the Note 5, save for a few subtle changes to the layout of the settings and how the launcher looks. TouchWiz is still TouchWiz, and if you're happy with your GS5's software — perhaps with a new launcher and keyboard installed — you'll feel the same on the latest Note.
Of course the Note 5 has the S Pen and that necessitates some specific software there, but beyond that Samsung has also improved the camera interface (more on this later) and added YouTube Live streaming to the mix, if that's your sort of thing. There's still a solid bundle of pre-installed apps from both Samsung and partners (the number of which will depend on where you bought the phone), and while the system as a whole is a bit more slimmed down it's nothing revolutionary.
One thing you can say about the software is that it feels a little less heavy-handed overall, with animations and icons that are just a little simpler. Your eyes won't be assaulted by as many neon colors, but don't expect the Note 5 to be some big revelation in software if you upgrade.
Everything is faster, with better ways to charge
Through a combination of both hardware boosts and software to take advantage of it, the Note 5 does offer a serious bump in performance over the Galaxy S5. It was bound to happen when you bump up the internals, but the day-to-day performance of the Note 5 is notably better than the previous-generation GS5. Whether it's side-by-side comparisons or just anecdotal evidence, everything on the Note 5 is just a bit faster. Opening apps, switching through apps with the multitasking button, running multiple apps at once and particularly launching the camera are all quicker on the new hardware — as they should be.
Another part of performance is battery life, where the Note 5 will have to assure potential Galaxy S5 buyers that it's up to speed considering you can no longer remove the battery. The Galaxy S5 was never really known for having wonderful battery life, but it is definitely adequate for getting through a day. The same can be said for the Galaxy Note 5, with its 3000 mAh battery providing enough juice to get through a normal day with quite a bit left, or just get by on a heavier bit of use. Of course the Note 5 has the distinct advantage now of including fast charging for quick top-ups, as well as integrated wireless charging. While you get a pretty quick charge on the GS5 it's notably faster on the Note, and wireless charging could only be added to the GS5 with a clunky third-party insert.
Getting much better performance, as well as the aforementioned better screen, with the same battery life and better ways to charge really feels like an overall upgrade. There's enough here to likely make you forget about having a removable battery.
A big jump in camera quality
Both of these phones have 16MP camera sensors, but that's about where the similarities end. Samsung made a pretty big step up in camera quality just a handful of months after the Galaxy S5 with the launch of the Note 4, and since then has taken yet another step forward. While the GS5 is a pretty capable camera in daylight and simple situations, it's an absolute trainwreck in anything less than perfect lighting. The lack of OIS is troublesome, but the software and image processing isn't doing it any favors either.
The Note 5, by comparison, is a joy in both light and darker situations, giving a nice bit of pop in the daytime without going overboard, and keeping things clear and smooth when the lights are lower as well. The interface is easy to use and manipulate, and full manual controls in the "Pro" camera mode give you even more tweaks if you want it. It's been said since the Galaxy S6 launched with the same camera setup, but the Note 5 is really an industry-leading phone camera right now.
The cherry on top is the quick-launch camera feature, which lets you open up the Note 5's camera with two presses of the home button at any time. Being able to launch the camera and be snapping great pictures in a matter of three seconds is absolutely impressive, and you can't undervalue it if you're one to take a lot of pictures with your phone.
Bottom line: This is an upgrade to make
There's a lot awaiting you if you decide to make the jump from your Galaxy S5 up to the Galaxy Note 5, and it doesn't come with too many losses. You give up waterproofing and a removable battery, but you get overall improved hardware inside and out, a better screen, smoother and quicker software, and a new camera that's miles ahead of the old phone.
If this was a free upgrade for you it'd be a no-brainer, but unfortunately the Note 5 is rather expensive. You'll pay $700 or more out the door for a new Note 5 from your favorite carrier, while there's a solid chance you're still paying off (or riding out a contract for) the Galaxy S5 you're using now. Even if you bought it outright you probably won't recoup much more than $200 for your GS5, leaving a large chunk of money to make up to get the latest and greatest from Samsung.
But if you can make the move and justify the price bump, you won't be disappointed — the Galaxy Note 5 is a really solid improvement over the Galaxy S5.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.