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Review: Samsung Galaxy S5 for AT&T

Form Performance Basics Extras Wrap-Up Comments  21  

Screen

The GS5's display is a Super AMOLED panel measuring 5.1 inches across the diagonal with 1920 x 1080 pixels. It's fractionally larger than the GS4's screen. Samsung certainly didn't drop the ball when it came to the display. The screen is fantastic through and through. I have no complaints whatsoever. It is large, pixel-rich, colorful, and bright. I didn't have any trouble using it indoors or out. All the graphics and UI elements are smooth and show no signs of pixelated edges. It's a truly good screen, just as good as that of the HTC One. Samsung knows how to make excellent displays.

Signal

In testing the AT&T variant of the Galaxy S5, I found it to be a strong performer. It always showed a signal, even in areas with weak coverage. The GS5 didn't have any trouble connecting calls no matter what the signal indicator read. Every dialled number connected on the first attempt, but it did drop one call when transferring the signal between two cells. Data sessions were generally speedy through AT&T's LTE 4G network. Raw download speeds fell into the average range for LTE devices, which, based on my observations, is about 12 Mbps in the real world. That's plenty fast enough for downloading apps and uploading Instagram shots. (It's a bummer the AT&T version lacks Samsung's Download Booster, which combines Wi-Fi and LTE to speed up downloads.) The GS5 didn't give me any network trouble of note.

Sound

I was impressed by the quality of voice calls with the GS5. Conversations were bright and present. I heard voices coming through the speaker clearly. Background noise and hissing were entirely absent. It was as if the person on the other end of the phone were calling from the quietest spot on earth. I heard only their voice. Volume could be a lot better, though. Calls were audible in regular environments, such as an office or house, but were harder to hear at malls, coffee shops, and in the car. Setting the volume all the way up didn't help much. Both "good quality" and "mediocre volume" are also apt descriptors of the speakerphone. The speaker produces clear, clean voices, but isn't loud enough for all environments. Thanks to background noise elimination, those with whom I spoke through the GS5 said I sounded as if I were in the same room as them. Ringers and alert tones offer plenty of volume to get your attention. The vibrate alert is particularly strong. What's better, you can control the intensity for calls, messages, and so on. The GS5 even lets you select from 6 prerecorded vibrate patterns and create your own. I didn't miss any calls or messages for lack of hearing the phone.

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Battery

That Galaxy S5 offers fantastic battery life. The 2,800mAh is slightly bigger than last year's phone, and the Snapdragon 801 processor is better at managing power. The GS5 shows clear gains in useable up time compared to the GS4. I ended most days with 40% or more left in the battery, despite thorough testing and heavy use from 7 AM to midnight. I think it's safe to say most people won't have to worry about draining their battery unless they play games all day long. Even then, the odds of making it are pretty good.

Like the HTC One, Samsung gave the GS5 a power saver mode - and an ultra power saver mode - that can be used to extend the useful life of the phone. The power saver can be toggled on manually, or automatically set once the battery reaches 20%. Users can opt to block background data, restrict performance (ramp down the processor), or set the display to grayscale mode. Ultra power saving mode takes it a lot further. It sets the screen in grayscale mode, turns off all data when the screen is off, turns off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and only permits six user-selected apps to function, three of which are phone, messaging, and email. Power saver mode and extreme power saver mode will provide estimates (when switched on) of how long the phone will continue to function based on the remaining charge. For example, with ultra power saver mode on and the battery at 82%, the GS5 says it can continue to operate for 10.2 days.

The GS5 should provide the bulk of users with enough juice to get through the day. In the event it doesn't, these energy efficiency modes can be used to eke out enough time to find a charger - even if that's not for several hours.

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