Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy S5
Updated: Added more photos and video.
Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 smartphone today in Barcelona. Those expecting a great leap forward are bound to be disappointed, but the Galaxy S5 makes progress all the same. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions.
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Samsung's Unpacked event generated more fervor than anything else at Mobile World Congress - at least on the first day of the show. Literally thousands of people lined up hours ahead of time to sit through the live unveiling. Was the GS5 worth all the time and aggravation just to learn about, and more importantly, is it with your consideration as a potential purchase?
Samsung said it would show us "the next galaxy" at Mobile World Congress. It did, but that Galaxy is awfully similar to the two that came before it. Where the GS4 was an evolutionary update to the GS III, the GS5 is an evolutionary update to the GS4. The screen is bigger, the camera is better, the processor is faster, and the battery offer more juice. Samsung said it was "getting back to basics" with the GS5, and it is easy to see where that idea came from: the GS5 has a slimmed-down feature set that, at a glance, is less gimmicky and more substance-y.
First let's assess the design. Samsung calls it "modern glam." I don't think even Samsung knows what that silly moniker means. What I can tell you is that the materials are better. The back panel, in particular, loses the cheap, glossy plastic feel that has detracted from so many Galaxy-branded devices. Instead, it has a double-textured pattern that is much more pleasing against your skin. The surface is dimpled, and also has a bit of grip to it. I like it, it feels much better. I don't like the chrome band that circles the outer rim of the phone. It has an odd pattern to it and it simply feels cheap to me. It also creates a bit of a lip where it meets the glass on the front surface. The GS5 is more a Mini Note 3 than it is a better GS4. Overall, the look is conservative, but in an appealing way. The overall feel of the phone is improved: it feels lighter, and is still thin and small enough to fit into your life without requiring that you buy new jeans.
The screen has been enlarged slightly from 4.99 inches to 5.1 inches. It still offers 1080p HD resolution, and uses Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. It is a fine display. It looks sharp, clean, and bright. I had no trouble seeing the screen in the oddly lit demo room on site in Barcelona, even under intense direct lighting.
Three buttons join the display on the front of the phone. As per Samsung's preference, there is a large, physical Home button, flanked by two capacitive buttons. All three worked without issue. The Home button has a nice chrome band around it, and it is easy to find and use. Travel and feedback are quite good. I can't say the same for the buttons around the outer rim. The screen lock button is on the right side. It is too slim and too short. Further, it has awful travel and feedback. I'll give Samsung the benefit of the doubt for now and assume it's because we looked at preproduction units. The volume toggle, on the left side, is only slightly better. The microUSB port is on the bottom, and it is protected by a hatch to keep it waterproof. The headphone jack doesn't need a hatch; it is waterproof as is. The rest of the slots for SIM and memory cards are buried under the back cover. The back cover is latched on tightly, as it has a gasket to help keep liquid and dust out of the internal chassis. Ans yes, the battery is removable.
TouchWiz / UI
As far as the software goes, Samsung has toned it down a little bit. TouchWiz takes on a flatter, more iOS7 look (at least to my eyes) than it has in the past. I still prefer naked Android, but it is less annoying than previous iterations of TouchWiz. It offers the same customizable home screens, app menu, and notification shade. The icons look different in the notification shade, and you can use a two-finger-swipe gesture to pull down all the toggles if you want. That's cool.
The Settings Menu has been completely revamped. Rather than the stark list employed by Google, Samsung changed it to a colorful menu full of icons. They are all grouped the same way (Networks, Accounts, Personalization), but they are lively thanks to the colors and icons. The GS5 can still multitask like the Note 3 and it still offers AirView.
The camera has been overhauled a bit. Samsung has stripped out many of the shooting modes found in the GS4. Instead of 12 options, you have 6. Gone are things like Sound & Shot and Eraser Mode. It is easier to switch between the modes, and, yes, the camera focuses incredibly quick. There's a toggle for the HDR function (it's hard to figure out what it does the first time, but you only need to use it once to figure out what it is), as well as toggles for the flash and user-facing camera. The burst mode fires off 30 shots in just a couple of seconds and then plays them back at adjustable speeds. The video camera is capable of shooting 4K video, but it's impossible to assess how good that might be without a 4K TV.
Samsung has revamped S Health and made it a much more prominent feature of the phone. Samsung clearly cares about our health and well being. The GS5 has its own heart rate monitor and a number of other sensors that are used by S Health to gauge your fitness level. You can really dive in and go crazy with training, nutrition, and more.
Many other apps that see some minor UI changes include messaging, S Voice, Memo, the phone and contact apps, and so on. The Google-made Android apps are untouched by Samsung. They look and function just as they do on other Android phones.
The UI feels a little bit less cluttered to me. TouchWiz on the GS4 suffocated me. I feel like I can breathe better with the GS5.
Of course, these are just our first impressions. We'll have a lot more to say once we get our hands on the phone and spend some real time with it.
Here's a quick video tour of the new interface, in two parts:
Samsung has acknowledged these complaints and have recognized the praises from consumers like myself ...
Not an epic fail but a fail, yeah. This should be a Galaxy S4S. Same tired Super AMOLED pentile screen that makes white backgrounds look as if they were drenched in piss. Same tired 1080p res...
For somebody like me, who lives in a very, very, VERY cold and very very humid environment, I don't want a metal phone. I live somewhere where the...
This is why Samsung copied Apple....
(Especially bad considering Motorola, HTC and Sony are doing a pretty bang-up job.)
"The rest of the slots for SIM and memory cards are buried under the back cover"
Eric M. Zeman said:...
The rest of the slots for SIM and memory cards are buried under the back cover. The back cover is latched on tightly, as it has a gasket to help keep liquid and dust out of the internal chassis. Ans yes, the bat